by: Nora Santelman

I’m a person that always needs to be doing something, if not multiple things, at the same time. This leads to me often creating projects of varying size and complexity, like making PowerPoints covering specific topics or cross-stitching some designs. Last spring, however, I decided to do something of more biblical proportions. I’d been curious about what messages and biases we might be exposed to in church. I figured the best way to analyze that was to look at what we were reading. I snagged a Bible and a copy of the ELW and started highlighting. Specifically, I reviewed the prescribed liturgical readings listed for every day of each three-year cycle. I marked the first two appearances of each scripture in the Bible, first with underlining and then with highlighting.

highlighted and underlined Bible laying open on a wooden table

A portion of Nora’s highlighted and underlined Bible

Over the approximately five months I devoted to this project, I feel that my connection with my faith and the Bible deepened as I spent more and more time with the text. At the end of it, though, the dichotomy between what was and wasn’t read stood out to me most. When people are asked to name books of the Bible, the most commonly listed are Genesis, Exodus, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Job, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelations. None of these books are entirely read in liturgical readings. However, books that are read in full include Obadiah, Habakkuk, Colossians, and even James. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the completed books are among the shortest. This does not fully account for it, though, as the shortest book in the Bible, 3 John, is not among the fourteen completed ones.

Possibly even more interesting was which stories/sections of those well-known books get left behind. In Genesis, for instance, we skirt past when Abraham marries Keturah and the saga of Dinah. In Exodus, we skip the second, third, fourth, sixth, and eighth plagues (frogs, gnats, flies, boils, and locusts). In Samuel, we miss how Saul defeats the Amalekites but spares their king despite it being the moment when God rejects Saul as king over the Israelites and the judgment on David’s sin, another failure of a great king of Israel. Kings loses the death of Solomon, the fracturing of the kingdom that follows, and the final capture of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. I could go on (and I recommend reading some of these skipped stories if you are interested), but I think the point has been made. Stories that I find vital to the complete tale are passed by. Some things make sense to skip for the sake of interest, like Genesis’s lists of the descendants of Shem or the clans and kings of Edom. Though interesting from specific perspectives of religious study and deeper contextualization, they are not necessarily central to the message of the Bible. The other stories listed, though, are. They extend themes, messages, and contexts that continue to matter in people’s spiritual lives.

The Bible is incredibly layered, with different authors providing various stories across the ages. There needs to be more than the readings prescribed for people to understand the text more deeply. Flip through your Bible, find a story you’ve never heard of, and start reading. You never know what you may uncover.

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Connecting people to Christ, so they may discover their own calling as disciples.