Speed Reading the Bible

When I enter a bookstore, it doesn’t matter how big or small, one of the first things that I do is go look at the Bibles. I find Bible publishing fascinating in an odd sort of way. We have Bibles for every kind of person. There are Bibles for manly men, moms, soldiers, athletes, and one for every age group imaginable. Those sorts of Bibles make me sigh a little bit. I actually do love finding different translations of the Bible. When I go into used bookstores, I find the obscure translations that never caught on or translations by an individual. I’ve amassed quite a collection of them now. I was enjoying my nerdy habit in a large used bookstore in Birmingham when something I had never seen before caught my eye.

If you can make it out there, it says HOLY BIBLE and KWIKSCAN. From what I could deduce via a quick internet search, KWIKSCAN was a phenomenon in the late 1980s. It is quite an odd thing. When I saw the long list of capitals that made up KWIKSCAN, I did not at first read it as quick scan but just saw an assembly of letters. I thought to myself that this was quite the translation name. Many scholars must have been involved in such an effort! It must be the by-product of many revisions and updates! Then, I opened the text and saw what I got for just doing a quick scan of the spin without reading those capitals.

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What is KWIKSCAN? It was an effort of Berean Bible Publishers (affiliated?) to create a Bible that was easier to read. However, as they still believed in only reading the King James Version, they opted for the KWIKSCAN technology over a new translation. Here’s how it works:

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I think “the greatest step forward in reading since the invention of the printing press” (you’ll only get that if you read something other than the bold print) is a bit overstating the case. I guess it might help relax your eye movements a little, but that would require everything to be in the two-column Bible format … which isn’t really a thing in anything but the Bible. Anyway … I am sure the inventors of KWIKSCAN meant well and maybe even helped some people, but it looked a little silly to me when I first opened the Bible. I flipped to some passages to check out how it worked.

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This is the passage where Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus (famous for John 3:16). One of the first problems I saw with this method of reading the Bible was that, while faster, it had to omit parts of the text by definition. Anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 if you believe the description at the front! As Chapter 3 opens, the omissions are rather benign: “the same,” “that thou doest,” and “verily, verily, I say unto thee.” However, some omissions are rather problematic. KIWKSCAN omitted “There was a man of the Pharisees” (3:1) and hefty portions of John 3:10-13. In the first case, Nicodemus is not identified as a Jew, which is problematic. John has some issues with how he treats the Jewish people in his Gospel and removing one of the times he positively references them (in that we tend to view Nicodemus positively) isn’t helping. In the second case, what is with verses 10-13? The KWIKSCAN constructs its own line of reasoning that Jesus was not using in favor of a simplified and shorter version. The explanation of Jesus’ words is gone  (vv. 12-13). But rest assured, John 3:16 remained untouched.

It would be easy to launch into some sort of tirade about how bad this thing that the folks at Berean is and how misguided they were, but I’m not really interested in that. As Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NRSV). I think KWIKSCAN exists in part because we demand it. Berean is not solely to blame here.

We want to be able to read the Bible fast.

We want to be able to breeze through our encounters with sacred Scripture like it’s no big deal. We want to move on from the text as if our obligations were fulfilled and we can go on with our day. We want a Bible that we can sit with for five minutes and get our daily dose of spiritual nourishment. We want a sacred text that acts as a quick fix for our problems and questions. We want a Bible that gets to the point.

We do not want a Bible that moves slowly. But that’s the kind of Bible we have.

The Bible is not our pocket reference to all of life’s big questions. The Bible is not an almanac or encyclopedia where we can go look up the solutions to our social, political, and  spiritual ailments. The Bible is not a quick read. We cannot breeze through the Bible like a grocery store magazine, trade paperback, or Buzzfeed article.

And we shouldn’t.

When we scan quickly through the Bible, we refuse to meet God there.

When we grab a citation merely to support our argument, we do not stop to see what God is doing.

When we look up a passage to clobber someone else into submission to our biblical ethic, we fail to see God at work not only in their life but in the text God generously provided.

When we skim through passages that we don’t like, we don’t stop and deal with the atrocities, tragedies, and failings of the people in the text and of the people who wrote the text.

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We have a Bible that is one of the most intimate revelations of God in the world. Through the joy, suffering, triumph, pain, prejudice, liberation, folly, and wisdom in the lines of biblical text, God meets us in between the lines. The Bible is not a tool to be wielded in a debate. It is not a reference text. It is not yours or mine to do with as we please. The Bible is a space where we can meet the God of the universe.

The Bible is not unlike a cathedral. Granted, it is a different kind of revelation, but bear with me. Like a cathedral, the Bible is a sacred space set apart from things of similar kind for us to meet God. A cathedral is not like the office building next door. The Bible is not like the trade paperback or the Buzzfeed article (apologies Buzzfeed). Like a cathedral, the Bible was put together by people who intended it to be a space where divine revelation happens. Like a cathedral built on the backs of exploited labor, the Bible has certain problems made apparent by chronological distance and social development. Like a critically-considered cathedral, the Bible is still a place where God acts in a special way.

Obviously, the Bible is (especially for Protestants, and particularly for us evangelicals) more important than a cathedral. It holds a vital role in our life of faith, shaping and forming our communities and ethics. However, it ceases to do so when we belittle it to a text instead of an arena of divine revelation. The Spirit’s work through the text cannot be done in our lives when we KIWKSCAN the text. When we read for speed and not change, we don’t get much out of reading the Bible.

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I think we’re all guilty of speed reading the Bible at some point or another. We have all used it as an argumentative tool, a silencer of dissent, and a cheap reference. A high view of Scripture doesn’t involve fifteen Bible citations after every sentence. That’s KWIKSCANning. A high view of Scripture understands the Bible as a dynamic place of activity for the living God and God’s people. A high view of Scripture sees the Bible as central and formative because of the Spirit’s unique work in between those pages and in our lives.

Don’t speed read your Bible. Take a breath. Slow down. Look around and see what God is doing there.

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4 thoughts on “Speed Reading the Bible

  1. Wes,
    First–Dig the new design.
    Second–I completely agree with you about the impulse to speed-read the Bible and the necessity to slow down and take it in. I speed read most things, but the Bible is one text that I have never tried any strategies with. I’ll be interested to see when people using stuff like Spritz (http://www.spritzinc.com) start plugging in the Bible there. Not much time for in-depth analysis when Jesus’ words are flying past you.

  2. I had never heard of KWIKSCAN – this was so interesting! But thank you for your thoughts on taking our time with the Bible… giving it a cursory glance is why it so often gets misinterpreted. Excellent thoughts – thank you!

  3. I have read the Bible many time slowly to make sure I was not missing details. I decide to get a KWIKSCAN Living Bible. Reading in this new way I begin realized I hadn’t gained an OVERVIEW of what God was and is doing. picture. Riding in a car you can see the over all beauty of the scenery that you are exposed to in a way someone deep in the forest can’t see.. (The ” saying your can’t see the forest for the trees.) Kwikscan gives you an over view of God’s reach and scope, that you that you don’t get when your are always involved in the details. I have found reading this way gives me greater appreciation for the e details of His word even more .

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