Compiled by Rev. Robert J. Schrader of Peace of Christ Parish, Rochester, New York.
Table of Contents
The Song of Songs
Acts of the Apostles
Books of the Bible
Genesis is the first book in our Catholic Bibles. Timothy P. Schehr’s The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction— ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2 in case you wish to get your own copy either from your favorite book store —will be a main resource for some of these reflections on this book of Genesis and on the others of our 73-book Catholic Bible. If you haven’t yet gotten a Bible, see http://usccb.org/bible/ or your local book store. Just be sure the Bible you buy is labeled “Catholic Edition” or you’ll be missing some books that we accept but others do not.
One more aside: You may want to establish a time of day that will work best for you so that you can be as regular in your reading as possible. Say a prayer first to ask God to help you best to understand what God is saying to you in what you read. Indeed, I would advise you keep a pad and pen handy and note particular verses you may want to come back to after you finish each day’s section. There is a process called “Lectio Divina” which calls for four steps for the best pondering of Scriptural verses: first, read the passage (lectio); second, meditate on it (meditatio); third, speak to God about the passage and what is significant about it to you (oratio); and fourth, rest with God and ponder what God may be saying to you (contemplatio). Doing this with that verse or two you mark each day will let your Bible reading really be God’s Word speaking to you.
Now as to the book of Genesis, it is not a science book about the world’s beginnings, but a book of faith: God is seen as the source of everything, and everything created by God is good. Your Bible should tell you more about the date and origins of this book (or you can go on line—see Bible site reference above—to find out such info), but as you read, what most calls out for your meditative attention? Note the ages (especially of Methuselah) and how they diminish as you read on. Who planted the first vineyard in the Bible? Note how tithing began way back there in the Bible’s first book (and not with our parish Finance Council!). What other things do you note for the first time? Why not get together with a few other Bible-reading friends to share your insights—and questions. Make this an enjoyable and profitable journey! When you finish reading Genesis, you will have read 1 (1.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 50 (3.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Exodus is our next book to read in the Bible. Now, Exodus is 20% shorter than Genesis (40 chapters instead of 50—a chapter is usually only a couple columns on a page). Indeed, we’re getting two of the biggest books read right off the bat: though you will have read only 2 of the 73 books (2.7% of the Bible’s books), you will have read 90 of the 1,334 chapters (6.7% of all the Bible’s chapters).
The title “Exodus” means “way out,” for God is showing the people enslaved in Egypt a way out to freedom. Perhaps we will find a way out of what enslaves us as we read this book’s pages. We will read about the plagues in Egypt , the escape through the Red Sea, the trek to Mount Sinai, the reception of the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai , the burning bush, the ark of the Covenant, and God’s loving presence among a sinful people. Note that the order of the 10 Commandments doesn’t match our Catholic numbering of them in our catechism (we use the order found in Deuteronomy 5). Some familiar place names arise: we have the Elim Bible Institute in Lima , NY . What is Elim in Exodus (ch. 15)? Also we get a description of the ordination rite (ch. 29)—every time I read that section, I am SO glad that I was ordained in New Testament times and ways. Be sure to jot down points for your own pondering to come back to for reflection. You’ll find things you never realized were in the Bible.
Leviticus will be the 3rd book we encounter in our Bible reading. At 27 chapters, it’s our shortest yet. Leviticus gets its name from the priests who served the liturgical needs of God’s people as they dwelt for a year in the shadow of Mount Sinai in the early 13th Century B.C. The Levites were descendants of the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. One might say that all Levites had Levi’s genes (if one were to make an attempt at some Scriptural shtick). You will read in its 27 chapters how all fat goes to God (ch. 3—no divine cholesterol here!); how priests were ordained (ch. 8—again, I much prefer our modern methods); how that little gecko in the car insurance commercial is categorized in the Bible (ch. 11); how the term “scapegoat” came about (ch. 16); and how the term “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is really a merciful expression (ch. 24). The book also covers wizards, magicians, and cannibals. When you finish it, you will have read 3 (4.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 117 (8.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Numbers is the name of the 4th book of the Bible. The Hebrew name for the book means “in the wilderness” and the main numbers or statistics you will encounter relate to the physical and spiritual challenges the people faced on their journey to the Promised Land. God orders a numbering of the people by census before they set out on this journey. Some of the people want to return to Egypt , and God assures that none of these will reach the Promised Land—thus, the 40 years of wandering in the desert until no one of that ilk remains. You’ll read about silver trumpets, water coming from a rock, sneaky snakes in the desert (that was the passage I had to preach my very first homily on back in the seminary in 1977), and even a geographical place called the “Ascent of the Scorpions” (though some Bibles leave this place name untranslated as the “Akrabbim Pass”). Suffice it to say, it won’t be a dull ride—though parts are a bit gruesome along the way. When you finish this book, you will have read 4 (5.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 153 (11.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Deuteronomy is the 5th book we encounter on our journey through Scripture. It concludes the 5-book section of the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch, which traces God’s relationship with humanity from the story of creation all the way to their arrival at the Promised Land. As we arrive at this 5th book, we are right on the doorstep to the Promised Land, but the people are not yet spiritually prepared to enter it. Moses here reviews for them what it means to be God’s people. The Hebrew title of the book means “the words,” an apt description as it consists mainly of the words of Moses telling them what they must do lest they lose the very land they are about to enter. Moses reviews the Law for them; thus, the Greek title of the book, Deuteronomy , which means “the second law.” Moses will die at the end of the book at the age of 120, somewhere in the middle of the 13th century B.C. Lest you think this part of our biblical reading will have all the excitement of reading a law book, know that within these pages we will encounter not only a re-presentation of the Ten Commandments (this text in chapter 5 is the source of our Catholic numbering of these 10 laws), but also the 2nd of the 2 Great Commandments of Jesus (6:4-5), the meeting of giants and the smashing of the commandments just received (ch. 9), replacement of same (ch. 10), cities of refuge and that “eye-for-an-eye” law again (ch. 19), a passage that will please all arborists as it calls for respect for trees (ch. 20), the “House of the Unshod” (ch. 25), and the call to “choose life” (ch. 30). While parts of the book are rather graphic, one emerges with an understanding as to why the Law needed to be recounted a second time. When you finish this book, you will have read 5 (6.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 187 (14.0%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Joshua is the 6th book we encounter on our journey through Scripture. The people had just finished wandering in the desert for 40 years, and now under Joshua, Moses’ successor, they would cross into the Promised Land. “But,” as Timothy P. Schehr, author of The Bible Made Simple: A Book-by-Book Introduction, explains, “their spiritual journey is far from over after they make that crossing! There are plenty of obstacles to overcome before they can settle down in the land of milk and honey” (p. 31). We will see a certain lack of faith on the part of the people as we read the chapters of this book. It is cause for us to reflect prayerfully on our own expectations of God and how we react when those may be met differently from how we had planned. Within this book, we’ll read about spies (ch. 2), about Adam as a place and not just a person (ch. 3), about the Battle of Jericho and the role of Rahab, a Canaanite woman of great faith (ch. 6), about the ruse of the Gibeonites feigning to be a far-off people (ch. 9), about the longest day when the sun and moon stood still (ch. 10), about the Ascent of the Scorpions being a part of Judah’s tribal lands (ch. 15), about “ cities of refuge” for ones who unintentionally killed other persons (ch. 20), and about Joshua’s dying at the age of 110 (ch. 24). When you finish this book, you will have read 6 (8.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 211 (15.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Judges is the 7th book of our Judeo-Christian Bible. As Timothy P. Schehr writes in his The Bible Made Easy , “This book introduces you to some of the most colorful characters in the Bible. You meet a decisive woman who leads her people to victory, an unassuming young boy who becomes a mighty warrior, and a strong man who can destroy a temple with his bare hands” (p. 34): Deborah, Gideon, and Samson are just three of the special instruments of God you will encounter in this 6th book of our Scriptures. Though each of them is important in bringing about God’s will among the people, not all of them are perfect. The period here goes from around 12 centuries before Christ until two centuries later. In these chapters, we’ll come across Megiddo (remember the local Thurston Road community?) and that old familiar Ascent of the Scorpions (ch. 1), the very hefty Eglon (ch. 3), Mt. Tabor where Jesus will be transfigured in the New Testament (ch. 4), the beautiful Song of Deborah (ch. 5), the 300 water-lappers (ch. 7), the “Parable of Trees” (ch. 9), a mispronunciation (ch. 12), an untasty honey-eating episode (ch. 14), and 700 first-rate left-handers (ch. 20). When you finish this book, you will have read 7 (9.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 232 (17.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Ruth is the 8th book along our pilgrimage through the Bible. Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David. While that alone would merit mention in the Bible, it is her steadfast loyalty to both God and family that really makes the case for her getting her own book in Holy Writ. Naomi loses her two sons, and then encourages their wives (her daughters-in law, Orpah and Ruth) to go off on their own. Orpah does, but Ruth remains, utterly devoted to Naomi and her needs. The familiar Song of Ruth comes to us from chapter 1 of this book. Sometimes, we even sing it in church (thanks to Gregory Norbet of the monks of Weston Priory in Vermont way back in 1972: “Wherever you go I shall go. Wherever you live so shall I live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God too” (ch. 1). Ruth proceeds to glean in the fields of Boaz (ch. 2). Boaz then marries Ruth (ch. 3) and the two have a son, Obed (ch. 4) who goes on to become the father of Jesse who becomes the father of David. The Book of Ruth is read by Jewish people during their Feast of Weeks, which is a harvest festival 50 days after Passover. How fitting that this book be read this week, the first week of autumn (which begins at 11:44 A.M. on Monday). When you finish this book, you will have read 8 (10.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 236 (17.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Samuel is the 9th book of our Bible reading. The main character (Samuel) is priest, judge, and prophet all rolled into one. The other main character of this book is Saul whom Samuel will anoint as Israel ‘s first king. David will also enter the picture before the end of the book, and all of this took place in the decades immediately preceding 1000 B.C. Along the way, we read about Hannah’s prayer for a child (ch. 1), her Song (ch. 2), Samuel’s call (ch. 3), golden rats and golden tumors (ch. 6), the search for the donkeys (ch. 9), Saul becoming king (ch. 10), a blacksmith shortage and the Valley of Hyenas (ch. 13), a Hickory Farms type gift of cheeses and the slaying of Goliath by David (ch. 17), David’s friendship with Jonathan (ch. 20), the Rocks of the Mountain Goats (ch. 24), a fortuneteller (ch. 28), and the death of Saul (ch. 31). When you finish this book, you will have read 9 (12.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 267 (20.0% [that’s 1/5!]) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Samuel brings us to the 10th book of the Bible. In II Samuel, we pick up where I Samuel left off: Saul has died and David is now king. Though the book will recount the story of David’s kingship, it (like all the other books of the Bible) is really about God’s relationship with us, God’s people: when we are faithful, things go best; when we forget about God’s place in our scheme of things, we (like David by the end of the book) decline. In this book, we hear “The Song of the Bow” from “The Book of the Just” (ch. 1), and read about the 12 versus the 12 in “The Field of Sides” (ch. 2), the transfer of the ark and David’s dance (ch. 6), the news that David’s son, Solomon, and not David himself will build the temple (ch. 7), David’s affair with Bathsheba (ch. 11), Nathan’s rebuke of David for the affair and then the birth of Solomon (ch. 12), Shimei’s cursing of David and David’s realization that maybe he deserves it (ch. 16), a battle in which the forest itself claimed more than the sword (ch. 18), a rubbernecker delay (ch. 20), a man with 24 digits (ch. 21), David’s “Song of Thanksgiving” (ch. 22), and David doing a census which is his un doing (ch. 24). When you finish this book, you will have read 10 (13.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 291 (21.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Kings is the 11th book we come across in the Bible. We move on here from King David to his son, King Solomon, and as we go through this book’s pages, we will be bouncing back and forth between the Kingdom of Israel in the North and the Kingdom of Judah (which contains Jerusalem ) in the South. In this book, we hear about Solomon being anointed king (ch. 1), his wisdom in the familiar story about his resolving the case of the two women, each claiming that a baby is hers (ch. 3), his efficient system of administration (ch. 4), the building of the Temple (ch. 6), his acknowledgment that “There is no one who does not sin” (ch. 8), his navy (ch. 9), his cavalry (ch. 10), his death and replacement by his son, Rehoboam. who will now rule just the southern kingdom of Judah while Jeroboam rules the northern kingdom of Israel (ch. 11), a lion and a donkey (ch. 12), the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel (ch. 18), Elijah’s successor, Elisha (ch. 19), and the book ending with King Jehoram in Judah and King Ahaziah in Israel (ch. 22). When you finish this book, you will have read 11 (15.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 313 (23.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Kings is the 12th book we come across in the Bible. If you survived I Kings, you’ll do just fine here in part 2. The bright spot in the book—as Elijah was in I Kings—is Elisha, Elijah’s successor. The kings, however ignore Elisha in the first 13 chapters. They shouldn’t have done it, though, for the northern kingdom of Israel collapses in chapters 14-17 and then the southern kingdom of Judah collapses in chapters 18-25. In this book, we go from the heights of detachment (when, given by Elijah the opportunity to ask for anything at all, Elisha humbly asks for but a double portion of Elijah’s spirit) to the depths of vanity (called “baldy” by some boys in one moment, all 42 of them fall prey to 2 bears in the next—and this is on Elisha’s way to Mount Carmel!) all in one chapter (ch. 2); Elisha then goes on to de-poison the soup (ch. 4) and make a lost axe-head float (ch. 6). We meet women who eat their children (ch. 6) and others who wear mascara (ch. 9). We read of a dead man who, when his body is thrown into Elisha’s grave, comes back to life (ch. 13). We hear of lions (ch. 17), serpents (ch. 18), and an escape to Ararat which we haven’t read about since Noah’s Ark (c. 19). We’ll encounter shadows that reverse their course (ch. 20), mediums (as in soothsayers, not as in smalls and larges) (ch. 21), and ultimately the capture of Jerusalem (ch. 25). When you finish this book, you will have read 12 (16.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 338 (25.3%[that’s over 1/4!]) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Chronicles is the 13th book in our Catholic Bibles. In some Bibles, it is called “I Paralipomenon.” That strange word means something akin to “things omitted” and the book supplements things found in I & II Samuel and I & II Kings. Indeed, the first several chapters are genealogies from Adam to David, and you’ll feel like you’re reading a register in the county clerk’s office. The latter part of the book is more about the reign of King David, and much of what you read in I & II Chronicles will sound like a rerun of what you read in the previous four books of our Scriptural pilgrimage. But is IS part of our Bible, so read on nonetheless. It was written around the middle of the 4th Century B.C. and reminds God’s People of their roots. You’ll read about the first mighty one on earth [his name begins with N] (ch. 1), lots and LOTS more names (ch. 2…..), Ephraim naming his son “Disaster” [imagine that on a cake!] (ch. 7), Saul’s consulting a necromancer [keep you dictionary handy] (ch. 10), the Three and the Thirty we read about back in II Samuel 23 (ch. 11), a detour for the ark (ch. 13), David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving (ch. 16), the Prophecy of Nathan (ch. 17), the 12-fingered and 12-toed son of Raphaim (ch. 20), the assignment of cantors and musicians (ch. 25), a verse to remember when you feel lost (ch. 28:9), and a plea for final direction (ch. 29:17-18). When you finish this book, you will have read 13 (17.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 367 (27.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Chronicles is the 14th book in our Catholic Bibles. This book picks up where I Chronicles left off, and we follow David’s successors as they carry forward David’s religious program. It concludes with an edict from Persia allowing the rebuilding of the Temple . In these pages, you’ll read about Solomon’s becoming king and asking not for wealth but for wisdom (ch. 1), Solomon’s building the Temple (ch. 2), Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication of the Temple and his admittance that “there is no one who does not sin” (ch. 6), a visit by the Queen of Sheba (ch. 9), Solomon’s being followed by Rehoboam (ch. 10), Rehoboam being followed by Abijah (ch. 13), Abijah being followed by Asa (ch. 14), Azariah’s philosophy shared with Asa: “If you seek the Lord, he will let you find him” (ch. 15), Asa being followed by Jehoshaphat (ch. 17), the appointment of cantors (ch. 20), Jehoshaphat being followed by Jehoram (ch. 21), then Ahaziah (ch. 22), then 7-year old Joash (ch. 23), then Amaziah (ch. 25), then Uzziah (ch. 26), then Jotham (ch. 27), then Ahaz (ch. 28), then Hezekiah during whose time there is in verse 34 one of the earliest documented “priest shortages” (ch. 29), the extension of Passover by an additional 7 days (ch. 30), then Manasseh, Aman, and Josiah (ch, 31), and finally Eliakim whom Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon When you finish this book, you will have read 14 (19.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 403 (30.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Ezra is the 15th book we meet in our Catholic Bibles. This is certainly a fitting book to read in the week following Election Day here in the United States . As Timothy P. Schehr writes in his book which has been mentioned earlier ( The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction, ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2), one of the spiritual lessons learned from the Book of Ezra is: “The surest foundation for a nation is service to God” (p. 52). Ezra is mainly concerned with the rebuilding of the temple in the first 6 chapters, and the rebuilding of the tradition of God’s people and their spirit in the last 4 chapters. His writing dates from the middle of the 5th century B.C. In these pages, you’ll read about Cyrus of Persia who was favorably inclined to peace with the Jewish people (ch. 1), a list of the exiles to return from Babylon (ch. 2), the mingling of the people’s cries of joy and of disappointment as they rebuild what was lost but realize that it is different from what they had before [perhaps we’ve had similar experiences?] (ch. 3), a celebration of Passover (ch. 6), an early example of church tax exemptions (ch. 7), an early priest shortage (ch. 8), and a beautiful prayer by Ezra (ch. 9). When you finish this book, you will have read 15 (20.5%—over 1/5!) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 413 (31.0%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Nehemiah is the 16th book in our Catholic Bibles. Just as Ezra (the Scribe) of the previous book rebuilt Jerusalem ‘s temple, Nehemiah (the Governor) rebuilt Jerusalem ‘s walls. The first six chapters address the rebuilding of the walls themselves. The remainder of the book deals with the rebuilding of the community within those walls. Like Ezra, his writing dates from the middle of the 5th century B.C. (As an aside, I should have told you last week that in some Bibles, the Book of Ezra is called the First Book of Esdras and the Book of Nehemiah is called the Second Book of Esdras. To add to the confusion, if your Bible has Books by all four of these titles, then the one that is called the First Book of Esdras is really a different book altogether that in yet other Bibles is the Third Book of Esdras. There’s also a Fourth Book of Esdras, but that’s not related to any of these. So, just forget I wrote these last eight lines and go back to reading Nehemiah.) In Nehemiah’s pages, you’ll read about Nehemiah’s call (he had been the butler of the Persian king beforehand) (ch. 1), the Dragon Spring Gate and the Dung Gate which Nehemiah constructed (I think I’d rather be working on the first one) (ch. 2), how Nehemiah had his full heart in the project he was about (ch. 3), how the workers had some very difficult working conditions (working with one hand while holding a weapon for defense in the other) (ch. 4), how God’s People had to sell themselves due to bad economic times (imagine today !) (ch. 5), how Nehemiah’s enemies tried to trick him (ch. 6), how singers were important to the rebuilding (ch. 7), how Ezra really took his Bible reading seriously (reading it publicly from dawn until Noon) (ch. 8), how 1/10 of the population would live in Jerusalem (ch. 11), how two choirs on the wall met at the dedication (under the baton of director, Jezrehiah) (ch. 12), and how Nehemiah struggled for the purity of the line of David’s succession (ch. 13). When you finish this book, you will have read 16 (21.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 426 (31.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Tobit brings us to the 17th book in our Catholic Bibles. In some Bibles, this is called the Book of Tobias who is Tobit’s son. In either case, its story takes place in Nineveh (where Jonah is sent later in the book by his name). Tobit’s story will teach us about patience as God’s way is worked out in time. As Timothy Schehr explains in The Bible Made Easy, in the first 3 chapters, Tobit prays for death; in the last 11 chapters, God responds with life. The story is set about 700 years before Christ and Assyria has just conquered Tobit’s homeland. It ends with Assyria’s power being doomed and the fall of Nineveh . For those of you who are dog-lovers, this is the only book of the Bible telling of a dog as a pet. Schehr adds: “ Saint Jerome seems to have been especially intrigued with this dog. In his Latin translation of Tobit, he adds a verse [in ch. 11] about the dog wagging its tail” (Schehr, p. 54 in ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2). In Tobit’s pages, you’ll read about his roots as grandson of Deborah, son of Tobiel, husband of Anna, father of Tobias [Tobiah in some Bibles], and uncle of Ahikar [Ahiqar in some Bibles] who was well-placed to be able to intercede in high places(ch.1), how Tobit was blinded by bird droppings (ch. 2), the arrival of Archangel Raphael who would heal Tobit and suit Sarah to Tobias (ch. 3), a negative way of putting the Golden Rule (ch. 4, vs. 15), the appearance of Tobias’ dog and Tobias’ catching the fish which had caught himself (ch. 6), a reappearance of the dog and the healing of Tobit’s eyes (ch. 11), what I think must be the longest verse in our Bible and could be a Penitential reading unto itself (ch. 13, vs. 6), and the deaths of Tobit at 112 and Tobias at 117 (ch. 14). When you finish this book, you will have read 17 (23.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 440 (33.0%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Judith is the 18th book in our Catholic Bibles. Timothy P. Schehr tells us much about Judith in his The Bible Made Easy text that has been mentioned before. Written about a century before Christ, Judith tells the story of an earlier time in the 6th century B.C. when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon wanted not only to rule all the world but also to have all the world worship him alone. He sent his General Holofernes to enforce this dictate, but he in his vanity was duped by Judith and was quickly dispatched by her as he lay in a drunken stupor. St. Jerome translated the entire book from Aramaic into Latin in one night. In Judith’s pages, you’ll read about needing to rely on some-thing (-One) greater than walls for security and about a 120-day party (ch.1), Nebuchadnezzar’s commission to Holofernes (ch. 2), Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to be the only god (ch. 3), the high priest’s prayer for safety for Jerusalem (ch. 4), the intervention of Achior to dissuade Holofernes (ch. 5), Holofernes’ rejection of Achior (ch. 6), Uzziah’s persuasion of the people to wait 4 days more before surrendering to Holofernes who had cut off their water supply (ch. 7), Judith’s Prayer for Deliverance (ch. 9), Judith’s ploy of getting all gussied up to allure Holofernes (ch. 10) so she can gain his trust (ch. 11) and then—following dinner and his imbibing too much—(ch. 12) acquiring his head as a souvenir to take home (ch. 13); Judith then lives an exemplary life until the ripe old age of 105 (ch. 16). When you finish this book, you will have read 18 (24.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 456 (34.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Esther brings us to the 19th book in our Catholic Bibles. This young Jewish girl rises to be the wife of the king of Persia . The hand of God uses her uncle, Mordecai, to persuade Esther that she must intervene before the evil Haman (of the royal court) carries out a plot to kill all the Jews on a particular day. Now, you may need a roadmap to get through this book. Our Catholic Bibles are based on the Greek version of the text which includes more than a hundred verses not found in the Hebrew version (some rabbis did not even want it in the Bible because it makes no reference to the name of God or to Israel). In some Bibles, you may find only the basic 10 chapters found in both Greek and Hebrew versions. In others, you’ll find the other six chapters in a separate section. In the two Bibles I am reading concurrently (NRSV and New Jerusalem Bible), one of them has it all in one book in 10 chapters adding the other six by way of “Addition A,” “Addition B,” etc. simply enumerating these additions’ verses with letters instead of numbers; and the other Bible lists all 16 chapters, but in this order: 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 13, 4, more 13, 14, 15, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 9, 10, 11. That’s right: it starts and ends with chapter 11 and does all that other stuff in between (I couldn’t make this up if I tried!). Just so you know, I use the 16-chapter count in figuring the 1,334-chapter total for the Bible. This book, by the way, is read on the Jewish Feast of Purim and takes place in the Persian city of Susa . Written in the 1st Century B.C., the story is set in the 5th Century B.C. In Esther’s pages, you’ll read about Mordecai’s dream warning of the plot (ch. A or 11), a 180-day party (ch. 1), Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman (ch. 2), Haman’s decree to kill all the Jews (ch. B or 12), Mordecai’s & Esther’s prayer for deliverance (ch. C or 13-14), and Haman being hung on the gallows he had erected originally for Mordecai’s death (ch. 7). When you finish this book, you will have read 19 (26.0%—more than 1/4!) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 472 (35.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Maccabees is the 20th book in our Catholic Bibles. If you don’t have a Catholic Bible, you might not find it at all— unless that Bible also includes a section of what non-Catholics call The Apocrypha (which, by the way, we Catholics call the “ Deutero Canonical Books ”). What we Catholics call The Apocrypha , our non-Catholic friends call the Pseudepigrapha (these are Scripture-like books not found in either of our Bibles). Now, even if you DO have a Catholic Bible, some older ones might call this book “I Machabees” and (to further complicate things—if that’s possible) might place it and “II Machabees” at the tail end of the Old Testament instead of immediately after Esther. OK, so if you’re still with me, the word Maccabees means either “chosen by God” or “hammer,” both of which pertain in one way or another to Judas Maccabeus, the principal character in the book which is largely about his revolt against oppression in the 160s B.C. Survive this book, and II Maccabees will flow! In the pages of I Maccabees, you’ll read how the holy things of the temple are profaned (ch. 1), how Mattathias has 2 sons, Simeon & Judas (ch. 2), how Judas preps for battle (ch. 3), all about the re-dedication of the temple at the first Hanukkah (ch. 4), a defeat due to pride (ch. 5), elephants (ch. 6), the loss of a head and an arm (ch. 7), 320 senators (ch. 8), a wedding casualty (ch. 9), Cleopatra (ch. 10), how snow stymied some plans even back then (ch. 13), and the end of Judas Maccabeus himself (ch. 16). When you finish this book, you will have read 20 (27.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 488 (36.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Maccabees is the 21st book in our Catholic Bibles. If you survived the sometimes annoyingly long, battle-filled chapters of I Maccabees last week, then II Maccabees should be better. Not a continuation of I Maccabees, it rather focuses on the spiritual aspects of their struggles. II Maccabees deals with the purification of the temple, how God protected the temple, and how God protected the people. (Before I go into the various chapter highlights, some of you may also have a III Maccabees and IV Maccabees in at least the Apocryphal section of your Bibles. These are not a part of the Catholic Bible, though III Maccabees is part of the canon of Scripture in the East even if not in our part of Christendom; and IV Maccabees is really an expansion of II Maccabees 6:12-7:42 rather than a completely different book altogether. If you do have them in your Bibles, you’ll read in III Maccabees about how poor Hermon had to get 500 elephants drunk 3 times so they’d trample the people—who were saved by the intervention of two angels; and you’ll read in IV Maccabees about how reason triumphs over emotions in spiritual matters of religion.) Back to II Maccabees, in its pages you’ll read of a beheading in the temple and perhaps the roots of what we now know as Fels Naphtha (ch. 1), meet Nehemiah (ch. 2) and Heliodorus in Jerusalem (ch. 3) and Menelaus the High Priest (ch. 4), encounter visions of horsemen for 40 days and sailing on land and a dry sea (ch. 5), the courage of Eleazar (ch. 6) and of a mother and her seven sons (ch. 7), the conquering of a Nicanor fit (ch. 8), the death of Antiochus Epiphanes (ch. 9), some men on horses from heaven (ch. 10), Lysias’ first campaign (ch. 11), an early pre-New Testament hint at Purgatory (ch. 12), an ancient use of passwords (ch. 13), a disentrailment (ch. 14), and the gold sword from God (ch. 15). When you finish this book, you will have read 21 (28.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 503 (37.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Job (pronounced like “lobe,” not like “bob”) is the 22nd book in our Catholic Bibles. Job is the first of the Wisdom Books of the Bible. St. Jerome believed that this was a good place to begin one’s Bible-reading (too late for us!) because of the practical nature of the material found here with great application to our daily living. You’ll certainly find it much more digestible than the many chapters of multiple wars that we have just concluded. The story of Job was already well-known in Ezekiel’s day, so it at least dates from the 6th century B.C. If you’ve ever felt you’ve suffered unjustly, you will identify greatly with Job. In its pages you’ll read of everything being taken from dear Job and his comment that, naked, he came into this world and, naked, he shall leave it (ch. 1), meet his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, who will try to convince Job that his suffering is due to his sins (ch. 2 and following), learn that discretion comes with age (ch. 12), hear Job ask God, “Why do you hide your face and look on me as your enemy?” (ch. 13), listen to Job wonder why the wicked triumph in this life (ch. 21), ponder a lament about God’s seeming deafness to the presence of evil in the world (ch. 24), commiserate with Job who feels he is a laughing stock (ch. 30), meet a ‘til-now silent younger observer, Elihu, who encourages Job to look up to God with hope (ch. 32 and following), learn how God sends snow or rain at times to foil plans (ch. 37), and hear how all of Job’s possessions and family are restored to him in abundance (ch. 42). When you finish this book, you will have read 22 (30.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 545 (40.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
The Psalms form the 23rd book in our Catholic Bibles. For those of you who are reading a book a week, this will be your most challenging week of all: with 150 chapters, this is the largest book of the Bible. However, although it also has the longest chapter of the Bible (Psalm 119), it also has the shortest (Psalm 117)—and, according to some enumerations, the middle chapter of the Bible is right between them (Psalm 118). Indeed, most chapters/psalms are but a fraction of a single column in length. St. Ambrose calls this book a “gymnasium for the soul.” It gives a good workout and has much for every one of our human moods and needs. In the shortness of the space of this column, I won’t try to summarize each chapter, but give an overview instead. More than 70 of the Psalms are attributed to King David (1000 B.C.) and others are attributed to Asaph (50 and 73-83) or others named along the way. The Psalms are divided into 5 Books, according to The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2) by Timothy Schehr: Book 1 (Ps. 1-41: The Challenge of Walking With God), Book 2 (Ps. 42-72: Struggles Along the Way), Book 3 (Ps. 73-89: Pleas for Help), Book 4 (Ps. 90-106: God’s Power to Save), and Book 5 (Ps. 107-150: Songs of Praise). To try to keep it all from being too overwhelming, I picked out a favorite psalm from each Book. My choices (which may very well change the next time I read the Bible) are: 40, 68, 85, 103, 130. See what yours are along the way and if any of ours may match. (My pick for the worst psalm is 58. Ugh!). Amongst the psalms, there are Penitential Psalms ( 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 142), there are Alphabetical Psalms where each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet (9, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145), there are Invitatory Psalms which can be used to begin each day’s time of prayer (24, 67, 95, 100), and there are Psalms of Ascent sung by the faithful Jew as approaching Jerusalem for a visit to the Temple (120-134). You’ll also notice that the numbering differs in Greek/Catholic and Hebrew/Protestant Bibles with Psalms 10-147 being numbered one higher in the latter. Psalm 87 would seem to be a favorite at the County Clerk ‘s Office. Also, there is actually a 151st Psalm found in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible although the codex Alexandrinus of the Septuagint excludes it. So, there! When you finish this book, you will have read 23 (31.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 695 (52.1%—over one-half!) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Proverbs is the 24th book in our Catholic Bibles. Chapter-wise, we are now in the 2nd half of the Bible. For the Old Testament person, Proverbs was a practical guide for facing all the items on one’s daily plate. They are usually associated with Solomon, which means they date from about 1,000 years before Christ, or from Hezekiah, which means about 800 years before Christ. The first nine chapters deal largely with Wisdom as does the final chapter 31. The other chapters contain the practical guidance we have grown to treasure through the years. As I read this book, I simply tried to pick out a favorite verse or two in each chapter. By jotting those down, it gave me a good overall picture when I finished—and a handy reference for remembering what I liked most within this book. We are told to avoid bad company (ch. 1 & 2) and how to get wisdom (ch. 3); parental advice (ch. 3) and the straight and narrow (ch. 4) occupy the next 2 chapters; we hear the story of the idler and the ant (ch. 6), about writing on our hearts (ch. 7), the Gifts of Wisdom (ch. 8) and some general maxims (ch. 9); once Solomon kicks into gear (ch. 10), we get advice which is good even for incoming modern-day administrations: there is safety in many advisors (ch. 11), and those who hate correction are “stupid” (ch. 12); we hear the old adage “spare the rod and spoil the child” (ch. 13), how Wisdom is quite a builder (ch. 14), how a mild answer can turn away wrath (ch. 15), how all has a purpose and how white/grey hair is a crown of honor (ch. 16); we hear advice regarding pardons (ch. 17) and how presents open doors (ch. 18); we learn how we are to curb our zeal (ch. 19), how love of sleep leads to knowledge of poverty (ch. 20), how haste makes waste (ch. 21), how the rich and poor rub shoulders (ch. 22), and some motivating words for a diet (ch. 23); we hear more words for an incoming ruler: for victory, have many counselors (ch. 24); we hear about taking the lower place at the table (ch. 25), more about snow (ch. 26), and how it’s best to let others do any praising (ch. 27); we learn how we are not to waver (ch. 28) how we ARE to have a vision (ch. 29), and how we should desire neither poverty nor riches (ch. 30); finally, we hear a familiar funeral reading about the woman of character, and one last bit about snow (ch. 31). When you finish this book, you will have read 24 (32.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 726 (54.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Ecclesiastes is the 25th book in our Catholic Bibles. Book-wise, we are now in the 2nd third of the Bible (it only took 5 months to get this far, and we’ve got 12 months to get the rest of the way!) The book is attributed to King Solomon (son of King David in the 10th Century B.C.) although the writing displays characteristics of the 3rd Century B.C. (Egyptian influences that would have been common then since Judea was a province of Egypt at that time). The first 8 chapters deal with Solomon’s experiments in life. The last 4 chapters deal with his discoveries because of those experiments. The author is also nicknamed Qoheleth, the preacher. We see his wisdom as the book progresses along. “Under the sun” is a favorite phrase of the author. In this book we learn that nothing is new under the sun and that all is like chasing after the wind (ch. 1), that Wisdom is like the sun (ch. 2); that there is a time and season for everything under the sun (ch. 3); that two are better than one (ch. 4); that no one with money is ever satisfied, but that the laborer’s sleep is sweet, and that naked we come into this life and naked we will leave it (ch. 5); that even the stillborn are in certain cases better off (ch. 6); that there is no non-sinner (ch. 7); that you’ll never get to the bottom of everything under the sun (ch. 8); that the calm words of the wise are heard above the shouts of the commander of an army of fools (ch. 9); that one dead fly can spoil the scent-maker’s oil (ch. 10); that both youth and the age of black hair are futile (ch. 11); and that God is first mentioned in this book only in the last chapter (ch. 12). When you finish this book, you will have read 25 (34.2%—over 1/3!) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 738 (55.3%—over 1/2!) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
The Song of Songs is the 26th book in our Catholic Bibles. We read a while back in I Kings 4:32 (I Kings 5:12 in some Bibles) that Solomon wrote over 1,000 songs. This work is touted to be his best; therefore, it is so titled The Song of Songs (sort of like the Toyotathon of all Toyotathons). As you read it, you may wonder, What is this book doing in the Bible! Yet, though it speaks of the intense longings of a man and a woman (and provides very popular readings for weddings), holy writers of the Church including Origen himself found this book to be a beautiful expression of the great bond between Christ and his Church. Some have suggested that, though it is ascribed to Solomon, its style hints that it may have come from a period some 500 years after Solomon lived. As beautiful as the book is, some of its imagery may strike the modern romantic a bit odd. In this book, for example, we read how the man compares his love with his horse (ch. 1)—though I’m no pro, I’d think this would not be a good move on a first date—and we hear the old familiar song, “His banner over me is love!” as well as that much-used wedding reading (about the lover leaping like a gazelle over the hill country en route to his beloved) shortly afterward (ch. 2); gold, frankincense and myrrh come into the picture (ch. 3), and then the author seems to take a few more steps backwards when comparing his beloved’s hair to a flock of goats and her cheeks to pomegranates (ch. 4); we briefly see an unexpected parting (ch. 5) and then a line that is engraved on spouses hearts by each other: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (ch. 6); the mandrakes (love potion #9) then become active (ch. 7), and we finish with a most moving sentiment for wedding days: “Set me like a seal on your heart” (ch. 8). When you finish this book, you will have read 26 (35.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 746 (55.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
The Book of Wisdom is the 27th book in our Catholic Bibles. Timothy Schehr in The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2) comments that, though attributed to Solomon, it may actually be the youngest book in the Old Testament having been written about 50 years before Christ, and says that it is even listed on one ancient list of books as being part of the New Testament. Schehr explains that, for Solomon, true wisdom comes from a close relationship with God, and he divides the book into three basic sections: Wisdom leads to immortality (chapters 1-5), Wisdom is a gift (chapters 6-9), and Wisdom saves (chapters 10-19). In this book, we learn that God sees our very soul and that simply “to exist” is the reason God created all things (ch. 1), that we humans were created to be immortal (ch. 2 & ch. 8), that the souls of the just are in the hand of God [a popular funeral reading] (ch. 3), that the upright, though dying early, shall be at rest [a popular funeral reading for a young person who has died] (ch. 4), that there is one way into life and one way out, and that Wisdom has 21 different qualities (ch. 7), that, perhaps on bad days, our “perishable body presses down the soul and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares” (ch. 9), and that it was Wisdom (personified) who enabled all that Israel’s patriarchs had accomplished, from Adam to Moses (ch. 10). There are “7 antitheses” that are found in chapters 11 (#1), 16 (#2, #3 and #4), 17 (#5), 18 (#6) and 19 (#7). For example, #1 tells us that if God hated something, God would not have created it (ch. 11); #5 says that heavier than the darkness is the burden we are sometimes to ourselves (ch. 17); and we finally are assured that “ Lord, you have never failed to help your people at any time or place” (ch. 19) . When you finish this book, you will have read 27 (37.0%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 765 (57.3%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
The Book of Sirach ( Ecclesiasticus in some Bibles— not to be confused with Ecclesiastes which we covered above) is the 28th book in our Catholic Bibles. This is the last of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament, and except for the Psalms it is the most used of the wisdom books in our liturgy today (thus, the book’s other name, Ecclesiasticus, meaning “of the church”). The book shows us pictures of our spiritual ancestors, and it was translated into Greek by the grandson of Jesus ben Sira (Sirach) in the 2nd Century B.C. Sirach was a teacher in Jerusalem whose main intention was to share with his pupils the religious heritage that was theirs. He teaches beautifully about topics as vast as Creation and as intimate as Friendship. Everyone will find here something to inspire them and something with which to identify. In this book, we encounter fear of the Lord and patience (ch. 1), the “Hang on, Baby!” chapter as I call it since it assures us of being saved when we are in times of distress (ch. 2), a call to honor our parents into their advanced years and a call not to try to ponder the incomprehensible lest we get a brain freeze (ch. 3), an admonition regarding our appetites and an invitation not to delay penance when needed (ch. 5), a prescription regarding the number of advisors we should have and the types of friends we will encounter (ch. 6), advice to honor your priest [I just type ‘em, I don’t make them up] (ch. 7), a reminder that all are sinners and that we should not bank on returns from bailouts [sorry!] (ch. 8), a note to us not to let things go to our heads because “a king today is a corpse tomorrow” (ch. 10), wise counsel not to carry a burden too heavy for you (ch. 13), a reminder that the Lord gave us “a heart to think with” [you’ll also notice some verse numbers missing in some of these psalms—your Bible is not defective] (ch. 17), advice not to sweat the small stuff (ch. 19), a note that the poor have a direct line to God (ch. 21), a common funeral reading for women (ch. 26—note that verses 19-27 will be only in some Bibles), news that worry brings premature old age (ch. 30), a verse for our annual Fruit of the Vine parish event (ch. 31:27), instructive words regarding the much-traveled person (ch. 34), a call to be a cheerful giver (ch. 35), words for Hamas (ch. 36), words about genuine friends and following your conscience (ch. 37), another popular funeral reading about a time and purpose for everything under heaven (ch. 39), caution against sponging (ch. 40), advice regarding no elbows on the table (ch. 41), another funeral reading (ch. 44), plus seven more chapters. When you finish this book, you will have read 28 (38.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 816 (61.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Isaiah is the 29th book in our Bibles. This is the first of the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel), that is, those prophets the book of each of whom comprises its own scroll. Isaiah wrote about 8 centuries before Christ and he tried to keep God’s people on the right path. They strayed and fell as a nation into exile, although God would not leave them there and eventually restored them to their homeland. Chapters 1-39 compose the first major portion of the book and warn the people of punishment if they are not faithful. Chapters 40-55 are sometimes referred to as Second (Deutero) Isaiah, as they seem to be written toward the end of the people’s period of exile in Babylonia . Chapters 56-66 are sometimes referred to as Third (Trito) Isaiah and deal with the period following the exile. The spirit of this book spans the Hallelujah Chorus of Christmas to the Suffering Servant Songs of Holy Week. We read in Isaiah’s pages a hopeful message that we with our sins, though like scarlet, can be made white as snow (ch. 1), and that God’s mountain in the end will be the highest (ch. 2); that Isaiah’s life-work was based on a call (ch. 6), and that one day a special circumstance will transpire regarding a virgin and a child (ch. 7); that Isaiah had a son named “Speedy-spoil-quick-booty” (ch. 8), and that the people walking in darkness will see a great light (ch. 9); that God sometimes uses the enemies of God’s own people to be a corrective force (like Assyria) but is just as quick to correct the corrector when they take all the credit themselves (ch. 10); we hear of someone special (a shoot) coming along (sprout) from the family of King David’s father Jesse (the stump) (ch. 11); we see a rather disturbing image of an apocalyptic day (ch. 13); we hear a possible Calvary-related reference to “a signal being hoisted on a mountain” (ch. 18); we encounter a mouth-drooling passage when we hear about rich food and choice wine (ch. 25) and an Old Testament reference to the dead coming back to life (ch. 26); we hear a very good Penitential passage (ch. 30:18-26) and we hear about ostriches, hyenas and vultures (ch. 34); astronomical anomalies are experienced with the sun itself coming to a standstill (ch. 38) and we hear the familiar Advent themes of Comfort for God’s people, Preparing the way for the Lord, and the Leveling of every mountain and valley (ch. 40); we have the 4 Suffering Servant Songs (42: 1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12); we hear the familiar Easter invitation to come to the water (ch. 55) and a correction for sticking out one’s tongue (ch. 57:4); we see how we are like clay and God like the potter (ch. 64), how the wolf and the lamb can be at peace (ch. 65) and how peace itself should be flowing like a river (ch. 66). When you finish this book, you will have read 29 (39.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 882 (66.1%—nigh 2/3!) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Jeremiah brings us to the 30th book of our Bibles. He is the second of the four major prophets, and once you finish his book, you will have finished the three largest books of the Bible (Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah). Jeremiah lived from the end of the 7th Century B.C. to the beginning of the 6th Century B.C. He did not mince words in proclaiming God’s message to humanity. On his pages, we hear how Jeremiah had been called from the womb (ch. 1), how God was to give the people shepherds (ch. 3), how there was no balm in Gilead (ch. 8), how we are helpless without a higher power (ch. 10), how a leopard cannot change its spots (ch. 13), and about Jeremiah’s celibacy (ch. 16); we hear how God is like a potter (ch. 18), and a few cannibal verses (ch. 19); in this section of Jeremiah, we encounter the five “Confessions of Jeremiah,” heartfelt conversations with God that give us great insights into his intense relationship with God (11:18-12:5; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; and 20:7-18); in the fifth of these, we see how Jeremiah felt God had seduced him, yet how Jeremiah still couldn’t stop being and acting pro-God even though sometimes he had wished he had never been born—showing greatly that prayer can confidently (and helpfully) bring all moods and feelings to our God (ch. 20); we see an exhortation to repent (ch. 22), and that bad shepherds will be replaced by God’s own self (ch. 23); we see stories about figs (ch. 24), yokes (ch. 27), restoration (ch. 30) and how punishment will now be meted out not to a whole people and their descendants but individual-by-individual for each one’s sins (ch. 31); we hear of Jeremiah’s arrest (ch. 37), and yet how, though Jeremiah starts out in the mud, it is Zedekiah who ends up there (ch. 38); Jerusalem falls (ch. 39) and sometimes it takes a while [10 days] for even Jeremiah to get an answer to his prayers (ch. 42); we encounter Egypt’s Queen of Heaven [ ? Mary] (ch. 44), an interesting nickname for Pharaoh (ch. 46), and more about Gaza (ch. 47); we even see what could seem a veiled reference to Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” on the Austrian border (ch. 49:16); and finally we encounter ostriches (ch. 50), a text tossed into the river (ch. 51) and a final pardon (ch. 52). When you finish this book, you will have read 30 (41.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 934 (70.0%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Lamentations is the 31st book in our Bibles. You may recognize a number of passages in these five chapters, as this book composes in large part the source for our Tenebrae service of Holy Week. Timothy P. Schehr (in his The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction that we have cited occasionally—ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2) writes “This is a book for the homesick. It contains the lyrics of sad songs lamenting the fall of Jerusalem . Perhaps they were some of the songs mentioned in Psalm 137 and sung by the people as they sat along the canals of ancient Babylon pining for happier times in the Promised Land” (p. 103). This book was written sometime between the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the Return from the Exile in 537 B.C. It is attributed to Jeremiah and is, at the least, in his style. Each chapter is written in Hebrew alphabetically, with the first letter of each succeeding verse being the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet—although this breaks down a bit (possibly because the author himself was breaking down and couldn’t keep to this regiment) with the final chapter. The 1st lamentation might best be titled “Jerusalem, the Deserted City, Weeps,” and as you read its very first verse, thoughts of 9/11 may even come to mind (ch. 1); the 2nd lamentation could be called “God’s Warnings Fulfilled: A Day of Wrath,” and you’ll read of hungry children and of parents hungry for their children (ch. 2); the 3rd lamentation might be “A Word of Hope: God’s Steadfast Love Endures,” which reminds us of our own bishop’s motto (God’s Love Endures Forever) and teaches us the value of waiting in silence (ch. 3); the 4th lamentation would onerously be titled “Images of Death: The Punishment of Zion,” and here we read of a preference of death by sword over death by famine—and a bit more on cannibalism as well (ch. 4); and our 5th and final lamentation we more hopefully could call “A Plea for Mercy and Restoration” (ch. 5). When you finish this book, you will have read 31 (42.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 939 (70.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Baruch brings us to the 32nd book of our Bibles. Baruch was Jeremiah’s secretary, and he thus lived in the 6th century B.C. (though some conjecture that the book is only attributed to him but may have actually been written in the 2nd century B.C. to give people hope during the Maccabean Revolt). Baruch’s book offers the People of God in either century (and our own) a second chance and reasons for hope. In his pages, we’ll read of the Jews in exile in Babylon and of his call to pray for them, send them funds, and even pray for the ruler there, Nebuchadnezzar: delivery into his hands had been God’s will, and now the people were to pray for forgiveness of their sins (ch. 1); we hear more about cannibalism in the next chapter, as well as a wonderful Prayer for Deliverance (well worth our own occasional saying) and the promise of a new Covenant ahead (ch. 2); then comes a beautiful poem on Wisdom which should serve as a guide back into God’s graces (ch. 3); this poem continues into the next chapter which then launches into encouragement for those in exile not to lose heart because help is on the way and they will be free—perfect Lenten themes (ch. 4); then, just as in other places in the Bible God gives people new names when a new divine-human relationship is struck, so too the whole people God is saving receive new names: “Peace-Through-Justice” and “Glory-Through-Devotion”—God was into hyphenated names (ch. 5); the final chapter in some older Bibles actually appears as a separate book between Lamentations and Baruch as it is a Letter of Jeremiah which Baruch, his secretary, here incorporates into his own book: it reiterates that the people’s long captivity was due to their having turned in the past to foolish idols (ch. 6). When you finish this book, you will have read 32 (43.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 945 (70.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Ezekiel is the 33rd book in our Bibles. In this prophet’s text, we will find themes of judgment and restoration regarding God’s people. It recounts events of the 6th century B.C. (the First Deportation to Babylon in 598, the Fall of Jerusalem in 587, and the End of the Exile in 537). The author is among the exiles along the rivers of Babylon . While God seems distanced by the people’s turning to idols (leading to their subsequent defeat), we find God very much present to them by the end of the story. In Ezekiel’s pages, we’ll encounter a powerful vision at the very beginning, the public reading of which was restricted by the rabbis of old (ch. 1), scorpions and the eating of a scroll (ch. 2), a wonderful Penance preparation reading (ch. 3), calls for no tossing or turning (ch. 4), more cannibal themes (ch. 5), some doom-ish passages that arenot uplifting (ch. 7), the Glory of God leaving Jerusalem (ch. 10), folks in a stew (ch. 11), a new teaching of Individual Responsibility and a warning about 4 particular scourges [sword/famine/wild beasts/plagues] (ch. 14), a parable of The Useless Vine (ch. 15), another great Penance preparation chapter (ch. 18), an allegorical history of Jerusalem itself—and a few notes about Egyptians I can’t repeat here because this is a family publication (ch. 23), a revelation that it was God’s own self Who put the sword into the hand of the king of Babylon (ch. 30), the familiar tenet that the bigger they are the harder they fall (ch. 31), the assurance that God is our true Shepherd (ch. 34), the exchange of hearts of flesh for hearts of stone (ch. 36), a powerful Old Testament vision of resurrection [story of the dry bones] (ch. 37), the bellybutton of the world (ch. 38), a pre-Eucharistic eating of flesh and drinking of blood (ch. 39), the use of vestments (ch. 42), the return of Divine Glory to the Temple (ch. 43), sweating (ch. 44), weighing (ch. 45), exiting (ch. 46), flowing (ch. 47), and God’s future name (ch. 48). When you finish this book, you will have read 33 (45.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 993 (74.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Daniel brings us to the 34th book of the Bible. It is about the days of the Israelites exile in the Babylonian Empire in the 6th century B.C., yet it is written in the 2nd century B.C. during the Maccabean Revolt. That way, the author could give hope to those being persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes in that later revolt without fear of retribution by Antiochus because he would think it was being written about the earlier Nebuchadnezzar—it was sort of like writing in code. The name Daniel itself means “God is my judge” and that is what Daniel was trying to convey, that divine protection was for more than Daniel and those in the story being read; it was for all who were doing the reading. In Daniel’s pages, we’ll hear the story of the four young Israelites (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) whom we know better by the names given them in Babylon (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) and who did better on vegetables than those who ate meat that had been sacrificed to false gods (ch. 1); we’ll hear about Daniel’s ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (ch. 2) and we’ll read a section that was originally written in Aramaic ( 2:4b-7:28) except for one part that was written in Greek (3:24-91a); we’ll read a very long chapter that tells of a failed attempt to burn the three young men in the furnace and then relates two songs which are very prayerful (ch. 3); we’ll then read of Belshazzar profaning the stolen vessels of the Temple and of the writing that is on the wall for him (ch, 5); we read of how Daniel is one of three Presidents over the satraps of Greece, and yet of how he is thrown into the Lion’s Den (ch. 6); we have the vision of the four beasts (ch. 7); we encounter Gabriel interpreting for Daniel just as Daniel interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 8); Archangel Michael reenters the scene (ch. 10); then Antiochus Epiphanes is met (ch, 11), and we encounter a pre-Christ notion of Resurrection of the dead (ch. 12); chapters 13 and 14 are in the Greek but not the Hebrew Bible, and there we’ll read the beautiful story of Susanna, a woman of virtue (ch. 13); and finally, Daniel kills a dragon and Habakkuk stews (ch. 14). When you finish this book, you will have read 34 (46.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,007 (75.5%—over 3/4) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Hosea is the 35th book in our Bible, and technically it begins the final scroll of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. The last 12 books of this first of two Testaments in our Christian Bible are those of the Minor Prophets, and all are found on one scroll in the Hebrew Bible, unlike the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) each of whom was on a separate scroll. All of these final twelve, similar to the other four, move in their message from challenge to promise. Hosea is married to Gomer, and her unfaithfulness is a sign of Israel ‘s unfaithfulness to her God. Similarly, just as Gomer comes back to Hosea, so too Israel ‘s people to God. Hosea is an 8th Century B.C. prophet, and, according to commentator Timothy P. Schehr cited in earlier book summaries, three spiritual lessons found in Hosea that are paramount (and useful for ourselves) are: “No matter where we have strayed we can always come home to God. Nothing is more valuable than a relationship with God. Faith can transform a desert into a garden.” [ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2, p. 119] In Hosea’s pages, we will read of Hosea and Gomer’s 3 children each of whom had a name signifying something about God’s relationship with Israel’s people: God Make Fruitful, She Is Not Pitied, Not My People (ch.1); we see elements of punishment and redemption, good Lenten themes (ch. 2); we see how love of raisin cakes is right up there with idolatry (ch. 3); we journey to Beth-Aven [House of Evil] (ch. 4); we see the effects of stubbornness (ch. 5); we read a wonderful passage as we prepare for our own personal times of Penance celebration (ch. 6); we encounter conspiracy (ch. 7), apostasy (ch. 8), futility (ch. 9), and captivity (ch. 10); fortunately, we also witness God’s compassion despite Israel’s ingratitude (ch. 11); we meet rebellion and perversity (ch. 12), judgment and ruin (ch. 13), but finally repentance and conversion (ch. 14). When you finish this book, you will have read 35 (47.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,021 (76.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Joel is the 36th book of our Bibles. It is one of the briefer Old Testament books being only four chapters long. The name Joel itself means “The Lord is God.” The first two chapters deal with a famine—it is a spiritual famine in that the people were not too good at remembering that the Lord was their one and only God. The last two chapters deal with a time of plenty—when we do remember that the Lord is our God, we do not have want. The prophecy dates from the 6th century B.C., and is a good one for our reflection at any time of the year. In Joel’s pages, we will read of a lament over the ruin of the country and a call to repentance and prayer (ch. 1), the inevitable “Day of the Lord/Yahweh” that appears in all these Old Testament prophecies, and the familiar refrain from one of the Weston Priory hymns of decades gone by: “Come back to me with all your heart” (ch. 2), an outpouring of the Spirit that saves the day and a prophecy that Peter will quote in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 3, which is the end of ch. 2 in some Bible translations), and a passage about the judgment of the nations and ploughshares becoming swords (ch. 4, which is ch. 3 in some Bible translations—for our purposes, I am counting 4 as the number of chapters when I tally up the 1,334 chapters at the end of each of these Bible paragraphs). When you finish this book, you will have read 36 (49.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,025 (76.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Amos is the 37th (and, therefore, the middle) book we meet in our Catholic Bibles. Further—for those who have been reading a book a week—since the books in the first half of the Bible are longer (containing over 3/4 of the chapters of the Bible), we have yet to read less than 1/3 of the amount we’ve already read until we get to the end! Amos is the 3rd to be found on the single scroll of the 12 Minor Prophets who complete the Old Testament. Amos is an 8th century B.C. prophet from Judea in the South, yet he prophesies to the people of Israel in the North—just as Hosea (who himself was from the North) did earlier on this scroll. The first 6 chapters are a warning of judgment that shall come upon the people because they should have known better; the last 3 chapters are the judgment carried out. In Amos’ prophecy, we read of the judgment that will come upon Damascus, Gaza, Philistia, Tyre, Phoenicia, Edom, and Ammon (ch. 1); then we move on to the judgment for Judah and Israel themselves (ch. 2); we hear how those who are comfy on their divans in Damascus will not be spared (ch. 3); Amos then does not exactly make points with the women of Samaria whom he likens to the “cows of Bashan” (ch. 4); we then hear several important passages: a lament for Israel, the fact that there is no salvation without repentance, the reminder that we are to seek good and not evil, a preview of the Day of Yahweh, an encounter with a lion and a bear and then a snake, and the guideline that it is justice and not sacrifice that God desires most (ch. 5); we are told that complacent self-indulgence (more lying on divans) will be punished (ch. 6); we witness 3 visions: one of locusts, one of a drought, and one of a plumb-line (just as such a tool tells the builder that the wall is straight, so too was Amos to Israel regarding its moral straightness before the Lord) (ch. 7); then we have a 4th vision, one of a basket of fruit (ch. 8); and finally a 5th vision, one of the destruction of the sanctuary and of Israel when one will not be safe even in heaven or hell from the judgment of the Lord (ch. 9). When you finish this book, you will have read 37 (50.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,034 (77.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Obadiah is the 38th book in our Bibles. It is also one of the shortest (tied with four books in the New Testament) at only one chapter in length. For those reading a book a week, this week you’ll only have to read three verses a day! Obadiah writes from over 500 years before Christ. His name means “Servant of God,” and he is such by taking the people of Edom to task for forgetting their ties to the people of Judah going way back to the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca: the Edomites descended from Esau, the Israelites from Jacob. When Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C., the Edomites mistreated the people of Judah . Obadiah points out in verses 12-14 eight things the people of Edom should not have done, and he tries to break the cycle of violence by prophesying what lies in store for them if they have no change of heart. In sort of a backward golden rule, he writes in verse 15 that “as you have done, so will be done to you.” As with many of the other prophets, Obadiah writes of the Day of Yahweh (verses 16-18), and then speaks more hopefully of a New Israel. Timothy P. Schehr, author of The Bible Made Easy which has been quoted a few times earlier (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2), shares three spiritual lessons from Obadiah: “This world is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Human plans should be in accord with the plans of God. The misfortunes of others should stir up within us feelings of compassion” (p. 125). When you finish this book, you will have read 38 (52.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,035 (77.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Jonah is our 39th book in the Bible. Four times longer than the previous book of Obadiah, it has four whole chapters! The story of Jonah is set about seven centuries before Christ, though it may well have been written a few centuries later. Jonah is not one who was thrilled with his prophetic mission. The first chapter tells us right off that, when sent by God to Nineveh (a city in the heart of Israel ‘s enemy, Assyria ), he ran the other way. Stowing away aboard a ship, the vessel is tossed about in a storm until the sailors determine that it is because of Jonah’s running from God that the storm is upon them. They throw him overboard, and the sea is calmed (and they pray to Jonah’s God as a result). Jonah is also saved, sings a psalm of thanksgiving, and is spewed upon the shores of Nineveh ‘s country by the large fish that had swallowed him, all in chapter two. Then, in chapter three, much to Jonah’s surprise (and apparent disappointment), the people of Nineveh turn from their evil ways when Jonah prophesies (he had actually wished that the Lord would have cause to follow through with divine punishment instead). Though all of these would have provided lessons enough for us to ponder (unnecessary fear while doing God’s will, the inability to run permanently from God, the inevitability of God’s will being carried out whether we agree with it or not, and the very nature of God’s forgiving heart), it seems the chief lesson of the book lies in the fourth and final chapter: that we mustn’t be upset if God is more merciful than we are. Indeed, if Jonah can be upset about the qiqayon plant (which he had nothing to do with growing) that withers, can we expect God not to be concerned about a whole city of people who realize their errors and return with contrite hearts? Certainly there is much for our attention in this brief book! When you finish this book, you will have read 39 (53.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,039 (77.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Micah is the 40th book in our Bible. Its seven chapters give one-per-day for those reading a book a week. If Micah were to be made into a TV special, it would appear as an 8th Century B.C. courtroom drama. In chapters 1-2, there is a summons to the trial: Jerusalem is nicknamed “the sin of the House of Israel” and Judah experiences “no cure for wounds by the Lord”—the people have been unfaithful to the One who is always faithful (ch. 1); then we hear the specific social evils denounced, a prophecy of misfortune, and yet the possibility of restoration (ch. 2). In chapters 3-4, the charges are leveled: the wicked rulers and prophets have skinned and flayed the people, chopped them up and eaten them—ouch! (ch. 3); and they are then told that peace and security will come only through obedience, that their swords must be beaten into plowshares (just as in Isaiah 2:2-4), and that restoration (post-exile) will then be possible (ch. 4). In the next chapter, we have the Christmas promise that a future ruler of Israel will come from Bethlehem (ch. 5). Finally, we have God’s decision in the case: after a Good Friday lamentation (“My People, what have I done to you!”), we hear that passage Jimmy Carter used in his inaugural address regarding what God wants of them—indeed, of us (“to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God”) (ch. 6); and then we hear a call to penitence and trust in God, followed finally by the post-exilic restoration (ch. 7). When you finish this book, you will have read 40 (54.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,046 (78.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Nahum is the 41st book of our Bibles. It begins the second half of the 12 Minor Prophets whose writings are all on one scroll and conclude the Old Testament. Nahum is a 7th Century B.C. prophet whose prophecy concerns the period between the fall of Thebes to Assyria in 663 B.C. and the fall of Nineveh to Babylon in 612 B.C. He has good news for the People of God: they will once again be free from fear and oppression, for God’s power will overcome the human weakness of their day. The first seven verses of the book start out alphabetically like a number of the psalms had (that is, with each succeeding verse’s first word beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet), and in those verses we learn that God is a jealous God, yet at the same time mercifully slow to anger (ch. 1). Then we hear the familiar and comforting phrase regarding how on the mountains are the feet of one who brings glad tidings (ch. 2). Both Thebes and Nineveh are then mentioned (ch. 3) as the book’s message of hope comes to its conclusion. When you finish this book, you will have read 41 (56.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,049 (78.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Habakkuk brings us to the 42nd book in our Bible. The name is pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable: Ha-BAK-kuk. His time of concern in the Old Testament would involve the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Fall of Jerusalem in the early part of the 6th Century B.C. We already met Habakkuk back in the Book of Daniel where he appeared in the last chapter with a meal prepared for the people working in the fields; he also gives food to Daniel in the lion’s den. Habakkuk utters the cry that perhaps many of us have also made from time to time: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?” (ch. 1). Though he admits that the people may deserve some correction, he ponders why God might allow an enemy (the Chaldeans) to make life so difficult for the people who—for the most part—are more righteous, and he gets his answer in the realization that the upright will survive by way of their faithfulness to God (ch. 2). He also gains an awareness that the timeline is God’s to work out and ours to accept, and so he prays for deliverance and is given a theophany (a vision) of God’s approach; we also encounter an ancient name for God, Eloah, in the final chapter (ch. 3). When you finish this book, you will have read 42 (57.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,052 (78.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Zephaniah is the 43rd book in our Bibles. Zephaniah prophesied in the late 7th-early 6th century time period. Since his book identifies itself as being during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.), his would have been just before the prophecy of Jeremiah. When pictured, this prophet usually has a lantern in his hand. In 1:12, we see him exploring Jerusalem with lamps, seeking out those who had become too complacent about things in life. He speaks of the Day of the Lord—not the Sabbath, but a time of judgment on the peoples for not being guided by God’s command (ch. 1); then, Zephaniah warns Israel’s enemies: they should not think of themselves as being all perfect just because the Divine Being is using them as a corrective measure against God’s people (ch. 2)—you’ll get a hoot out of 2:14; finally, all ends on a positive note with a Song of Joy and the return of the exiles (ch. 3). When you finish this book, you will have read 43 (58.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible (only 30 more to go!), yet 1,055 (79.1%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Haggai brings us to the 44th book of our Bibles. Haggai wrote in the year 520 B.C. and his book is only 2 chapters long. He points out the failure on the part of the people and their need to shape up spiritually if they want their lives and their world to change for the better. His main challenge to the people is to rebuild the temple (both the physical building and the interior disposition within each of them). He points out that they had sown, eaten, drunk, clothed, and earned, but gotten little by way of return: the temple rebuilding will help to rectify this situation (ch. 1); he then focuses on the future glory of that temple, consults the priests, and promises great agricultural prosperity—a timely prophecy, as he was speaking thus during the growing season of the local region (ch. 2). When you finish this book, you will have read 44 (60.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,057 (79.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Zechariah is the 45th book in our Bible. After this one, we have only one more book until we reach the New Testament. This book is tied with Amos (14 chapters) as the longest of the twelve minor prophets on this final single scroll of the Old Testament. During Zechariah’s prophesying, Darius the Great was ruling Persia (522-486 B.C.). Zechariah has great expectations for God’s people, but these will not be realized until the people themselves have a change of heart from their evil ways. His book is filled with vivid imagery: many horses of various hues, a golden lampstand, and even a scroll flying through the air. As Timothy P. Schehr explains in The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2, pp. 138-140), the riders represent God’s ministers patrolling the earth, the lampstand denotes God’s guidance, and the flying scroll is the Word of God flying over all the earth. In his pages, we’ll encounter a summons for Israel’s conversion, a two-way Divine-Human commitment, and the 1st of 8 visions (ch. 1), a 2nd and 3rd vision (ch. 2, although in some Bibles the 2nd vision is at the end of ch. 1), a 4th vision involving Joshua’s investiture and Satan (ch. 3), a 5th vision with the lampstand and some olive trees (ch. 4), the 6th and 7th visions with the flying scroll and a basket headed for exile in Babylon (ch. 5), an 8th vision of 4 chariots with different colored horses (ch. 6), a chastisement for hypocritical fasting, rejecting God’s commands, and applying the law unfairly (ch. 7), God’s covenantal promises to Jerusalem (ch. 8), the Old Testament roots of one of our Palm Sunday readings (ch. 9), the restoration of Judah and Israel and God’s anger at the shepherds (ch. 10), the roots of Judas’ 30 pieces of silver (ch. 11), a spiritual hernia (ch. 12:3), the roots of the shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered for Mark 14:27 (ch. 13:7-9), and, once again, the Day of the Lord (ch. 14). When you finish this book, you will have read 45 (61.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,071 (80.3%—that’s over 4/5) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Malachi is the 46th book in our Bible, and the final book of our Old Testament. There are 3 or 4 chapters in this book, depending on which edition of the Bible you are reading (some end with 3:24; others end chapter 3 with verse 18 and the remaining verses are numbered as chapter 4:1-6)—we’re counting 3 chapters toward our 1,334 total. Malachi is a good one to end the Old Testament and lead into the New Testament because his writings look forward to a time when God’s messenger will come to prepare the way for the promised one. The author’s writings are dialogues between God and God’s People. In Malachi’s pages, we read of the corruption of the people who do not offer proper sacrifices (ch. 1); we also hear some pretty strong language about God’s displeasure with their human obstinacy (ch. 2); finally, we hear of the coming messenger, and there is final mention of Moses and Elijah who will appear in the opening books of the New Testament in the scene of the Transfiguration (ch. 3-4). When you finish this book, you will have read 46 (63.0%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,074 (80.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Matthew is the 47th book in our Bible, and the first of our New Testament. Though it appears first in the New Testament, it is not the oldest Gospel account: rather, Mark is. However, the oldest textual fragment of a synoptic gospel (that is, of Matthew, Mark or Luke—much of their writing comes from the same source, and so it is labeled “with one eye” [= syn-optic ]) is a segment of 24 lines of chapter 26 of Matthew. That fragment which was found around the year 200 A.D. is called “Papyrus 64” and if you go to the Magdalen College Library in England , you will find it there. By tradition, this gospel was recorded by the apostle/tax-agent named Matthew sometime in the 80s A.D. So it is written by a Jewish author with a message for the Jewish community that the prophecies they believed had come true in Jesus. Unlike the rest of the New Testament which was written in Greek, Matthew’s original was in Aramaic, the common language of Jewish people of his day. Matthew relies heavily on Mark’s gospel, but also on a 2nd source called “Q” (for Quelle , which is German for “source”) as does Luke. Matthew is more structured than Mark, and in using Mark and Q and some of Matthew’s own material constructs this first gospel in the New Testament in seven books. First is the Infancy Narrative (ch. 1-2) with a genealogy tracing Jesus’ roots back to Abraham. Next are five discourses of Jesus, each led up to by narratives of Jesus’ activity: the Jerusalem Bible labels these as “The Kingdom of Heaven Proclaimed” (ch. 3—7), “The Kingdom of Heaven is Preached” (ch. 8-10), “The Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven” (ch. 11-13:52), “The Church, the First-Fruits of the Kingdom of Heaven” (ch. 13:53-18), and “The Approaching Advent of the Kingdom of Heaven” (ch. 19-25). Finally, we have the account of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. When you finish this book, you will have read 47 (64.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,102 (82.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Mark is the 48th book in our Bible. It was written sometime in the 60’s A.D., as Mark speaks of the Fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) as a future predicted event. Also, if Matthew and Luke based so much of their accounts on Mark, then Mark’s account cannot be later than this. Mark is painfully aware of the slowness of the disciples to grasp all that Jesus had proclaimed: he is the only evangelist to tell the parable of the seed and its slow growth, and the only one to depict Jesus having to touch the blind man’s eyes twice in order for full clarity to be restored. Mark is also known for the “Messianic Secret” theme which has Jesus’ identity as the Messiah only gradually grasped, lest a too-easy grasping lead people to follow Jesus for the wrong reason—that is, what they can get out of such a relationship for themselves. Rather than beginning with an Infancy Narrative, Mark begins his gospel account with reference to John the Baptist and Jesus being the fulfillment of John’s prophecy. Mark’s gospel is then less developed theologically than Matthew’s: it is, rather, developed geographically with Jesus’ Galilean Ministry coming first, then his Journeys Outside Galilee, and then his Jerusalem Ministry. As with the other three gospel accounts, Mark’s concludes with a Passion and Resurrection narrative, though there are several “endings” found in chapter 16 (be sure to read your footnotes carefully for this chapter). Some have posited that the man who ran off naked in 14:52 when Jesus was arrested was the author, Mark himself. When you finish this book, you will have read 48 (65.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,118 (83.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Luke brings us to our 49th book of the Bible. Luke depends for much of his information on Mark’s gospel account. For other sections, he and Matthew draw from a different source known simply as “Q” (for the German Quelle meaning “source”); and for yet other sections, Luke draws on a source wholly his own: Luke, for example, is the only gospel account to contain the stories of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, Zaccheus, the Good Thief, and the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Luke was reportedly a physician, so healing and forgiveness are strong components in his account. Luke is also very balanced in his story-telling: whenever he tells a faith story involving a man, he also tells one of a woman. The Holy Spirit is also important in his writing, and we see this both in his gospel account and in The Acts of the Apostles which is the 2nd part of his Biblical offerings. Like Matthew, Luke’s account begins with an Infancy Narrative, but unlike Matthew’s, Luke’s is less interested in showing the events of Jesus’ early life as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies than he is in showing that his life story was no threat to the Roman Empire into which he was born. We also see much more about Mary (Annunciation, Visitation, Presentation, Finding of Jesus in the Temple ) than we do of Joseph through whose Jewish lineage Matthew traced Jesus’ roots. Interesting note: In Luke, John the Baptist is arrested before Jesus is baptized; Luke’s account does not say who baptized Jesus (it’s surprising what you find when you read slowly!). At the end of Luke’s account, Jesus ascends to heaven—which is where Luke’s Part 2 ( Acts ) begins. When you finish this book, you will have read 49 (67.1%—that’s over 2/3 of the Bible, and the last 24 books average only 8 chapters each) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,142 (85.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
John is the 50th book in our Bible. John, as the non-synoptic gospel account, is not rooted in Mark and the “Quelle” source for its basis. As the Beloved Disciple, John has much first person credibility on his own. Unlike Matthew and Luke, John’s account does not begin with an Infancy Narrative. But there is an interesting point that I have noted in my own reading of the 4 gospel accounts. Though scholars differ, one very dependable one, Passionist Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, posits that the gospel accounts were written in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and then John. It seems that the importance of Jesus in the history of salvation is able to be seen earlier and earlier in time as the post-resurrection years add up. That is, Mark begins his reference to Jesus with the ministry of John the Baptist; Matthew traces Jesus’ roots back to Abraham; Luke traces them all the way back to Adam; and John goes the furthest of all: “In the beginning was the Word.” The longer we ponder the mysteries of life, the more we too can connect all the dots right back to the earliest of connections with Jesus and all that is truly foundationally important in the world. Just a thought. As for the structure of John’s account (dated back to the last decade of the first century A.D.), our dear friend, Timothy P. Schehr in his The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2), labels the structure in this way: first is “The Word” which used to form the old “Last Gospel” read in Latin at the end of the old Mass (ch. 1); then the “Book of Signs” which relates the miracles of Jesus pointing to his glory (ch. 2-12); third is the “Book of Glory” which details Jesus’ “Hour” of his fulfilling the Father’s saving plan (ch. 13-20); and, fourthly, the “Faithful Responses” from Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (ch. 21). In chapter 3, we have the first “Nick-at-Nite” with Nicodemus approaching Jesus nocturnally to find out what it means to be “born again;” yet he speaks by day in Jesus’ defense in chapter 7—and is the one in chapter 19 who comes to the tomb with oil to anoint Jesus’ body after his death. What strikes you as you read? When you finish this book, you will have read 50 (68.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,163 (87.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
The Book of Acts of the Apostles is the 51st book in our Bible. It is really Part 2 of the Gospel of Luke, since it has the same author. Indeed, similar to the gospel, Acts begins with an Infancy Narrative of sorts—however, here we are talking about our birth as a Church: the Holy Spirit continues a very active presence as in Part 1 (Luke’s gospel account) and all that transpires in these early years of the Church does so only under such divine tutelage. Besides the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (like a reversal of Genesis 11 where all were struck with an inability to understand one another at Babel because of their trying to act as their own gods rather than as the one God would have them do), we have the choice of Matthias to replace Judas (ch. 1), the conversion of 3,000 people and the start of “daily Mass” (ch. 2), Peter healing as Jesus had done (ch. 3), a rocking house (ch. 4), a healing shadow (ch. 5), the first 7 deacons now that the gospel was to go to Gentile as well as to Jew (ch. 6), the intro of Saul who would be Paul (ch. 7), an attempt to buy the Holy Spirit (ch. 8), the conversion of Saul [1st of 3 such accounts] (ch. 9), angelic appearances (ch. 10), people called “Christians” for the first time (ch. 11), Rhoda (ch. 12), Saul becoming Paul (ch. 13), 2 “apostles” called “gods” (ch. 14), the 1st Council of the Church (ch. 15), a quaking jail (ch. 16), the identification of the Unknown God (ch. 17), a haircut (ch. 18), the calming job of the Town Clerk (ch. 19), a sermon much longer (and more tragic—poor Eustychus!) than any you’ll ever hear at Peace of Christ (ch. 20), the reappearance from chapter 11 of the prophet Agabus (ch. 21), Paul saved by his citizenship (ch. 22), Paul taken to the top cat, Felix (ch. 23), a pre-Gunsmoke Festus (ch. 24), Paul’s appeal to Caesar to save him (ch. 25), Paul’s deferred release because of his appeal to Caesar (ch. 26), a Nor’easter striking Paul (he would have loved Rochester!) en route to Caesar (ch. 27), and the revelation that Syracuse was on the way to Rome just as it is for us on the Thruway (ch. 28). When you finish this book, you will have read 51 (69.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,191 (89.3%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Romans is our 52nd book of the Bible. As Timothy P. Schehr notes in The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2), “The letters of the New Testament apply the gospel to daily life in much the same way the wisdom books apply the message of the Old Testament to daily life” (p. 169). First amongst these we have the letters attributed to St. Paul , some written to communities to address problems and some written to individuals. Then comes the Letter to the Hebrews, and finally the “catholic epistles” (those with a wider range than Paul’s letters) such as James; I, II, and III John; I & II Peter; and Jude. The letters of Paul are not arranged chronologically. Rather, the oldest known manuscript (3rd century) arranges the first 8 of them according to length, thus Romans is first. In Romans, Paul is not trying to correct any abuses, but rather to lay out the basic teaching of the gospel: that Jesus came to die for all, Jew and Greek, that they may be saved. Paul wrote this letter around 58 A.D., but did not finally get to Rome until 61 A.D. In Romans’ pages, we’ll find the power of the gospel to offset the guilt of us all (ch. 1), the powerlessness of the Law or of circumcision to save one apart from one’s being a person of the Law (ch. 2), the justification of us all by God’s good grace (ch. 3), the ancestry of Abraham being for Jew and Gentile alike (ch. 4), the posturing of Adam and Jesus (ch. 5), the wages of sin being death (ch. 6), the difficulty in doing the good we desire to do (ch. 7), the confidence of the believer in that, if God is for us, who can be against us? (ch. 8), God’s election of Israel (ch. 9), our justification by faith (ch. 10), the ability to be grafted back on to God after sinning (ch. 11), our being one Body with many parts (ch, 12), a call to stay alert (ch. 13), an admonition against causing scandal (ch. 14), the sharing of Paul’s plans to reach Rome (ch. 15), and a recounting of Epaenetus, Asia’s first convert (ch. 16). When you finish this book, you will have read 52 (71.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,207 (90.5%–less than 10% left!) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Corinthians ( St. Paul ‘s first letter to the people of Corinth ) is the 53rd book in our Bible. Paul spent some 18 months in Corinth spanning from 49 to 51 A.D., and would have been able to support himself by his trade as a tentmaker from all the commerce in the area which was quite substantial because of the two main ports that served it. Even before How To Win Friends and Influence People, Paul knew that the best way to begin his writing was to compliment his readers on their strengths, and then to motivate them to get even stronger (an Olympian thought!) by nourishing their spiritual gifts. Yet he did have to admonish his readers to keep their focus on Jesus and not on God’s instruments (himself, Apollos, etc.), to resolve their disputes among themselves rather than resorting to secular courts, to be willing to sacrifice for the greater and more-lasting values of heaven, and to cherish their giftedness in the Lord. Paul wrote to this church in Corinth about 5 years after his stay there. Apparently (from I Cor. 5:9) there was a letter which preceded I Corinthians; this next letter was written to Corinth from Ephesus, and one of its motivating factors was the weakening of the church of Corinth since Paul’s departure. In this book’s pages, we hear of Paul calling for no factions, admitting that his own preaching seemed a “folly” for some (ch. 1), of the power of assessing things by the mind of the spiritual person (ch. 2), of the divisions which had developed within the Church of Corinth (ch. 3), of stewardship, being a fool for Christ, and Paul’s self-description of himself in the roll of “father” [4:15: Greek pateras as opposed to Aramaic Abba used in Matthew 23:9] (ch. 4), of incest, yeast and judgment (ch. 5), of judging angels, a theology of the body, and all being permitted (ch. 6), of marriage, the Pauline Privilege, and pre-marital matters (ch. 7), of idol food and scandal causes (ch. 8), of Paul’s compulsion to preach and of his days as a boxer (ch. 9), of never being tested beyond one’s strength (ch. 10), of the oldest record of the Last Supper [even before the gospels] (ch. 11), of spiritual gifts, being one body with many parts, and our being the Body of Christ (ch. 12), of the ranking of spiritual gifts and a nuptial passage used at almost every wedding (ch. 13), of prophets and tongues and women of silence (ch 14), of Paul being abnormal, like Popeye [“I am what I am”], and teaching that bad company corrupts (ch. 15), and of a collection sent from the missionary country back to the sending church of Jerusalem (ch. 16). When you finish this book, you will have read 53 (72.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,223 (91.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Corinthians is our 54th book of the Bible. Written as much as a year after I Corinthians (and after yet another letter mentioned in II Cor 2:4), it appears that some other apostolic-type persons had visited Corinth in the interlude with great boasts about their credentials. Paul in this letter shows great concern as a shepherd for the young Corinthian church and lays out for them what boasts should really most concern them. Indeed, the word “boast” appears more than 20 times in this letter (depending on the translation you are using). See if you can find them (or their equivalent if your translation uses a different word) as you read, for they may be things about which WE might look to boast as well. You will encounter a much more emotional Paul in this letter than in the preceding one. He is so because of his great passion for the authentic Gospel message and because of his love for those in the Corinthian Church . In this second biblical letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we find that Jesus is not Yes one minute and No the next but always Yes for us and our needs (ch. 1), that some passages of Scripture can almost be smelled (ch. 2), that letters of recommendation sometimes come in human form (ch. 3), that wonderful funeral readings can be found among Paul’s words (ch. 4), that ambassadors are not only found in embassies (ch. 5), that resolute perseverance finally does pay off (ch. 6), that there is some “distress” or “grievance” that is good for us (ch. 7), that we should be encouraged to be generous (ch. 8), that if we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly (ch. 9), that Paul was able to defend himself (ch. 10), that Paul was a little like Robin Hood (ch. 11:8), that though we may have a thorn in our life, God’s grace is enough for us (ch. 12), and that witnesses are important when charges are made (ch. 13). When you finish this book, you will have read 54 (74.0%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,236 (92.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Galatians brings us to the 55th book in our Bible. Some believe that Paul wrote this letter at the completion of his first missionary journey, around the year 50 A.D., which could make this the earliest written book in the New Testament; but that distinction usually goes to I Thessalonians. A strong belief, rather, is that this was written during the period when Paul settled in Ephesus for a few years in the mid-50’s A.D. since the nature of the writing is to correct a few communities where folks had started (after Paul departed them) to believe counter-beliefs brought to them by others of questionable credentials. We will see a great deal of emotion in Paul’s words here because he is truly upset. In Galatians’ pages, we’ll read an opening to a book by Paul that is not all prayerful and supportive as most of his letters begin, but rather one that goes so far as to say that even if an angel shall appear with a contrary message, that being shall be cursed [one can find these words within the sanctuary of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Salt Lake City] (ch. 1), an account of how Paul stood up to Peter himself in Antioch when Peter changed his own behavior among the Gentile converts whenever Jewish converts were present instead of honoring the properness of the Gentiles’ customs which were not guided by the Law but by their Faith in Jesus (ch. 2), the most accusatory opening of a chapter in the Bible where Paul writes, “You stupid Galatians!” because they could not see that Abraham, the Father of those of the Jewish faith, himself was found acceptable to God—and he was 430 years before the Law ever came via Moses to the people [one wonders whether Paul ever had a beer with the Galatians afterwards to apologize for his choice of words] (ch. 3), Paul’s insistence that God is crying out a self-identity of “Abba, Father” even to the Gentiles, and Paul’s feeling that he has wasted time in his ministering among the Galatians and that they all need to be re-born (ch. 4), Paul’s going so far as to wish self-castration on some who have led in the wrong direction, and his insistence that freedom is not for license but rather to love [he goes on to list 15 works of the flesh to avoid in using one’s freedom, and 9 fruits of the Spirit for which to strive] (ch. 5), and his seemingly calmer ending in the final chapter [after he blew off all his steam] calling for correcting gently, helping to carry burdens, and a note referencing his penmanship which seems to have given itself over to a large script in the surge of emotions pouring forth from his quill (ch. 6). When you finish this book, you will have read 55 (75.3%—over 3/4!) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,242 (93.1%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Ephesians is the 56th book of the Bible. Timothy P. Schehr in his The Bible Made Easy (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2) sees the two main divisions of this book as being “God’s loving plan” (chapters 1-3) and “Our loving response” (chapters 4-6). He also points out that the letter is not specifically addressed to the church at Ephesus, but rather seems to have been directed to the wider area of western Turkey, Ephesus being where one might best send a letter in that day for such broad dispersal. Paul stayed in Ephesus for several years (54-57 A.D.) and it is felt that he probably wrote this letter back to the church of this area from the time of his house arrest in Rome (61-63 A.D.), though some believe it may have even been sent from the hand of one of Paul’s disciples sometime after Paul’s own death in 67 A.D. In the words of this letter, we find a much kinder salutation than had been sent to the Galatians and also the message that those addressed were chosen (before the world began) to be holy as adopted ones of God sealed by the Holy Spirit (ch. 1), an assurance that they were saved not by things they did to “earn” salvation but by God’s own good grace and, further, that they were aliens no longer but were now one with those who had formerly been the only ones to be considered as God’s chosen people (ch. 2), a description of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and a prayer by Paul for his Ephesian readers (ch. 3), a call to unity that is often read during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and a list of rules for the new life now to be lived [including the beautiful one which calls us never to end the day angry with another] (ch. 4), a prescription to take God as our pattern, to avoid foul behavior and speech, to be of the light, and to ascribe to certain morals in the home [Paul gets himself into trouble with many modern readers when he gets to the parts about submission] (ch. 5), and a call to children to be obedient especially since the 4th commandment is the 1st one to come with a promise [which will sound familiar to Star Trek fans of the Vulcan Spock: “Live long and prosper”] (ch. 6:3)—he also goes on to call for a new wardrobe for the believer: wear the armor of God and shoes of eagerness (ch. 6). When you finish this book, you will have read 56 (76.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,248 (93.6%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Philippians brings us to the 57th book in our Bibles. This brief letter (only 4 chapters) packs quite a bit in its verses. It is obvious that Paul is writing to a community he had come to love and had been very supportive of his ministry, but he is probably writing it from his prison cell of house arrest in Rome near the end of his life. Paul writes a wish (found in today’s ordination rite for deacons) that the one who began God’s work in them will bring it to completion in them, and he also expresses to them that it matters not whether he himself lives or dies, for Christ will be proclaimed through him in either case (ch. 1); Paul strives mightily for the Philippians’ unity among themselves in focusing on one another’s needs rather than on each of their own, and he also utters a prayer which captures the very kenosis (complete emptying) of Jesus for us on the cross (indeed, this has been set to music and was one of the scriptural passages used at my priesthood ordination back in 1978): we are to shine like stars amidst all of such self-emptying among ourselves (ch. 2); Paul speaks of the true way of Christian salvation in one’s breaking with the past as it may hold one back, and he even posts the only “Beware of the Dogs” sign in the Bible as he warns against those “dogs” insisting on practices no longer required to be numbered among God’s People—in fact he goes so far as to point to himself as the reformed example that they should follow, and one section of his letter is often used at funerals as it identifies our true homeland as being heaven (ch. 3); and finally he closes with a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” outlook as he thanks his readers for their donations in the past and sends greetings from Caesar’s household [which is his imprisoning “host”] (ch. 4). When you finish this book, you will have read 57 (78.1%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,252 (93.9%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Colossians is the 58th book of the Bible. Though it is thought that Paul wrote this from his house arrest in Rome back to the people of Colossae, some have argued (from the vocabulary that is used) that it may actually have been written after his death and ascribed to him as being in keeping with what he would have written. In either case, it is filled with a number of vivid images which help to convey his message. For Colossians’ author, Christ was the image of the unseen God: to look at Jesus and observe his actions was to see God’s own self, and Paul was there to bring this message to the Gentile converts as Peter had brought it to the Jewish converts (ch. 1); in Paul’s concern for the Colossian’s faith, he told them to “Beware of Philosophy” as he was particularly concerned with various cosmic ones that were prevalent at that time, and he referred to Baptism as the “Christian Circumcision” and also advised that folks “Beware of Angels” and “Beware of Visions”—there was much to beware of in those days (ch. 2); he warned the Colossians regarding uncontrolled passion, spoke of “greed” as being against the 1st Commandment (worshiping wealth as a false god), then went on (in what is a common wedding passage) to describe what spiritual clothes to wear (a fitting image since Colossae was the heart of a thriving clothing industry in its day), wrote of the “peace of Christ” in the only verse of the Bible to use the name of our parish (3:15), wrote again regarding kind family relationships, and encouraged that whatever our work is in life we should put our heart into it (ch. 3); then he ends this book with a call to perseverance and to pray for himself, an encouragement to add a little salty wit to our speech with one another, a mention of Onesimus (to be encountered again in the Book of Philemon), a mention of house churches, an invitation to the Colossians to share this letter with the Laodiceans (Ephesians?) and exchange it with theirs, and an assurance that this is by his own hand—it is certainly in his own spirit (ch. 4). When you finish this book, you will have read 58 (79.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,256 (94.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Thessalonians brings us to the 59th book in our Bible. Though it is almost midway amongst the 27 books of the New Testament, it is actually the earliest of those books to be written. One commentator describes it as being more like one-half of a telephone conversation than like any type of theological book, because it is penned by Paul from Corinth around the year 50 in his care and concern for the people of Thessalonica among whom he had previously spent time preaching the good news. They and Paul are decidedly excited, for at the time they felt that the Second Coming of the Lord would imminently be upon them. Still, Paul himself does not know exactly when this will occur, so he simply advises that they constantly live according to gospel values in order to be in a continuous state of readiness for the Lord’s return. The book is written less than 20 years after the Lord’s resurrection, and it seems Paul is correcting some who had come along trying to make profit off of the gospel. He also calms those concerned because some of their loved ones had died already before the Lord’s return. In these pages he builds up the Thessalonians as he congratulates them for their faith and example (ch. 1); he reminds them that God gave them courage for times of opposition, and he refers to himself in the role of mother and in the role of father toward them (ch. 2); we hear how Paul had sent Timothy to look in on them and how Paul was grateful for the report he received back from Timothy about them (ch. 3); he tells them that they are doing good, but that there is always room for improvement, and we also find an often used funeral reading here, one which some link with Revelations 20:4 to posit a Rapture beginning a 1000-year Reign of Christ (ch. 4); and Paul closes out this book with a reference to the “Day of the Lord”, the admonition to be always ready for the Lord’s return even should it come at night, a call to respect their spiritual leaders and always be joyful, and a warning not to stifle the Spirit (ch. 5). When you finish this book, you will have read 59 (80.8%—over 4/5!) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,261 (94.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Thessalonians is the 60th book of our Bible. This second letter to the people of Thessalonica according to the Bible introductory book by our friend, Timothy P. Schehr (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2), finds just as much energy as in I Thessalonians but this time it is Paul’s and not the people’s. Theirs had waned as the time went on, and Paul here tries to re-motivate them. When they had heard about the Second Coming of the Lord from Paul earlier, in their understanding of it as being about to happen at any moment, some of them had given up expending energy of any type but rather chose simply to wait for the end’s arrival. In this second letter, he counsels that they will experience various challenges to their beliefs and must be ready to endure hardship because of these. Paul holds himself up as an example for them to follow: he was a hard worker and expects them to be such as well. In this letter (written perhaps a year after the preceding one), we’ll hear Paul’s opening of thanks for the Thessalonians and their faith, a faith he tries to buoy up for the future (ch. 1), Paul’s admonition not to be deceived by alarmists’ false prophesying about the end time, and then a word of further thanks (ch. 2), and a plea by Paul for prayers to be preserved from bigoted people, and a call not to be idle (ch. 3). When you finish this book, you will have read 60 (82.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,264 (94.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Timothy brings us to the 61st book in our Bible. It is the first of the “Pastoral Letters” in the New Testament and addresses Timothy who had accompanied Paul on his journeys to Corinth and Thessalonica. Timothy was now pastoring the flock at Ephesus , a port on the western coast of Asia Minor . Paul here addresses distortions to the gospel that had come about and writes to Timothy as one pastor to another. Paul addresses many practical matters, even what to wear in the small house churches of that area so as not to distract from the One who is the focus of the liturgy. It is felt that this letter was written sometime in or after 63 A.D. after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome and probably from him in Macedonia . In this letter, we hear Paul: instruct Timothy to stay in Ephesus and work against the false teachers in that area and that Jesus came to save sinners of whom Paul self-identifies as one of the greatest (ch. 1); offer a liturgical prayer and give instruction on proper liturgy by way of offering petitions, lifting hands up, and being silent at times (ch. 2); give qualifications for anyone who is a bishop (be husband of one wife and not a new convert) or a deacon (ch. 3); condemn false asceticism and tout the usefulness of religion and warn folks not to reject Timothy because of his youthful age (ch. 4); teach how to speak to elders and to care for relatives living with you and to treat widows and to drink a little wine for the stomach (ch. 5); and give a few words on slavery, the usefulness of religion, and on love of money being the root of all evil (ch. 6). When you finish this book, you will have read 61 (83.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,270 (95.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Timothy is the 62nd book in our Bible. It is the second of the “Pastoral Letters” in the New Testament and yet it is the last that Paul would write before his death around 67 A.D. in Rome . He writes this time to Timothy to buoy up his spirits. It appears that Timothy (in his diligence to proclaim the gospel authentically) had gotten into an argument with two individuals named Hymenaeus and Philetus. Paul rather encourages Timothy to come to see him so that both can gain from mutual support while they are still on this side of eternity. Such writing gives one pause to reflect on our use of letter-writing to bolster one another along our ways through life: How many of us even still write letters? Those that do, what content fills their pages: is it focused on stories about me, or inquiries and concern about the other? How might some form of meaningful communication beyond a mere “tweet” make for more purposeful presence of ourselves to the other? In the pages of this book, we read of Paul’s recalling Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (ones whom Paul obviously knew sufficiently by name) and an admonition by Paul that Timothy fan into flames his gift (a good prescription for ourselves as well) (ch. 1); Paul’s mention of sports, of farming, and of keeping the gospel unchained, as well as of godless philosophy, gangrene, and being gentle (ch. 2); Paul’s assessment of the dangers of the last days and of the necessity to be less self-centered, and of his knowledge of the names of Pharoah’s magicians in Moses’ day, Jannes and Jambres (names with a non-Biblical etymology) and of the usefulness of all inspired Scripture (ch. 3); and Paul’s call to proclaim the gospel whether welcome or not, to fight the good fight, to run the race, and to bring his coat and books from the lost-and-found in Troas (ch. 4). When you finish this book, you will have read 62 (84.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,274 (95.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Titus brings us to our 63rd book of the Bible. It is the third of the “Pastoral Letters” in the New Testament, and, as the letters to Timothy were written to the one Paul left in charge at Ephesus , Titus is written to the one he left in charge on Crete . Paul pleads with Titus to lead by good example, as that more than anything else will help to lead those to whom he is sent to the Truth and away from those things that initially occupied the bulk of their attention, that is, their more selfish passions and pleasures. Eternal life is a much more lofty goal on which to focus. If this letter is indeed from Paul’s own hand, then it is written after his house arrest in Rome (after 63 A.D.) since he is available to meet with Titus in Nicopolis (see 3:12). In the verses of this book, we read about the coming-into-focus of church offices that are familiar to us (such as bishops) and we learn of the qualifications required of ones to occupy those offices (ch. 1), the types of behavior that those who are older in the community should display and the fact that God’s grace is to save all of humanity and not just a certain people (ch. 2), and a call to be obedient to authority, to be gentle, to be kind and to be realistic: if after two times others choose to persist in their sinful ways, just move on (ch. 3). When you finish this book, you will have read 63 (86.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible (only 10 more to go!), yet 1,277 (95.7%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Philemon is the 64th book in our Bibles. It is the first 1-chapter book we have encountered since Obadiah in last April 19th’s bulletin. This letter of Paul is really about the size of a letter, and is written in Paul’s own hand. Paul writes to Philemon who is in Colossae (which is in modern day Turkey ). Somehow, Philemon’s slave, Onesimus (whose name means “useful”) had escaped and wound up with Paul in prison. While together with Paul, Onesimus was baptized, and now Paul tries to be the peacemaker pleading with Philemon (whose name means “loving”) to welcome Onesimus back as a brother in faith. We don’t know for sure where Paul was when he wrote the letter, but some posit it was Ephesus , making the date of its composition somewhere in the mid 50’s A.D. In its verses, Paul gives thanks as he usually does in his salutations; he also asks Philemon to prepare a room for him, and sends greetings not only from himself but from 5 others as well. When you finish this book, you will have read 64 (87.7%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,278 (95.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Hebrews brings us to our 65th book of the Bible. Timothy P. Schehr’s The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction (ISBN 978-0-86716-598-2) states in his opening lines on Hebrews : “If you are looking for a boost in your spiritual life, you will find it in this book! The author of Hebrews wants to light a fire in our hearts. He knows our struggles; he knows some of us may even be on the verge of giving up altogether. His advice to us all: Stay focused on the Lord because the Lord is the perfect mediator between God and humanity” (p. 214). We learn in Hebrews’ pages that Jesus is above the angels and, like Moses’ Passover, his offers life instead of death. Jesus is seen as the perfect priest whose single sacrifice of himself surpasses all other sacrifices ever to be made. While this letter is found with Paul’s letters on a 2nd century manuscript, modern scholarship leans away from Pauline authorship. The book seems to pre-date the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. since it does not mention that event. Due to its content for believers facing great difficulty, it probably comes from the time of the ruler Nero (54-68 A.D.). In Hebrews’ pages we read of Jesus being higher than the angels (ch. 1), of how Jesus’ sufferings enable him to identify with and help others (ch. 2), of how one’s refusal to believe will be the cause of one’s lack of entry to the kingdom (ch. 3), of how it’s never too late to change and we need to stay in the Now (ch. 4), of our need to get to consuming spiritually solid food (ch. 5), of how “hope” can be our anchor (ch. 6), of how priests themselves are called to tithe (ch. 7), of how Jesus mediates a new covenant—and we read the longest Old Testament quote (Jeremiah 31:31-34) in the New Testament (ch. 8:8-12), of earthly and heavenly sanctuaries and the descent to the dead (ch. 9), of how we should not skip church and how sin leads to hopelessness (ch. 10), of how faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen, of the Assumption of Enoch, and of our real home not being our origin but our goal (ch. 11), of the benefit of keeping our eyes on Jesus and the loving reason why we are disciplined (ch. 12) and of the need for us to welcome strangers, for in doing so we may be honoring angels from God (ch. 13). When you finish this book, you will have read 65 (89.0%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,291 (96.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
James is the 66th book found in our Bibles. It is the first of the seven “catholic” epistles found in the New Testament. That is, since they by and large were not addressed to specific communities, they were judged to have been addressed to the entire (universal, that is, “catholic”) Church. James identifies for all his readers four examples of faith which he holds up as ones that can help them (us) on our journey of faith: putting our faith into action, making good use of the power of speech, being detached from the things of this world, and asking for the gift of patience with our brothers and sisters. James the brother (cousin) of Jesus and leader of the Church in Jerusalem is said to be the author of this book. In its pages, we will read that our trials should lead to perseverance, that we should pray with confidence, that temptation is from the self and not from God, and that we are to act on the Word (ch. 1), that there is to be no partiality for the rich, that mercy trumps judgment, and that faith without works is deadly (ch. 2), that one must tame the tongue as one would a horse’s bit, a boat’s rudder, a flame, or a pest (ch. 3), that if we do not have that for which we ask from God it must be because we have asked wrongly, that when we give in to God the devil leaves, that we must think twice before passing judgment on another, and that we are each like naught but a fleeting mist (ch. 4), and that we must be patient like the farmer awaiting his crop’s growth, that we should say Yes for yes and No for no and not need anything further, that the power of anointing is ours and we should get into the practice of confessing, and that a return to the faith will serve to cover many sins (ch. 5). When you finish this book, you will have read 66 (90.4%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,296 (97.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I Peter is our 67th book of the Bible. It is the second of the seven “catholic,” or universally addressed, epistles found in the New Testament. Peter assures his hearers in a world that was rejecting them that they had a home, and it was among those who held true to their convictions, no matter what the cost. They were simply to be encouraged not to backslide into the sinful ways of their world, and he offers practical advice for every member of the household. Timothy Schehr points out that parts of this brief book are quoted in Tuesday Night Prayer ( like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around ) and among the Prefaces of Mass ( you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… ). It contains the only scriptural reference to Rome being the site of Peter’s martyrdom. The context points to the author’s composition being from the time of Nero, about 65 A.D., shortly before Peter’s death. In this book’s pages, we read that even without seeing the Lord we can love him and believe in him, and that we have a call to holy living (ch. 1), that we should be without criticizing, drink milk, be “living stones” (in the words of the pastoral letter by our former diocesan leader, Bishop Hogan) (ch. 2), that there are proper ways for Christian spouses to treat one another (ch. 3), that suffering alleviates sin, that the end is near, that love covers a multitude of sins, that we are to be good stewards, and that we are to give thanks if we are judged worthy of suffering for being a Christian (ch. 4), and that we are to give a shepherd’s care, be humble, unload our burdens on God, and stay sober and alert (ch. 5). When you finish this book, you will have read 67 (91.8%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,301 (97.5%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II Peter is the 68th book in our Bible. At the time of the author’s writing it, the belief was that the day of the Lord was approaching. Peter wanted to be sure everyone was ready, and thus the focus of this book. There was a false teaching going around in his day that persuaded some to cling to the things of this world and deny the life to come. Yet Peter’s conveyance of his concern is tempered with the same patience that the Lord once had to have toward him when Peter thrice denied even knowing the Lord at all. By this book’s conclusion, we are convinced that Peter is ready for his own personal day with the Lord. While this book would have had to have been written by 65 A.D. in order to have Peter as its author, there is also other evidence that it may have been the latest of the New Testament books to have been written (around 100 A.D.) and, therefore, was “merely” attributed to Peter. In this book, we learn that God gave us all we need, that the divine nature has been shared with us, that we are to support our faith with 7 qualities, that our body is like a tent [not meant to last], and about the Transfiguration (ch. 1); that there will be fake prophets, that God punishes angels and men as appropriate yet saves the good, that some people have an insatiable capacity for sin, and that it is better not to know rather than to know and yet to desert the known (ch. 2); and that scoffers will come, that there will be a Day of Judgment, and yet that a day is like a thousand years: it will be slow to come, the Lord is patient, we must be saintly (ch. 3). This last chapter also contains the first reference in the Bible to part of the New Testament itself as beingpart of the Bible (see 3:15-16). When you finish this book, you will have read 68 (93.2%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,304 (97.8%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
I John is our 69th book of the Bible. It is the first of three letters in the New Testament attributed to John. In this first of these, John really wants us to know that he personally witnessed the Lord, and now he wants through his words to invite each of his readers to do the same. John emphasizes the need for a right relationship with the Lord, and refers to this as “fellowship” with the Lord. He names a number of things which we shall find on this letter’s pages to help us strengthen that bond between the Lord and ourselves. By the time of his writing, some in the community had begun to deny that God had indeed become one like them in the person of Jesus. These were sometimes referred to as “antichrists” whose very stance kept them from realizing that they themselves were privileged to be children of God. To counteract this, John is very repetitive in conveying that, as God’s children, we are to love one another. The book is believed to have been authored around the end of the 1st century. In this book’s pages, we read that John wants the letter’s recipients to share what has been seen and heard, that God is light, that no darkness abides in God, and that we must acknowledge the Son in order to be forgiven (ch. 1), that Christ is our Advocate with the Father, that we will know Christ if we obey the Commandments, and that we must be detached in order to live forever (ch. 2), that we are God’s children and the reason we are not acknowledged is because the world never acknowledged God, that the reason for Jesus’ appearing was to undo the work of the devil, and that we are to love one another (ch. 3), that there will be false prophets (so we should test the spirits), that we should love God because love is of God Who loved us first, and that we can’t love God without loving our brothers and sisters (ch. 4), and that our faith will bring victory over the world, that there are 3 witnesses (the Spirit, water, and blood), that if we know that God listens to us then we will have what we ask, and that not all sin leads to death (ch. 5). When you finish this book, you will have read 69 (94.5%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,309 (98.1%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
II John brings us to the 70th book in our Bible. It is the second of three letters in the New Testament attributed to John, and is one of the few books of the Bible (1 in the Old Testament and 4 in the New) that is only one chapter long. In this second Johannine letter, John has found the joy he was looking for in the first. In its verses, we find that the letter is addressed from “the Elder” to “a Lady who is elect and to her children” although we do not know how many communities this may refer to. He calls the letter’s recipient(s) to love one another and to obey the commandments, and he warns against antichrists who will try to be deceptive and misleading. He closes sending greetings from the children of the recipient’s “elect Sister,” that is, another community. When you finish this book, you will have read 70 (95.9%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,310 (98.2%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
III John is our 71st book of the Bible. It is the third of three letters in the New Testament attributed to John, and is another which is only one chapter long. In this third Johannine letter, John’s joy continues as he points to the example of one named Gaius who welcomes missionaries into his house. This is as opposed to another named Diotrephes who is not so hospitably oriented. While John is concerned that Gaius not be negatively influenced by Diotrephes, he is also confident that when he himself (John) is on the scene, even Diotrephes’ approach can be addressed. John does vouch for one named Demetrius, though, as a missionary who can be trusted. When you finish this book, you will have read 71 (97.3%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,310 (98.3%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Jude is the 72nd book in our Bibles. Jude is very much concerned with keeping his readers focused on Jesus and not being led astray by others. The author, though probably not the apostle by that name, may have been a relative of Jesus, such as the brother of James of Jerusalem. This book probably comes from the last decade of the 1st century since II Peter (believed to be the latest book of the New Testament) quotes it. Jude claims to have fought hard for the faith. Further, he is certain of punishment for the false teachers of his day, and encourages his readers to build themselves in the foundation of their faith. Many strong and straightforward images will be found in Jude’s verses describing those who had become askew. He even quotes the apocryphal Book of Enoch in describing the punishment that will be theirs. When you finish this book, you will have read 72 (98.6%) of the 73 books of the Bible, yet 1,312 (98.4%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.
Revelation brings us to the 73rd and final book of the Bible. We have been using Timothy P. Schehr’s The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction to help us on our journey through each book of the Bible, and he sums up well this final book on this 17-month pilgrimage we have been on: “As the title suggests, this book reveals. It reveals the overpowering majesty of God, from the victory of Jesus over sin and death, across the wide expanse of time, all the way down to the end of the ages. Its purpose is to encourage us to remain faithful to the Lord. If we do so, we will share in God’s final victory and enjoy eternal life in the kingdom of heaven” (p. 237). This final book was written at a time of great difficulty for the Church, so it should have relevance for most folks in most years of their lives because all of us have our share of challenges. It conveys its message in a series of images whose meaning is well worth pondering: letters to 7 churches, a scroll with 7 seals, the sounding of 7 trumpets, 7 bowls of judgment, the Lamb, a woman clothed with the sun, the Dragon, the Archangel Michael, and much more. In the book’s pages, we read how John, the author, is on Patmos (ch. 1), we find references to Philadelphia and to the familiar image of Christ knocking at the door (ch. 3), we hear of horses of 4 different hues (ch. 6), we encounter the 144,000 saints (ch. 7), we are told of a star named Wormwood (ch. 8), we meet up with scorpions one more time before the Bible’s end (ch. 9), we meet up with the famed “666” beast (ch. 13) [6=1 less than 7, the perfect number; so 666=triple imperfection], and we encounter once again the Tree of Life which had been off limits since the first book of the Bible (ch. 22). When you finish this book, you will have read 73 (100%) of the 73 books of the Bible, and 1,334 (100%) of the 1,334 chapters of the Bible.