The Bible: 40 Books in 40 Days

At the beginning of Lent, I set out to read 40 books of the Bible in 40 days. It was actually 42 books (because I’m an overachiever, I added Ezra and Amos) in 46 days (because I’m a pragmatist and because Lent is longer than you think it is).

It sounds impressive, I suppose, to read 42 books (roughly 63% of the Bible) in a month and a half. And I can be an obsessively disciplined person–but having completed it, in retrospect, it doesn’t seem that impressive. I don’t think people realize how many short books are in the Bible. At least a quarter of them–probably more–took under 10 minutes to read. I read with my morning tea; on train rides into Chicago; in the car, roadtripping to Michigan (that was difficult). Having a travel-sized Bible helps. Three or four times with the gospels I took advantage of my job and read the Bible at church, and that helped, too. But I skipped over some shorter books (Nehemiah, 2 Corinthians, the aforementioned Ezra and Amos) in favor of the gospels, so it’s certainly do-able if you want the shortest of the short books. All that to say… it’s a do-able Lenten practice that I encourage others to pick up.


40 books: Shorter than all 7 Harry Potter books? Almost certainly. And I’m sure I could read those in 40 days.

I also had a surprising amount of support to motivate me. Once you announce your intention to the world, there’s a high bar for accountability. A half-dozen friends volunteered to read with me, in some form or another, following along in the same order and discussing the confusing or weird points along the way. This was perhaps the biggest blessing. In particular, a pastor friend in Ohio who became my accountability partner, as we each posted a favorite verse from each day. The irony of using Facebook to aid my Lenten practice, when so many of my friends were giving it up for Lent, was not lost on me. The modern world is a funny place.

I’ve never been the sort to post Bible verses on Facebook, and so I tended toward the life-affirming, the calls for justice, a balancing of fundamentalist proof-texting. Occasionally, as in all aspects of my life, I tended toward the absurd. And the verses stimulated conversation with a wide range of friends–about Jesus’ power, about the resemblance between minor prophets and our current presidential campaign (recurring theme), even about ethical eating.


So on this Holy Saturday, another Lent is in the books. Having accomplished what I set out to do, I now go back to the Christian task of reminding myself that accomplishments aren’t worth much. We’re not, as several of the epistles who are blurring in my mind say, so much people of rules, we’re people of formation. The rules aren’t worth much if they don’t form our character. The rules aren’t worth much anyway, but that’s a story for another time. A character was formed, I think, and that has made the Lenten practice worthwhile.

In the spirit of sharing, I’m leaving my the full selection of my favorite verses here–although I warn you, it probably won’t make a good foundation for your next Bible study.

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
-1 John 3:17 (KJV)

“Although I have much to write you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
-2 John .12

“Dear friend, concerning all things I wish you to prosper, and to be in good health, and in the same way may it be well with your soul.”
3 John .5 (hybrid translation)

“But you should not have gloated over your brother
on the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
on the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted
on the day of their distress.”
-Obadiah .12

“As servants of God, live in freedom, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”
1 Peter 2:16 (hybrid translation)
It has happened to them according to the true proverb,
“The dog turns back to its own vomit,” and
“the sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.”
-2 Peter 2:22 (NRSV)

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.'”
-Ruth 1:16-17 (NIV)

Jonah prayed to the Lord, “Is this not what I said while I was still at home? That’s why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
-Jonah 4:2-3

“Nothing can heal your wound;
your injury is fatal.
Everyone who hears the news about you
claps his hands at your fall,
for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
-an oracle for Nineveh, Nahum 3:19

“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines,
though the produce of the olive falls
and the fields yield no food,
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will exult in the God of my Salvation.”
-Habakkuk 3:17-18

“God will judge between the nations
and settle disputes of mighty nations,
which are far away.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.”
-Micah 4:3 (CEB)

“And [Jesus] could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
-Mark 6:5-6 (NRSV)

“For we brought nothing into the world–it is certain that we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
-1 Timothy 6:7-8 (NRSV, following “other ancient authorities”

“Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with joy.”
2 Timothy 1:4 (NRSV)

“Everyone with me greets you; greet those who love us faithfully. Grace be with all of you.”
-Titus 3:15 (CEB)

“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”
-Hosea 6:6

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
-Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

“Rushing waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If someone gave all his estate in exchange for love,
he would be laughed to utter scorn.”
-Song of Songs 8:7 (CEB)

“Is this the exultant city
that lived secure,
that said to itself
‘I am, and there is no one else’?
What a desolation it has become,
a lair for wild animals!
Everyone who passes by it
hisses and shakes their fist.”
-Zephaniah 2:15 (CEB)

“I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.”
-Haggai 3:17 (NRSV)

“This is what the LORD says: Administer true justice; sow mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. On your hearts do not think evil of each other.”
-Zechariah 7:9 (NIV)

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”
-Malachi 4:2 (NRSV)

“In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God…”
-John 1:1 (NRSV)

“For if you keep your silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
-Esther 4:14 (NRSV)

“I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you.”
-Philemon .12

“But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?”
-James 2:6 (NIV)

“I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten….”
-Joel 2:25a (NRSV)

“It is good to bear
the yoke in youth.
You should sit alone in silence
when God lays it on you.
You should put your mouth to the dirt–
perhaps there is hope.”
-Lamentations 3:34-35 (CEB, adapted for inclusive language)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you wlll not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
-Luke 6:37 (NRSV)

“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.”
-Acts 9:19a (KJV)

“What has become of the goodwill you felt? …had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
-Galatians 4:15-16 (NRSV)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
-Ephesians 4:31-32

“No. If your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
-Romans 12:20 (NRSV)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
-Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)

“Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’ So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”
-Daniel 1:11-16

“They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”
Jude .12b-13

“In any case, it was kind of you to share in my distress.”
-Philippians 4:14 (NRSV)

“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
-Colossians 3:13 (NRSV)

“Yes, you are our glory and our joy! Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent [you] Timothy, our brother and coworker for God…”
-1 Thessalonians 2:20-3:2a (NRSV)

“and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you…. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”
-2 Thessalonians 3:8, 10b-11

One thought on “The Bible: 40 Books in 40 Days

  1. Pingback: How to Read Half the Bible for Lent (and Still Take Days Off) | gathering the stones

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