The Bible is full of dramatic stories that have made it the world's bestselling book. But whoever has time to read it all from cover to cover?
The One Hour Bible – From Adam to Apocalypse in Sixty Minutes is published by SPCK. It's a cut-down version of Scripture that contains the crucial bits of the Bible and leaves out the parts that slow the story down.
Christian Today interviewed editor Philip Law.
Christian Today: Has anyone done this before? If not, why not...?
Philip Law: There have been summaries – for example, The 100 Minute Bible, published in 2005; and there have been lots of anthologies over the years. Back in 1982 Reader's Digest published a 'condensed' version of the RSV – although that ran to 800 pages, so you'd still need a fair amount of time to read it. But I'm not aware of anything that offers a selection and distillation of the Bible's main narratives, which uses only the Bible's own words and can be read in one sitting.
CT: How did you decide what to put in and what to leave out?
PL: Jesus says in John 5.39: 'You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!' That's one deciding factor that I tried to keep in mind. Another was whether the story, character or theme was going to help the reader connect with God and get to know the ways in which God reaches out to the world in order to heal and redeem it. And a third factor was the desire to take those stories, characters and themes that many people still think of as biblical – perhaps from hearing them as children, or perhaps from paintings, music or films they've come across as adults – and assemble them into a continuous narrative that shows how the famous bits fit together into the bigger picture.
CT: Were there any texts you particularly agonised over?
PL: Yes! I agonised over lots that in the end had to be left out – the stories of Esther and Job, to give two examples. And I agonised for hours over which bits of the Gospels to include. In the end, as I say in the book's introduction, I decided to select passages that give a good sense of what most New Testament scholars would say are the most distinctive elements of Jesus' ministry – his emphasis on the need for love to guide our relationships; his concern for the poor, the diseased and disabled; his readiness to eat and mix with social outcasts; his relaxed attitude to Jewish food laws; and his genius for teaching in parables.
CT: What would you say to people who argue that the whole Bible is God's word and you shouldn't be abbreviating it?
PL: Both on the cover of The One Hour Bible and in the introduction I try to make it clear that this isn't intended as a substitute for the Bible, but a way of encouraging people to start reading it – some of whom might not otherwise read it at all. At the same time, there are lots of Christians whose only contact with the Bible is through the little bits they hear in church on a Sunday, and so I'd like to think that The One Hour Bible is for them too – that it will help them to put those apparently random bits together and instil a desire to read and reflect on it more for themselves, either on their own or in a group with other Christians.
CT: Are parts of the Bible less valuable than others?
PL: I think that at different points in its long history different parts of Scripture have been valuable – especially to the people who heard or read those parts when they were first written, but also to later generations. But I don't think that necessarily means that, for example, everything that's written in the Old Testament deserves an equal amount of attention today. In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews explains how the Jewish sacrificial system, set out at length in Leviticus, points forward to the sacrifice made 'once for all' by Jesus – and for Christians that surely indicates that it's more valuable to spend time reading and reflecting on the example of Jesus in the Gospels than to spend the same amount of time reading parts of the Bible dealing with detailed rituals and regulations for worship in ancient Israel.
CT: It might be argued that you're encouraging a 'Christianity lite'.
PL: Again, I'd say that if The One Hour Bible is used in the way it's intended then it will introduce people to the living heart of Christianity – to the Word made flesh – and some people will surely find that Word compelling and want to find out more. Even if it only gets people thinking about Christianity for just a little bit, that's better than not at all – and you never know when that little bit might prove to be an ember that sparks a desire later on to start going to church or reading the Bible more seriously.
CT: Who is this going to be most useful for?
PL: I hope this little book will be useful both for Christians and for people who may have had little or no contact with the church. For Christians, it's a way of 'joining the dots' and reminding them how different episodes in the Bible, like pearls on a string, fit together to form a story and a message that's more than the sum of its parts; and for people who haven't read the Bible, it's a way of overcoming the thought that they just don't have enough time for it – helping them instead to open its pages and to 'taste and see that the Lord is good'!
Philip Law is publishing director at SPCK. His previous books include 'The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer' (SPCK, 1995) and 'A Time to Pray: 365 classic prayers to help you through the year' (Lion, 2002).