What I Learned Reading a Verse-Free Bible
When I was assigned to write a piece for the Exodus issue of She Leads Daily, I decided it would be best to get a quick, comprehensive view of the book before I began writing. Reading the whole book was very important to me, especially since my contribution involved a comprehensive view of women and the effect they had on Moses’ journey and the salvation of the Israelites. I wanted to write with the knowledge of how these characters affected the whole story, not just their immediate circumstances.
I had read Exodus before, but it was always slowly, in chunks divided by chapters and headers. Previously, it had taken me months to get through because I was reading section by section. The thought of having limited time to read the book—a whole, entire book of the Bible—was overwhelming.
The issue I was having was that I was too focused on the breaks established by chapters and section headers, neither of which were in the original texts.
Book, chapter, verse. The structure of a Bible reference is very well known, even outside the church. If you’ve been reading the Bible for a while, you may also know that chapters are often separated by headers that describe what the verses are about. But while verses are useful for organization, they actually aren’t set in stone. In fact, when the early Christians shared God’s word, they did so through communal reading rather than individual study.
So I decided to experience the Bible in a different way: all at once, like an essay or a novel. This idea isn’t totally new—some publishers actually sell versions of the Bible without chapters or verses. I also found a great website that has the whole Bible typed straight through.
Exodus, as it turns out, is a mere 36 pages in this format, which is barely longer than a short story. I read, and found that this method refreshed my perspective of the book.
It was easier to understand the story.
I love reading both fiction and non-fiction, and having God’s word presented to me in a structure I was already used to really helped me speed through the book. I definitely wasn’t missing any information. Instead, by understanding verses in relation to each other that otherwise might have been separated by chapters or sections, I was able to find many connections I hadn’t previously known.
For example: did you ever realize how essential women were to Moses’ story? His life is saved over and over by women who are kind, brave and intelligent. Women play a prominent role in the story of Exodus—a fact that may be overlooked when we’re not reading the book as a whole.
It was easier to relate to the characters.
Reading Exodus straight through helped me recognize the struggles, conflict and growth among the characters. Moses’ mother, Pharaoh, Moses himself and more: all of these biblical figures were people with hopes, dreams, fears, wisdom and cultural context. Moses’ mother’s fear of losing her child, the Israelites calling out for justice and even Pharaoh’s anger at his loss of control all became clear and relatable as I read how their relationships intertwined over the whole book.
Moses himself becomes very human with this type of reading. When we only focus on the most intense parts of Exodus, we see Moses as a bold leader, ready to speak up for his people and for God. In reality, he is fearful for most of the book, running away from his problems and often asking God if he could consider sending someone else.
“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”
— Moses (Exodus 4:13, English Standard Version)
It was easier to see how the book connects with the rest of the Bible.
Exodus isn’t just about the exodus. Half of the book talks about how the Israelites adjust to life outside of Egypt (spoiler: badly), and already we see the fear, doubt, hunger and pain they go through while they struggle to understand God’s plan. The story is about both the joy of God’s deliverance and the loss of faith when deliverance isn’t what we expected it to be.
The story book was written a long time ago, but the conflict the characters face and the lessons they learn still resonate today. And it’s likely I wouldn’t be able to see the book in this way if I hadn’t read the book all the way through without verse breaks.
It was easier to read the book quickly.
If I had read one chapter a day, it would have taken me 40 days to get through Exodus. That’s more than a month. In contrast, it only took me three hours to get through Exodus without any chapters or verses.
There are many ways to read God’s word. One method of reading is certainly not better than another, and close readings are definitely good for those diving deep into the structural and referential elements of certain passages.
But perhaps this method will help someone else realize that reading the Bible doesn’t have to be slow or disjointed. The Bible is one long story of God’s love, and we can use these different ways of understanding to shed new light on an old story.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Paauw, G. (2018, February 5). Communal Reading In the Time of Jesus: How Did the First Christians Learn the Bible? Retrieved from https://instituteforbiblereading.org/communal-reading-time-jesus-first-christians-learn-bible/