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Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, Jacob and the stairway to heaven, Joseph and his brothers, Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish: the Bible is full of dramatic stories that have made it the world’s bestselling book, and yet few people ever get around to reading it from cover to cover.
Bible Gateway interviewed Philip Law (@SPCKPublishing), editor of The One Hour Bible: From Adam to Apocalypse in Sixty Minutes (SPCK, 2018), on how to gain a birds-eye view of the entire sweep of the Bible’s epic story in only 3600 seconds.
How is this book different from other Bible summaries?
Philip Law: There have been quite a few summaries and lots of anthologies published 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.
What need among people does it meet?
Philip Law: I’m hoping this little book will meet two main needs, the primary one being among people who’ve never read the Bible for themselves and are put off from doing so because it’s so long and they don’t feel they have the time for it—and so as a result they end up not reading any of it.
Even if it only gets people thinking about the Bible and 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 later sparks a desire to start going to church or reading the Bible more seriously.
The second need would be among people who, as Christians, read bits of the Bible now and again, or perhaps just hear parts of it read out in church, but who haven’t worked out how all those parts relate to the Bible’s overall narrative.
I’d like to think that The One Hour Bible is for them too; that it’ll help them to put those apparently random parts together and instill a desire to read and reflect on it more for themselves.
How controversial is it to abbreviate the Bible in this manner? How do you respond to critics who quote Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19?
Philip Law: Well, if the book was being presented as a substitute for the Bible, then that certainly would be controversial! But it isn’t. I’ve tried to make it clear on the cover and in the introduction that it’s a way of encouraging people to start reading it—some of whom might otherwise never read it at all.
In other words, it’s a way of attracting people to God’s Word; of providing a taster to whet their appetite and keep them going until they’re ready to go on to read more of it in greater depth. (I’m thinking here of 1 Peter 2:2, where the apostle talks about new believers being like babies who need the ‘pure spiritual milk’ of God’s Word to nourish them as they begin to grow.)
Are parts of the Bible more valuable than others?
Philip Law: 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.
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.
Describe the format of the book and how it should best be read.
Philip Law: The book is a slim paperback, running to around 100 pages—that’s about 18,000 words—with roughly 60 pages for the Old Testament and 40 for the New Testament. Depending on the speed at which you choose to read it, you should find you get through it in about an hour. So it’s just right for that long train journey or short flight!
How did you determine what Scripture text to keep and not keep?
Philip Law: Jesus says in John 5:39 (NLT): “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 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 movies they’ve come across as adults—and then assemble them into a continuous narrative that shows how the famous bits fit together into the bigger picture.
What were the most difficult decisions you encountered in compiling the content?
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.
Is there a story arc or grand narrative of the Bible that you’re communicating with this book?
Philip Law: I think most Christians would agree that, whatever else it does, the Bible tells us about how God reaches out to the world he’s created, to sanctify and redeem it, and how God wants to ‘make his home among us’ (John 1:14).
That theme threads its way through the whole book, for example in the passages about the temple in the Old Testament right through to John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, when he hears the angel shout, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people!’ And then he notices that there’s no temple in the city, because instead the glory of God is all around.
Another major theme is about God’s will for his grace to be communicated and felt throughout the whole world—beginning with his promise to Abraham that ‘all families of the earth’ would be blessed through him and his descendants.
That theme resurfaces in later stories, such as the those of Ruth and Jonah, and of course when you get to the New Testament and the mission of Paul it becomes crystal clear that God never intended for his grace to be confined to the people of Israel, but that it’s for ‘everyone everywhere’ who repents and turns to him (Acts 17:30).
Why did you choose to use the New Living Translation (NLT) Bible version?
Philip Law: No translation can please everyone, but I’ve always thought of the NLT as a fresh and vibrant rendering of Scripture. So when SPCK entered into an agreement with Tyndale House to publish a new Anglicized edition, the NLT was the obvious version to use.
Who is The One Hour Bible for?
Philip Law: As I say, I hope this little book will be useful both for Christians and for people who may have had little or no contact with the Bible before.
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 before, 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’ (Psalm 34:8)!
Bio: Philip Law is Publishing Director for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in London. He began his career as an editor for Longman (Pearson), before moving on to work for Lion Hudson, Westminster John Knox Press, T&T Clark (now part of Bloomsbury), and SPCK. In his 20 years with SPCK, Philip has worked mainly on academic books, serving as the editor for world-renowned theologians such as Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, John Goldingay, Joel Green, Nancey Murphy, Anthony Thiselton, and N. T. Wright. Philip also enjoys compiling and editing books for a popular readership, and his own publications include The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer (SPCK/Crossroad, 1995), The Wisdom of Jesus (Lion, 1996), and Praying with the Bible (SPCK/WJK, 2007). Philip lives with his wife and two children in Leighton Buzzard, a market town in Bedfordshire, England (about 40 miles north-west of London). They worship at the Anglican church of St Barnabas, Linslade.
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