–Daniel S. Ferguson
Let’s be real a minute and say something that pretty much everyone who’s opened it at least once has thought at some point: the Bible is sort of a mess. You’ve got 66 books (more if you’re Catholic) from a huge variety of authors, set in different time periods with little or no explanation of which time period they belong to. To make matters worse, the books aren’t in any chronological order; rather they’re divided by genre and then (usually) by length. So even though Matthew comes first, it wasn’t written first, but it talks about the first days of Christ, even though it was written decades after his death. Confusing, right?
Even within the same book, there’s often huge interpretive problems. Isaiah has a massive time jump that makes no sense. Even the commentary on Daniel makes no sense. Job appears to have multiple authors spanning centuries. Mark has a shockingly abrupt ending, so much so that it appears later editors added an epilogue. Different manuscripts often have radically different versions of the same verse.
There’s footnotes. And cross-references. And study notes. And chapter headings that can be more confusing than the text itself. There are words in all caps that sometimes aren’t in all caps.
And then there’s the translation issues. They are too many to count. Cheese and rice, this gets complicated quickly, so much so that many people simply give up on the Bible. To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, “It’s too many damned pages for any man to understand.”
So people give up. And when they give up on the Bible, their hearts start to check out on church, too. The church often responds to this through Bible teaching, some from the pulpit and some in small groups, and that can be really useful…when it’s done well…and when people show up to it.
Those are the two big problems, really. It has to be communicated well, and it has to be paid attention to. So what’s a church to do? What are struggling Bible readers to do?
Enter The Bible Project, led by Tim Mackie of Door of Hope Church in Portland, Oregon. The Bible Project produces short videos (I haven’t seen one over 9 minutes), completely for free on YouTube. They come in three general types (so far):
1) Animated Bible Book Outlines
5-8 minute videos outlining books of the Bible in a continually animated poster. These are really good if you’re going to study a book of the Bible. It’s kind of like a primer. It’ll let you know when it is, what it’s about, how it’s structured, and what to look for. Here’s an example from the book of Jonah.
These are really fantastically done, and the posters themselves are free to download. There’s one for every book of the Bible. You can buy giant prints of them, too, but that seems extravagant. Though, they are doing a Kickstarter right now for coffee table editions. Yoink!
2) Ideas Tracked Through the Bible
These are really handy if you’re looking to track a single concept throughout the whole Bible. These are color-animated (really well, actually), and they are extremely good at having an eagle-eye view of all of Scripture. Here’s an example of one:
These would be fantastic for anyone who wants to understand something confusing a little better. At the very least, it will help you know which Scriptures to study for any particular topic they discuss. They make more of these all the time.
3) Word Studies
Finally, The Bible Project makes word study videos, too. These are a lot like the concept videos, except that they track one single word or phrase as it’s used and conceptualized throughout the Bible. Here’s an example of one:
These are a little more advanced, but they are still very accessible. They’re great if you find yourself seeing a word over and over again in Scripture and want to know more about it without having to spend three years in seminary.
There are a couple videos that don’t fit into any of these boxes, but not many. I recommend checking them all out.
Why This Matters
As literate as my generation is, the Bible is extremely complicated, and it seems very distant to us. We’re not used to having to dig through things to get to their meaning. We’re used to clear, concise expressions of thought, and, frankly, the Bible isn’t very good at that. It’s a highly complex text–beautiful, no doubt, but dense and often difficult to understand, even for lifelong Christians.
What The Bible Project does is make things just a little easier. By providing these free, easy-to-understand, concise, and engaging tools, TBP has made the Bible much more accessible. Even I, who have read the Bible my entire life, found them enlightening and enriching. They spurred me to go back into the Bible even more and even deeper than I had before.
And that’s the point. I know some people who have left church because of the Bible, and I think this would really help them see things from a different, more engaging and thoughtful point of view. So give them a look and see what you think.