7 Reasons You Need to Read Your Bible

Academic biblical studies requires spending quite a lot of time in an array of primary and secondary sources.1

And among these sources, the Bible itself is the most primary. So, it’s important to maintain a regular habit of reading it for at least 7 reasons.

  1. To remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.
  2. To remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.
  3. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.
  4. To focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.
  5. To sharpen your languages.
  6. To find things you won’t in translation.
  7. To learn vocabulary.

Of these, the first 4 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 3 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. To remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with thinking critically about the biblical text.

It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text again and again.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for this kind of detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this kind of close attention also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that the forest fades from view.

There’s a risk of increasing knowledge of a small slice of the biblical literature at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this tendency toward unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

2. To remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.

Not all biblical scholars claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship.

But biblical scholarship is a coherent discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be

  • A “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament,
  • A “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but not an apocrypha, or
  • A “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and an apocrypha.2

But whatever its specific content, speaking of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with a text that has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

Ignoring this history is then precisely a historical oversight. And before critical biblical scholarship lies the task of avoiding historical oversights.

In addition, if you come to the biblical text from one of its communities, reading the text for its own sake can help remind you to cherish it—whatever else you also then do with it, either analytically or critically.

3. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

Specialists in any given book or corpus have a real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

Specialization can be logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might also prove relevant.

For instance, while Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused, they are at least both very early witnesses to the memory, faith, and practice of the Jesus movement. So texts like these might, in principle, just have as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo.

Readings of Paul might then feasibly be enriched by readings of Luke, just as much as by readings of Josephus or Philo, and vice versa.

But literature you don’t know the contents of can’t help you. So, it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text, as also in other primary literature beyond it.

4. To focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.

When thinking of Bible reading, the default mode is often to think of silent reading. But reading the text aloud can be beneficial too.

In a group, reading aloud helps everyone follow along at the same place. If you’re reading aloud to yourself, that’s not such an upside. You always know where you are.

But if you read the text aloud—even by yourself—you engage another sense in the reading experience. By doing so, you push yourself that much more into the experience of reading.

Do you ever get distracted when “reading” a page silently? You then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’ve supposedly just seen while your mind was wandering.

By contrast, if you’re reading aloud, you’ll probably realize much quicker that your mind has started to wander when you run out of words coming out of your mouth.

Engaging another sense also gives you another chance to make connections in the text that you might read right over on paper but pick up when hearing yourself repeat the same phrase.

5. To sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its primary languages, you can hone your ability to work with these languages.

You’ll get a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar.

Grammars do, of course, make very profitable reading on their own. 🙂 But they can’t substitute for deep familiarity with the literature they try to describe.

If you’re reading in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, you can even take the opportunity to read the text aloud too.

That way, you can practice your pronunciation and develop your “ear” for the language.

Don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. And don’t worry too much about your choice of a pronunciation system.

As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

But gradually, you’ll find yourself making progress. You might even see things in the text that you’ve previously missed because you heard yourself saying the text aloud.

6. To find things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others.

This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”3

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows.

But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates.

But for the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

Here also, your lack of familiarity with a biblical text’s primary language can sometimes be an asset.

In translation, you might well read the text too quickly and so gloss over important elements within it.

But by reading the text in a primary language, you might pause long enough to consider it more deeply.

7. To learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for the vocabulary you thought you knew.

You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start seeing how that term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than the glosses you memorized.

Don’t Settle for the Cliché

Unfortunately, biblical scholars who don’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading are common enough to be somewhat cliché.

Whether you find yourself in this boat or whether you’d just like to join others who are actively in the text, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term as we read the biblical text.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. Each day’s readings are quite short—normally only a few verses.

(I don’t have a summer seminar. But I’ve been pleased to see that at least a few students from prior terms usually keep up with the readings even when we don’t have class together.)

The reading plan will work whether you’re using a translation or working from the biblical text in its original languages.

If you’re working in the original languages, I’ve scaled the readings to be short enough to complete without taking too much time out of your day.

It would be wonderful to have you join us. To get started, just drop your name and email in the form below.

You’ll get an email delivering this term’s readings directly to you. And you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text right where my students and I are.

Looking forward to reading with you!


  1. Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema

  2. For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27. 

  3. For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva. 

When Do You Need to Wait to Ship?

You want to know whether your research is publishable.1 I’ve suggested the only way to answer this question is to ship the best work you can do and see what happens.

But should you always ship everything when you think it’s ready? Or are there some times when you need to wait to ship?

Start with Who

When deciding what your research should be, you need to start with considering who it’s for.2

The same is true when you’re deciding what it means to publish your research.

And not surprisingly, the same principle applies when you’re contemplating shipping your work.

The key questions are

  1. Is your who a professor in a degree you’re doing? And
  2. Is that degree in any way related to the research you’re considering shipping?

If not, then there’s nothing stopping you from moving ahead. But if so, you’ve got a couple other boxes to check to make sure you ship at the best time.

If You’re a Student …

When writing as a student, there’s at least one special case where you might both have a purple cow and need to wait to ship it.3

Beyond this, there might be more. I think the thoughts I’m sharing here generally apply. But definitely above these, you should prioritize the particular requirements you’re under for your program.

Still, the general principle you want to consider carefully relates to the uniqueness of your future work in your program. That way, you can avoid inadvertently creating difficulties for yourself by publishing your research in certain venues too soon.

A good example is that a PhD thesis or dissertation generally needs to make a unique contribution to scholarship. Sometimes, the same can be true at the masterBut if you’ve already published in a journal a key part of what you were hoping to do for your dissertation, you might find that your institution won’t any longer consider that dissertation to make a unique contribution.

Even though you published the article, the key point may be that you’ve published it. And given that it’s published, it’s out there. Saying the same thing (or something substantially similar) in longer form may mean that that’s no longer unique.

On the other hand, if you publish a key finding when teaching orally in your faith community, it might not raise any eyebrows at all. The who for your dissertation may be sufficiently different from the who for your oral presentation that your dissertation’s who still finds that project to be a unique contribution.

Conclusion

So, as a student, you need to clearly understand what a particular kind of publication might commit you to.

Then, you can decide whether you’re okay with that. Or you can treat what you’ve created as part of a larger research project that you’ll ship once you think the larger whole is clearly purple.


  1. Header image provided by Kai Pilger

  2. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

  3. The “purple cow” metaphor I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003). 

How Do You Know What Color Your Research Is?

For research to be publishable, it needs to be remarkable.1 It needs to be extraordinary—like a purple cow is extraordinary among typically black and brown cows.2

Who your research is for will help determine what shade of purple it should be, or what counts as remarkable.3 But whatever shade that is, it’s still a shade of purple, still a kind of remarkable. It’s not a kind of mundanity, not a shade of black or brown.

And it’s quite easy to spot a purple cow, or remarkable research—except when it’s not.

That ambiguity begs the question, “How do you know what color the cow really is?”

If you’re evaluating your research for yourself, how do you know whether you’re right in seeing it as publishable? If you receive negative feedback (whether from someone else or from your own internal critic), how do you whether your research really is publishable?

The answer to these questions comes in two parts.

1. Recognize colorblindness is possible.

First, you have to recognize the colorblindness or bias you or others might have either for or against your work based on how it appears.

You or your reviewers might be seeing purple, black, and brown, exactly where they are. Any of you might rightly see a piece of research as publishable or not quite there yet.

Or you or your reviewers might be seeing black or brown for purple, or purple for black or brown. Any of you might see publishable research as not really there or vice versa.

Recognizing the possibility of this colorblindness doesn’t do much to definitively answer the question of whether your research is publishable.

Still, it’s a necessary preliminary without which you can’t come to the second step that will ultimately answer the question.

What Publishing Is: A Reprise

But before I come to that second part, let me come back to what I’ve proposed as the essential core of what publishing is.

In publishing,

  • you open your research to examination by others and
  • others examine your research where you’ve made it accessible.

The point that bears stressing here is that you can only directly control the first of these two aspects of what publishing means.

Whether others will expend the effort to engage and examine your research is ultimately up to them.

You can and should use your best judgment to discern the what that will be best for your who. And that judgment is something you can improve over time.

But what others do (or don’t do) with your research isn’t something you can directly control. At best, it’s something over which you have only indirect influence.

What does this mean then for answering the question of how to know whether your research is, in fact, publishable?

2. Ship your research.

It means, simply, that this isn’t a question you can answer by yourself. You need others to help you answer it.

You can and should do the best you can to make sure your research is clearly purple. Others might agree or disagree.

But whatever their assessment, your core responsibility is to “ship” your work, or make it available. In that way, you start the process of testing whether it is, in fact, publishable.4

If the “others” that constitute your audience agree, that’s great! If not, what have you learned?

What you haven’t learned is that your isn’t publishable. What you have learned is that it didn’t look publishable to the folks that rejected it.

It’s still an open question as to who’s right and whether your research actually is publishable. But you can only get to the answer to that question by … wait for it … shipping it again.

By all means, learn from the feedback you got about what didn’t look purple in the process of your work’s rejection. By all means, revise your work as best you can so that you think it will look more clearly purple the next time around.5

Conclusion

In the end, you can only know whether your work is publishable by putting it out there, shipping it, and seeing what happens.

Publication isn’t something you can directly control. So, focus instead on what you can control—sitting down, producing research that looks purple as best you can honestly tell, and putting it out there to see whether you get agreement or suggestions for improving its hue.


  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle

  2. The “purple cow” metaphor here and below I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003). 

  3. For the “first who, then what” principle, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussions of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64; Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York: Portfolio, 2010). 

  4. For more on the importance of making creative work available for others, see Seth Godin, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work (New York: Portfolio, 2020). 

  5. On the importance of revising rejected material and putting the revised version back out for publication, see also Stanley E. Porter, Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing (Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2010), 89–102. 

Two Problems You Can Have Creating Purple Research

It’s all very well and good to say that determining whether research is publishable is essentially the same action as seeing whether a cow is purple.1

But is that actually the case? Wouldn’t a purple cow be easier to spot than publishable research?

Talking about remarkable purpleness on a cow is one thing. But your research doesn’t stand up in front of you obviously attesting its own publishability, or purpleness.

So, isn’t recognizing purple research entirely different from recognizing a purple cow? And what should you make of times when you think you have a purple cow but it turns out not to be publishable as you’d hoped?

In a word, no. Recognizing purple cows, purple research, or anything else as extraordinary is a substantially similar action. And the different venues for this action suffer from the same challenges, although those challenges take different forms for their particular cases.

Sometimes the ordinary and unremarkable can be confused with the extraordinary and remarkable. Sometimes purple can be confused with black or brown.

From the perspective of your research, this can happen in two ways:

  1. Your research might be a black or brown cow that looks purple. Or
  2. Your research might be a purple cow that looks black or brown.

1. When Black or Brown Cows Look Purple

If you put on tinted glasses, everything you see you’ll see as having the hue of those glasses.

So, if your glasses have purple lenses, what you see through them will appear some shade of purple.

Without the glasses, you might look and see a black or brown cow. But with the glasses, you might see the cow as purple.

In this case, however, what’s exceptional isn’t the cow. It’s the glasses through which you’re looking at the cow.

When a couple is newly in love, they might look at each other through “rose-colored” glasses.

Similarly, when each of us looks at his or her own research, it’s always a temptation to look through “purple-colored” glasses.

The research might, in fact, be quite ordinary and unremarkable. But because of our personal investment in it, it looks to us like the brightest and clearest shade of publishable purple ever known.

In this case, maybe what we’ve produced is on the way to being remarkable. But what’s more remarkable—what’s more purple—is how overly favorable we are toward it.

2. When Purple Cows Look Black or Brown

On the other hand, the opposite may also happen. You might have a purple cow, but that cow might look black or brown.

Put your purple cow in the shade, or look at it in the dim light of early morning or evening, and it might look just as black or brown as any other cow.

In this case, the cow is actually purple. But because of how it’s seen (i.e., the kind of light, or lack thereof), it looks black or brown.

Maybe you have a purple cow. But maybe that journal or publisher you sent it to turned it down. However your research looked to the person(s) deciding whether to accept it as publishable, it definitely didn’t look purple.

Or maybe you’re looking at your own work this way. Maybe it is a purple cow and would find pretty ready acceptance for publication. But maybe you doubt that, so you hold back on it, either worried or convinced that your purple cow might just be black or brown after all.

Conclusion

So, yes, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether research is actually publishable or not. But those difficulties are the same kind that come up if you’re trying to determine whether a cow is purple.

Purple cows can look black or brown just like publishable research can look like it isn’t. Black or brown cows can look purple just as publishable research can look like it is.

Fortunately, when you come across these kinds of uncertainties, there’s a definitive way to tell for sure whether your research is purple or not.


  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle. The “purple cow” metaphor here and below I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003). 

How Can You Make Your Research Remarkable?

The details of what makes a specific research project into a remarkable “purple cow” differ depending on the who that your what is for.1

Andreas Köstenberger, the long-standing editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, has one of the best, concise descriptions of what he looks for when assessing for JETS‘s readers whether a submission meets the bar of publishability.2

The Big Picture of Remarkable

When looking at this kind of description, however, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for all of the trees it contains.

So, before digesting these comments, it’s worth stressing the bigger picture. The question “What will make my research publishable?” is essentially the same question as “What will make it remarkable?” or, more colorfully, “What will make it a purple cow?”

Additional details like those below are helpful and necessary. But they don’t change the bigger picture of what you’re aiming for.

At most, they tell you what specific shade of purple your research project should have for your audience. Your essential goal remains making your research purple, remarkable, extra-ordinary.

An Example Shade of Remarkable

With that bigger picture of the purple cow firmly in view, let me move to summarizing Köstenberger’s account of the shade he finds appropriate for JETS.

As Köstenberger structures his comments, he has four main criteria with a few add-ons. For clarity’s sake here, though, I’m going to unpack these broader criteria into 11 discrete elements.

For JETS, Köstenberger thinks “purple” research does the following:

  1. Treats all of the relevant primary literature as presented in that literature’s standard-setting edition(s).
  2. Treats all of the relevant secondary literature, whatever form it appears in (e.g., commentaries, monographs, journal articles).
  3. Addresses a preponderance of current literature, especially from within the past 10–15 years.
  4. Critically and substantively engages the literature, rather than merely citing it.
  5. Evenhanded, fair presentation of information.
  6. Directly engages objections and opposing arguments.
  7. Exhibits a mature, well-rounded perspective.
  8. Makes a contribution to scholarship by advancing beyond what is already known or accepted, even when advocating essentially those same positions.
  9. Fits the scope of topics the journal publishes, even if perhaps in unexpected or unique ways.
  10. Adheres to the journal’s stylistic and technical expectations. And
  11. Reflects what the author would be happy to have as the piece’s final form.

So, these 11 elements give you a sense of the particular shade of purple most appropriate for JETS.

Other Shades of Remarkable

But even if your project’s audience lies elsewhere, you’re still doing biblical scholarship. And you’re still wanting that scholarship to be publishable, you’re still wanting it to be purple.

You might need a slightly different shade of purple than is appropriate for JETS. But you’re still looking for a shade of purple.

The fact that both you and JETS are looking for purple biblical scholarship means that, while there will be differences in application, the 11 items listed above likely apply to your who also. After all, you’re looking for a different shade of purple—not a different color from the palette.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re trying to publish your research in a sermon, but you say at one point, “Now, I wasn’t able exactly to decide what illustration might fit best here. So, I’m just going to skip to the next point. Come back next Sunday, though, and I’ll be sure to give this same sermon with a perfect illustration included.”

That’s not going to be good for encouraging your congregation to engage with what you’re presenting either at the moment or the following Sunday.

Given the difference in its genre, exactly this kind of situation doesn’t come up for JETS. But you can see easily how it violates principle 11 above to have your research in a form that you’d be happy with as its final form.

Conclusion

Multiple other examples could be given for how the 11-point list above might best apply for particular kinds of publishing for particular kinds of audiences.

But what you’re working on publishing in whatever venue is biblical scholarship. And that commonality means that there’s a strong family resemblance between what makes for purple biblical scholarship in one context and what makes for the same thing in another, albeit in a slightly different shade.


  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle. For the “first who, then what” principle, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussions of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64; Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York: Portfolio, 2010). The “purple cow” metaphor I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003). 

  2. For Köstenberger’s full comments, see “Editorial,” JETS 44 (2001): 1–3. 

For Your Research to Be Publishable, You Need to Make It Purple

Who your research is for should determine what it will need to be and what it will mean to publish your research to that audience.1

Your audience might be specialists in biblical studies or not. But that fact doesn’t have any direct bearing on whether your research is good or scholarly.

If that’s all the case, however, what does it mean to for your research to be publishable?

In particular, can anything definite be said about what “publishable” means and that might apply across different audiences?

Is there some stable core to what it means to be “publishable” that you can then flesh out, shade, and understand more fully in the context of whatever particular audience a particular research project has in view?

There is. And the application sometimes might be more complicated. But the core task is fairly straightforward.

Determining whether research is publishable is essentially the same action as seeing whether a cow is purple.2

Did You See that Purple Cow?

When I was growing up, our family would occasionally take take road trips to visit extended family. And like any road trip of any length a fair amount of those trips took place in between major population centers.

In those “in between” spaces in the Midwest, when we looked out the side windows of the car, we frequently saw two things.

The first was corn … and then there was more corn. But in amongst all the corn were, second, cows.

Corn and cows. Brown cows, black cows. More corn, more brown and black cows.

For that area, all of that was quite typical, quite normal, quite unremarkable.

But what if, when we looked out the car window, we saw instead a plainly purple cow?

That wouldn’t be at all typical, normal, or unremarkable.

It would, instead, be quite exceptional, abnormal, and noteworthy.

Why Publishability Is Purpleness

A genuinely purple cow would be a pretty special thing. It would be something worth taking note of, worth engaging, worth remarking about. It would be remarkable.

And for that reason, the question of publishability essentially boils down to that of purpleness.

If your research is a brown cow in a field of other brown and black cows in between fields of corn, there might be nothing particularly wrong with it. It might be unimpeachably ordinary. But so long as it’s just ordinary, it’s not publishable.

You might make it available. But is it something you’re audience is going to find worth actually examining?

They might hear or read your research. But are they going to engage with it?

The odds are good they probably won’t.

So, what you’re looking for when you’re looking to create publishable research is research that’s remarkable, research that’s extraordinary, research that your audience finds worth active examination and not just passive absorption.


  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle. For the “first who, then what” principle, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussions of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64; Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York: Portfolio, 2010). 

  2. The “purple cow” metaphor here and below I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003).