5 Ways You Can Block Your Time to Focus on What Really Matters

Especially in knowledge work contexts like biblical studies, what is and isn’t actually on your plate can easily bleed together.1

Day to day, there can be a hectic scrum of incoming requests and possible opportunities. Amid all of this, time blocking can help you ensure you’re prioritizing what matters to you. There isn’t one right way to block your time, but there are five basic ways you can approach it.2

  1. Monastic
  2. Bimodal
  3. Rhythmic
  4. Journalistic
  5. Combination

And with some thought and experimentation, you can find what approach works best for you.

1. Monastic

In a monastic approach, the main idea is to eliminate everything except focused work. You avoid anything that doesn’t fall in a very specific, narrow range of activities (e.g., writing).

This approach is possible for some. But it’s not particularly feasible if you have a broader slate of essential responsibilities.

Somewhat ironically too, time blocking is probably a less useful technique under a monastic approach. Your calendar only ever has one activity, and others know you don’t allow interruptions to this schedule.

So, actually blocking your calendar may be more trouble than it’s worth. The monastic approach blocks your calendar simply by adopting it.

2. Bimodal

The bimodal approach is like the monastic strategy in periods you devote to focused work. But if you block time bimodally, you’ll deliberately intersperse other periods specifically to address less demanding activities.

The idea in the bimodal philosophy is to batch focused work together into larger chunks, to do the same with work that requires less focus, and to keep the two quite separate. In this way, you get the efficiencies that come with longer, uninterrupted stretches of a particular kind of activity. But you also don’t commit yourself to ignoring everything else.

On the scale of a week if you’re a student who’s also in full-time church work, this might look like having

  • Mondays blocked out for class reading,
  • Tuesdays assigned to writing papers,
  • Wednesdays allocated to hospital visits,
  • Thursdays reserved for meetings, and
  • Fridays set aside for sermon preparation.

Then, when you’re doing a specific kind of work, you try to push aside other responsibilities.

3. Rhythmic

The rhythmic approach is similar to the bimodal strategy, but it involves more frequent alternation among different kinds of activities. So, for instance, within a given day, you might do the same activity at the same time each day or on specific days of the week.

With this structure, the rhythmic approach allows times for different kinds of activities to come up more regularly. So, this approach may be helpful if you don’t think it best to batch different kinds of work as strictly as you would in the bimodal approach.

4. Journalistic

The journalistic approach operates by “fit[ting] deep work wherever you can into your schedule.”3

Thus, in this case, you might leave mostly white space on your calendar leading up to a given week. But once you come to planning that week, you allocate your remaining time to accomplish the focused work you have to do.

This strategy imposes the least structure on your calendar ahead of time. That can be good if you need that flexibility to accommodate irregularity in your schedule. But the more of your calendar you leave blank, the more you’re inviting that whitespace to find something to occupy it.

So, if you’re going to use a journalistic approach to time blocking, you might want to set yourself a “budget” for how much of a specific kind of activity you’ll allow in a given period.

For instance, you might decide you’ll allow eight hours of meetings per week. After those hours are spent in a given week—wherever in that week they occur—other meetings have to find a place in a following week.

By capping how much of a given activity you’ll include, you ensure you still have the time you need for other commitments. But you can stay flexible with exactly when you address them.

5. Combination

Of course, there isn’t a “purist police” for time blocking approaches that allow you to use only one of them. What’s important is to time block in a way that helps you focus on what matters most.

For instance, the basic approach I’ve used for about a good while involves elements of each of the bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic strategies:

  • As in the rhythmic approach, each workday begins with a startup routine that includes primary literature reading—mostly Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament—and ends with a shutdown routine that includes email and administrative activities.4
  • As in the bimodal approach, I block the bulk of any given day into as large a chunk as I can (e.g., devoting those hours to teaching, class preparation, or writing on any given day).
  • As in the journalistic approach, I don’t hold rigidly to the same schedule every day. Instead, I’ll adjust as necessary to accommodate other essential activities that come up.

Do You Need to Block All Your Time?

To this point, I’ve discussed time blocking primarily in a professional context. But what about your personal time? Do you need to block that too?

In short, yes. You need to block all your regularly occurring time, but you don’t need to block it all in the same way or to the same degree.

To take another personal example, when I’m at work, I have a pretty detailed plan for those hours. When I’m at home, however, that’s not the case, but the time is still blocked.

It’s likely just blocked in large chucks of “with family,” “at church,” “sleep,” and so on. What those large general blocks contain could vary quite a bit from day to day or on the spur of the moment.

If these blocks are firmly ingrained as habits for you, you might not need to put them on your calendar. Simply by seeing 6:30 pm on Tuesday, you know what that block holds.

The important thing, though, is to visually block on your calendar anything commitments that are softer and more liable to get bumped by less important things.

For instance, if I’m in the middle of something at the end of a workday, it’s all to easy to spend “just a few more minutes” tying up the loose ends. But those “few more minutes” quickly eat into time I’d planned to spend elsewhere.

So, while I don’t have explicit “family time” or “sleep” blocks on my calendar, I do have a block for “Leave the Office” to help ensure that happens when it’s supposed to.

Conclusion

In the end, whatever time blocking approach you adopt, the important thing is how time blocking helps you spend your time deliberately.

Even (and especially) if you have too much on your plate, you can’t afford to have what’s most important at the mercy of what’s simply latest and loudest.


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. Cal Newport discusses the first four of these strategies under the rubric of “deep work philosophies.” Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 100–17. I’m here focusing on these general ideologies in terms of the specific time blocking practices they imply. 

  3. Newport, Deep Work, 115. 

  4. On “workday startup” and “workday shutdown” routines, see Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019), 116–21. 

Why You Need to Block Your Time

Time goes quickly.1 So, if you’re going to make the most of it for what really matters, you need to have a clear plan for it.

Where your schedule is pretty regular, one of the best methods for planning it is time blocking.

A Blank Calendar Is a Problem

If you’re at all accustomed to a knowledge work environment that involves meetings, you’re probably familiar with meeting requests that come to your calendar and take time out of your day.

When Blank Is Your Calendar’s Normal State …

In these environments, its easy to start with a day as a blank slate. In especially hectic periods, this blank slate might be pretty far into the future. But the normal state of your calendar is “empty” or “available.”

To this blank slate, you can then add meetings and other appointments. And in the white space that remains on a given day, you can try to make progress on your most important projects and goals or invest in key relationships.

If you take this approach, however, meetings, appointments, and urgent requests are likely to expand to fill the time allotted to them.2 And since your calendar is blank by default, you’re allotting all the time you have.

You’re Asking Other People to Plan Your Time

You’re liable to find yourself wishing you had more time for exactly these priority projects and relationships that you’re squeezing into the remaining white space. And your calendar largely becomes a record of other people’s priorities, which might fail to support or even conflict with your own.

As Greg McKeown observes,

When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people … will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important. We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.3

The problem with a blank calendar is that it doesn’t actually mean you’re free. Yes, it has whitespace. But you’re probably already needing to use that whitespace for different purposes.

The whitespace on your blank calendar is probably already spoken for. But a blank calendar makes it look like you’re free—both to others and to yourself.

If you receive a request that fits into whitespace on your calendar, you’re liable not to immediately call up everything you’d implicitly hoped to do during a given time slot.

Sometimes you might. But that probably won’t be before you’re so overwhelmed you know you can’t add anything else to your plate.

And that kind of overwhelm is clearly not a great place from which to live or to work on your most demanding projects.

Time Blocks Are Appointments

But you don’t have to succumb to the default of a blank calendar. Instead of letting your calendar fill and investing in your key projects and relationships with the time remaining, you can proactively block out time on your calendar.

You Can Make Appointments with Yourself

This “time blocking” adds to your calendar even appointments you make with yourself for particular activities. And it stands on its head the default “blank” calendar approach.

Rather than waiting to see what fills the calendar and making use of the time that remains, time blocking asks you to proactively schedule time to invest in your major projects and relationships. You then let other things filter in around that.

Once your time is gone, it’s gone. Less essential items have to be eliminated, roll forward until there’s time for them, or get handled some other way. Meanwhile, you’re being careful to devote your attention to what matters most.

Even if you’re the only one who sees your calendar, it’s still helpful for you to see that you’re busy. Time blocking removes whitespace from your calendar. By removing this whitespace, your calendar will reflect the demands on your time that your current commitments call for.

This reflection is particularly helpful when new opportunities present themselves. If your calendar is clear, you might agree quite easily. But a calendar that reflects a full plate can help you be more cautious about agreeing to new requests.

Knowing You’re Busy Can Help Others Schedule Meetings

If others look at your calendar to send you meeting requests, it can be helpful if your time blocked calendar shows you as “busy” during the times you’ve already set aside. That will help others know when they can connect with you in ways that won’t impinge on more important commitments.

Of course, blocking your calendar and showing yourself as busy will reduce the times you look like you’re available. But that’s the point—if your attention needs to be elsewhere, you’re already not available at that same time for something else.

(If you feel the least bit bad about this, remember that being “busy” means being “occupied,” and there are a whole host of other—often more productive—ways to be “occupied” than by being in a meeting.)

Conclusion

Like creating a financial budget by spending money on paper before a month begins, time blocking your calendar encourages you to spend time in your calendar before you actually get to it. This way, you set aside time to give attention to your most important projects and relationships.

Time blocking helps you avoid being driven along by whatever is most urgent and wondering where the time went. There are several strategies for effective time blocking, but there isn’t one “right” approach.

So, start somewhere, even if it’s small. Learn what works and what doesn’t for you. And from what you learn, you can better steward the time in your calendar and how it gets spent.


  1. Header image provided by Djim Loic

  2. This principle is sometimes, albeit slightly inaccurately, called “Parkinson’s Law.” 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 16. 

How to Best Budget Your Time When It’s Regular

When you hear comments about “budgeting,” what comes to mind?1 For many folks, finances do.

But aside from that specific context, “budgeting” is all about the principle of deliberate planning. So you can budget finances. But you can budget other resources too, including time.

And thinking about your time as something you budget can help ensure you “spend” it on the work and relationships that matter most.2 That’s true whether your schedule pretty regular, quite irregular, or some combination of the two.

Regularity in Time

There are only 24 hours in a day or 168 hours in a week, however you use them. So, in larger contexts, everyone’s schedule is entirely regular.

But within smaller units of time, your schedule might be quite regular too. For example, week-to-week, you might have a nearly identical number of hours when you’re working or not. And when you have those hours fall might be pretty regular too.

Budgeting Regular Time

When this is the case, you can decide how to “spend” these regular hours in your time budget. When you craft this budget, you want to ensure you prioritize what’s important, not just what’s urgent.3

But because you pretty well know what time you’ll have when, it’s not so important when you tackle a given priority. In terms of the financial analogy, having a regular schedule is very similar to a salaried or steady hourly job.

The total time you spend in your time budget shouldn’t exceed what you have available. If you do, for instance, you might over budget time at work so that it “overdraws” time with your family.

But within the “work” hours in your time budget, you have significant freedom in how you structure that time to meet your commitments.

You can budget your regular time any number of ways. The basic principle is to plan deliberately for how you spend the hours you regularly have for your commitments.

To do so, you might find time blocking especially helpful. You can time block on a paper calendar, with Google Calendar and Todoist, or any number of other methods.

Wherever you time block, the practice easily shows the time you’ve budgeted for a given commitment. And by doing so, time blocking can show where you’re “over spent” because in your mind you’d allocated the same time in competing ways.

Conclusion

However you budget your regular time, the principle remains the same that you need to deliberately plan how you’ll use your time. That plan needs to have room for you to invest in your most important commitments.

Time blocking is a great way of planning because it immediately shows when you’ve “spent” time, how much of it you’ve allocated, and the priority that you’ve given yourself for that time. And having that immediate, visual feedback can prove invaluable in your efforts to focus your time on the people and projects that matter most.


  1. Header image provided by NeONBRAND

  2. As a basis for these categories, I’m drawing on thinking like that described in “How to Make a Zero-Based Budget,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. On the relationship of urgency and importance, see especially Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 154–92. 

You Need to Consider to Whom Something Is Important

Discerning whether something is important can be tricky.1 You can start with 3 questions:

  1. How much does something matter?
  2. For how long does something matter?
  3. In what context does something matter?

In addition to these questions, you also need to ask “For whom does something matter?”2 This question of for whom something matters contains two distinct senses.

Interest

The first is interest and highlights who benefits from whatever activity you’re considering.

It can be an odd thought to consider, but not everyone has the same level of claim on your involvement. The command to love your neighbor excludes no one. So, as a good (next door) neighbor, you might watch out for your neighbor’s children when you see them playing too close to a busy street. But you won’t invest in them in the same ways and to the same degree as you do your own children. (And your neighbor would have good grounds to find you a bit creepy if you tried.)

As Paul says, “Let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”3 The doing of good especially to one class of people doesn’t by any means imply that others are excluded. But it does direct specific attention to the priority of the claims that certain others have on benefitting from your doing good.

Paul considers this principle particularly as it applies in the Christian community. But it helpfully extends elsewhere too. You wouldn’t want to do good to a casual acquaintance in a way that means you’ll fail to do good to those who are closest to you.

So, the closer to the center someone is in your “circle of concern,” the more important an activity associated with that person will be.4

Agency

The second sense of the question “For whom does something matter?” has to do with agency. In this sense, the question highlights who performs the activity you’re considering.

In some cases, an activity might matter, so it’s important and needs to be addressed. But it might not matter that you’re the one who does it.

There might be an equally good outcome if the activity is addressed without your involvement. That might happen by someone else doing it (delegation) or by creating a system so that no one has to do it (automation).

In some cases, the outcome might even be better if you’re not involved because you’re not the best person to produce that outcome. Someone else might have more expertise, speed, bandwidth, or any number of other resources that will allow them to produce a better outcome than you could.

Or setting up a system that runs without input from anyone could do the same. Automated systems are excellent for ensuring consistency, since they circumvent human error. And they keep work from trading hands. It just moves off everyone’s plate altogether.

Consequently, the more something can be handled automatically or the more someone else is better able to handle it, the less important it is for you to be the one to do it.

Life’s too short for you to spend it on what’s not important for you to be doing. And discerning that isn’t about selfishness. It’s about personal responsibility and self-discipline.

It’s about intentionally devoting yourself to what you honestly believe is best because, in the end, the person you’ll have to give an account for is you.

Conclusion

It can feel a bit odd to reckon squarely with a difference in levels of different people’s claims on you or need for your involvement.

As Greg McKeown summarizes,

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people … will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important. We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.5

By all means, yes, you should extend to others the kindness of being of service to them. But both kindness and self-discipline are fruits of the same Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).

And it’s sometimes necessary to exercise the discipline of incurring unpopularity with some in order to prioritize what matters to others as fully as they deserve.


  1. Header image provided by Jimmy Dean

  2. Particularly helpful in assembling this list have been David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003); Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013); Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019); and Rory Vaden, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time (New York: Perigee, 2015). 

  3. Gal 6:10; my translation. 

  4. For helpful discussion of the relationships between a “circle of concern” and a “circle of influence,” see Covey, Habits, 88–100. 

  5. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 16. 

3 Questions to Help You Know Whether Something Is Important

Deciding what gets priority can prove challenging.1

The Eisenhower Matrix is an incredibly useful tool to clarify your activities and basic responses to them.2

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1
Characteristics: Urgent, Important
Response: Abbreviate
Quadrant 2
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Important
Response: Concentrate
Not ImportantQuadrant 3
Characteristics: Urgent, Not Important
Response: Separate
Quadrant 4
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Not Important
Response: Eliminate

Even so, urgent activities can easily squeeze out those that are important. That danger is particularly acute because importance can be more difficult to ascertain than urgency.

So, the two can easily be confused by a kind of mental substitution. When asking the harder question “What’s most important?” it’s tempting to substitute the easier question “What’s pressing on me the most?”3

But pressure is more a signal of urgency than importance. Thus, the question of criteria becomes particularly acute when considering whether an activity is important and, if so, to what degree.

Criteria for Importance

Although there’s no mathematical formula for determining importance, you can ask four questions to help clarify whether something fits the bill.4

I’ll discuss the first three below. The fourth requires more comment, so I’ll address that one separately.

How Much Does Something Matter?

This question correlates with importance probably most directly and clearly. So, it’s probably also the least helpful (since its most likely to be most synonymous).

But it’s still worth asking explicitly. Sometimes, simply asking the question can start helping you realize that whatever you’re considering actually does (or doesn’t) matter all that much. You can then rate its importance accordingly.

For How Long Does Something Matter?

When considering urgency, you’re interested in when something matters, specifically how soon it matters. Importance is also concerned with time, but things that are important often matter for longer.

For instance, you might feel that it matters to be current with the news. But if you are current, you’ll have to get current again tomorrow.

By contrast, when you invest your time in durable relationships or projects, those can matter for a great deal longer than nearer-term aims. So, you should tend to weigh those things that matter for longer as more important and vice versa.

In What Context Does Something Matter?

Not infrequently, a given activity might appear to matter a great deal in one context. But if you reframe the context—especially by taking a bigger-picture perspective—you might find that it matters less or not at all.

For instance, if you’re invited to a meeting, you might earn a kind of good will by going, even if you have nothing particular to contribute. But if you’re in the meeting, you won’t be working on a research project that will have a much longer-term significance.

So, that wider perspective would lead you to weight working on your research as more important than warming a chair in a conference room.

Conclusion

Ultimately, importance is weightier than urgency. But amid the loud clamor and heavy pressure from the urgent, it can be hard to tell what’s actually important.

To start discerning, ask how much, for how long, and in what context something matters. You’ll still have to integrate and evaluate the answers. But you’ll have ready at hand some of the key building blocks for determining whether something is important and, if so, to what degree.


  1. Header image provided by Oliver Roos

  2. On this matrix, see especially Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 159–64. 

  3. This kind of substitution is copiously documented in Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011). 

  4. Cf. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003), 48. In deriving the questions I discuss below, I’ve particularly benefitted from Allen, Things; Covey, Habits; Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019); and Rory Vaden, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time (New York: Perigee, 2015). 

8 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 8 reasons—namely, to.

  1. Remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.
  2. Remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.
  3. See things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.
  4. Correct your reading of one passage against another.
  5. Focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.
  6. Sharpen your languages.
  7. Find things you won’t in translation.
  8. Learn vocabulary.

Of these, the first 5 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 3 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. 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. 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. 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. Correct your reading of one passage against another.

Related to the prior benefit is the fact that seeing things you won’t by reading only isolated passages can help you correct your interpretation of one passage against another.

Everyone understands some things better than others. And the more widely and carefully you read, the more the text has a chance to “push back” against interpretations you may have that are less than fully adequate.

Insight from Gadamer

H.-G. Gadamer reflects on this dynamic, saying,

How do we discover that there is a difference between our own customary usage and that of the text?

I think we must say that generally we do so in the experience of being pulled up short by the text. Either it does not yield any meaning at all or its meaning is not compatible with what we had expected. This is what brings us up short and alerts us to a possible difference in usage.



A person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something. That is why a hermeneutically trained consciousness must be, from the start, sensitive to the texts alterity. But this kind of sensitivity involves neither “neutrality” with respect to content nor the extinction of one’s self, but the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices. The important thing is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings.3

A Personal Example

A personal example of this would be in my reading of 1 Cor 15:3a. In this text, Paul says he communicated to the Corinthians “ὃ … παρέλαβον” (“what he received”), but the text doesn’t there specify from whom he received it.

In my essay in Scripture First, I comment in passing that the reception is “from others who also preached” the same message as Paul.4 I suggest also that “part of what Paul likely received is a summary of the key components of the message that he rehearses in 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5.”5

That kind of interpretation is reasonably common for 1 Cor 15:3a.6 And it allows a few options for how one might understand 1 Cor 15:3 as consistent with Gal 1:12 and 2:1–10.7

That said, in 1 Cor 11:23a, Paul says that he “παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου” (“received from the Lord”) information specific to the Eucharist’s institution (see 1 Cor 11:23b–25). That specificity makes me wonder afresh about the source Paul implies for “what he received” in 1 Cor 15:3a.8

Resolving that reopened loop will take some more work. But it’s a good thing that it’s reopened. And at least in the interim, that reopening will cause me to downgrade the “receiving from others besides Jesus” interpretation of 1 Cor 15:3a from “likely” to merely possible or to re-entertain the idea that both Jesus and others are included.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.”9

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.

8. 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.

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. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 280, 282. 

  4. J. David Stark, “Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation,” in Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity, ed. Daniel B. Oden and J. David Stark (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2020), 56. For more about Scripture First, see “6 Ways to Make Scripture First.” For more about my essay, see “Behind the Scenes of ‘Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation’.” 

  5. Stark, “Apostolic Proclamation,” 56. 

  6. E.g., Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PilNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 745; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 32 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 545–46; Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 254–55; Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, ed. William P. Dickson, trans. D. Douglas Bannerman and David Hunter, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1879), 2:42; cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 88–89; A. T. Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2nd ed., ICC (1914; repr., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1929), 333. 

  7. Among these are that, (1) Both passages refer to the same core gospel, but they speak about Paul’s reception of it in different ways and at different times. Galatians stresses his initial reception of the gospel from Jesus; 1 Corinthians mentions how Paul later had this same message echoed back to him by others besides Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 11; Gal 2:2, 6–10). (2) Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with the specific form of the condensation of this gospel that appears in 15:3b–5, which he may have received from others. (3) Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with additional information about Jesus (e.g., details of his post-resurrection appearances) that Paul might not have been privy to the details of previously but that also didn’t pertain to the core message he preached (15:6–7). 

  8. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC (London: Continuum, 1968), 337; John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John Pringle, 2 vols., Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1848–1849), 2:9. 

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