The 30-day challenge
"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." Saint Jerome
If I told you that within 30 days, you could be more knowledgeable about history, languages, and three of the world’s major religions, would you be interested?
I call this the 30-day challenge.
What is the challenge?
The challenge is to read the books from the Christian New Testament known as the Gospels (sometimes ‘The Book of the Gospels’ when it is published separate from the rest of the Bible). This is a group of four books titled Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Why would I read these books?
These four books constitute the pinnacle of the Christian Bible. They will help you to:
- Learn more about three major world religions:
- Judaism:Jesus is the most popular claim to be the Messiah and Prophet proclaimed within the Hebrew Bible. Jews don’t affirm the Messianic claims about him.
- Christianity:Christianity affirm the claims that Christ is the Prophet, Priest and King prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. Christianity is the world’s biggest religion. Catholicism has 1.3 billion people, and including the other denominations of Christianity, the world’s Christian population is circa 2.1 billion people.
- Islam:Islam is the world’s second biggest religion. They claim that Jesus was a Prophet, but don’t affirm his claims to be God. The Prophet Muhammad came later than the Bible, and the Quran was written in circa 7thcentury. The Quran has God (Allah) claiming that he previously gave his revelations to the Jews and then to the Christians, the latter by giving his book of the Gospels to Jesus, which was given to the Christians.
- If you are Christian, learn more about your own religion. If you are not, read more of the Gospels than many Christians have.
- Most Christians will not have heard or read the entirety of the Gospels. According to the lectionary statistics of Felix Just, attending Catholic Mass on Sundays will see you reading only 40.8% of these over three years. The number is similar for those just attending Sundays under the Revised Common Lectionary.
- Reading the Gospels will teach you a number of things:
- It will allow you to know the claims of Jesus to be God.
- It will allow you to understand a little more about world religions, by allowing you to know the key claims about Jesus, which in essence is a point of contention between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- It will allow you to learn a little more about Jewish and Roman history, at a time when the two coincided.
- You will learn a little about Jewish and Christian customs, such as ritual washings, Passover meals, baptism, marriages, prayer, fasting, giving money to the poor, etc.
- You will read one of Ghandi’s favourite parts of Christian literature (the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).
- You will learn the meaning of some Ancient Aramaic words, such as:
- Talitha kum
- Eli, Eli, lama Sabacthani
How long will it take?
30 days. The Gospels are a total of 89 chapters. Each chapter takes about 5 minutes to read. So, committing 15 minutes per day you can read the Gospels within one month.
If you don’t have 15 minutes per day… commit to the 90-day challenge!
Do the same thing, but read only one chapter per day, which will only take you five minutes. Either way, you will be better off for it.
Where can I find the gospels?
You have a few options:
- Acquire a Christian Bible, New Testament or Book of the Gospels. Most bookstores have a Bible, or you could contact the Gideons or your local Church to find out about obtaining a copy.
- Read them online for free – I would recommend the following website: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+1&version=NRSV
- Download an app for use – for Catholics, Laudate, iPieta or the EWTN apps are good options for a free Bible app. For Proestants, the ESV Bible app is free and a good option.
Which version / translation should I use?
For the purpose of this exercise, it doesn’t really matter. There are generally two options:
- A literal translation: Tries to translate the words as directly as possible.
- A though-for-thought translation: Tries to aim more at the meaning of the words and sentences rather than a direct translation.
Go for whatever you can find for this exercise, but I would steer away from older versions using ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’, unless you are okay with Shakespearean English.
I personally use a variety of translations, such as:
- Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
- New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
- The Jerusalem Bible
- The Knox Translation
- The Good News Bible
- New American Bible – Revised Edition
- The Douay-Rheims Bible (old English).
Out of these options, for ease of reading I would suggest the New Revised Standard Version or the Good News Bible.
I don’t understand something in the Gospels
Sometimes people want to dive a little deeper than merely reading at a surface level. Or perhaps they notice what at first appears to be a contradiction between books. Either is okay, it’s up to you how you want to approach this.
In these instances as a first point of reference, I would recommend the following:
- For further understanding of the Gospels: the Catena Aurea by Thomas Aquinas. Around the 1200s, Thomas compiled the quotations of many authors in the first 1,000 years of Church history on each section of the gospels, outlining their understanding of sections, etc. He quotes directly, without his own commentary, so this is quite a helpful resource. You can find the Catena Aurea for free here:
- For answering what appears to be a contradiction: the Harmony of the Gospels by Augustine.In the 300-400s, Augustine outlined all the major objections put forward by non-Christians to supposed contradictions within the gospels and uses logic to show that, whilst there might appear to be some on the surface, there are no such contradictions. You can find the Harmony of the Gospels for free here:
I’ve read the gospels before
Most people forget 90% of what they read or learn within 7 days of having read or learnt it. I’d encourage you to read them again and see if anything different jumps out at you this time through.
I’ve completed the challenge, now what?
If you enjoyed it, move on to the rest of the New Testament. The New Testament is a total of 260 chapters, so you only have 170 to go. At three chapters per day, you could read the rest of the New Testament in less than two months. At one chapter per day, it will take you less than five months.
All the best with the challenge! I pray that if you take up this challenge that God blesses you with an increase in wisdom and learning.