Download: 2024 Bible Reading Challenge (bookfold)

Download: 2024 Bible Reading Challenge (A5 pages)

Welcome to the Bible Challenge for 2024

This year based on 1 & 2 Peter

The Bible Challenge

Why should we read the Bible? It is self-evidently not simply a book, but a collection of many and varied books. They range in length from Psalms, which is a collection of poems consisting of some forty-odd thousand words in our English Bibles, to 3 John, which has just over two hundred. In the version of the Bible we commonly use there are 66 books, written at very different times and many different places by about 40 authors. They wrote in particular historical and cultural settings, for specific purposes, and to a wide range of readers. Hence, it doesn’t make sense to approach reading the Bible as we do other books, by opening at page 1 and reading steadily through to the end. That inevitably leads to confusion and frustration.

So how should we go about reading the Bible? It is very helpful to treat each book as a particular manifestation of how God reveals Himself to us human beings in our own particular context and with our individual personal interests and needs. Because of the great variety of the books, we meet numerous examples of God’s all-encompassing and self-giving love, which reached its wonderful climax in Jesus. If we consistently read the Bible, and allow it to influence the way we live our lives, we can find so much to clarify, strengthen, and maintain our Christian faith. As Paul wrote to the young man, Timothy:

Remember … how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 14—17)

The “challenge” you have accepted is to read a short passage from the Bible, every day throughout the month of June.  The readings will be from the two epistles (letters) of Peter, found near the end of the New Testament. To ensure you get the most out of this experience, it will be good to prepare yourself for it in advance.

Although they are called letters, 1 Peter and 2 Peter are quite different from most of the letters we send and receive (or used to, before the days of email and social media). They are not personal messages from a writer to a reader: they are personal statements of a message open to anyone who cares to read it. They are addressed to large numbers of early Christians, scattered throughout the known world, and to us they read more like essays than letters, but essays from which still today we can learn a great deal. Those first Christians were facing challenges not entirely dissimilar to those we struggle with these days.

In order to make their message clearer and more relevant to us, it will help to set these letters in context. Who wrote them? What was going on in the lives of his readers? What gave him the right to pass on advice to them? Why was he so keen to do so?

Who wrote these letters?

As with almost all biblical books, we cannot be entirely sure of the identity of the author (or authors, as it is just possible that these letters were written by two different people). To be sure, each begins with “from [Simon] Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ”, but it was acceptable practice in those days to write in the spirit of a major figure, and to use his name to provide context and authority to the text.

Nonetheless, it seems fairly probable that both letters were the personal work of Peter, the disciple we meet frequently throughout the four gospels. But that Peter was a humble, uneducated fisherman and a blundering (although good-hearted) fellow: how could he have written in such a clear and well-structured way? In fact, he says (in 1 Peter 5:12) that he wrote with the help of a fellow called Silvanus, who may well have been a highly educated and level-headed colleague. It is very possible that what we have in front of us are Peter’s ideas expressed in Silvanus’ style. We will probably never know, but it does not really matter: the important thing is that we can learn a great deal from the letters, regardless of the author’s actual identity.

To whom were they written?

First and Second Peter were probably written in Rome, around 60 A.D. In the quarter century or so since Jesus’ ascension, the gospel had spread rapidly. In Israel, Rome, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and even beyond, many local churches had sprung up. The word “church” tends to conjure up in our minds a special, often impressive, building designed for and dedicated to regular worship services. In Peter’s day, “church” did not refer to a building, but to a group (usually quite small) of adherents of the new Christian faith, who met in private homes for fellowship, teaching, and worship. These people were a mixture of Jews and non-Jews. The Jews were convinced that Jesus was the longed-for fulfilment of their ancient religion: the chosen one who was establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. The non-Jews found in Jesus’ life and teaching a convincing alternative to the many religions of humanity, the speculative philosophies of Greek thinkers, and the cruel imperialism of Rome.

However, the joy and confidence they experienced in their new-found faith was being undermined by the reactions of the rest of the world. Wherever churches sprang up, the members found themselves being persecuted. This was not yet the horrors perpetrated by a savage, despotic government, such as began a few years after these letters were written. Rather, in those early days Christians were social outcasts. Their neighbours who were outside the church did all they could to make their lives a misery, verbally abusing and at times physically mistreating them. This would, of course, have been very distressing. Peter was clearly worried that many believers felt disheartened, and were tempted to renounce the faith and leave the church.

What can we gain from the letters?

But has what Peter wrote long ago any relevance to us today? Although practising Christians and regular church-goers are in a minority in our society, we do not suffer the sort of open hostility that Peter’s readers had to cope with. Nevertheless, we can greatly benefit from his focus on what their—and our—faith is all about. As you work your way through the chapters of his epistles, you will notice that Peter outlines that faith under two main themes, to which he repeatedly returns.

The first theme is the heart of the gospel message: the wonderful promise of Jesus’ return, bringing eternal salvation. This, he says, is a constant source of great hope and joy that can lift us above the trials of life on earth.  He opens the first letter (after the formalities) with this theme, expressed in a very upbeat fashion:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. The result will be praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you … are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1: 3—9)

Although we don’t suffer anything comparable to what those early Christians did, it is still easy for us, through the humdrum worries and stresses of daily life, to lose the joy that the gospel message offers. It will be very enriching, on the days throughout the “Challenge” in which you encounter passages like this, to meditate on the hope and joy that Jesus offers.

The second theme addresses what was apparently a concern of his readers: how should they respond to the hostility and antagonism of the world? Peter tells them that what Christians suffer is a parallel with what Jesus suffered. The Christ—God’s chosen one—suffered in order to bring redemption to the sinful world. This suffering is central to the faith: it had been repeatedly foretold in the Old Testament, and reiterated by Jesus, for example:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Through suffering, the Christian becomes one with Christ, which is a source of joy. Peter relates this directly to the first theme, that of Jesus’ return:

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

Peter’s view of suffering is very distinctive, and it gives the readers a sense of strength, a reason for living life to the full. This is the opposite of worldly thinking, that suffering is terrible and something to be avoided if at all possible.

As a consequence of what Peter is telling them, the Christians can accept that their rejection by the world is part of God’s sovereign plan. This can give them a real sense of confidence and hope in looking to the future. Their faith, in other words, is a source of real joy.

As you read a passage of Peter’s epistles every day of this month, you will find it enriching to reflect on questions such as:

  • What is the nature of my sufferings for my faith?
  • In what ways do I experience joy and hope in my daily life?
  • How might joy and hope become even more central to my life?
  • How can I share these insights with other people, both Christians and non-Christians?

The Rev’d Dr Mark Garner

Professional Standards 

1800 377 842 [1800 DPS VIC].

A Director of Professional Standards has been appointed to respond to all complaints of abuse by clergy and Church workers.

Episcopal Standards 

1800 997 747.

Episcopal Standards complaints may be made against the Bishop of a Diocese. This is different to a Professional Standards complaint.