Teaching the Bible Proportionally

[12/6/15 UPDATE: Updated the word count numbers and added some comments on teaching time based off those words counts]

Working with Summit on the UTT series, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a lot of private, Christian highschools and their Bible departments. I’m also wrapping up my BA in Biblical studies (having spent too much time at two separate Bible collages) and, God willing, I’m headed to seminary in the near future.

I say all of that say this: I do not understand the logic behind Christian, Bible Survey courses. We divide the course work into OT and NT surveys and then, bizarrely devote a semester to each –-as if the length of each testaments were somehow 50/50, but it’s not.

In the protestant Bible, the OT is comprised of 39 books that span almost 4,000 years (give or take a couple hundred) for a total of 592,860 words; whereas the NT totals 27 books covering 100 years (at best) in 182,457 words. So the OT makes up 76% of the NASB word count and roughly 97% of the Biblical timeline.

In other words, in a 36-week school year, if we were going to schedule the syllabi in a way that was proportional to the lengths of the respective canons, we should spend 27 weeks on the Old Testament and 9 weeks on the New Testament.

If a class met 4 hours a week (not uncommon), that would total:

Biblical Section Words % Words Teaching Hours
Torah 152,521 20% 28
Nevi’im 272,912 35% 51
Kethuvim 167,427 22% 31
Gospel 83,636 11% 16
Acts/Paul 69,431 9% 13
General/Revelation 29,390 4% 5


Granted, that’s probably not a realistic division, but with a little adjustment, I wonder what would happen to OT literacy in the Christian community if we spent:
6 weeks on Torah,
12 weeks on Nevi’im,
8 weeks on Kethuvim,
4 weeks on Gospels,
3 weeks on Acts/Paul
3 weeks on General Letters/Revelation.

Or, by hours:
24 Hours of Torah
48 Hours of Nevi’im
32 Hours of Kethuvim
16 Hours of Gospels
12 Hours of Acts/Paul
12 Hours of General/Revelation

Mathematically, that only makes sense. But it also scores a big canonical win. The students are not only given time to digest the flood of OT material, they’re introduced to the canonical shape of Tanak with all of its delightfully frustrating issues.Either way, That would be 108 hours of OT coverage (71%) and 44 hours of NT (29%) –which matches the proportions of the canons.

Plus, since we don’t probably need as much time in Ketuvim as we would in the Torah and the Nevi’im, we could spend part of those 8 weeks introducing the apocryphal books. And it makes pounds more sense to cover the Apocrypha alongside the Writings (where they belong) rather than during a discussion of the inter-testimental period (where we usually blitz through it as an intro to the synoptics).

And with all of that, if we teach OT in Tanak order, it prepares protestant students to address the differences between Tanak, LXX and the reformation canons, basically giving a B-12 shot to their canon consciousness which will definitely come in handy when we roll into the NT (Luke 11:51 and 24:44, anyone?).

The point of all of this is that a Christian high school is going to spend at least a year on Bible survey, but the OT/NT division should be 76/24, not 50/50.