A dedicated band of parishioners at a church in Arlington have slowly, if not methodically, proved this year that there's more than one way to read a best seller.
The book, as readers may have guessed, is the Bible. At the beginning of 1984, about 75 members of Arlington County's Boulevard Baptist Church vowed to read the holy book in its entirety by the end of the year. About 50 people have kept up the pace and will meet their goal in a few weeks, but they have gone about it in an unusual manner.
"The director of our Sunday school broke the Bible down in chronological order; we've been reading the Old and New Testaments at the same time," said the Rev. Eugene Foreman, pastor of the church for 24 years.
Sunday school director Verle Turner, 61, a retired federal worker, agreed: "When you read the Bible cover to cover you become very aware that you jump around in time."
Reading Bible passages in the sequence that they occurred "adds to one's perspective . . . . Part of the idea was to try and read what the prophets had to say at the time of what the kings were doing," Turner said.
When Turner first suggested the idea, he thought it would be easy to find a suitable reading schedule. After searching area libraries and reference books, however, he did not find what he wanted.
So Turner created a timetable that corresponds to chapters in the Bible. "I found references to chronologies in the backs of Bibles and I would just spread them all out on the table and saw where they didn't match."
He then went back to the chapters and verses that didn't match and "read them and made my own judgment . . . . I did get frustrated at times when it got slow going verse by verse," Turner said.
He said his reading schedule covers a general time line in the Bible, but it is not so specific as to cover each chapter and verse.
Throughout the year the group has met on Sunday nights to discuss what they had read each week. On Wednesday nights, they discussed the historical perspective of each week's passages. Turner and Foreman lead the Sunday discussion group, while Frances Watkins, a librarian at Westlawn Elementary School in Falls Church, leads the midweek session.
"I learn a great deal in preparing for the discussion group. . . we use at least four different Bible translations. I do ask that they do a lot of preparing," Watkins said.
Watkins, who had read the Bible extensively before, said reading it chronologically and preparing five to eight hours a week for the historical discussion group has helped her pick up on small, fascinating details she never knew before.
"Right now we're studying about King Jehoshaphat of Judah . . . . He was known as a godly king at that time, and yet he made an alliance with the king of Israel who was worshiping a lot of other gods," she said. "That surprised me."
Another member of the group, Ralph Ball, who is still keeping up with the readings, says he has learned more about "the relationship of activities and instances in the Bible" as they relate to history. "I've learned more about the order of various kings of Israel and Judah as they related to the various kingdoms around Judah at that particular time," he added.
Sometime near the end of December there will be a special service to honor those who managed to read the Bible in its entirety, Foreman said.
"There's very much camaraderie within the group," Foreman said. "We're all seeing Bible history unfold as we've never seen it before. Normally I've seen the history as it was listed in the library, but now I'm seeing the Bible as it unfolds as human history unfolds." Then he thought for a moment and concluded, "I'm understanding better God's involvement and leading in man's destiny."