In the context of Christian history, lectionaries are Bible-reading plans. Although the word lectionary is long out of style in Protestant circles, the concepts of planned Bible readings, “my daily bread,” preaching a sermon series through a book of the Bible, or reading through the Bible in a year are all well-established. Any organized plan for reading through all or part of the Bible is a lectionary. And this is something that has touched my curiosity of late, as I have committed to the Anglican daily office as the mainstay of my devotional life for the time being. One of the things that disappoints me about the daily office lectionary in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is that it doesn’t cover the entire Bible. Substantial chunks of the OT are omitted and a few verses from the NT are omitted, although that was easy to fix. So I’ve started looking out for more complete lectionaries to make use of in my personal devotions. A quick Google search yielded several results, in addition to a couple I already knew about.
#1 – Bible in 90 Days – This one is very rigorous, going through about “12 pages” per day. This amounts to something like 16-26 chapters per day, depending on their length. I’m not sure how much time per day this would demand, but it’s certainly the most demanding option I’ve ever seen. Also, it goes through the Bible straight from Genesis to Revelation, so if certain parts are boring, you just have to deal with it. Basically, it’s a plan that treats the Bible like a novel, which may be good for someone unfamiliar with the Bible, but committed to getting the general gist of it.
#2 – Canonical Order – This (and all the following) are one-year plans. (365 days instead of 90 days means about 4 times less reading per day, which is much more manageable. This will be true for any plan that goes through the Bible once in a year.) Canonical Order is exactly what it says: reading the Bible in order of its canon, that is, Genesis through Revelation. This makes it really easy to know where you are at all times, but the downside is if you are bored with a particular book in the Bible, you’re stuck with it without relief until you finish. When I first read through the Bible, this was a major problem for me in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, because they are very long, and I found them quite tedious my first time through.
#3 – Chronological Order – This takes you through the whole Bible once, following some sort of timeline. There are a lot of different reckonings of Biblical chronology. I own a chronological bible which gets really detailed, splitting verses within a chapter according to position in time. That much is cool, but the major downside is that it presupposes Young Earth theory, interprets Isaiah 14 to refer to the fall of Satan from heaven before the fall of Adam & Eve, and stuff like that. But there are different options out there, which go chapter by chapter, making it a little more feasible to read with a normal Bible in hand. But still, chapter-jumping on nearly a daily basis can take some getting used to.
#4 – Historical Order – This plan takes you through the whole Bible once also. The OT is ordered in the traditional Jewish format: Torah, then the Prophets, then the Writings. The NT is ordered according to the order in which each book was written. This can’t be done with perfect certainty, though scholarship has some pretty good ideas as to what was written when. Especially in the NT, I want to try this sometime.
#5 – OT/NT Parallel – This is back to the Canonical Order style, except you get to read both the OT and the NT each day. Because the OT is so much longer, there’ll only be about 1 NT chapter for every 3 OT chapters. There’s no connection between the OT and NT passages that would be read in the same day, it’s just a matter of reading two things at once. At least it’s good for breaking the monotony of simple Canonical Order.
#6 – Robert Roberts’ Plan – This takes you through the NT twice and the OT once. It operates on a three-reading system, so you have 3 different passages each day; two from the OT and one from the NT. You go through the NT straight through, and the OT straight through starting simultaneously at the beginning (Genesis) and the middle (Psalms). It seems like a thoughtful plan to me.
#7 – Blended Plan – This gets you through the whole Bible once, similar to the OT/NT Parallel, except the order of the books is mixed up. I’m not sure what the point of that is, other than if you’ve done the OT/NT Parallel before and want to change it up. Frankly it strikes me as a pretty random approach to reading the Bible, and I’m not sure how it would really benefit anyone compared to any other systematic approach.
#8 – Gospels in 30 Days – This is a good idea for getting a strong grasp of the life & ministry of Jesus. The particular approach I found for this, though, did it in an intriguing way. You start off reading one chapter each of Matthew, Luke, and John, and after John finishes (on day 22) you start reading Mark. It works out that as Matthew & Luke peter out, you read more and more of Mark until you’re reading 3 chapters a day until you finish it on day 30. Now, Mark is the shortest of the four gospel books, so reading the other three first in parallel gets the longer story told over 20ish days, and then with Mark afterwards you get a quicker recap. It might be a bit confusing, though, to get parallel readings which aren’t quite chronologically lined up.
#9 – The Essential 100 – This takes you through approximately 1 chapter a day for 100 days, giving you 100 “essential” chapters from the Bible. I’m not sure what they count as essential, but 100 chapters is, at least, enough to get a good look at much of what the Bible has to say. This could be easily contrived or manipulated by the designer, so I’d have to look carefully to see what is included and omitted to evaluate its worth. But the general idea isn’t bad at all.
#10 – The M’cheyne Plan – This is a nifty system that gets you through the OT once, the Psalms twice, and the NT twice. It’s a lot like Robert Roberts’ system, except this has 4 readings per day. What it does is cool: you start off at four major “beginnings” in the Bible: Genesis (beginning of the world), Matthew (beginning of the life of Christ), Ezra (beginning of Israel after returning from exile in Babylon), and Acts (beginning of the NT Church). From each of those points, though, it continues through the OT or NT in Canonical Order, with Psalms as the only exception: it’s included in the NT cycles in order to balance out the length, and also get it read twice in the year. I plan on trying this out in a couple years.
#11 – Four-fold Parallel – Like the previous option, this has four readings per day, but unlike the previous, it gets you through the whole Bible just once in a year. What it does is go through the OT straight through, omitting Psalms and Proverbs, go through the NT straight through, go through the Psalms straight through, and go through Proverbs straight through. This makes for longish daily OT readings, shorter NT readings, and much shorter Psalm and Proverb readings each day. I’ve talked to a Protestant pastor who really likes this type of approach, as the daily exposure to sacred poetry, wisdom literature, and both OT and NT writings makes for a healthy diet of scripture. This is also closest to how modern traditional lectionaries work: OT, NT, Gospel and Psalm readings every day.
#12 – The BCP Daily Office Lectionary – This is a two-year cycle. It covers the NT twice a year, most of the OT every two years, and most of the Psalms every 7 weeks. There is another Psalm cycle in the Book of Common Prayer which goes through all of them in 30 days instead. In addition to the OT are some readings from the Apocrypha, which may annoy many Protestants who’ve forgotten the devotional value of much of that material. I haven’t minded it though, as I’ve never had much chance to check out those books before. It does not go through the OT or NT strictly in order, although for most of the year it is reasonably chronological in its approach. The best thing about this approach is that it has season-specific readings, so when Advent begins in a couple weeks, the readings will start picking up on that theme, as Christmas approaches.
If you know of any other good lectionaries for personal devotion, or Bible-reading plans, feel free to share!