Friday, January 01, 2010

I Find It Works

The January 2010 issue of Modern Reformation kicks off a year-long look at the problem of Biblical illiteracy in America. The article I'm presently reading points out that there's a big difference between mining the Scriptures for quotes and actually reading them for meaning and transformation.

So as my contribution to the cause, I'd like to outline the Bible reading plan I've found valuable the past few years. It isn't a through-the-Bible-in-one-year scheme. You can go with something like that if it appeals to you, but it seems rather forced and artificial to me. I mean, the idea is to get the sense and meaning and life of God's word, right? not to play Beat the Calendar.

My plan is based loosely on the Anglican daily lectionary in that it features a Psalm, Old Testament reading, and New Testament reading morning and evening of each day, but with nothing skipped.

Here's how I work it. I divide the Old Testament up into two basic groups:


The Torah/History books; that is, everything from Genesis straight through to


A. The Wisdom books (minus the Psalms): Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of
B. The Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations (taken together), Ezekiel, and Daniel
C. The Minor Prophets: Twelve books, taken in four groups of three each
Same with the New Testament. Two groups:


The Gospels and Acts


The apostolic letters and Revelation.

The Psalms stand alone and are read for prayer and praise and preparation as much as for their pure content.

Now, this plan takes advantage of the fact that modern Bible translations customarily divide the text up into sense-units, or pericopes, with a heading for each. Much more fruitful to go with those, rather than the arbitrary chapter divisions as so many plans do.

All right. Here's how it works on its simplest level: Suppose the day you read this, you decide to make a start. In the morning, turn to Psalm 1 and read it. I always conclude with the Gloria Patri, but that's a habit I picked up in theological college and if it's not helpful to you, leave it aside. Then read your OT1 portion, beginning in Genesis. If you're using the New International Version, that would be Gen. 1:1 - 2:3. In the New King James Version, it's Gen. 1:1 - 2:7. Then turn to Matthew for the NT1 reading, Matt. 1:1-17 (NIV & NJKV). Though when I first began I opened with the Gospel of John, for the sheer pleasure of pairing its "In the the beginning" first verses with the Genesis creation story. If you're not concerned about being thrown off, I recommend it.

Then in the evening, read and meditate on Psalm 2. Then for your OT2, read the first portion of Job. Finally, go to Romans 1:1-7, or however it's divided in your translation, for the NT2.

(And, frankly, it should be a translation, and not a paraphrase like The Good News Bible or, heaven forfend, The Message. You want solid food, not dips-n-chips.)

So you read along like that, morning and evening. Long portions or short, you read them. Though I do divide Psalm 119 up into eleven sections of two Hebrew letters each. And some portions of Job and Isaiah, for instance, can use subdividing, too. Whereas portions of Song of Songs simply plead to be conjoined.* Use your discretion.

Anyway, for a month or so things should be uncomplicated. But then you run out of Psalms. What do you do then?

You start over with Psalm 1 and read the book again. But this time, read the odd-numbered Psalms in the evenings and the even-numbered ones in the morning. I find I get different insights depending on the time of day I encounter them. I adjust by bringing in one of the gospel canticles to fill in. You can work out the best way for you.

The histories will last you for a few months and the Gospels with the Acts will keep you occupied for awhile, too. But what happens when you finish the Book of Job?

True, you could keep going with the rest of the Wisdom literature, then tackle the Prophets, major and minor, in book order. But I favor layering my OT2 reading. Like this: Job, then Isaiah, then Hosea-Joel-Amos; Proverbs, then Jeremiah-Lamentations, then Obadiah-Jonah-Micah. And so on.

You'll find you get through the letters of Paul and Peter and so on before you finish the Gospels and Acts. That's fine. Read the Epistles again. That's where the meat of Christian doctrine is, so they bear reviewing.

As you finish each section, you can switch which OT or NT division you read morning and evening. And you could vary things by starting next time with the major prophets, say, then go on to the Wisdom literature. If there is one drawback to this plan, it's that if you do vary the order, after a few repeats you might forget which books you've read that year. So I recommend keeping a calendar of when you start and finish a given book.

The object, though, is to read Psalm, Old Testament, and New Testament together twice a day, in meaningful portions. They balance one another. Prophecy and fulfillment; sin and solution, divine promises made and divine promises kept; types of Christ and Jesus Christ the perfect antitype of them all. If you keep this up, you'll find that you never read the same three Scripture passages together twice. Different passages will be able to shine light on each other and illuminate you to the truth of God's living word. I know I've been amazed at the juxtapositions . . . though maybe I shouldn't be, since the Bible in all its parts has but One True Author.

Happy new year and may the Holy Spirit bless your reading!
*Note dry but racy theological joke.

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