After recently coming to the end of reading through the whole Old Testament in my regular Bible readings, I found that a disadvantage with doing that is that you go a long time without reading anything from the New Testament! I decided to look at various Bible reading plans that have been made (including the many on the YouVersion Bible app), but was disappointed to find that most of them seem, shall we say, rather silly.
One common flaw is that many plans involve reading more than one book at a time (for example the widely used M’Cheyne plan). I can’t think of any other situation in life where this would be seen as a good idea. If I gave you four books to read, would you say “ok, I’ll read pages 1-2 of each book, then pages 3-4 of each book, and so on”? That would be absolute madness, yet most Bible reading plans do that! This makes it very difficult to see a book as a whole, so you miss out on being able to determine the author’s overall purpose of the book. As the Bible was written as a series of separate books by different authors, it seems to me to be very important to read it one book at a time. So:
Priority 1: One book at a time.
As I’ve mentioned already, there are some ways in which reading the Bible from cover to cover isn’t ideal, even though it does give you one book at a time, because of the long period of time spent away from the New Testament. It would seem that the only way to fix this is to:
Priority 2: Mix between Old and New Testaments.
Also, given a plan to read the whole Bible, I don’t think the best thing to do is to read all four gospels consecutively and then go the rest of the time not reading them, partly due to the high level of repetition between them. Similarly, reading Chronicles straight after Kings can become a bit of a drag as there is a lot of repetition of events. Reading consecutively books that describe the same events can lead the reader to focus on spotting the differences between the books, rather than on more important matters like what each book is about on its own. So:
Priority 3: Separate books that cover the same events.
The traditional order of the Old Testament books isn’t chronological, especially in the later parts, which results in quite a lot of hopping around in time. I think that with the Old Testament, there is a benefit to a chronological reading, given the developments over the centuries in how God interacted with his people in preparing them for the coming Messiah. Some Bible reading plans I think take this too far, with constant hopping around between books to read accounts of the same event from different books, so I wouldn’t want this to be higher up the priority list. This means that perfect chronology won’t be possible, as many books cover a timespan that overlaps with other books, and some books cannot be precisely dated. There therefore isn’t a single correct chronological arrangement of the Old Testament books, but I’ve had a go at making one, also taking into account Priority 3 to do a bit of separating. (The idea is that, in the event of a conflict between two priorities, the earlier priority should win.) So:
Priority 4: Chronological Old Testament
Regarding the New Testament, I don’t see as much of a benefit to a chronological reading, so have elected instead to choose an order with other benefits. What I did was, after deciding the Old Testament order, I inserted the New Testament books into this framework in what I thought was a beneficial way. I split the Old Testament into four parts, and had the first New Testament book in each part being a gospel. For some NT books, I put them near associated NT books (e.g. Acts after Luke). I also tried to put some NT books in places that are theologically linked with nearby OT books. The nerds among you might want to see if you can spot any such clever linking between adjacent books (some of which I’m quite pleased with!). I’ll admit that the last few NT books I put in were just filling in the remaining gaps, so not every NT book has a clever link, but maybe I inadvertently included a profound link without realising it! Another factor I considered was to apply a bit of NT “refuelling” before and/or after some of the more hard-to-read parts of the OT, so these OT books could be read more joyfully in the light of their NT significance.
Nerd section: The book of Psalms is actually five books in one, so I decided to split these into five given the massive length of Psalms as a whole and do a bit of spreading out of the books. 1+2 Samuel, 1+2 Kings, 1+2 Chronicles and Ezra+Nehemiah are, so I’m told, not separate books but were originally single books, so I’ve kept them together as single books.
I think that after Priority 4, there is quite a bit of freedom in how to specifically arrange the books, so my proposal is just one particular way of doing it, and there might be other ways that work even better (challenge!). I’m going to read through this plan myself; do add a comment if you plan to as well or if you have any suggestions for improvements or alternative plans. Do you think the four priorities are good and in the best order?
So here it is, as a picture file, with New Testament books highlighted in yellow:
Here it is as a text list:
Song of Solomon
Time to get reading God’s word!