A lot of people recommend Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s scheme for reading the Bible in a year. M’Cheyne is one of the great heroes of the faith. But I’m not personally a fan of his Bible reading scheme. It requires two readings of both the New Testament and the Psalms on top of one reading of the remainder of the Old Testament, which makes the task more demanding and therefore less realistic. Reading the Bible in a year is challenging enough as it is, why make it harder to achieve?
Here’s an alternative: “The Three Track Method.” It will take you through the whole Bible just once in a year.
Track One: Old Testament
Read two chapters of the Old Testament every day, excluding Psalms and Proverbs (they’re in the other tracks).
Track Two: Psalms and New Testament
Read a psalm every day and two on Sundays. When you’ve finished the Book of Psalms, read one New Testament chapter every day and two on Sundays.
Track Three: Proverbs
Pick a month with thirty-one days and during that month read a chapter from Proverbs every night, in addition to your Track One and Track Two reading earlier in the day.
You’ll finish Track Two with a week to spare, allowing you to increase your daily Track One reading so that you finish the whole Bible by Day 365. You may find you enjoy the experience so much that you do it again the following year! One helpful tip: Psalm 119 is very long so give yourself extra days to read it by reading a couple of psalms a day in the week leading up to it.
OPTIONAL: the order of the OT
The order I’d recommend for reading the OT is the ancient order which is still followed in Hebrew Bibles today:
- The Law: Genesis–Deuteronomy;
- The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah–Malachi (except for Lamentations and Daniel which are in the next section);
- The Writings: everything else, namely, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles.
We know it’s the order Jesus himself used because he refers to it in Luke 24:44: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (“The Psalms” is an alternative way of referring to the Writings.) Jesus’ reference to this order suggests that it is divinely-intended. To read the Old Testament according to this order, just pencil in L for the Law, P for the Prophets, and W for the Writings alongside the Old Testament book titles on the Contents page of your Bible, and then read the Ls, followed by the Ps, followed by the Ws. There’s no need to change the order of the Ls and the Ps from the regular English Bible order. When it comes to the Ws, pencil in W1, W2, W3 etc, following the order above (remembering that in this Bible-in-a-year scheme the Psalms and Proverbs don’t belong in the Old Testament reading track).
The Law–Prophets–Writings order has the following advantages:
- It helps us understand the ‘Former Prophets’ correctly (i.e. Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings). Tim Chester and Steve Timmis put it like this in their book Total Church: ‘In the Hebrew canon the history books of the Old Testament (Joshua to 2 Kings) are called the Former Prophets. The main force in these books is not the kings or the international powers, but the word of the Lord that comes by his prophets. God’s word is sovereign.’
- It separates 1 Samuel–2 Kings from 1 & 2 Chronicles. In fact, reading the Old Testament in the original order puts a lengthy distance between Samuel–Kings and Chronicles. As a result, the Chronicler’s retelling of Israel’s history doesn’t seem repetitive.
- It’s helpful having the Latter Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi minus Lamentations and Daniel) positioned right after the Former Prophets (Joshua–2 Kings). It means we’re less likely to have forgotten the relevant history by the time we reach books like Isaiah and Hosea.
- The Law tells us how God wanted his people Israel to live. The Prophets tell us how things worked out in practice after the Exodus from Egypt, and how things will work out in the future. The Writings reflect on the experience of belonging to God’s people. This is a very natural and satisfying organization of the Old Testament material.
Happy reading! Don’t forget to pray beforehand for God’s help in understanding, and afterwards for his help in obedience.