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 much more demanding and therefore less realistic. Reading the Bible in a year is challenging enough as it is, why make it so much harder to achieve?
Here’s an alternative. It takes you through the whole Bible just once in a year.
The basic task is to read two OT chapters and one NT chapter per day. There are three necessary twists, each beginning with P:
Plus One: On Sundays read one extra NT chapter (i.e. on Sundays read two from the OT and two from the NT).
Psalms: The Book of Psalms is included in the NT reading track rather than the OT track. So once you’ve finished reading the NT, start reading a psalm a day (two on Sundays).
Proverbs: Don’t include Proverbs in the OT reading track or the NT reading track. Instead, pick a month with thirty-one days and during that month read a chapter from Proverbs every night, on top of your Bible reading earlier in the day.
You’ll finish the NT-Psalms track with a week to spare, allowing you to increase your daily OT reading so that you finish the whole Bible by Day 365. You may find you get such a lot out of the experience that you begin again the following day. One final 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 that 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 obviously an alternative way of referring to the Writings.) Doesn’t Jesus’ endorsement indicate that this ordering is divinely-intended? If so, wouldn’t it make sense to read the OT in that order? Just pencil in ‘L’ for the Law, ‘P’ for the Prophets or ‘W’ for the Writings alongside the OT 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 particular Bible-in-a-year scheme the Psalms and Proverbs don’t belong in the OT reading track).
I love the Law/Prophets/Writings order for the following reasons:
- 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, which follow on immediately in English Bibles. In fact, reading the OT in the original order puts a lengthy distance between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. As a result it’s refreshing when we reach the Chronicler’s retelling of the same episodes in Israel’s history, rather than (being honest) wearisomely repetitive.
- It’s helpful having the Latter Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi minus Lamentations and Daniel) positioned straight 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. That’s a very natural and satisfying organization of the OT material. The contents of the OT feel much less jumbled when read in the original Hebrew order.
Happy reading! Don’t forget to pray beforehand for God’s help in understanding, and afterwards for his help in obedience.