Bible reading plans are plentiful. Some of the best can be found at Ligonier (see also here). And as a regular part of the Christian diet, reading through the entire Bible in a calendar year can be a helpful thing. I’m not at all opposed to it.
I’ve found, however, that the required reading pace can be at times be counterproductive. There are 1,189 chapters to cover in 365 days (and some plans skip weekends; thus, 262 days). That’s 3.3–4.5 chapters per day. Even if one were supremely saintly and dedicated one hour to the task a day, that’s still a really fast clip that provides little time for reflection, prayer, detailed study, and so on. It’s simply content. Divine content, no doubt—but it is a lot to take in.
It is no surprise that many aspiring Bible-in-a-year resolutions end up being unsuccessful. Many folks flame out somewhere in Numbers, just like the Israelites! Moreover, the implied pressure to keep up with the checklist (or even friends who are doing the same plan) can sometimes turn the whole thing into a joyless (or even guilt-filled) slog.
Putting some bones underneath that meat
Even for those who successfully complete the task, the net effect may not be what they expected. Reading 3-4 chapters a day (often as fast as possible because, well, the kids are about to get up, if they haven’t already) across nearly 1,200 chapters is not a recipe geared towards comprehension. You may finish doing it and still have no idea what exactly Habakkuk or 2 Chronicles were about.
One way, perhaps, to make this task more effective is to give the reader a better comprehensive framework into which all the chapters can be sorted out.
To use an analogy: if the 1,189 chapters are the entire body of Scripture, it may be helpful—rather than only reading through all the assorted body parts in some sort of order in a year—to get the skeleton in place first, on which all the body parts are supported. In other words, get the bones in place, and then, when you revisit the task of reading the whole Bible, you are putting the meat on a solid skeleton, rather than approaching it just as some sort of mush pie.
Redemptive history is the decisive skeleton, in my mind. It puts Christ at the center for both the OT and NT but is also faithful to the progressive way in which God pursues his people from creation, to fall, to redemption until new creation. It gives a coherent way of understanding the flow of the OT and its complex fulfillment in the NT.
A redemptive-historical reading plan
So what I have done is crafted a selective Bible reading plan and organized it around the major movements of redemptive history. I was pretty surprised to see that (so far as I can tell) this has not been done before.
I have outlined redemptive history in 16 stages, from creation up through the open-ended expectation of the Day of the Lord. Then I provide carefully curated sections from the OT that trace this history. I tried to pick at least one chapter from every OT book, but to keep it reasonably short I had to leave some out. I also pepper in psalms along the way. Then, for each stage, I provide a chapters from the NT that bring out how each of those steps of redemptive history (for ancient Israel) are fulfilled in the new era in Christ.
I could have simply done the OT chapters, gotten up through the end of the restoration period, and then said: “Now, go read the NT to see how this all worked out.” That would be one way of doing redemptive-history.
But I chose to do it differently for a key reason: every step of redemptive history finds its organic, divinely-intended fulfillment in Christ. It’s not just something where the OT tells a big complex story, then Jesus comes to die on a Roman cross and fix our sin issue. That is a key part of it, but there’s so much more—if you are paying attention to how the NT authors themselves understand redemptive history. So this parallel tracking helps bring that out. The selected NT readings in almost all cases quote the passages selected from the OT, thus helping the user develop biblical intuitions in grasping how the two testaments work together.
It works out to be 137 chapters from the OT and 63 from the NT: 200 total, thus bringing this to 17% of the total Bible. This frees the user to read at his/her own pace: read one chapter a day (or less); re-read the same chapters for a few days in a row to fully get your head around them; meditate on one aspect of redemptive history for a couple weeks; do some extra research; etc. There is no imposed chronology, so you can pick it up or put it down as you want. It can even serve as a guide for a group Bible study (16 weeks through redemptive history, or something like that).
The goal after going through this is to emerge with a stronger foundation in how the entire Bible fits together. To be able to articulate the storyline of the OT, to see how Christ completes it in numerous ways, and to then be able to build on that foundation for years to come.
And, if nothing else, you will have read some of the most famous chapters of the OT and NT.*
- Fall, Original Sin, and Judgment
- God’s Covenant Promise to Abraham
- Promise Continued through the Patriarchs
- Exodus from Egypt
- God’s Covenant Law Given through Moses
- Rebellion in the Wilderness
- Conquest of the Land and Early Leadership
- Establishing the Monarchy
- Religious Life of the Nation
- Degradation of the Monarchy
- Israel and Judah in Exile
- Grief and Consolation during Exile
- (Partial) Restoration from Exile
- Anticipating an Eschatological Deliverer
- Anticipating the Day of the Lord
Click the image below to download. I’d love your feedback on what I left out, or what could be cut or replaced with something else.
* On that note: I fully affirm that all Scripture is God-breathed and equally glorious. That said, some books are more pivotal in terms of telling the story of redemption than others. We even see this in the way NT authors tend to gravitate to the same dozen or so chapters [Genesis 15; Psalm 2; Psalm 110; Isaiah 6; Isaiah 53; etc.]. Christians, thus, need to read all the books and all the chapters. But there is wisdom in getting a big picture or the “skeleton” firmly in mind, so that you can navigate all the pages of Scripture wisely. That’s all this is attempting to facilitate. So I don’t want to see any snarky comments about how I’m privileging certain chapters over others.