My quirky New Testament reading plan
One of the things I’ve been attempting for 2015 is the Bible in one year. I made an elaborate table and everything to mark off when I’d completed books, and additional columns for reading commentaries and completing study processes on each book. Well, reading the thing in one year has nearly happened successfully (naturally I’ve left Chronicles and a couple of bits of wisdom literature until last, and I’m not sure I’ll have read them come the end of 2015); the rest of the aims will have to become a longer-term thing. I’ve found it a challenge, but not to pick up my Bible – for whatever reason, it’s become just too ingrained as a habit, as of roughly 11 years ago; even before that I just knew I had to read some every day. I don’t say that boastfully; I wrestle more now with questions of Biblical interpretation than I did 11 years ago; it literally is almost all just down to pure habit. It’s probably even a bit ‘religious’.
But I’ve found it a challenge for when the text has ‘come alive’ to me – to then keep on ploughing on with the 3-4 chapters a day that it takes to read the Bible in a year. Usually if something is really living for me, I want to hang around in one or two chapters for a few days at a time, making notes, re-reading, etc., maybe even going backwards. Also there are the other challenges – like wanting to spend a good deal more time in the New Testament.
Which is perhaps one reason why I have formulated a new plan for reading the New Testament next year. I will read the Old of course, and I’ll probably make a plan for that too. You have to have the grounding in the Hebrew Scriptures to understand the apostles. But I’ve devised a plan in which I’ll hopefully be able to get through the NT in a few different translations during the year, and using an interesting reading-order I came up with maybe a couple of years ago.
It’s not strictly chronological, although a macro-view of it looks roughly so, according to the generally-agreed proposed dating of the writing of the books, and the sub-group of Paul’s letters follows this course too. But it’s broadly thematical-by-book or set-of-books, and uses the four Gospels (with Luke including Acts) to take in the rest of the New Testament. I’ll lay out the reading order (grouping things under the Gospels as I have described) and then explain my thinking.
– 1,2 Peter
– 1,2 Thessalonians
– 1,2 Corinthians
– 1,2 Timothy
– 1,2,3 John
If it’s not obvious to the reader: I begin with Mark as it’s generally agreed to be the earliest gospel. Being a ‘Petrine’ Gospel (influenced by Peter’s account according to Papias) it is then followed with Peter’s two letters, and the letter of Jude which echoes and in large part repeats almost verbatim parts of 2 Peter.
We then return to the Gospels and to Matthew. Matthew seems to have been written in large part to Jewish readers. It even has a pentateuchal structure (with its five great sermons and Jesus going up the mountain to teach, like Moses). So too, the letters of Hebrews and James both come with that earthy, ancient flavour of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom literature, and seem to be written again to audiences of largely Jewish make-up – Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. A natural team with Matthew’s Gospel.
We then have Luke-Acts, and it is natural to turn to the letters of Paul to follow this, as Luke is known from his own accounts to have travelled with Paul at certain times during his ministry. I took the order from a proposed chronological dating of the writings of Paul that I found on the internet one time – profound biblical scholar that I am.
Finally, John, who might have written most of his material later than anyone else in the New Testament canon, rounds us off. Of course, authorship debates rage as to whether the writer of the Apocalypse is the writer of the Gospel and epistles; turning snooty academic rebuttals of “of course it isn’t” aside, the material can certainly be described as “Johannine”, and besides, once you’ve read the rest of the New Testament – what’s left?
If this looks useful to anyone, and you’re even vaguely considering whether you might use it as a reading plan next year or at any time, I’d love to hear from you. Included below is a screenshot of the table I made to check off when I’ve read each book in the three different translations I’m planning to use next year: Tom Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, the New English Translation, and the New American Standard Bible. Those might change too of course; I’m not afraid to admit that the NASB, championed as it is in my home church Ichthus and unarguably literal in its rendering, is becoming increasingly frustrating to me as I discover life bouncing out of the pages of some of the more recent translations (including the other two cited); besides, as someone who has begun to develop a working knowledge of NT Greek, at some point I hope to add an extra column for reading the entire New Testament in its original language. Probably not next year though…