Reading the Bible

In 2014, I decided to read the Bible in a year. I’d already read every part of the Bible at least twice, one of those in a year as well, but I had never read the Bible cover to cover in order. I’d read it once with one of the standard plans that covers the Old and New Testaments in parallel, and again with a self-designed reading plan that put it in chronological order. (By “chronological,” I mean starting with Genesis, not Job.) I may add that one here later, but it would take a lot of ironing out.

For my third full read-through, I decided to read cover to cover, but I was unsatisfied with the various reading plans I found on the internet, so I much more deliberately wrote my own plan to do that, and I shared it on this blog for anyone else who wanted it. After all, whether you’re a believer or not, reading through the Bible is at the very least a valuable cultural exercise, so I thought it would be a useful resource.

I was unsatisfied with the plans that I found because I had begun to notice the importance of the larger narrative structure within books and even, to some extent, across books of the Bible, which is easily missed in the ways we typically read it. People usually read short passages in church or single chapters in Bible studies, and these are valuable modes of study, but they break apart the longer narratives that are intended to be read as a unit. For example, the story of the Flood stretches across four chapters, and in the New Testament, Paul’s letters were each intended to be read in a single sitting.

Unfortunately, many reading plans that cover the Bible in one year do not take this narrative structure into account. The organization varies, with some plans being topical and some being chronological, but even those that run cover to cover often do little better than blindly dividing the text into three chapters a day. Followed strictly, this would put a break in the middle of the Flood narrative, which I feel is the wrong way to read it.

That was the main reason I wrote my own plan: to take the narrative structure into consideration. Specifically, I had two goals in writing it. The first was to honor the layout of the text by keeping coherent narratives intact to the best of my ability. I did my best to place breaks between days between Biblical stories, and I preserved the single-sitting structure of Paul’s letters except for the longest ones. I also made sure each new book was started on a new day, even for the very short ones. I tried to make the readings consist of whole chapters as much as possible for convenience’s sake, although this was not always possible. For example, all of the clearly written breaks in the action in Mark occur in the middle of a chapter.

The second, sometimes competing consideration was to try to equalize the lengths of the readings based their actual word counts. Since the lengths of chapters and verses can vary widely, simply dividing the text into sections of three chapters as many reading plans do would sometimes result in readings that were three times longer than usual. If you’re on the go, it’s good to have a reliable feel for how long the readings will be.

This is a more difficult standard to meet, and I made a few mistakes in my first draft. Some differences can’t be helped. My rule about always starting a book on a new day made some of the readings very short, for books with just one chapter. A cut were just cutting the narrative in the wrong place. However, the biggest problem was that in my first draft, I divided the readings based on the word counts for the books (which are much easier to find) than the individual chapters, which still led to more variation in length than I liked and some readings that tripped me up by being much longer than I expected. The longest (Jeremiah 48-52) turned out to be 6,734 words (NIV), compared with an average of 2,026 for the whole Bible.

(Side note, I did the word counts for the New International Version, but I had since switched to the English Standard Version, which I consider to be the most quotable version of the Bible in widespread use today.)

A few months into this plan, I decided to buckle down and measure the word count for each reading by copy and paste. I used this information to revise the plan to even it out, arriving at a final version at the end of the year. I still had to include some variation, but it is much improved. The longest reading is Ezekiel 20-23, with 4,399 words, while the shortest is 2 John, with 302 words. For perhaps a little bit better perspective, the longest book I included as a single reading is Lamentations, with 3,411 words, while the shortest reading that is not a whole book is Exodus 24 (The Covenant Confirmed), with 447 words. This last was a byproduct of following the narrative structure, being a small section of narrative sandwiched in between two longer sections of laws and regulations. Most of the readings are fairly close to the 2,000 word average.

I previously posted my plan as a standalone document for easy printing. (Click here to download.) But for this essay I have recreated it on the web page. Click below to see it. First half:

Jan 1
Gen 1-3
Feb 17
Num 13-14
Apr 5
2 Sam 1-4
May 22
Ezra 1-4
Jan 2
Gen 4-5
Feb 18
Num 15-17
Apr 6
2 Sam 5-8
May 23
Ezra 5-6
Jan 3
Gen 6-9
Feb 19
Num 18-19
Apr 7
2 Sam 9-10
May 24
Ezra 7-10
Jan 4
Gen 10-11
Feb 20
Num 20-21
Apr 8
2 Sam 11-12
May 25
Neh 1-3
Jan 5
Gen 12-14
Feb 21
Num 22-25
Apr 9
2 Sam 13-15
May 26
Neh 4-7
Jan 6
Gen 15-16
Feb 22
Num 26-27
Apr 10
2 Sam 16-17
May 27
Neh 8-10
Jan 7
Gen 17-19
Feb 23
Num 28-30
Apr 11
2 Sam 18-20
May 28
Neh 11-13
Jan 8
Gen 20-24
Feb 24
Num 31-32
Apr 12
2 Sam 21-24
May 29
Est 1-2
Jan 9
Gen 23-27:40
Feb 25
Num 33-36
Apr 13
1 Kgs 1-2
May 30
Est 3-5
Jan 10
Gen 27:41-31
Feb 26
Deut 1-3
Apr 14
1 Kgs 3-4
May 31
Est 6-10
Jan 11
Gen 32-33
Feb 27
Deut 4-6
Apr 15
1 Kgs 5-7
Jun 1
Job 1-3
Jan 12
Gen 34-36
Feb 28
Deut 7-8
Apr 16
1 Kgs 8-9
Jun 2
Job 4-7
Jan 13
Gen 37-38
Mar 1
Deut 9-10
Apr 17
1 Kgs 10-11
Jun 3
Job 8-10
Jan 14
Gen 39-41
Mar 2
Deut 11-15
Apr 18
1 Kgs 12-14
Jun 4
Job 11-14
Jan 15
Gen 42-45
Mar 3
Deut 16-19
Apr 19
1 Kgs 15-16
Jun 5
Job 15-17
Jan 16
Gen 46-47
Mar 4
Deut 20-21
Apr 20
1 Kgs 17-19
Jun 6
Job 18-19
Jan 17
Gen 48-50
Mar 5
Deut 22-24
Apr 21
1 Kgs 20-22
Jun 7
Job 20-21
Jan 18
Ex 1-2
Mar 6
Deut 25-26
Apr 22
2 Kgs 1-2
Jun 8
Job 22-24
Jan 19
Ex 3-4
Mar 7
Deut 27-30
Apr 23
2 Kgs 3
Jun 9
Job 25-31
Jan 20
Ex 5-7:6
Mar 8
Deut 31-32
Apr 24
2 Kgs 4-6:7
Jun 10
Job 32-37
Jan 21
Ex 7:7-10
Mar 9
Deut 33-34
Apr 25
2 Kgs 6:8-8:15
Jun 11
Job 38-42
Jan 22
Ex 11-15:21
Mar 10
Josh 1-2
Apr 26
2 Kgs 8:16-10
Jun 12
Ps 1-7
Jan 23
Ex 15:22-17
Mar 11
Josh 3-4
Apr 27
2 Kgs 11-12
Jun 13
Ps 8-14
Jan 24
Ex 18
Mar 12
Josh 5-8
Apr 28
2 Kgs 13-15
Jun 14
Ps 15-18
Jan 25
Ex 19-20
Mar 13
Josh 9-12
Apr 29
2 Kgs 16-17
Jun 15
Ps 19-22
Jan 26
Ex 21-23
Mar 14
Josh 13-17
Apr 30
2 Kgs 18-20
Jun 16
Ps 23-29
Jan 27
Ex 24
Mar 15
Josh 18-21
May 1
2 Kgs 21-23:30
Jun 17
Ps 30-33
Jan 28
Ex 25-27
Mar 16
Josh 22-24
May 2
2 Kgs 23:31-25
Jun 18
Ps 34-37
Jan 29
Ex 28-31
Mar 17
Jud 1-3
May 3
1 Chr 1-3
Jun 19
Ps 38-41
Jan 30
Ex 32-34
Mar 18
Jud 4-5
May 4
1 Chr 4-7
Jun 20
Ps 42-46
Jan 31
Ex 35-39
Mar 19
Jud 6-8
May 5
1 Chr 8-9
Jun 21
Ps 47-51
Feb 1
Ex 40
Mar 20
Jud 9
May 6
1 Chr 10-12
Jun 22
Ps 52-58
Feb 2
Lev 1-3
Mar 21
Jud 10-12
May 7
1 Chr 13-16
Jun 23
Ps 59-64
Feb 3
Lev 4-6:7
Mar 22
Jud 13-16
May 8
1 Chr 17-20
Jun 24
Ps 65-68
Feb 4
Lev 6:8-7
Mar 23
Jud 17-18
May 9
1 Chr 21-22
Jun 25
Ps 69-72
Feb 5
Lev 8-10
Mar 24
Jud 19-21
May 10
1 Chr 23-27
Jun 26
Ps 73-76
Feb 6
Lev 11-12
Mar 25
Ruth 1-4
May 11
1 Chr 28-29
Jun 27
Ps 77-78
Feb 7
Lev 13-15
Mar 26
1 Sam 1-3
May 12
2 Chr 1-4
Jun 28
Ps 79-83
Feb 8
Lev 16-17
Mar 27
1 Sam 4-6
May 13
2 Chr 5-7
Jun 29
Ps 84-89
Feb 9
Lev 18-20
Mar 28
1 Sam 7-8
May 14
2 Chr 8-9
Jun 30
Ps 90-95
Feb 10
Lev 21-22
Mar 29
1 Sam 9-12
May 15
2 Chr 10-12
Jul 1
Ps 96-102
Feb 11
Lev 23-25
Mar 30
1 Sam 13-15
May 16
2 Chr 13-16
Jul 2
Ps 103-104
Feb 12
Lev 26-27
Mar 31
1 Sam 16-17
May 17
2 Chr 17-20
Jul 3
Ps 105-106
Feb 13
Num 1-4
Apr 1
1 Sam 18-20
May 18
2 Chr 21-24
Jul 4
Ps 107-109
Feb 14
Num 5-6
Apr 2
1 Sam 21-24
May 19
2 Chr 25-28
Jul 5
Ps 110-118
Feb 15
Num 7-8
Apr 3
1 Sam 25-26
May 20
2 Chr 29-32
Jul 6
Ps 119
Feb 16
Num 9-12
Apr 4
1 Sam 27-31
May 21
2 Chr 33-36
Jul 7
Ps 120-134

Second half:

Jul 8
Ps 135-138
Aug 24
Jer 35-36
Oct 10
Matt 8:5-11:19
Nov 26
1 Cor 1-2
Jul 9
Ps 139-143
Aug 25
Jer 37-38
Oct 11
Matt 11:20-13
Nov 27
1 Cor 3-6
Jul 10
Ps 144-150
Aug 26
Jer 39-44
Oct 12
Matt 14-16
Nov 28
1 Cor 7-10
Jul 11
Prov 1-4
Aug 27
Jer 45-47
Oct 13
Matt 17-20:16
Nov 29
1 Cor 11-14
Jul 12
Prov 5-7
Aug 28
Jer 48-49
Oct 14
Matt 20:17-23
Nov 30
1 Cor 15-16
Jul 13
Prov 8-9
Aug 29
Jer 50-51
Oct 15
Matt 24-25
Dec 1
2 Cor 1-4
Jul 14
Prov 10-13
Aug 30
Jer 52
Oct 16
Matt 26-28
Dec 2
2 Cor 5-7
Jul 15
Prov 14-17
Aug 31
Lam 1-5
Oct 17
Mark 1-2:22
Dec 3
2 Cor 8-9
Jul 16
Prov 18-22:16
Sep 1
Ezek 1-3:15
Oct 18
Mark 2:23-6:6
Dec 4
2 Cor 10-13
Jul 17
Prov 22:17-24
Sep 2
Ezek 3:16-7
Oct 19
Mark 6:7-8:26
Dec 5
Gal 1-6
Jul 18
Prov 25-29
Sep 3
Ezek 8-11
Oct 20
Mark 8:27-10:31
Dec 6
Eph 1-6
Jul 19
Prov 30-31
Sep 4
Ezek 12-14
Oct 21
Mark 10:32-14:11
Dec 7
Php 1-4
Jul 20
Ecc 1-4
Sep 5
Ezek 15-19
Oct 22
Mark 14:12-16
Dec 8
Col 1-4
Jul 21
Ecc 5-8
Sep 6
Ezek 20-23
Oct 23
Luke 1-2
Dec 9
1 Thess 1-5
Jul 22
Ecc 9-12
Sep 7
Ezek 24-25
Oct 24
Luke 3-4
Dec 10
2 Thess 1-3
Jul 23
Song 1-8
Sep 8
Ezek 26-28
Oct 25
Luke 5
Dec 11
1 Tim 1-6
Jul 24
Isa 1-5
Sep 9
Ezek 29-32
Oct 26
Luke 6-8
Dec 12
2 Tim 1-4
Jul 25
Isa 6-8
Sep 10
Ezek 33-34
Oct 27
Luke 9
Dec 13
Titus 1-3
Jul 26
Isa 9-12
Sep 11
Ezek 35-37
Oct 28
Luke 10
Dec 14
Phm 1
Jul 27
Isa 13-16
Sep 12
Ezek 38-39
Oct 29
Luke 11-13:9
Dec 15
Heb 1-2
Jul 28
Isa 17-19
Sep 13
Ezek 40-42
Oct 30
Luke 13:10-17:10
Dec 16
Heb 3-10:18
Jul 29
Isa 20-24
Sep 14
Ezek 43-44
Oct 31
Luke 17:11-19:27
Dec 17
Heb 10:19-13
Jul 30
Isa 25-27
Sep 15
Ezek 45-48
Nov 1
Luke 19:28-21
Dec 18
James 1-5
Jul 31
Isa 28-32
Sep 16
Dan 1-4
Nov 2
Luke 22-24
Dec 19
1 Pet 1-5
Aug 1
Isa 33-35
Sep 17
Dan 5-6
Nov 3
John 1-2
Dec 20
2 Pet 1-3
Aug 2
Isa 36-39
Sep 18
Dan 7-8
Nov 4
John 3-4
Dec 21
1 John 1-5
Aug 3
Isa 40-41
Sep 19
Dan 9-12
Nov 5
John 5-6
Dec 22
2 John 1
Aug 4
Isa 42-45
Sep 20
Hos 1-3
Nov 6
John 7-8
Dec 23
3 John 1
Aug 5
Isa 46-47
Sep 21
Hos 4-10
Nov 7
John 9-10
Dec 24
Jude 1
Aug 6
Isa 48-51:16
Sep 22
Hos 11-14
Nov 8
John 11
Dec 25
Rev 1-3
Aug 7
Isa 51:17-54
Sep 23
Joel 1-3
Nov 9
John 12-13
Dec 26
Rev 4-7
Aug 8
Isa 55-57
Sep 24
Amos 1-4
Nov 10
John 14-17
Dec 27
Rev 8-11
Aug 9
Isa 58-59
Sep 25
Amos 5-9
Nov 11
John 18-21
Dec 28
Rev 12-14
Aug 10
Isa 60-62
Sep 26
Obad 1
Nov 12
Acts 1-2
Dec 29
Rev 15-16
Aug 11
Isa 63-66
Sep 27
Jonah 1-4
Nov 13
Acts 3-5
Dec 30
Rev 17-20
Aug 12
Jer 1-3:5
Sep 28
Micah 1-7
Nov 14
Acts 6-9:31
Dec 31
Rev 21-22
Aug 13
Jer 3:6-6
Sep 29
Nahum 1-3
Nov 15
Acts 9:32-12
Aug 14
Jer 7-10
Sep 30
Hab 1-3
Nov 16
Acts 13-15:35
Aug 15
Jer 11-12
Oct 1
Zeph 1-3
Nov 17
Acts 15:36-18:23
Aug 16
Jer 13-15
Oct 2
Hag 1-2
Nov 18
Acts 18:23-21:16
Aug 17
Jer 16-17
Oct 3
Zech 1-6
Nov 19
Acts 21:17-24
Aug 18
Jer 18-20
Oct 4
Zech 7-8
Nov 20
Acts 25-28
Aug 19
Jer 21-24
Oct 5
Zech 9-14
Nov 21
Rom 1-3
Aug 20
Jer 25-26
Oct 6
Mal 1-4
Nov 22
Rom 4-6
Aug 21
Jer 27-28
Oct 7
Matt 1-2
Nov 23
Rom 7-8
Aug 22
Jer 29-31
Oct 8
Matt 3-4:22
Nov 24
Rom 9-11
Aug 23
Jer 32-34
Oct 9
Matt 4:23-8:4
Nov 25
Rom 12-16