New NRSV Reading Plan

Some of you will be aware of my fascination with lectionaries. (Google the word “lectionaries” — I’m on top!) Alongside that interest, I put together some annual reading plans for going through the full NRSV Bible with Apocrypha a couple of years ago. I’ve just added another plan to that page, at the request of a reader.

The new plan combines the Old Testament and all the NRSV Apocrypha (yielding essentially a conflation of the Hebrew, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox canons) for one set of readings, with a second reading from the New Testament. To maintain parity between the lengths of the two readings, on average three chapters from the OT and two chapters from the NT, it was necessary to arrange the schedule so that the NT is read three times in full throughout the year, and the OT (with all the NRSV’s “Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha”) once in full per annum.

At first I thought, well, that’s alot of reading. Then the amount of junk reading that we (at the very least, me, myself, and I!) engage in daily came to mind. Suddenly six generally short chapters, nowhere near the length of chapter from a modern novel, from Scripture seemed a very small thing.

Another plan I’m working on will be much more demanding. Extracting the readings of the Psalms from the plan, the rest of the books will remain, and I’ll likely end up with the thrice-annual NT reading again, and slightly longer OT readings than the above-mentioned new reading plan. The Psalms will be read in total once weekly (or twice weekly during the Great Fast, that is, Lent) according to the traditional arrangement of kathismata used by Eastern Orthodox monasteries at Vespers and Matins (and the Royal Hours during the Great Fast). As the cycle of Psalms changes over the course of the year, this plan will be quite complicated. The amount of reading will be much greater, as well. I thought it would be a good thing for those like myself who are interested in having a reading plan such as that which can be tied to our Eastern Orthodox liturgical year. The Eastern Orthodox lectionary, the course of which was established by the 8th century, is itself quite a bit more limited, though it covers most of the NT during the course of the year and contains a number of long readings from the Old Testament during the Great Fast. Nonetheless, it is not a continuous reading plan, nor is a reading plan equivalent to a lectionary. This plan will be simply a private devotional aid for those to whom it will be useful. When this very complicated plan is finished, I’ll post a notice.

18 Replies to “New NRSV Reading Plan”

  1. Kevin,

    These are matters of great interest.

    Reading plans and lectionaries, of course, are two very different animals. Lectionaries have, or tend to have, thematically linked readings (e.g., torah + haftarah). Plus, they are determined in part by calendrical considerations. Finally, the cyclical and linked reading of scripture excerpta is an aspect, in the first instance, of collective worship. A daily office read in private is to be encouraged, but is not the ideal, at least in my mind.

    I have long envisioned the day when, here and there, believers would gather to read Scripture, pray and praise with the aid of the Psalms and other Odes. A triennial cycle might incorporate, in an accordion-like fashion, a vast cross-section of the OT + NT (with allowances made for different OT”s) according to a template whereby three OT + two NT readings would be linked and interspersed with (portions of) Psalms and other odes.

    That day might come sooner rather than later, online.

    Am I making any sense here?


  2. Yes, you make plenty of sense, John.

    It appears that the earliest lectionary cycles were continuous, with thematic pairing reserved for special days. You can see remnants of those cycles in the feast days in the current Roman Catholic and Revised Common Lectionary and those like them, which is just about every modern Western church that uses lectionaries. The Eastern Orthodox lectionary (a lectionary brought to Constantinople by monks from Mar Sabba Monastery in the Holy Land) maintains several cycles: of the Gospels and Acts/Epistles in a continuous cycle Mon-Sat, with most Sundays also continuous, but syncopated differently. There is also a set of continuous OT readings including almost all of Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs read during the course of Lent, the season when catechumens were receiving their most intense training before their “illumination” (baptism and chrismation) on Holy Saturday, being buried with Christ to rise with Him.

    Probably my favorite lectionaries, which share the Lenten readings and others mentioned above, are what I called “Jerusalem Tradition Lectionaries,” the ancient Armenian and Georgian ones, which are explicitly based on the lectionary in use in the Anastasis Church (now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, the Armenian in the early fifth century and the Georgian circa 700. The development in the tradition is clear even internally with the Armenian manuscripts of different ages, as shown in detail in Renoux, but not on my web pages: the older the tradition, the longer the pericope. Aside from that, they show a greater fascination with typological readings, and the themed readings you mention. The historical element of site-based readings in and around Jerusalem is an extraordinary aspect of these that shouldn’t be missed.

    Anyhow, I don’t think there’s any way to separate any lectionary from its calendar (more technically, kalendar, referring to the ecclesiastical cycle of dates rather than the civil). That’s how they developed. Each has grown organically in the fertile soil of its own traditions. One of the reasons the Revised Common Lectionary (with its three-year cycle) was possible was the similarities in kalendar between all the parties. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with a three-year series of readings. Why have them? Everyone’s kalendar is always annual. I’d rather squeeze more readings into a given day/service than have little bitty ones stretched out over three years, however well-done. I don’t know. Every once in a while I think of training these lectionary-familiar eyes on the problem to tease out a set of Eastern readings that are particularly well-matched, constructing a new patchwork lectionary of the best of the ancient lectionaries, and using a Western kalendar, kind of an ancient East meets contemporary West thing. It’d be fun, but I’m running out of back burners already….

  3. You’re very welcome, Iyov. They’re fun to put together too. When I last tried to stick to one of them, I would get so far ahead that I just didn’t bother with the plan anymore. Like you, I can breeze through a novel in a day. But the little snippets work better for some folks. And it leaves more space for reflection, I think.

    I really don’t have the ability to retain things as well only by hearing them. Once I read them, they’re locked in. I need that visual aspect in my learning. But maybe for just better listening than the usual radio and whatnot, I’ll try one of the audio Bibles. It’s a fun idea!

    The way I look at these plans is more along the lines of just trying to encourage familiarity with the Scriptures. Most people I know have never read the entire Bible, or even an entire book of it, though they may have several Bibles lying around the house. Just reading it to gain familiarity with its territory, the hills and valleys of its literary landscape, so to speak, is of great benefit. Deeper study, which you mention, would really have to be something else. Look at all the time people have spent on just one verse in Jeremiah after that Nebo-sarsekim tablet was discovered. Yet it’s been years since I’ve read the entire book of Jeremiah.

    Also, if one believes in the One Author of Scripture, it’s great to be able to read all His works in one omnibus edition!

  4. Hello! I came across your fine blog very recently, and wanted to let you know that I linked to this post, as well as to a number of resources from your website, in a recent post on my own blog.

    Thanks for the Bible reading plan you’ve prepared! I plan to start on it on the first day of the Ecclesiastical New Year, September 1[/14].

    Concerning the kathismata of the Psalter, I should like to note that they are not used exclusively at monasteries, but rather are also appointed for use in parish churches whenever Vespers and Matins are celebrated. Their omission, which is disturbingly widespread and only impoverishes the biblical diet of the people of God, is a wholly undesirable “shortcut” that should be avoided at all costs.

    I see that, for your Eastern Orthodox Lectionary page, you rely on the lectionary printed in the back of the Orthodox Study Bible. Please be aware that, as Father Ephrem Lash notes, this “contains a number of curiosities” (or, as one might alternative say, glaring errors). Among those that Father Ephrem notes: that the 4th and 12th Sundays after Pentecosts are wrongly labeled as “Sundays of the Holy Fathers,” although these commemorations are movable and actually attached to neither (and, in any case, the readings for the Fathers are nowhere given!); and that the second set of readings for the Sundays in Lent (that is, those of the commemoration attached to each) are not given either. One might also note that no provision is made for the “Lucan Jump,” which is almost universally observed by all the Churches, and for its implications for the readings of the Nativity (and pre-Lenten) cycle. (See very able discussions of this matter here, here, and here.)

    Also, one might profitably note two further things: 1) When a feast occurs that displaces the appointed cycle of readings, these are not omitted, but rather are combined to those of the day before (or, in some specific cases, those of another day). In this way, the lectionary cycle is actually never broken. 2) There exists in the Slavonic books a “lectionary for the kellia” meant strictly for private use (as its name suggests). This system takes one through the Gospels once and through the Epistles twice in the course of eight weeks, which may certainly be coordinated with the Oktoechos cycle. (But note that the last two weeks of the plan linked above, which cover Revelation, are not in the original sequence.)


  5. Thank you very much, Esteban, for your compliments and very interesting and helpful information. I’m happy to hear that you find the plan useful.

    I became aware of the “curiosities” of the Orthodox Study Bible lectionary only relatively recently, and wasn’t really all that surprised that they were not entirely correct, unfortunately. When I first compiled the list, the OSB was the only thing available to me, though I have some much better sources now, including your helpful information! It’ll certainly need to be redone, as will several of the other lectionaries (the Coptic, and Roman Catholic ones, especially, as both are incomplete). I just get so busy! I’ll definitely work the information that you provide into the new version of the lectionary.

    Yes, the kathismata are allowed everywhere, but can’t be expected to be present in a parish. They are definitely always in practice in the monasteries, though. I should have been more clear on that point of emphasis. I’ll work that in, too, so as not to be misleading.

    The “lectionary for the kellia” is a very interesting idea. The octoechos would be a good thing to link it to. The problem with working out a plan (as I’m finding in trying to form reading plan with the kathismata) is that the various overlapping cycles in the Orthodox liturgical year make for something of an embarassment of riches. Even just choosing a starting day (1 September? Pascha? The Great Fast?) is at issue. Anyhow, I’ll have to get back to that.

  6. You’re quite welcome, of course! I’m glad the information is helpful, and as for the other, it’s no drag to give accolades when they’re abundantly deserved. 🙂 Looking forward to use the plan indeed, and I’m much obliged to you for proving a version dated according to the Ecclesiastical Year!

    As for the kathismata, I would insist that they are not merely allowed, but that they’re appointed to be read at services, wherever they take place; to not read them is to excise them from their rightful place in the services. But of course, as you know, in many places they are simply omitted, and the “poetic kathismata” (Sl. sedalny) either read or sung. My own practice here is to read the entire kathisma for Vespers, and abbreviate the ones for Matins. For Sundays, there exists a system devised by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco to spread the appointed kathismata (always the 2nd and 3rd) over the eight-week period of the Oktoechos. I have found this particularly helpful. But I digress!

    As for the “lectionary for the kellia,” I neglected to mention that the system seems to be quite old, as it appears in all available Russian “Old Rite” sources. The Slavonic Epistle and Gospel books have the markings for the kellia right alongside the numeration of each liturgical pericope (Sl. zachalo). It is often suggested to read the kellia cycle according to the tones of the Oktoechos simply because anything split in eight parts naturally lends itself to that, but of course, this is not strictly necessary. The same may be said of other systems such as the ones you’ve devised and the others you’re currently working on: as long as there’s some kind of cycle to them, they can be freely used from any starting point. I think that sort of freedom is helpful, precisely because the many overlapping liturgical cycles are otherwise minutely regulated.

    If you require help redoing the Eastern Orthodox lectionary page on account of time or other constraints, I would be more than willing (and delighted!) to help. You can contact me by e-mail at the nickname shown above, shift-2, yahoo.


  7. I have also been working on a reading plan for several years. Currently, it consists of an OT reading, a NT reading, a Psalms reading and a Proverb. The Psalms and Proverbs are covered twice in a year and the OT and NT only once each. Yes, the NT reading is quite a bit shorter.

    My new plan (maybe) will eliminate the second yearly reading of the Psalms and replace it with a once yearly reading of the NRSV deutero-canonical books. The NRSV deutero-canonical books was a discovery for me just this year, but I intend it to be a regular fixture. (Can you believe I had my Baptist blinders on for 35 years about those books?)

    But somehow I wish to incorporate several additional “questionable” works, 1 Enoch, Jubilees and the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs. Still working on a way to do so…

    I was toying with an idea today… I have been informed there is transaltion of the deutero-canonical books planned for the English Standard Version; (another discovery for me this year). In addition to my hoping they incorporate the broader scope of those books as does the NRSV, I got to thinking, if I could find out who’s doing the translating, I love to write them to ask they consider including the two pivotal works which are part of the Ethiopian Orthodox canon; I would just love having a Bible translation team’s version of Jubilees and 1 Enoch in my Bible!

  8. Hi Bob,
    That sounds like an interesting set of plans, too. Particularly working in 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and the T12P. That’ll make for ALOT of reading! These plans are fun to make.

    I’m surprised that the ESV is considering doing the Apocrypha. I had thought they were whole-hog on the Protestant wagon, canon-wise, and purposefully avoiding them. Maybe I’m mixing them up with another team, though. Let me know if you find out anything more about that, please.

  9. Not too long ago I contacted Crossway about the rumor of an ESV edition with the Apocrypha. Here is the reply I received via email from them:



    I note that you asked us some time ago about the possibility of an edition of the ESV that includes the Apocrypha, and I thought you might want to know the following:

    Crossway will not be publishing the ESV in editions with the Apocrypha. An edition of the ESV with Apocrypha is being developed by another publisher, which we expect will be announced sometime in the next year or two.

    Information on all forthcoming products is posted on our website as soon as it becomes available. We invite you to check in from time to time at


    Stuart Hackett
    Customer Service Representative
    Good News Publishers/Crossway Books & Bibles

  10. I really like your reading plan, especially the one including the deuterocanonical books. Have you developed a similar plan in chronological order (meaning in the order the events took place)? I would be very interested in a plan like that. It would be similar to this one, only with the apocryphal books added:

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