The Bible Reading Plan in the Bible!
Do you read your Bible:
Sometimes, often, or never?
With a Bible Reading Plan to read the whole Bible in a year, or to read the Prophets, or to read the Gospels, or the read the Letters?
In line with your Church’s Lectionary?
Or do you decide what you will read when you read it?
Would you like to read the Bible with the same Bible Reading Plan that Jesus used? There are clues in the Bible that show us what He read on a weekly basis.
We read in the Book of Nehemiah that when the captives returned from the Exile in Babylon:
All the people gathered together ...and they told Ezra the Scribe to bring the Book of the Torah of Moses… and Ezra read from it ...from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand...and the Levites...gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. Nehemiah 8.1-12
Later in the passage quoted from Nehemiah 8 which describes how Ezra read the Torah ‘from morning until midday’, Nehemiah said to the people:
‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD.’ Nehemiah 8.10
The phrase ‘eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions’ was NOT an invitation to have a festive meal, or to make up picnic hampers for those who were not there.
The clue to the meaning of this phrase is in Exodus:
Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the Elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel...and they ate and drank. Exodus 24.9-11
Moses and the Elders did not actually ‘eat and drink’ a meal of food. The phrase is a Hebrew Idiom. It means that they studied God’s Torah; they learned who He is, and He taught them His instructions about how to live in a relationship with Him.
When Nehemiah said to the people, ‘eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions’, he was telling them to continue to study the Torah that they had heard Ezra read for six hours that morning, AND to send ‘portions’ of Torah to those who were not there so that they too could benefit from the Torah.
The question is, What ‘portions’ did they send?
Ezra and the Levites had divided the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, into 154 ‘portions’, so that the whole Torah could be read in manageable passages over a period of three years. This Bible Reading Plan became known as the Triennial Cycle.
This Triennial Cycle of Readings was the practice in Israel during Temple times, and it consisted of a Torah ‘portion’, a Haftarah ‘portion’, and a Psalm, to be read on each Sabbath of a three year Cycle. The Triennial Torah Readings are related to the Haftarah and the Psalm by the verbal tally, or Word Association, of related words. The key word in a Torah portion is also the key word in the Haftarah. The Haftarah ‘portion’ is always taken from the Prophets or the Writings. We will look in next week’s Blog at how Word Associations provide a ‘commentary’ on the Bible.
Most Jews today read through the Torah in one year. This is called the Annual Cycle of Readings, and requires people to read several chapters each week which makes the Torah very difficult to absorb in such big ‘chunks’.
Both the Annual and the Triennial Cycle of Readings are interrupted for the Feasts. Since people came up to Jerusalem for the Feasts we should expect to find that each Feast will have Torah portions which relate to the theme of each Feast for each of the three years of the Cycle.
For example, the theme of Passover is the sacrifice and redemption of the first born. So we find that in Year 1 the Torah portion at Passover begins at Genesis 4.3, the story of Cain and Abel. In Year 2 it is Exodus 13, the institution of Passover, and in Year 3, Numbers 9, the second institution of Passover.
The earliest Biblical source for specifice Triennial Cycle Readings is the narrative in Luke 4:16-21. Jesus returns to his hometown, Nazareth, and on the Sabbath He goes to the synagogue where He is given the Book of Isaiah. Jesus opens the Book and reads the Haftarah portion that begins, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me…’ from Isaiah 61:1. Following the reading of the Haftarah portion, He gives a teaching:
He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. When He had opened the book, He found the place (the Haftarah portion) where it was written:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, (a teaching from His seat) "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing….."
The Haftarah ‘portion’ of Isaiah 61.1 is a designated Haftarah ‘portion’ in the Triennial Cycle, but the passage does NOT occur as a designated ‘portion’ in the Annual Cycle. Therefore, we have the evidence that Jesus followed the Triennial Cycle Readings during His ministry.
In Matthew 5.17 Jesus said that He came ‘to correctly interpret the Torah and the Prophets’. Therefore, we should find evidence of this in the Gospels.
In John’s Gospel the main emphasis is on the teaching of Jesus at each Feast, and the Miracles are used to illustrate the teaching discourses. The teaching discourses are given on successive Feasts, and the purpose of each discourse is to show Jesus Himself as the fulfillment of the theme of the Feast.
Since the Triennial Cycle was built around the Feasts, and John’s Gospel is similarly constructed, we will find that ‘portions’ of John’s Gospel were intended to be added to the Triennial Cycle Readings. This results in the theme and teaching of each of the Feasts being ‘correctly interpreted’ by Jesus, and it provides the links between His teaching, the Torah portion, the Haftarah portion, and the Psalm.
Since the Bible is so difficult to understand, and to digest all at once, it seems that God has provided a Bible Reading Plan in the Triennial Cycle Readings that enables us to take a small ‘bite’ of His teaching each week. In addition, to make it easier for us, He has provided a ‘commentary’ in the Gospels in which Jesus ‘correctly interprets the Torah’.
If you would like to follow the Triennial Cycle Readings, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you the Triennial Cycle Readings Plan.
In addition, I produce a weekly set of Questions on the Readings which are designed to help discover what the LORD is saying in the Readings…..and I send out the suggested Answers the following week. Let me know if you would like a sample of the weekly Questions and Answers.