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New Testament in 40 Days Reading Challenge - Day 1 Ash Wednesday, Feb 22nd


We often “give something up” for Lent and that is a wonderful practice. This year, however, I’m challenging you to “take something on”– and that something is to read all of the New Testament. Sound daunting? The guide I’ve developed averages out to roughly 9 study Bible pages per day! The exact word count varies, but based on the longest single assignment, an average adult reader can do this in about 30-45 minutes each day, with many day’s readings being shorter. So yes, you can do this!

A Chronological Reading! Further, the guide will walk you through the texts in a chronological order, that is, in the order that the vast majority of NT scholars believe the texts were written in. Thus, we’ll start not with the Gospels, but with 1stThessalonians, almost certainly the oldest letter of the Apostle Paul that we have. Reading the NT in this order helps us see how core ideas and understandings took shape and developed over time.

Drawing from the late Marcus Borg’s book Evolution of the Word and the wisdom of several traditional daily reading plans, I have developed a 40-day outline that will easily walk you through all the NT texts, starting with a short Ash Wednesday entry and finishing during Holy Week (with Sundays off). Several of the shorter “books” will be read in one setting, with longer texts broken up over a few days. Your job as a reader will be to come away with an overview of the key points of each book or letter and a few major insights or questions.

Following the chart below, you, yes you, can read the entire New Testament during Lent.

30-45 minutes a day or less, six days a week.

Download a printer friendly version of the reading list here: NT in 40 days Outline PDF



• When and Where Marcus Borg writes: “The first document in this chronological reading of the New Testament is Paul’s letter to a Christ-community in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, a province of northern Greece. It was written around the year 50, possibly a year or two earlier.”

According to Acts, Paul had visited this city after a vision of “a man of Macedonia” urged his visit (16:9). Paul stopped at Philippi (which we’ll read about later) and then Thessalonica. According to Acts, Paul made many converts here, and some weeks later, riots broke out. Paul left and went south to Athens and Corinth. He soon sent Timothy back to find out how the community was doing. Consider that Timothy’s trip likely took about a week each way by boat, 2 or 3 times that by foot, the distance being some 300 miles.

• Key Insights This letter is Paul’s response to the news Timothy returned with. He is overflowing with thanksgiving at their faithfulness in the face of difficulty. Note the family images (and that the original Greek is appropriately read brothers and sisters, siblings). This new family of Christianity is inclusive, mutually supportive. Paul speaks to this new family of faith, hope and love. We also see early Christians, including Paul, expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes, but Paul here is not focused so much on the details of that return as the transformation they are already undergoing. He seeks to convey an assurance that God will find this community blameless and that those who have already passed are still included.

• Big Picture This letter invites us to consider how we read scripture. In recent times, some have seen it as a puzzle to solve, so as to predict the future. United Methodists take scripture seriously, not merely literally, nor as a puzzle simply to be solved. Reading scripture is about relationship and our own encounter with the divine. We can recognize that Paul was incorrect about his timeline while claiming the hope and assurance he speaks with. We can hold that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2nd Timothy 3:16) while recognizing the limitations of its inspired human authors.

Remember the suggestion of a notebook where you can jot down “Things I notice” and “Questions I have.” I’m confident you’ll start seeing all sorts of interesting connections.

Blessings on your reading. Let the journey begin!



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