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How Much Bible Do You Receive in the Lectionaries?

August 21st, 2008
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I had an interesting conversation some time back with my colleague here at CPH: Rev. Robert Lail, the mastermind/creator/programmer of the Lutheran Service Builder software. He indicated to me that he was surprised to note that when one compares how many verses of the Bible one receives in the three year lectionary, with how many in the one year lectionary, the difference is not really as large as one might assume. He counted verses in each lectionary, which may not be the most accurate way of doing it, say, as opposed to word counts, but since that standard is applied to both lectionaries, it gives a good ballpark, to be sure. What are the results?

Here is a screen shot of the Excel file Bob gave me. You can see here the percentage of verses in each book of the book of the Bible between the two lectionaries, which book is featured less, or more, between the two lectionaries, and the total, at the bottom of the image: 23.9% of the Bible is provided in the three year lectionary, and 14.8% of the Bible is provided in the one year lectionary. Not that massive a difference, as one might think. Interesting, no? [Click on the image for a much more readable version].

Picture 2

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  1. August 21st, 2008 at 18:25 | #1

    I don’t know anything about the Lutheran lectionary, but I know that for the Catholic lectionary, the reform of the lectionary after Vatican II increased the scope of biblical material included in the readings for Mass. Under the old lectionary, there were two readings — one epistle reading and one gospel reading. No psalms were included in the lectionary. On occassion, the epistle reading would be replaced by a short Old Testament reading, but that was a great rarity. In the post-Vatican II lectionary, there are four basic readings for Sunday: an Old Testament reading, a psalm (read responsively), an epistle reading, and a Gospel reading. For weekday Masses, there is an Old Testament reading, a psalm, and a Gospel reading. The Old Testament readings are replaced briefly after Easter with a reading from Acts.

  2. Rev. Matthew Thompson
    August 21st, 2008 at 19:29 | #2

    I’m impressed with the high percentage of Scripture that is included in the lectionary. Basically 1/4 of the Word of God every three years. I would wonder how much of Scripture is being read in churches which don’t follow the lectionary and whose pastors preach topical sermons.

  3. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 21st, 2008 at 21:38 | #3

    One thing to keep in mind is that the LSB one-year lectionary includes a much higher percentage of alternative readings (especially in the case of the Old Testament). If all of those alternatives are incorporated into Bob’s data, it would tend to “beef up” the end results. That’s not a critique, just an observation.
    McCain: Thanks Rick, for that observation. Are those alternative readings to be read in addition to the primary readings? Or in place of them?

  4. August 22nd, 2008 at 09:28 | #4

    Thanks for the graphic with its full disclosure. It seems to me that there’s quite a bit more Scripture in the 3-year series; certainly, the percentage increase if you consider the New Testament and Psalms is much higher than if you include the whole Old Testament (which is, after all, over 2/3ds of the Bible, text-wise).
    However, this graph also does show that there are huge swaths of the OT which are simply missing and/or ignored from our lectionaries, whether historical or 3-year. I think it really behooves us to be more interested in the OT, as it is the Scripture from which Paul and the other apostles were able to preach Christ.

  5. August 22nd, 2008 at 09:38 | #5

    Oh, and 23.9 vs 14.8% is 1.6 times more Scripture. That’s an appreciable difference, I think. I’m sure if you were just calculating based on Sundays and not including special feasts and festivals, the ratio would be even higher.
    Having said that, I can see a lot of positives to using the one-year series, but the three-year is a long-established practice in the congregations I serve.

  6. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 22nd, 2008 at 10:55 | #6

    The alternative Readings in the one-year lectionary would be used in place of the first option. There are more such options provided in the case of the Old Testament, but also with respect to some of the historic Epistles and Holy Gospels (the historic lections were preserved in every case, usually as the first option). In addition, there are optional verses indicated, parenthetically, with many of the appointed lections. The parentheses were used to mark verses that were not part of the historic lectionary. So, between the addition of an Old Testament Reading to begin with, and then with the provision of alternative possibilities and additional verses, the LSB considerably enlarged the quantity of Holy Scripture represented in the one-year lectionary.
    I’m not clear whether Bob’s data incorporated the Sanctoral Cycle along with the two different lectionaries (that is, the Readings appointed for feasts throughout the year). If so, that data would impact the percentage of Scripture in the one-year lectionary far more than it would impact the three-year lectionary, since both lectionaries share the same single Sanctoral cycle.
    [McCain: Re. the Sanctoral Cycle...this study assumes that the overwhelming vast majority of congregations in The LCMS do not observe the sanctoral cycle in any formal way in the public worship of the congregation (sad to say!), so, not sure if that really would make much of a difference.]

  7. Brian Westgate
    August 22nd, 2008 at 11:48 | #7

    An interesting note is that there were originally Epistles and Gospels for nearly every Wednesday and Friday in the historic lectionary, as well as daily readings in Lent, the 12 days of Christmas, and the Easter and Pentecost Octaves. If all those days were included, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the difference between the two lectionaries become minimal.

  8. Josh S
    August 22nd, 2008 at 13:55 | #8

    That’s actually a very large relative difference: 23.9% is 1.6 times 14.8%. Relatively speaking, it’s 60% more Bible. If your brother’s piece of pie is 60% bigger than yours, it’s still a much bigger piece, even if you got 12.5% (1/8) and he got 20% (1/5).

  9. Ryan Fehrmann
    August 23rd, 2008 at 11:31 | #9

    Interesting data. Question remains if quantity or quality are more important. One purpose of a lectionary is to make sure the congregation is receiving the whole council of God on a yearly basis. A congregation could concievably cover more Scripture than the lectionaries and still be poorer for it.
    I would be interested in how well each lectionary does on the full council of God count rather than what percent of the Bible is covered.
    Also Sunday lectionaries were not meant to be the only Scripture a Christian encountered, a weekly cycle (which tends towards a continuos reading) was also to be included… go go CPH Treasury of Prayer in that regard!

  10. Darian L. Hybl
    August 24th, 2008 at 02:30 | #10

    One other point to note that has not appeared is that the three year lectionary only provides on average only 7.96% of the bible per year, where the one year lectionary provides nearly twice that with 14.8% for the same number of Sunday’s!!!
    Moral of this is that numbers can be used to prove anything!!!

  11. August 24th, 2008 at 12:24 | #11

    Personally, I like the 3 year, maybe not because there is so much MORE in there, but there are texts that should be preached on that just don’t get a chance, especially in a culture that doesn’t do as many mid-week services or daily matins. It blows me away that the Resurrection of Lazarus isn’t in the traditional One Year Series.
    My husband also talks with colleagues, and there seems to be much more of a temptation among “one year” guys to dig out old sermons and preach them again. For him, the Three Year keeps it fresh. Sure there are times when it seems to him like he is never going to get through that one chapter in John, etc. but it also gives an opportunity to really dig into a deep text.

  12. September 1st, 2008 at 19:12 | #12

    Both lectionaries have their theological problems, but the LCMS has done a pretty good job of putting the verses back into the pericopes of the 3-year series that Rome left out. The exclusion of the Tabernacle and the Temple, however, is a Roman Catholic bias that we unfortunately have gone along with. I’ve written a little bit about it here:

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