From time to time, people who use a Prayer Book for daily prayers and Scripture reading notice that something has been skipped in the course of Bible-reading and wonder why. What have they missed? Why does the Prayer Book book omit whole chapters of sacred scripture? Is the Church trying to suppress or water down the truth?
I cannot answer that question for every Daily Office Lectionary in the world – some are more comprehensive than others, some have particular agendas or purposes, some were honestly just plain bad. But I can point you to two major principles that guide the formation of a given Bible-reading plan.
#1 The lectionary needs to be repeatable year by year
This is critical but easy to overlook. If the pace is too rigorous, only the most stalwart worshiper will get through it, and then it’ll be an exercise in elitism rather than a beneficial practice for the whole congregation. Similarly, this means that the lectionary has to be relatively simple to follow, and contain minimal changeable features from year to year. With only 365 days to work with, and this need for a reasonable pace (typically up to 4 chapters per day, one each of OT and NT in both Morning and Evening), something has to be cut.
The American lectionary of 1979, for example, defaults to a two-year cycle of reading which is easily sustainable but still manages to be lighter than ever in terms of biblical coverage (strangely not even covering the whole New Testament in that time). The American of lectionary of 1892 provided a special section of readings for the forty days of Lent, interrupting the usual continuous flow of reading – a complication that barely lasted thirty years!
#2 The lessons need to be suitable for public reading
It must be recalled that the Daily Office is not a private devotion, but a public office. It is, ideally, what is read in every church before all the worshipers present every day. This also means that these texts will be read without the benefit of a sermon following. Thus, when considering which passages of Scripture to include and which to leave out, this suitability for public reading is necessary. Some chapters of the Old Testament will be more suitable than others – a genealogy in 1 Chronicles or the land allotments in Joshua and Ezekiel will be inferior value and clarity than the riches of the historical accounts or the preaching of the prophets.
This is not a rejection of the God-breathed nature of all Scripture, of course. As St. Paul boldly asserted, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Yet at the same time we are justified in evaluating the comparative value of different parts of Scripture. The four Gospels are of especial value, so we always read from one at every Communion service as the last (the apex) of the Scripture readings. The New Testament is of special significance as it proclaims Christ more directly than the Old; thus we read from it in equal measure as the Old, even though that means reading the NT more than once a year in the Daily Office Lectionary. And within the Old Testament, as I noted above, some readings will be more profitable to the hearer than others. We could go so far as to say that some passages of Scripture are sufficiently obscure that their most proper context for reading is in a study group or as a sermon text.
What’s missing in the 2019 Daily Office Lectionary?
There was a trend, for the past 100 years, of lectionaries getting shorter and shorter readings and getting more and more complex to follow. In the face of those trends, the 2019 lectionary stands against the tide, returning to the widest scope of biblical coverage since 1662 (in fact covering more of the Old and New Testaments than its original forebear, at the expense of the Books Called Apocrypha). Nevertheless, there are plenty of Old Testament chapters that are not included. Here’s a quick run-down on that.
Although more of the Book of Leviticus is read in this lectionary than in any previous Prayer Book, more than half of the book is still omitted. You can read more about that here. The same can be said for the Book of Numbers.
Nearly half of Joshua is omitted (notes on that here), and a couple chapters of Judges are also missing.
One of the most noteworthy omissions from the oldest Prayer Book lectionaries are the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles. In more recent times, select chapters of the Chronicles have been interspersed with 1 & 2 Kings, which is what the 2019 lectionary also does. You can read about that here.
Ezekiel, too, is a book that has been largely skimmed through in the past but now sees a bit more coverage. I’ve written on that here.
It’s also worth noting that the earliest Prayer Books omitted all but two chapters of Revelation. Recent books have restored it to full inclusion, and I’ve written a little about that history here, in case you’re interested.
The Ecclesiastical Books (more commonly known as the Apocrypha) have suffered the most chopping and omission in the 2019 lectionary. Where in the past the full books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) were read in their entireties, plus most or all of Baruch, they are now given only summary treatment. And among these remnants is also added a crash summary of 1 & 2 Maccabees.
What if I *really* want to read everything?
Some people are completionists, or at least aspire to be completionists in Scripture-reading. If you have such a burning desire, and the time to give to extra reading of the “harder” or more obscure texts of sacred writ, I have put together a Midday Lectionary that supplements the 2019 Daily Lectionary with all the Old Testament chapters and Ecclesiastical Books omitted from Morning & Evening Prayer. You can find that here.
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