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Archive for the ‘Cross References’ Category

The four kinds of one-year Bible reading plans

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Bible.com currently has 91 yearlong reading plans. By graphing these plans with time on the x-axis (January on the left, December on the right) and verse on the y-axis (Genesis at the bottom, Revelation at the top), we can divide them into four categories, labeled below:

An 8x12 grid of 91 reading plans.

First are continuous plans, which proceed in a sequential pattern through the Bible. They’re at the top of the above chart, characterized visually by strong lines proceeding from the lower left (January / Genesis) to the upper right (December / Revelation). They tend to cover substantial portions of the Bible, usually either the whole Bible or the complete New Testament. They generally ask you to read four or fewer distinct passages per day, with each passage about a chapter long.

Next are semi-continuous plans, which are the hardest kind to define. They feature stretches of reading that immediately follow from what you’ve just read, coupled with days of reading that are… not what you just read. You can see some lines go up to the left, similar to the continuous plans, and then they stop or dissolve into smaller sections. Defining a continuous vs. a semi-continuous plan is a matter of opinion; you could argue that some of the plans I’ve classified here as semi-continuous should be continuous. The most-interesting one to me is #34, the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office, whose pattern follows the liturgical year and doesn’t resemble any other plan on the chart. (Ten years ago I plotted both years of the Book of Common Prayer on a similar chart.)

Third are chronological plans, identifiable by their unique pattern of parallel passages in Kings and Chronicles (the parallel orange lines). Not all plans in this category are strictly chronological, but they have a similar organizing principle that produces the recognizable pattern of parallel paths.

Last are selections, which follow no discernible pattern and typically involve shorter readings–a few verses from multiple places in the Bible rather than reading full chapters. This kind of plan often includes devotional content related to the selected verses. The average plan in this category covers about 1,800 verses per year, or about 6% of the Bible’s 31,000 verses.

All the plans together

Here’s what all 91 plans look like overlaid on each other:

Paths radiate from Genesis in January to Revelation in December.

Paths radiate from Genesis in January through Job later in the year, varying mostly in the pace you’re reading the bulk of the Old Testament. In other words, if your reading plan starts by reading Genesis at the beginning of the year, you’re likely to proceed sequentially through the Old Testament until you reach Psalms. Similarly, paths converge on Malachi and Revelation in December.

Where are the digital-first plans?

The similarity among these plans suggests to me that they originate from a print-first mindset: what’s convenient to read in a physical Bible. You’re not, for example, going to flip to passages all over your print Bible every day unless you have unusually strong dedication to your reading plan.

But digital reading plans don’t have this limitation. Thanks to transclusion, a digital plan can collect content from all over the Bible (and elsewhere) and show it to you in one place, which means you can read much more widely on a single day if you like.

For example: let’s read through the Gospels chronologically in one year–that’s about ten verses a day–and also include ten cross-references for each verse every day. During a year, you read 14,104 different verses, or just under half the Bible. Here’s what the plan looks like schematically; you can see the paths through the Gospels, and overall it doesn’t look like any other plan:

The chronological Gospels plan shows a different pattern from other reading plans.

And here’s what the content for a single verse from one day’s reading could look like (because there’s so much related text for each verse, this plan requires a little information design): the current Gospel verse is at the top. Below it are three columns: one for Old Testament references, one for other Gospel references, and one for non-Gospel New Testament references. I also included the same color-coding as in the other charts in this post.

Matthew 5:5 with three columns of text.

Beyond transclusion, interactivity is a key property of digital systems. You could add interactivity by allowing the plan follower (with an interactive plan, they’re not just a “reader”) to configure the number of cross-references they read. Or tapping a cross-reference could open other verses they’ve read or will read as part of the plan–letting them explore more deeply and follow patterns as they desire. Adding interactivity to a system opens new avenues for insight.

Reading plans for augmented reality or audio-only interfaces will similarly vary in form from existing print-based plans. I would suggest that they will probably be even more conversational and dynamic than what I describe here.

I don’t know what shape future digital Bible reading plans will take, and the current approach of converting print-first plans to digital will certainly persist. But new digital-first reading plans will also come into being, and it’s important to experiment with what new technologies allow.

Re-visualizing Cross References (Interactively)

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Visit an interactive visualization of Bible cross references.
Browse this grid interactively.

This visualization is arranged by book, showing cross-reference sources on the y-axis and targets on the x-axis. Within each square, the first verse in the book or section is at the top, and the last verse is at the bottom. Here’s what a detail of a square looks like:

Cross references between Genesis and Daniel

Genesis 1 is at the top left; Genesis 50 is at the bottom left. Daniel 1 is at the top right; Daniel 12 is at the bottom right. The most-striking cross references between these two books, to me, involve Joseph’s interpretation of dreams in Genesis 40-41 and similar stories in Daniel.

Also see a previous cross reference visualization.

Bible Cross References Visualization

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Here’s a visualization of 340,000 Bible cross references:

Visualization of Bible cross references.
Larger version (2,000 x 1,600 pixels).

Does anything strike you as intriguing? A few trends jump out at me:

  1. The frequency of dense New Testament streaks in the Old Testament, especially in Leviticus and Deuteronomy; I didn’t expect to see them there.
  2. The loops in Samuel / Kings / Chronicles and in the Gospels indicating parallel stories.
  3. The sudden increased density of New Testament references in Psalms through Isaiah.
  4. The eschatological references in Isaiah and Daniel.
  5. The density of references from the Minor Prophets back to both the Major Prophets and earlier in the Old Testament.
  6. The surprising density of cross references in Hebrew-Jude.
  7. The asymmetry. If verse A cites verse B, verse B doesn’t necessarily cite verse A. I wonder if I should make the data symmetrical.

You can also download the full-size image (10,000 x 8,000 pixels, 75 MB PNG). It’s a very large image that could crash your browser. If you want it, I strongly recommend that you save it to your computer rather than trying to open it in your browser.

This visualization uses data from the Bible Cross References project. I used PHP’s GD library to create the graphic.

Inspired by Chris Harrison and Christian Swinehart’s wonderful Choose Your Own Adventure work.

New in Labs: Cross References

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Browse 340,000 Bible cross references. Make the list better by voting on relevant or irrelevant verses.

For example, try Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) or Isaiah 40:31 (“They shall mount up on wings like eagles”).

Philippians 4:13 cross references

The interface is about as bare-bones as it gets: there’s a list of cross references for a single Bible verse, sorted by relevance (i.e., votes). You can browse to related verses, vote on whether each cross reference is relevant, and see (on external sites) the verses in different translations. It also prints nicely. There’s no way to suggest new cross references, though I may add that feature if there’s demand.

The data comes primarily from The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK) but blends other data, including the Topical Bible and Twitter Bible Search. All the copies of TSK on the web seem to descend from one source; I did some basic cleaning of the data and extracted the references. Then I blended the other data to weight some cross references more highly than others—that’s where the initial vote counts come from. (Incidentally, I only count around 380,000 cross references in TSK, lower than the usual count of 500,000 cross references you find when people talk about TSK. The lower number of cross references on this site–340,000–comes mostly from removing duplicates and combining adjacent verses.)

The 340,000 cross references in this data are a substantial number–most cross reference systems in print Bibles contain 50,000-100,000 cross references. While this list is more comprehensive, the tradeoff is that some of the cross references are less relevant than you find in print Bibles. As people use this site, however, the most-relevant verses should rise to the top.

The main limitation to the data is that the cross references always point from a single verse rather than from a range of verses: in other words, from Matthew 5:3 instead of from Matthew 5:3-11. Broader cross references—references that apply to a complete passage—are therefore missing from the data, limiting its usefulness somewhat.

The lack of an open, high-quality source of Bible cross references on the web has always bewildered me. This project is an attempt to remedy that deficiency. Feel free to download the raw cross-reference data (2 MB .zip, updated regularly with the latest vote counts) and use it in your projects.

Update April 12, 2010: Fred Sanders at Scriptorium Daily has a great introduction to the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge if you want more background on this work.