“Seek out the book of Jehovah, and read . . . ” (Isa. 34:16).
I can think of no greater admonition for all people today than this one from the pen of Isaiah. Reading Scripture was both an Old Testament practice (Exod. 24:7; Deut. 17:19; 31:11; Josh. 8:34-35; 2 Kings 22:8 – 23:2; Jer. 36:15; Neh. 8:8) and a New Testament practice (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). It was performed by Jesus Himself (Luke 4:16-20). It was prescribed by the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 4:13). Today, it is important for everyone to read his own Bible because Bible reading will bless the reader (Rev. 1:3). Bible reading leads us to know God’s plan of salvation (2 Tim. 3:15; James 1:18). Reading the Bible brings us to an understanding of God’s will for our life today (Eph. 3:4; 5:17). How one reads the Bible daily can vary. This article covers the method of reading the Bible in chronological order.
Chronological Order versus Canonical Order
All of God’s word is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16), but the order of books in the Bible is not. The order of the books in the Bible is man-made. There is no divinely inspired order of Bible books. In fact, the order of Bible books differs between the Bible of the Hebrew, the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Eastern Orthodox. If one were to use a standard Bible and start reading in Genesis and read book-by-book in order to Revelation, he would be reading the Bible in canonical order.
The standard order of books in most Bibles today is the canonical order: Genesis to Malachi and Matthew to Revelation. The canonical order of books does not follow a chronological order all the way through the Bible. Rather, it follows the order of books found in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome in the 4th century A.D. The “canonical order” groups books together according to their type of literature: law, history, poetry, and prophecy in the Old Testament; gospel, history, and epistle in the New Testament. The “chronological order” groups books or portions of books together according to their historical date and content.
Today, the order of books in many Bibles is basically in chronological order from Genesis to 2 Kings, but after that chronological order of events often disappears. In the New Testament, Matthew through Acts is basically in chronological order, but after that the chronological order of events once again is gone. The majority of printed Bibles today arrange their books canonically rather than chronologically.
To place Bible books in chronological order, three kinds of rearranging must be done. First,whole books must be relocated. For example, in the Old Testament, Job is often placed after Genesis. Haggai and Zechariah would be placed within the book of Ezra. In the New Testament, Philemon would be grouped with Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. James and Thessalonians would be placed before Corinthians. Second, portions of books must be relocated. For example, portions of 1 Chronicles, Isaiah and Jeremiah are moved to reflect chronological order. Third, portions of books must be combined. For example, some of the Psalms are placed within 1 and 2 Samuel and Old Testament prophetic material is placed within the books of Kings and Chronicles. In the New Testament, the four gospels are combined together and some of Paul’s epistles are inserted into the books of Acts.
Keep in mind that Bible scholars and historians differ on some aspects of Bible dating and so determining chronological order is not an exact science. Chronological ordering is not easy to do and will differ some from person to person. While chronological ordering can be relative and tentative at times, the reader can still gain a general chronological flow of Bible history from beginning to end.
Benefits of Chronological Bible Reading
Reading the Bible in chronological order has two important benefits not by found using other reading methods. First, reading the Bible chronologically gives one a better sense of the overall flow of Bible history from beginning to end. The reader learns to keep a Bible passage in its historical context and order. By reading chronologically, the Bible student can more easily follow God’s plan of salvation from the beginning – the “mystery” that has been manifest from times eternal to the present (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26). Remember, the Bible is not a catechism or a topical textbook arranged by subject matter: God, man, sin, salvation, etc. The Bible is a single and unified message of salvation that flows through several periods of history.
Second, reading the Bible chronologically allows the reader to put together the historical events with the doctrinal lessons attached to them. For example, in the Old Testament, one can read about the tumultuous events of the life of David in 1 Samuel, followed by the God-honoring feelings of his life in the book of Psalms. Or, one can read about the ungodly history of Israel in 1-2 Kings, followed by the powerful sermons preached by the prophets during that time. The historical events are explained by the spiritual lessons and vice-versa. This chronological connection of historical events with spiritual lessons are especially important to Bible class teachers and preachers as they prepare class lessons and sermons.
Tools for Chronological Bible Reading
There are three types of helps available to anyone interested in reading the Bible chronologically. First, chronological study Bibles are available for purchase in various translations. The books and chapters in these Bibles are rearranged from the standard, canonical order and printed in chronological order. Most chronological study Bibles contain both the Old and New Testaments, but a few contain the New Testament only. One older example of a chronological Bible is The Student’s Chronological New Testament by A.T. Robertson (Fleming H. Revell, 1904). There are also several contemporary chronological Bibles to choose from. The Chronological Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers uses the New King James Version and is highly recommended. The One Year Chronological Bible by Tyndale House Publishers uses the New International Version and the New Living Translation. The Narrated Bible In Chronological Order and The Daily Bible: In Chronological Order by Harvest House Publishers both use the New International Version. The Seamless Bible: The Events of the New Testament in Chronological Order by Charles C. Roller and The Reese Chronological Bible by Bethany House Publishers both use the King James Version.
Second, if someone wants to use his own Bible, he can purchase a printed outline of Bible passages in chronological order. The reader would follow the chronological outline and read from his own Bible. One example of a printed chronological outline is: Footsteps Through The Bible: A 52-Week Chronological Reading Plan and Study Reference by Richard M. Gagnon (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000). Another helpful outline is: Read Through the Bible in a Year: In Chronological Order by John R. Kohlenberger III (Moody Publishers, 2008).
Third, there several internet resources available for chronological Bible reading. The advantage to these sources is that one does not have to spend any money to get started reading chronologically. One site is: www.ewordtoday.com/year/. This site contains five Bible reading plans including a chronological plan which can be used with several English versions and some foreign language versions. Another online site that contains a chronological plan in different versions is: www.bibleplan.org/. You can also look at the chronological reading plans supplied by Back to the Bible (www.backtothebible.org/index.php/Bible-Reading-Guides.html), Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com/resources/readingplans/), Into Thy Word (www.intothyword.org/articles_view.asp?articleid=31608&columnid=3801), SBL Ministries (www.sbl.org/readthrubible/chronological/index.shtm), A. Allison Lewis (www.christianbeliefs.org/brs/biblereadingsch-00.html), and Gene Brooks, based on the Reese Chronological Bible (www.geocities.com/genebrooks/bible-chron-january.html).
Let me encourage you to read the Bible in chronological order at least once in your lifetime. It will reward you greatly in your understanding of God’s overall plan for saving mankind. The Bible is one, continuous message of salvation from paradise on earth lost (Gen. 1-3) to paradise in heaven regained (Rev. 21-22). By reading chronologically, you will see the beautiful panoramic view of the Bible’s plan of salvation as it is seen through a series of unfolding events across the epochs of time.
Truth Magazine 54:1 January 2010