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Putting the pieces in order

June 16, 2010

One thing that often confuses people when they begin to read through the Bible is that it isn’t in chronological order!  The Bible is arranged somewhat in “chunks” – sometimes the ‘chunks’ are chronological within themselves, and sometimes they’re not!  [Stephanie did a great job charting out the general “genre” divisions of the Bible for us on Monday, so you might want to peek back at that post for reference.]

The first main division of the Bible is often called the “Pentateuch” – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These 5 books form the foundation for the rest of Scripture, and they were all written by Moses.  The narrative of these five books does occur in chronological order – although Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are composed primarily of law.

This Pentateuch Timeline gives you the dates, chapters, and general sequence of events.

The next “chunk” also continues in chronological order.  The Israelites enter the promised land under the leadership of Joshua and the tribes begin to settle into their allotted lands.  For many years they have no human king (Israel should have been a theocracy under the Kingship of God Himself and guided by godly priests).  They did not remain faithful to God and began to be oppressed by their enemies, a consequence God warned them would come if they disobeyed.  After being oppressed the people would cry out to God and He would provide a “judge” or deliverer, and then the cycle would repeat.  Sadly, throughout the time of the Judges (which is also the time period of the book of Ruth) Israel fell further and further away from God and became largely ignorant of the law.

Eventually the people demanded a king – the prophet Samuel first anointed Saul, who was later rejected by God for his faithless disobedience.  David was then anointed and his son Solomon followed him.  Unfortunately Solomon’s son Rehoboam foolishly oppressed the people and ended up causing the nation to split into two – the Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, known as Judah.

This is when the timeline of the Bible gets very, very confusing!  David and Solomon both wrote extensively, and their writings compose the majority of the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.  (These books are often known as the “wisdom books.”)  The books of 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles all record the history of the kings of both Israel and Judah.  Also during this time period, God was sending prophets to both Israel and to Judah to call them to repentance and warn them of the judgment and exile they would face if they continued to disobey.  Eventually both kingdoms were conquered and carried into exile, and God sent additional prophets to His people in captivity to remind them of the law, of the reasons for their exile, and that He was still in control.  These books of history, prophecy, and wisdom literature are all contained in different “chunks” of the Old Testament, but they all overlap chronologically.  This timeline lays out the history and time periods well.

About 400 years after Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, had written God’s message to the people God Himself entered the story.  Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem as foretold by the prophets, turned the nation upside down with His message – the narrative accounts of Jesus’ life are contained in “The Gospels” – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  These books cover the same time period from slightly different vantage points.  After Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples continued to spread the good news of Jesus’ identity as the long-awaited Messiah – the book of Acts records the spread of the Gospel and the forming of local churches.

After these churches began to be established throughout the Roman empire, they needed more teaching – much of the teaching given to them is recorded for us in the “epistles” – letters written to individual churches.  The epistles are not organized chronologically, either – the letters written by Paul (the “Pauline epistles”) are included first, arranged from longest (1 Corinthians) to shortest (Philemon). Next come the “general epistles” – letters written by anyone other than Paul!  These are also arranged from longest (Hebrews) to shortest (Jude).

Revelation is obviously in it’s correct chronological sequence, as it records the end of the story!

Keeping the overall timeline of the Bible in mind is very helpful to me as I read and study, and I hope it will be for you, also!  If you’d like to read the Bible in chronological sequence, a chronological Bible can come in very handy – I enjoy reading the Gospels in chronological sequence,  and it adds further depth of meaning to read individual Psalms placed at the correct time in the narrative when most scholars believe they were written.  Kathy Howard also has a great free resource on her website – it’s a daily Bible reading plan that guides you through different passages to put the Biblical story in chronological order.

Dig in, friends – what a story we are privileged to explore!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 7:36 am

    My husband and I were just talking yesterday about getting a chronological bible for our daily reading next year. I would imagine you’d read a couple chapters in Genesis and then along would come Job. I would love to read the prophets in the midst of the historical books and Paul’s letters in the midst of Acts. I think it would help put the whole picture of God’s story together and provide a fresh perspective on familiar passages.

    • June 16, 2010 8:16 am

      Shelli, I have been thinking that I’d enjoy a chronological Bible as well. Completing the Bible in 90 Days challenge really helped me begin to put the prophets (in my mind) where they fit into the historical books … but I imagine reading the Bible chronologically would be very interesting as well.

    • Kathy Howard permalink
      June 16, 2010 8:49 am

      Shelli and Teri, I have a Bible reading plan available on my website called the “Chronological Story Bible Reading Plan.” It gives roughly a chapter to read a day for an entire year. It follows the thread of the entire biblical story, but you don’t read the entire Bible. It would be great for kids, teens, or anyone who wants a solid understanding of the flow of the biblical story. Here’s a link:

      • Kristi Stephens permalink*
        June 16, 2010 9:06 am

        Kathy – what a great tool! I’m going to edit the post and add that link to make sure people see it!

      • June 16, 2010 11:00 am

        Kathy, you are truly a font of wisdom! Thank you!! I’ll be downloading this when I get home.

      • June 16, 2010 11:47 am

        Hi Kathy,
        That’s one of the things that really drew me to you and your site…you liberally bless others with your knowledge and the tools to dig in for themselves! I love your heart for God and ministry!

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 9:07 am

      Yes! I have the chronological one year Bible and have gone through it several times. It really does help you keep the bigger framework in mind!

  2. June 16, 2010 8:43 am

    I’m thinking I need to add a chronological Bible to my study tools. This is a great overview Kristi! Understanding the “big picture” really helps it all come together and sets us up for studying in more detail.

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 9:07 am

      Thanks, Julie! 🙂

  3. June 16, 2010 10:54 am

    I have a Chronological Bible, but haven’t had the time to explore it! This gives me a kick in the pants to get it out. This will really help teaching kids as well! I gave you guys some advertising on my blog today. I just can’t say how thankful I am for such a great group of women who are committed to teach others the Bible!

    You guys ROCK!

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 11:24 am

      Cherie, SO glad that you’ve been enjoying the dig! Thank you for spreading the word!! 🙂 Hope you have fun investigating your chronological Bible! 😉

  4. Kathy Howard permalink
    June 16, 2010 11:06 am

    Kristi, thanks for adding the link. And thanks too for the great post. You brought some clarity to a confusing subject!

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 1:53 pm

      Thanks, Kathy – I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s a great resource!

  5. June 16, 2010 11:52 am

    You did a GREAT job putting the pieces together for us all. I was thinking that I would make copies of everything we’re doing and compile a notebook for handy dandy at-your-fingertips info.

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 1:17 pm

      Thank you, Stephanie! The notebook is a great idea.

  6. June 16, 2010 1:37 pm

    Do you recommend reading the bible in a give amount of time – like the 90 Days thing, or taking a year to do it??


    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 1:52 pm

      Stef, yes for either! 😉 I think one of the strengths for things like the Bible in 90 Days is that often we tend to only read the Bible in small chunks and we lose some of the context and flow of this larger story. Obviously the Bible in a year is a tried and true way to go about reading, also. I like to encourage people to combine faster paced reading of large chunks like that (I usually call that “survey reading”) with slower, more detailed study. Both are helpful and necessary!

  7. June 16, 2010 8:45 pm

    You know as odd as it sounds I had one of the “chronological order” version (a One Year Bible) but didn’t really find it as useful as I thought I would. I do love how you’ve put all the pieces together and explained how it all works together. Great post 🙂

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 16, 2010 8:58 pm

      Thanks, Kristine! I think sometimes things like that are personality related. I’m a timeline junkie, so it hits the spot for me. 😉

  8. Sally B permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:24 am

    Thanks for a good succinct summary of a very complex book! I found having a basic knowledge of the chronology of the Bible has helped me when I study the Bible. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

  9. Sally B permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:30 am

    Thanks for a good, succinct overview of the Bible. I have found that having an idea of the “big picture” helps me understand the Bible better.

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 17, 2010 8:11 am

      You’re very welcome, Sally! The “big picture” definitely is tremendously helpful to me, too!

  10. June 17, 2010 7:08 pm

    I’ve read the Bible all the way through. Now I’m reading it chronologically. What a huge difference. It makes so much more sense now!

    • Kristi Stephens permalink*
      June 17, 2010 7:26 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that, Nicole!!


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