Have You Ever Read The Bible in the Order It Was Written?
The order gives the old stories new meaning.
I've been known, when seeking direction from God, to open the Bible with my eyes closed, and read whatever verse my finger lands on, then take that verse as the direction God wants me to pursue.
There's nothing wrong with that approach.
But a few years ago, a biblical author challenged me to read the Bible as I would read any other book, start to finish. She admonished Christians to stop being "illiterate" when it came to our own holy book.
So I gave it a try. I started with The Living Bible, a modern interpretation, because it was as easy to understand as any other book I might read. It took me three years to get through it.
The next time I tried reading the Bible like a book, I tried The New International Version because I'd heard it was the closest translation to the original Greek. I used a parallel Bible that gave me the version I was concentrating on with three other versions and/or translations right along beside it. This feature let me check to see what a more familiar translation said when a particular passage seemed to be saying something in a different way than I'd ever thought about it before. This effort took me seventeen years. My best excuse is that I was working full time and not staying home with my three children as I was during the first effort.
Reading the Old Testament chronologically has taken me three years, and I've read it in the New American Standard upon the recommendation of a friend of mine who is a chaplain's wife and something of a biblical scholar herself.
This time I've been reading on the Internet, which offers the benefit of choosing just about any version known to man. While searching for a parallel translation to accompany the NAS, a title caught my eye: the 1599 Geneva Bible.
I was raised on the King James Version. I mean, I cut my teeth on it. It wasn't just the Bible to those of us raised in "The Bible Belt". It was "The Holy Bible" that we memorized and needle pointed onto anything that would stand still long enough. I'd read somewhere that the 1599 Geneva was the gold standard for most English-speaking believers prior to the King James. Actually, the two translations came upon the world at almost the same time due to the circumstances of the day.
Before the Geneva Bible, the common worshiper could not read or study God’s Word for himself, and church leaders were just fine with that arrangement. During the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) when he named himself head of the church, breaking ties with Rome and the Pope, his subjects were familiar with the “Chained Bible”. It was literally chained to the church pulpit so no one would remove it from its rightful place.
As the Church of England became more established, people were less willing to take either the Pope's or the King's word as the final word on their religion. The New Testament of the Geneva Bible was published in that city for the first time in 1557. The entire Bible followed in 1560 and people clamored for it. The final edition became available to the masses as the 1599 Geneva Bible. It was the work of Protestant reformers who fled the reign of “Bloody Mary”, Mary I (1553-1558), and her tendency to burn non-Catholics at the stake for their reformed beliefs.
The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use verse numbers for easy reference and memorization. It was the first English Bible to translate the Old Testament directly out of the Hebrew. It really was the first English Bible published for common men, and so it scared the bejezzes out of the monarchs of England and high church officials.
Fearing the Geneva Bible and its footnotes that were undermining the authority of the monarchy, King James I (1603 - 1625) of England called for the "Authorized Version," which became commonly known as the King James translation. His staff left out the inflammatory footnotes. They also softened some passages to make them less at odds with the monarchy. The style was that of Shakespeare with majesty and lyrical cadence giving it an enduring quality that many still treasure. The flourishes didn’t win over Pilgrims and Puritans though, who fled the old world specifically for the freedom to worship as they chose. So they brought the Geneva translation, complete with footnotes, with them to the new world and used it as the biblical foundation for the American Republic. It has since gone through several restorations to make it just as easy for modern day readers as it was for those reformers of yesteryear
I'm especially interested to compare the two translations as I move into the New Testament for however many years it takes me to finish the reading this time.
My personal favorite verse in the Old Testament
Back to my question about the benefit of reading the Bible in the chronological order in which historians believe it was written. So far, it has been a fascinating experience.
Not unexpectedly, the story of creation is followed by the story of the flood. But then comes Job, the story of suffering patience. Why scholars moved this interchange between God and man to the middle of the testament is a question I can't answer. I think the fact that on a timeline this episode happened so early in the history of man speaks volumes about its significance to people who face struggles every day.
The book of Psalms has been a comfort to God's children since time immemorial. But chronologically these poems are scattered through the history of the children of Israel and are so much more meaningful when set in context.
The scenario usually goes like this: someone screws up royally; learns a lesson from the ordeal; then writes a psalm about what they learned. The first one is Psalm 90 and shows up following Numbers 15 with its instructions for the children of Israel after they enter the promised land.
"Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
Not a bad way to start, Moses!
The last Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 126 and follows Nehemiah 13. It is praise from an author I couldn't verify, following the return of the children of Israel from captivity.
"Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting."
I've just started the New Testament, but I was absolutely struck by the last verse, chronologically, in the Old Testament that is repeated almost verbatim in the early verses of the New.
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Luke 1 is the earliest known book in the New Testament. Verse 17 talks about the arrival of John the Baptist.
"He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly."
The interesting thing about these two similar passages jumps off the page when you are reading the scriptures along a timeline. The lapse between these two writings?
Four hundred years (397 B.C. - 40 B.C.)
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The choices God gives us includes the choice to believe or not. Easter reminds us of the choices we make.
It's time Christians challenged each other to be more than one-issue voters. Jesus didn't have a one-issue ministry. Neither should we.
With a contentious 2016 coming to an end, here's hoping we can do better in the new year.