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The Bible is Not Arranged in Chronological Order - Why?

Updated on August 19, 2017
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

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.

Malachi 4:5-6

“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.)

Greatest Hits from The Bible

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      moonlake: I did what you did in reverse. As a teenager I needed immediate answers. Now I need to see the big picture more. Thanks for the comments.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 

      2 years ago from America

      I also open the Bible and read whatever verse my finger lands on. As a teenager I read the Bible from front to back and I should do it again. Enjoyed your hub.

    • serenityjmiller profile image

      Serenity Miller 

      3 years ago from Brookings, SD

      Thank you for your response! I'm still just getting my feet wet here on HubPages, collecting a few thoughts as I consider how to synthesize some of these lessons. I look forward to more rewarding, enriching discussion as we journey onward!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I agree. I'd read the Bible for years in bits and pieces, sometimes entire books in the New Testament or the book of Psalms. Taking on a project like reading the entire Bible as a book is probably more meaningful for someone who already has some familiarity with the Bible. Otherwise it is pretty overwhelming. A B.S. in Biblical Studies? I need to be reading your hubs!

    • serenityjmiller profile image

      Serenity Miller 

      3 years ago from Brookings, SD

      I appreciate the time you've put in to share your thoughts about taking a chronological approach to Scripture. As I share in some of my scribbles here on HP, I struggled for years to make sense of the Bible because I knew no other way to read a book but from front to back, and I could never get past Genesis that way. I finally got to know a pastor who told me, "Don't start with Genesis. Start with Mark, then read Galatians and Ephesians." That little bit of introductory structure probably saved my life, along with the New International Version and the footnotes in the Life Application Study Bible. Several years and a B.S. in Biblical Studies later, I am forever appreciative of the contextual artistry behind that Mark-Galatians-Ephesians recommendation. I look forward to a fresh perspective through the chronological order in the future.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Update: I'm about to start the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, both traditionally and chronologically. From chapter 1 to chapter 22, it is uninterrupted by any other passages. Looks like this reading will have taken me 18 months. I can only credit that speed (for me!) to semi-retirement.

      Does anyone have a suggestion for the next translation, interpretation, or paraphrase of the Bible I should start this New Year?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I admire your dedication to read the Bible in a year. That is going to be my New Years Resolution because it involves a commitment of time, which I've never been able to do. Thanks for your comments and encouragement.

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 

      4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Nice hub Kathleen. I read the Bible in chronological order a few years ago. My goal was to read through it in a year and I achieved that goal and was encouraged to keep reading and studying in a deeper way going forward. Thanks for your insight.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The Word will not return void, Ruben, however you receive it. Blessings.

    • profile image

      Ruben 

      4 years ago

      According to the Bible I forgot the verse based on Bro. Eli's explanation that our time now, God will give us someone who will be our reader and we will just listen, honestly it finds me very difficult to understand the wordings so it is best just to listen and noted the verse flashing on the screen while he reads it. More power on this hub Ms Kathleen.

    • my_girl_sara profile image

      Cynthia Lyerly 

      4 years ago from Georgia

      I, too, believe the Bible is best when understood in chronological order. The author Lynn Austin has written a series about King Hezekiah that made me want to read his full story in the OT. It was nice because the fiction book guided me through the full story which is actually broken up between 2 different books in the Bible and jumps from chapter to chapter.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      RTalloni: These are valuable contributions to this hub. Thanks for your generousity. It was wonderful to sit down at the computer today and receive such a word of encouragement from a fellow hubber. My daughter is one of the 800,000 government employees who are losing their paychecks while the government is shut down. She is a single mother of two preschoolers. She won't get this pay later - it is just gone. Thanks for giving me a blessing when I really need it.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      4 years ago from the short journey

      It's a wonderful thing to have friends who care enough to direct us to the help that Scripture reading is for our daily lives!

      There are some good chronological Bibles available. The Reese Chronological Bible is one, and Bible Gateway has this NASB online reading plan:

      http://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/chronolo...

      and this NIV reading plan:

      http://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/chronolo...

      while Back to the Bible offers this ESV online reading plan: http://www.esv.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pd...

      One book that explores the benefits of the Bible to Believers is "Profiting from the Word" by A.W. Pink.

      Making the Bible our food and drink gives us truth and life! :)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I never read the bible and maybe I would but you have done a perfect job on this topic and presented with great interest.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Yes, I use a guide. It follows the themes and the Bible characters. It is quite old and has 12 books. It's arranged so that each book lasts three months if I read each day and at the end of the three years I have read most of the Bible.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      BlossomSB: How do you follow the themes? Is there a guide to go by or do you use the index at the back? I think I read somewhere that Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy (the blessings and the curses) more than any other book. I didn't realize that verse came from the Old Testament and I've heard it so often!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Yes, I have done that, and it does help to give an overview, but to follow various themes is a good way to read it, too. One of my favourites is Leviticus 19.18: 'Love your neighbour as yourself,' which Jesus quoted when summing up the Ten Commandments.

    • jocent profile image

      jocent 

      4 years ago

      Ooops so sorry......forgot to cast my vote!!!! Done....God bless!!!

    • profile image

      graceinus 

      4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      Geneses 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

      And my apologies.

      Blessings

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      graceinus: You are right that no one can document the actual order of the books or verses in the Bible. God's inspired word requires the direction of the Holy Spirit on every reading. To folks like you and me who have lived with it most of our lives, it is amazing how new it can be to us every time we sit down to read. What is your favorite verse in the Old Testament?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I think it's interesting so many of us gravitate to Jeremiah 29:11. There is just so much promise in that verse. I've been surprised each time how much I glean from the Old Testament, because I'm so much more familiar with the New, just like you. Thanks for your comments and blessings to you as well.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Dear Kathleen,

      Thank you for this wonderful write here as to reading His Holy Word in chronological order. I have read it through once, being I am one to jump around a bit, it takes discipline. I think it is most important to read it from the beginning to end to get the full impact.

      I tend to get hung-up in the begets. To me, I get so much more of an understanding of Jesus by reading the Old Testament!

      I have heard of where one can read the Bible in one year by reading in a certain manner. I think it takes one such a long time to read the Bible due to, at least for me, having to meditate on His word when I read it and soak it into my heart, where He reveals so much to me through His active and living Word.

      My favorite scripture from the Old Testament is Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, 'declares the LORD', plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for hope and a future." I claim that promise each day for myself and my family. I like reading the NIV. Now, a lot do love the new Message Bible.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing Love the video there at the end too!

      God bless you. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I tried to post a link but the HP police caught me. The rules, you know.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Nolyn: That's my verse for my children - it's a great one. Google "Reading the Bible Chronologically" and many options will come up. They do have printed versions also. Blessings.

    • profile image

      Nolyn 

      4 years ago

      I was disappointed that you didn't share with us a resource that guides the reader in reading Scripture in chronological order. Seems to me. That I have heard of a Bible that is printed that way. As for my favorite OT Bible verse, that's difficult to narrow it down to one verse, but Genesis 50:20 came to mind, where Joseph explained to his brothers that what they had meant for evil, God turned into good. There are many verses from the Psalms that could be a favorite as well. But being pressed, I will choose Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

    • profile image

      graceinus 

      4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      I don't believe anyone really knows for sure the exact order the bible was written, although there best guesses. So reading it in exact order would be highly difficult. For example the Book of Job was written by Moses so you think it would be mixed in somewhere with then first five Book of the bible but it not even close. Then you have the same situation with many verses. But still the bible is worth reading and studying.

      God bless

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Would any of my readers like to share their favorite verse from the Old Testament? I've shared mine! (See the above picture.)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      jocent 66: Thanks for the interesting information. That sounds like a very useful program. I'll check it out.

      I'm no scholar. And I just read a little bit most days, which is why it takes so long to complete. But finishing is not my motivation. I get a lot out of the process. It's different every time regardless of the translation. So many people today are so ready to die where they stand for what they believe, and have no idea what the Bible actually has to say on most issues. I'm trying not to be counted among them! Thanks for the comments and for sharing.

    • jocent profile image

      jocent 

      4 years ago

      Honestly... I hate reading lengthy articles like novels, short stories that I'm not interested in. Bibble is a collection of several books that is very hard to finish adding some hard to understand words and phrases that is quite not familiar specially it's not the native tongue. But there is a tv program here in our country that answers questions regarding the Bibble that lets the Bibble answer itself!!! "DATING DAAN" (Old Path") it's on the internet also, I find it very helpful with regards to my Bibble querries. Bro. Eli Soriano uses different versions from old, original to the new translations and explains even the minute details. I learned a lot from him although I'm a Roman Catholic....learned the evil doings of different sects .You have a point that everyone needs to read it personally so as not to be misled.Thanks for a wonderful share!!!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting question! No, but then most of the books I read aren't nearly that long. Trying to remember the last really lengthy book I read. Probably "War and Rememberance" and no it didn't even take me three months!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Does it take you just as long to read other books?

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks phdast7. Have good classes today!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wonderful Hub and moving and inspiring. I will come back when I am not getting ready for work and have more time.

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