Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reading the Bible in Chronological Order

How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:103
I've come across several people lately who have been doing one of those "read the Bible in a year" plans. I'm intrigued by a plan to read the entire Bible, though having a time limit leaves me cold. Why rush, after all? Also, what with one thing and another, I've read practically the entire Bible in fits and starts over the years, with the notable exception of Isaiah.

However, what I did begin thinking about was the idea of reading the Bible chronologically. I'd like to read salvation history as it unrolls through time — not in the order it was written, but in the order it happened. And it would definitely be interesting to read Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets within the historical timeline.

There are a variety of plans out there, but the one that fit the bill for me was from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. You may recall I love their commentaries and when I saw how their plan interspersed parts of Isaiah throughout the historical books, I could see we were on the same page.

They have a 3-column, 365-day Bible reading plan formatted in legal and letter sized pdfs. Perfect! Here's a bit of their thinking, but they lay out all their rationale at the reading plan link.
For the most part, the Old Testament narrative and prophecy readings present the biblical books in the order of the story they tell (not the same as the order in which they were written). This chronological order is particularly helpful in understanding where the prophets and various narrative works fit in the history of Israel. A significant exception to this chronological presentation is the placement of 1-2 Chronicles (which cover the same period as the books of Samuel and Kings) near to when they were written near the end of the OT period, in order to lessen the experience of repetition.

A similar approach is taken to the third column that contains the books of the NT. These readings begin with the Gospel of Luke and Acts to provide a narrative framework for the whole. The other three Gospels are interspersed among the remaining New Testament books to allow readers to return to reflect on the life of Christ throughout the year. Then come the letters of Paul arranged in approximate chronological order, Hebrews, the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, concluding with the book of Revelation.
I'm going to read from beginning to end, as I said, placing the gospels in their chronological order for when they were written. (Hey it wouldn't be me if I didn't inject my own thinking, would it?)

I'm interested to read the New Testament, when I get to it, in the order that the first Christians did, as letters circulating through churches with gospels popping up later on. Anyway, I have the Church's daily Mass readings for a daily dose of gospel.

So I've begun with Genesis and the Psalms. A couple of chapters of Genesis start my day, while I'm feeding the dogs, and a psalm is the midday punctuation.

I like the idea of the wisdom books accompanying the historical books. In my particular case, Genesis is one of my all-time favorite books and I've always struggled with the Psalms, though wanting to read them has been a goal for a long time. So this is the perfect pairing to begin.


  1. I've been reading about three or four books of the bible per year for a few years now. I've been doing them in the sequence they are arranged. It will probably take me ten years at this pace. I never thought about doing them in chronological order. Maybe once I get through it once, I'll start over and do it that way. Why don't you try the Old Testament in chronological order?

    1. Well, of course, I am reading the OT in chronological order (see links to pdfs). That's why I'm starting with Genesis. :-)

    2. The only reason I asked was you are also reading the Psalms along side. That's not chronological. But who cares. Enjoy!

    3. True. I didn't include this in the excerpt but ..."The second column, the remaining books of the OT, begins with the Psalms and then presents the wisdom books in canonical order, since the meaning of this literature depends less on its relation to Israel’s history."

      If you click through on the links above you can see the charts, as well as the rationale.

      Also, since I have trouble reading the Psalms anyway, as I mentioned, I would go stark raving mad if I had to read nothing but Psalms for a lengthy period of time. Also, Proverbs. :-)

  2. I'm reading through the 14 historical books that arch through salvation history: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Maccabees, Luke, and Acts. There is a strong sense of continuity reading it in this order, i.e. seeing God's plan for history unfolding.

    These are the books the Great Adventure from Ascension Press use to form a strong backbone for understanding times and places of the major figures, the prophets, the wisdom literature, Psalms, etc.

    I once saw reading plan that tried to integrate the prophets and such within the historical books arc, but it was a heck of lot of jumping around. I thought it broke up the continuity of the stories and never ventured into it.

    1. Did the plan I'm going to use strike you the same way, with how the prophets are incorporated?

  3. I am on my second trip through. The first time I focused on reading commentaries along with the books and bounced all over the place. This time I started at Genesis and am working my way through in canonical order (while also pre-reading the readings for the upcoming Sunday mass), but I'm reading in Spanish this time, which I am working on learning. In Genesis I had to look up words in nearly every verse, often multiple words in a verse. I finished 2nd Chronicles this morning and am now often getting through several paragraphs, and occasionally an entire chapter without looking up words I don't know. I read a chapter or two each morning. At this rate it will take me a few more years to finish, but what's the hurry? When I finish, I will start over and this chronological plan looks good. I may give French a try.

    1. Spanish! Oh my goodness! Congratulations! That's an interesting idea. I think if I were going to learn another language while reading the Bible, it would have to be Greek. At least for the New Testament. Though that would require classes, not just looking up words in a dictionary.

    2. Re-read this and realized I may have left a misimpression - I am not learning just by reading the bible. I've been working on Spanish for a few years and my main effort is through Duolingo.