Did you know that the books of the Bible are not in chronological order? Although most people would assume they are arranged by date, the Bible jumps back and forth in time, and not according to the year they were written.
For people who want to study the Bible from a historical perspective, knowing the order of books according to their written date may be a good way to read the Bible.
In this article I’ll share the chronological order and provide a free, printable pdf which you can share with others.
Going Back in Time
The year was 1978. My husband and I visited the Museum of Natural History in London, England and saw that a lecture was scheduled for that morning covering ancient civilization and archeology.
As we entered the hall and noticed the topic, I prepared myself for the Biblical cynicism we always heard at university. The archeologist stepped on stage the room grew quiet.
The first thing he said was, ”Isn’t it amazing that the further back we go in history the more the Bible stories are confirmed.” Wow. He then lectured for an hour regarding the Hitites and other tribes whose existence had been recently verified through archeological digs.
As you read this short article about reading the Bible, be aware that it is the Word of God. It contains true history from beginning to end.
Let’s face it. The Bible is confusing.
Sixty-six separate books collected into one tome, written by numerous authors, labeled “old” and “new”, then translated into seemingly endless versions.
Judged fiction by some, ridiculed by others as fairytales, most writings have been validated through historical and archeological discoveries. One particular question however has puzzled everyday readers of the Bible and that is, “why is it organized in the way it is?”.
As a high school teacher I enjoyed teaching classes on Biblical literacy. It also required that I learn quite a lot that up to that time I hadn’t known myself (also read my Bible reading plan for beginners).
What a joy it was to share with others the truth of the ancient historical writings.
How The Bible Is Organized By Books (39 Books Old and 27 New Testament)
The Hebrew Bible (or “Old” Testament as referred to by modern day Christian church), is the original Bible or scripture writings from the original Hebrew. Scribes, prophets, poets, kings and judges penned these important and historical documents about the Jewish people.
This was the only Bible Jesus knew. It is organized by sections beginning with the Torah, the Judges, the Prophets, the Poetry and Wisdom writings.
The New Testament was of course written after the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s organized first by the four gospels, then the beginnings of the church and letters written to those churches.
Finally, Revelation is appropriately at the end, describing the end of time and the return of Jesus.
Regarding the collection of these particular writings, I found an excellent and easy to understand explanation here:
New Testament Canon: Why these books? December 15, 2020 By Krisan Marotta
The New Testament was what the early church used to teach and share the gospel. The letters were collected and sent around to the churches. Of course, they were hand written just as you might get a letter today.
I find it interesting that James, Jesus’ brother, wrote the first letter. Of all the men who wrote, he would probably have known Jesus the best. He was martyred not long after.
66 Books Of The Bible In Chronological Order (List)
Here is a list of chronologically organized Bible books by date which is pretty interesting. I have seen other lists of the books in order but never with dates attached. At the end of the list, feel free to download my list of Bible Books in PDF form (also read my article on Funny Bible Verses).
Judges–ca. 1043 B.C.
Ruth–ca. 1030-1010 B.C.
Song of Solomon–971-965 B.C.
Proverbs–ca. 971-686 B.C.
1 Samuel–931-722 B.C.
2 Samuel–931-722 B.C.
Jonah–ca. 775 B.C.
Amos–ca. 750 B.C.
Nahum–ca. 650 B.C.
1 Kings–561-538 B.C.
2 Kings–561-538 B.C.
Daniel 536-530 B.C.
Haggai–ca. 520 B.C.
1 Chronicles–450-430 B.C.
2 Chronicles–450-430 B.C.
1 Thessalonians–A.D. 51
2 Thessalonians–A.D. 51-52
1 Corinthians–A.D. 55
2 Corinthians–A.D. 55-56
Romans– A.D. 56
1 Timothy–A.D. 62-64
1 Peter–A.D. 64-65
2 Timothy–A.D. 66-67
2 Peter–A.D. 67-68
1 John–A.D. 90-95
2 John–A.D. 90-95
3 John–A.D. 90-95
Why Isn’t the Bible In Chronological Order?
The books of the Bible are not grouped by historical order. They are organized by type of literature and so are not in order by date written.
Here is the breakdown of the Hebrew Scriptures:
Books of Moses; Genesis to Deuteronomy,
Books of history; Joshua to 2 Chronicles,
Books of wisdom; Job to Song of Songs
Books of the prophets; Isaiah to Malachi.
In the New Testament there are:
Four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
One book of history: Acts of the Apostles (this was written by Luke and is a continuation of his gospel)
Letters to the churches; Romans to Jude
One book of prophecy; Revelation.
While it makes it a little confusing to study, it does make sense. For example, in 1 or 2 Kings each king is listed according to his triumphs and failures.
But if we want to see what the prophets were warning the kings about there has to be a little back and forth between books One of the solutions for this is called “annotation” where many Bibles now have references built into the texts.
>> Also read: Meaning of Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child
For example, Isaiah prophecies to four kings of Judah and he lived for 90 years. His book is the most quoted in the New Testament and has references to the coming Messiah. Isaiah 53 is one example but there are many more.
How The Bible Should Be Read (In Chronological Order Or Not?)
I’ve heard people say they read the whole Bible every year and of course that is an admirable thing to do.
Personally, I would find it difficult especially in certain parts where it is just lists of genealogy or I can’t figure out what’s going on. So, I have two suggestions.
Number one, if you plan to just sit down and read straight through, purchase a chronological Bible. Right now I am listening to one.
In a chronological Bible the editors have organized it in such a way that makes sense. For example, when it gets to the books of 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1and 2 Samuel they are combined.
Or when King David has a problem and writes a psalm in response, it is not separated out into the book of Psalms but included as part of his story. Some of these types of Bibles also have sections to explain some history or background that is helpful. I really enjoy that kind.
Second, if you are going to study the Bible and not just sit down to read it you will find that having it organized the way it is makes a study much easier. Normally Bible studies are presented topically or by the book.
Topical studies might included sin or fruits of the spirit or creation. Book studies are more common.
Bible Study Fellowship is one international organization that studies a different book of the Bible each year. Community Bible Study is another.
How I Read The Bible
I read and study the Bible in a few different ways. As I mentioned above, I like to read or listen to a chronological Bible straight through. As a devotional, I often select a book and then use a free app called “Verse by Verse” as a guide.
The gentleman who teaches leads the listener or “watcher” through each book of the Bible and elaborates on the text.
My favorite way to study the Bible is inductively. Kay Arthur “Precept Bible Studies” are some of the best. They can be found online also but are best done with a group for great discussions.
As I stated at the beginning the Bible can be confusing. Many people give up after a short time and conclude that it’s not important anyway.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible is the Word of God and is meant for everyone. For hundreds of years an average person had to depend on religious leaders to tell them what was in it.
This caused many problems and misguided people. Fortunately, the Gutenberg Press and Martin Luther changed that forever.
We now have so many choices its hard to select just one. The best thing to do is stick with the traditional and highly recommended Bibles that don’t add or subtract from the original.
Here is a great website that answers the question, “Which one should I read?”
PDF Books of the Bible