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Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation

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Chronology and the Bible's Arrangement

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Since the Bible begins at the Creation with Genesis—the book of beginnings—and ends with the book of Revelation (which many scholars believe was the last recorded book of the Bible), students of the Scriptures often assume that the Bible was compiled chronologically. Many students approach their reading of the Bible with the mindset that everything in Scripture is arranged “from A to Z.” Since Genesis records what took place at the beginning of time, and it is the first book of the Bible, then the rest of the Bible follows suit, right? Actually, what the diligent student eventually finds is that the Bible is not a book of strict chronology. All sixty-six books of the Bible are not arranged in the order in which they were written. Furthermore, all of the events contained within each book also are not recorded chronologically.

Consider the following arrangement of books in the Bible:

Although the books of Haggai and Zechariah have been placed near the end of the Old Testament, these men prophesied while the events in the book of Ezra were taking place (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Twenty books separate Haggai and Zechariah from the book of Ezra, yet the events recorded in each book were occurring at the same time. Obviously, these books are not arranged in chronological order.

Even though 2 Chronicles appears before the book of Job, the events recorded in Job took place long before those that are recorded in 2 Chronicles. In fact, if the Bible were a book of strict chronology, the events recorded in Job likely would be placed somewhere within the book of Genesis, after Genesis 6 (since Job 22:15-16 is more than likely a reference to the Flood).

In the New Testament, one might assume that since 1 Thessalonians comes after the book of Acts, that Luke penned Acts earlier than Paul penned his first letter to the church at Thessalonica. The truth is, however, 1 Thessalonians was written years before the book of Acts was completed.

In addition to the books of the Bible not being arranged chronologically, inspired writers did not always record information in a strictly chronological sequence. Making the assumption that the entire Bible was written chronologically hinders a proper understanding of the text. For example, Genesis 2:5-25 does not pick up where Genesis one left off; rather, it provides more detailed information about some of the events mentioned in the first chapter of the Bible. (Whereas Genesis 1 is arranged chronologically, Genesis 2 is organized topically.) The differences in the arrangement of the temptations of Jesus recorded by Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) are resolved when we realize that at least one of them is not reporting the facts in sequential order. Some also question whether Jesus cursed the tree before or after He cleansed the temple. Since Matthew records this event before the cursing of the fig tree (21:12-19), and since Mark places the cleansing of the temple after Jesus cursed the tree (11:15-19), it is supposed that one of the two writers was mistaken. The truth is, however, Matthew’s account is more of a summary, whereas Mark’s narrative is more detailed and orderly. Mark’s more specific account reveals that Jesus actually made two trips to the temple. Thus, as Albert Barnes noted: “Mark has stated the order more particularly, and has ‘divided’ what Matthew mentions together” (1997). Obviously, the gospel accounts were not arranged to be a strict chronology of Jesus’ life.

When studying with those who know very little about the Bible, it is helpful for them to understand the arrangement of Scriptures. By recognizing that many books of the Bible (as well as the events contained therein) are not in a sequential order, one will have fewer problems digesting Scripture.

REFERENCE

Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).




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