Why I read the Bible out of order

I don’t know if anyone actually tries to read the Bible in order. I know I did when I was a kid. Because, y’know, that’s how books work, right? You begin at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop, as the king said to the White Rabbit.

But with the Bible, that doesn’t work so well.

The problem, of course, is that the guys who decided how to arrange our canon were basically making it up. Not the text, I mean, but the order of the books.

No traditions have survived concerning the authorities who fixed the canon of Hebrew scriptures, or about the internal order of the books, or about the underlying principles that determine their sequence.—The Oxford Companion to the Bible

We know the ancients grouped the books by type—the Law and the Prophets—but because each scroll was separate, they didn’t have to be in any order, as long as you knew where to find them when you needed them. Only the Pentateuch had a set order, and it is chronological. And it’s pretty clear that Joshua comes after that, and then Judges and Ruth. With you so far.

Once you get past 1 Samuel, though, it all starts to get wonky. In his book Hidden in Plain Sight: Finding Wisdom and Meaning in Parts of the Bible Most People Skip, Boyd Seevers subtitles the chapter on Kings and Chronicles “Didn’t I Just Read This Stuff?” Which sums it up nicely.

And then I wonder why Ezra and Nehemiah (post-exile accounts) are before Isaiah and Jeremiah (pre-exile accounts)? Why is Job hanging out there between Esther and the Psalms?

Photo by Kristen Stieffel

Photo by Kristen Stieffel

So when I say I read the Bible out of order, I guess it depends on how you define order. Switching to an e-Bible made it much easier to read chronologically. Sure, you could get a reading plan from a site like Blue Letter Bible that lists the books of the Bible in chronological order. But this is way easier.

I’ve been using the Bible Study app from Olive Tree, and its chronological reading plan is one of my favorite features. The Bible makes so much more sense when you read it that way, I doubt I’ll ever read through the Bible any other way. They’ve even considered things like since Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses, you read it when you’re in Deuteronomy.

I looked at a bunch of different Bible apps and settled on the Olive Tree one because I love its interface. But the reading plans really sealed the deal for me.

How do you read your Bible? What’s your favorite app or website for Bible study?

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

3 comments on “Why I read the Bible out of order

  1. I enjoy the chronological readings, too. I have a print Bible that is organized chronologically and into 365 daily readings. There are so many insights that pop up when you see which prophets lived at the same time as each other, or which prophets and kings were alive together even if they didn’t cross paths in the text.

  2. Kristen,

    Most of the time, I start at Genesis and read through to Revelation. Once a year.

    When I need a change, I read a one year Bible. Each, there’s a reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, in addition to readings from Psalms and Proverbs. You actually read Psalms and Proverbs twice each year if you this way for one year.

    Sometimes, I let the Bible fall open and read a few chapters.

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