Recently a friend invited my advice in selecting a chronological Bible, so I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. Perhaps you will buy one for a friend for Christmas (last minute shoppers, anyone?). Or perhaps you will buy one for your own reading in the new year. (But wait till after Christmas… you never know. 🙂 )
What is a chronological Bible?
The basic idea is to rearrange the entire Bible in time sequence, rather than according to literary or topical categories, as in traditional Jewish or Christian practice. Some chronological Bibles sequence things according to when historical events happened. (For example, Psalm 8, which describes creation, might be right up front with Genesis 1.) Others sequence things according to when Bible books were written. (This would place Psalm 8 somewhere in 2 Samuel, during the time of David.) Since there is uncertainty about when many books were written, and since many books cover large swaths of time (think of Chronicles, which covers the entire OT period!), a lot of chronological Bibles use a mixture of both sequencing methods.
All chronological Bibles end up slicing and dicing Bible books so that you are no longer reading books as literary wholes. This is not ideal for discovering authorial intent. Yet chronological Bibles can be very helpful for understanding the sequence of how God and his people have acted throughout history. So I recommend chronological reading as an alternative (but not your main life-long) way of reading Scripture.
How do you choose a chronological Bible?
Here are two factors to consider as you select a chronological Bible:
(1) Choose an ideal translation. This will vary from person to person. My thoughts? I would probably choose either (a) my primary-use translation, in order to reinforce the wording of Scripture in my memory, or (b) a very readable translation, since I’d envision using the chronological Bible for Bible survey purposes, rather than for detailed exegetical study. In my case this means I would choose either the ESV (my primary translation for reading and study) or something more easy to read, such as the NIV, the HCSB, or the NLT. My personal choice would not be the KJV, the NKJV, or the NASB. Even though they are all fine translations, they would not achieve either of my goals for how I would want to use a chronological Bible. If I had to choose one goal to prioritize, I think it would be (b); I would likely choose a very readable translation, something that makes the Bible come alive in a fresh but faithful manner. And in fact… I don’t think I can even find a printed ESV chronological Bible!
(2) Decide if you want a reading Bible or a study Bible. A reading Bible contains the text of Scripture and not much else. A study Bible also includes lots of study notes and helps. In a chronological study Bible, the notes will feature historical data—such as questions about dating books, historical customs, comparisons with other ancient literature, historical events and persons that coincide with biblical events, and timelines. A simple reading Bible is best for simply reading, especially since these chronological reading Bibles are usually arranged in a one-year reading plan. However, you can find chronological reading plans online (or in apps) for free (see here), so you will need to decide if you really need to pay for a book that has nothing more than the Bible re-sequenced. I can see advantages to both reading Bibles and study Bibles, but in this case I would probably choose to spend my money on a study Bible, so that I can use it not only for survey reading, but also as a longterm study resource.
What are some good chronological Bibles?
First, study Bibles:
- The Chronological Study Bible (NKJV). This one was very well-received, and seems to have provoked a growth industry in chronological study Bibles.
- The Chronological Study Bible (NIV). I think this is basically the same as the NKJV one above. (Given my criteria above, I would probably choose this one before the NKJV.)
- The Chronological Life Application Study Bible (NLT). I am not familiar with the Life Application Study Bible upon which this is built, and admit some skepticism. But this chronological version receives very high reviews and looks excellent (it was a 2013 ECPA Christian Book Award winner). It would be my choice if I selected the NLT translation. (This one is also available in a KJV version.)
- NIV Integrated Study Bible: A New Chronological Approach for Studying Scripture. This is unique among all the examples I’ve found in that it is also a harmony of Scripture: “Parallel passages (or passages that are related) are arranged side-by-side in columns.” I own a harmony of the Gospels and have found it very useful. A harmony not only shows chronology, but also helps you compare and contrast the theological emphasis of biblical authors, based on which stories they tell, and how.
Some reading Bibles:
- Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible (HCSB). This one is George H. Guthrie, whose book Read the Bible for Life I also highly recommend. Also, you can buy a Reader’s Guide to the Bible which is designed to accompany this Bible, with commentary and small-group discussion questions. It would be very rewarding to go through this with a group, whether Christian friends or seekers.
- The One-Year Chronological Bible (NIV). A basic reading Bible. “The entire Bible text―books, chapters, and even verses―is arranged in the order the events actually happened. Prophetic books are interwoven with the historical accounts they accompanied. Psalms follow the events about which they were written. Proverbs are placed in the time they were compiled. The life of Christ is woven into one moving story. And Paul’s letters to the young churches in the first century are integrated into the book of Acts. Transition statements help you understand why some Scripture portions appear where they do.” (Publisher’s description.) This is also available in the NKJV and the NLT.
So, there is a variety for you to peruse. Which one would I most like? Perhaps the NIV Integrated Study Bible. But several of the others are close runners-up.
Do you have a favorite chronological Bible that I have missed? Have you used a chronological Bible? Was it a good experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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