Imagine if you had a free weekend and decided to watch the set of Star Wars movies. There is great debate about the order in which one should watch the Star Wars movies. Should one watch them in the order in which they were released (IV, V, VI, I, II, III) or in historical order (I, II, III, IV, V, VI).
Rod Hilton has proposed an order called – machete order, which preserves the surprise relationship between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as well as allow for the entire viewing to end on the celebratory high note of beating the Empire. This order has a very “epic” poem approach that “tells the story better”.
I was recently posed a question about reading the Bible all the way through. Most people who tackle reading the Bible all the way through do so in the order in which the books appears in the table of contents. There are lots of reasons for why the canon of books are ordered in the way they are but historical order is not one of them.
I thought it would be a good idea to read the Scriptures in historical order. However since many books (Acts) capture a large time period in which other books were written (the Pauline epistles) I decided to work out a historical machete order for reading the NT. The OT will take a little longer to work through. I wanted the reader to be able to experience the story as it unfolded. However I opted not to create a harmony of the 4 gospel accounts (like Tatian’s Diatessaron). I thought it better to have the reader interact with each individual gospel account in its entirety. This would allow the reader to experience the literary work as it was written and intended.
|Mark||considered by many the first gospel written, it is also the shortest narrative providing the reader with a fast paced gospel account.|
|Matthew||written to Jewish-Christians with an emphasis on the kingdom and its delayed establishment of the kingdom. Thought tackling Matthew and the Jewish perspective early would benefit the reader who has recently completed reading through the OT.|
|Hebrews||written to Jewish-Christians with an emphasis on the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. I felt that reading this after Matthew would help the reader round out a Jewish centric look at the Messiah.|
|John||considered to be the last gospel written, with an “advanced” Christology.|
|Luke||Episode I, written to Theophilus (the lover of God) and Gentile-Christians focuses on the ministry of Jesus.|
|Acts 1-8||Episode II, also written to Theophilus, continues the story of the early church after Jesus’ death and resurrection.|
|James||I felt that interspersing the epistles within the Acts account based on when they were written would provide a richer reading experience. So after reading about the persecution of the early church by Saul and the Jews we turn to James letter written to the Jewish-Christians that fled persecution.|
|Acts 9-15:2||Picking up with the persecution of Jewish-Christians through the 1 MJ. At this point in the story line the Gentile mission becomes a major part of the early church. This creates many challenges that reader experiences by tackling Galatians next.|
|Galatians||Having returned from the 1MJ, Paul & Barnabas are confronted with the spreading of the teaching that circumcision is a requirement for salvation.|
|Acts 15:2-18:2||After the Jerusalem Council, Paul sets out on the 2MJ to check out the church plants and expand his missionary field.|
|1 Thessalonians||Likely written from Corinth on the 2MJ, Paul writes to check on the young church in Thessalonica.|
|2 Thessalonians||Likely written from Corinth on the 2MJ, Paul writes to check on the young church in Thessalonica again and clarify some things.|
|Acts 18:2-19:20||Paul concludes his 2MJ and starts the 3MJ staying in Ephesus for 3 years.|
|1 Corinthians||Writing from Ephesus, Paul deals with the factions and morale issues in Corinth.|
|Acts 19:21-20:2||Riots chase Paul out of Ephesus and into Macedonia and Greece.|
|2 Corinthians||After catching up with Titus in Macedonia Paul writes another letter to Corinth.|
|Romans||Writing from Corinth he explains the gospel to the Romans. Having collected the funds for Jerusalem, Paul envisions expanding his missionary field west to Spain in the future.|
|Acts 20-28||Paul returns to Jerusalem and eventually is under house arrest in Rome. As we end the reading in Acts we will start reading through the prison epistles written during this time.|
|Ephesians||Prison epistle (likely sent with Colossians and Philemon).|
|Philemon||Prison epistle also sent to Colosse.|
|Philippians||Prison epistle. There are indicators that it was written just prior to Paul’s release.|
|1 Timothy||Paul is likely released from Roman house arrest. After establishing Timothy in Ephesus he writes to give him some pastoral advice.|
|Titus||After establishing Titus in Crete Paul writes to give him some pastoral advice.|
|1 Peter||Placing Peter’s letter was difficult. Peter (likely in Rome with Mark) might be writing to Galatian churches (typically Paul’s missionary field) because Paul is already dead, imprisoned a 2nd time, or conducting missionary work further west. I chose the latter option in putting together this timeline and reading order.|
|2 Peter||Peter is under arrest in Rome and has been sentenced to death. This letter is written to Galatian churches prior to execution.|
|Jude||Another tough letter to place. Since Jude and 2 Peter have a lot of similarities I placed them one after the other in reading order.|
|2 Timothy||Paul is under arrest in Rome and has been sentenced to death. He writes for Timothy to join him with Mark before he is executed.|
|2 and 3 John||John is writing in the latter part of the first century.|
|1 John||Thought it was good to close out reading the NT focusing on knowing if you are in Christ.|
|Revelation||The end of the age.|
Each NT book is linked to the Introduction and Overview essay on the Bible.org site. Feel free to comment on the order and provide reasons for changes. I will revise this post based on comments as necessary.