How can I keep the timeline of the Bible straight?

My first hurdle in learning the meta-narrative of the Bible was keeping the timeline straight. If anyone has tried to read the Bible cover-to-cover, you may relate to what I’m talking about. Most of the Bible is not in chronological order, but rather listed thematically or by speaker. Most of the books of the Prophets span many time periods and often are contextually written to different groups even if they are going on at the same time. Isaiah and Jeremiah are most notorious for this. Just take a look at this chronological division of the Scriptures and remember that we don’t even know all the timelines exactly in many sections of the Bible.

Even the Gospels themselves are not told in a chronological order per se. Take a look at the same site’s chronological outline of the Gospels:

Just looking at Matthew, we see that if you attempted to read it chronologically, according to this reference once you got to Chapter 8 you would then read it in this order: Chapter 8, 12, 11, 13, 9, 10, 14. Then you add another layer of complexity by trying to sync up the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John together. Is your head spinning yet? Mine was in the beginning and I still have big gaps and areas of confusion in my mind.

A chronological Bible or a site that provides chronological reading can be very helpful to follow the timeline and the story in order, but what I’ve found most helpful is a detailed Children’s Bible (the one I use is listed in my resources on the site). So often to see the timeline clearly, I need to stick with the big ideas and main events before I work through zooming in on a particular period of time like: Captivity or Rebuilding the Temple and the prophets of those times. Children’s Bibles are built to do this! It is far easier to remember key points on a timeline to help form a big picture in our minds. This should never negate a more detailed study in an adult translation of the Bible, but it is SO HELPFUL! Learning songs is also a great kids technique to understanding the historical timeline. We love the history of the world timeline song by Classical Conversations in this house – which weaves the biblical timeline WITH the rest of world history.

I already shared this resource in the Gospel Series Part 2, but I recently made this poster to help teach a 3-5 year old class on Hebrews, or rather the big picture of the Bible that Hebrews is outlining. You could consider it something of a timeline showing God’s plan at work over 4000 years. We need to understand the simplified timeline first and then we can zoom in to important areas like the United and Divided Kingdoms of Israel and how those parts of history support God’s overall rescue plan!

One important takeaway that is built into this diagram is that the only way back to glory with God is through Jesus. We went off the path and couldn’t get back to God on our own. The only reason why the path comes back at all to God’s vision for His people is because God allowed it to be and it cost Him dearly…God in the flesh fixing our mess is the only way to return to Him and He loved us enough to do exactly that. Though it may have seemed to take a long time to accomplish God’s plan, we have to remember that it was a gift to be saved at all!

If you want a copy of this poster, just drop me a note!

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