This schedule for reading the New Testament is a continuation of our year-long project of reading through the Bible in Historical, Chronological Order. Following is a video and then below it a summary of the reasons for putting the content of the New Testament into this order. Click on the image to the left to download reproducible schedules.
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Following is the explanatory video and more details follow it in the text.
Foundationally, the influence of my training as a secular historian influenced the order of the books, though the Bible teacher side of me also feels this is the most beneficial way to read them. I not only took into consideration when it was clear that various things happened, as when in the book of Acts we are clearly told Paul wrote to this or that church or visited Jerusalem to discuss a certain timely issue, but I also considered the thematic development of the teachings of the New Testament when I put together this order of readings.
To begin, I have you read Matthew.
Obviously reading the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are important as the historical events that lay the foundation for the rest of the New Testament involve the life of Jesus, but more than that, I believe Matthew is an essential BRIDGE book between the Old and New Testaments. Constantly he relates something Jesus did and then says, “this was done to fulfill” and he quotes an Old Testament passage.
Often when Matthew tells a story about Jesus he does so by quoting Jesus’s quotations from the Old Testament as the start of the story or the reason he is telling it.
Why this quoting of the Old Testament is important
One of the validating strengths of the Christian faith is that the events in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were predicted in the Old Testament. These are the proofs that this man was the long-awaited Messiah, essential proofs that needed to be pointed out particularly for the early Jewish members of the church to understand in detail.
It is truly extraordinary that many of the details of Jesus life, even some of the most early—that he would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be called out of Egypt, that he would be called a Nazarene, that his mother would be a virgin, and many, many more as we go through his life, we might tend to skim over without noticing. Matthew makes us pause and reminds us that these details were all prophesied long before Jesus’ birth.
Once his identity is established, Mark emphasizes his actions and Luke fully fleshes out his humanity and care in careful historical detail as he fills in the gaps of Jesus’ history with detailed stories based on his meticulous research and interviews with people who knew Jesus.
After reading these 3 foundational biographies of Jesus (more about John later)
Next you will read the Book of Acts
It begins with Jesus returning to heaven and covers the birth and start of the church in Jerusalem and its spread to the capital of the Western world at that time, Rome.
In your readings, I interspersed the letters that the book of Acts either specifically refers to when they were written or I put in the books into your reading when the location is talked about in Acts to give you a setting for the letters. This placement will help you understand the context of the Biblical letter being discussed. .
The next 3 books might be in a bit different order than you read them in the past.
Though usually placed near the end of the epistles (because all of Paul’s are grouped together first regardless of when written), James is considered to be the first epistle written, most likely the first book written in the New Testament, though I placed the Gospels first in our reading as they record the historical events that first took place and everything in the rest of the New Testament is about the world-changing and redeeming life of Jesus. The events in James obviously come after the events in the Gospels as Jesus has gone back to heaven and his once-mocking brother, James is now a leader in the church. James, like Matthew, is very much a bridge book with the Old Testament. Its tone sounds like an earlier prophet and its style is like the book of Proverbs with its short, pithy commands.
This is another book that helps us understand this transitional time from the Old Covenant and its emphasis on the Law and the New Covenant of Grace. Imagine as you read how difficult it was for the Jews as they wrestled with how to reconcile what they’d been taught for thousands of years. If you’ve tried very hard to follow one set of rules, what is one to make of the idea that they are no longer necessary? Does that mean you can throw out all the rules? Precisely how did Jesus change everything and how should we live because of His life? The Apostle Paul tackles these questions early in his ministry in this book.
I also put Hebrews in this earlier historical time. After going over it many times, I realized that if I was simply asked to evaluate the dating of its creation based on its content and not where it is placed in our Bibles (in which the historical placement of books is all out of order regardless), where would I place it? The answer seemed obvious that it had to be very early as it again was dealing in detail with the transition from the images of the Old Testament to the realities in Jesus.
I do not have a verifiable reason for this, but the more I thought about it, it seemed like it could have been a summary of the conversations between Priscilla and Aquilla and Apollos, see the passage in Acts 18:24-28. You’ll read Hebrews after it and it seems that the book of Hebrews could have come from their discussions.
After this foundation is laid and grace, no longer law, is the foundation for the believers, new challenges arose with new teaching needed. And in the following books we see answers to specific situations.
1, 2 Thessalonians
These books were written in response to early persecutions and addressed the disappointment that Jesus didn’t snatch people out of troubles when they expected Him to. Many early believers expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, but a long life was ahead for many personally and for the church as a whole. Constant prayer and thankfulness in all situations is essential to get through their troubles then and now.
The words of Jesus that He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners, is never more true than in the Corinthian church. Even though they had accepted the reality of Jesus as Savior, they had a lot to learn about how to live as a church and with each other. Paul tackles challenges in both areas with these books.
Paul was planning to go to Rome, but before he went he wanted to clearly lay out the complete Christian message—why payment for sin was needed, how Jesus paid the debt we owed, and finally how we are to live once we accept what He has done for us. The book as a whole covers both the orthodoxy, what we are to believe in the Christian faith, and orthopraxy, how we are to live out our faith.
The Prison Epistles, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
The foundational, overall outline of the Christian faith is in Romans which he sent ahead to the church there. He arrived later, was put on trial, and then placed under house arrest. Each of these books, written while Paul was under house arrest further explains facets of the faith in more brilliance and detail.
The Pastoral Epistles, Timothy, Titus, Peter, Jude
Now that the doctrinal foundation of the church has been laid, and later in the years of the development of the churches, now scattered throughout the known world, Paul, Peter, and Jude pass on practical advice for how leaders should lead in the churches that are now ongoing entities.
Gospel of John
The stories from the biographies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have given people a clear picture of Jesus’ life. The book of John doesn’t dwell as much on the basics and now writes many years after them with passages such as Jesus’ last words and prayer in Jn. 13-17. Significantly throughout the book, John records Jesus finishing the sentence God started back in Exodus 3 when He said to Moses, “I am” as he records Jesus telling and illustrating to his followers,
“I am the Bread of life.”
“I am the Good Shephard”
“I am the Light of the World”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life”
I wanted to put John in this place in our readings as it was the last Gospel written and is a unique reminder that the purpose of all the how-tos and commands between the early Gospels and this final one. Following the commands are important but John reminds us that our relationship with Jesus is primary. Knowing Jesus, who is, has been and will be through all eternity is what John clarifies.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Obviously, this is the final book in the New Testament and our Bible and yet it is not only an ending, but as its title says, but a beginning, a revelation. It is important to note that the title of the book, taken from the first line in it, is not revelations, plural, it is the word “revelation” and is singular in the Greek. This is not a book all about fantastical images of things to come—it is a book all about Jesus….not end-time imagining, but about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, first the Lamb that was slain, then the risen Lord and the One who renews all things.
Join us as we go through this adventure of reading the New Testament!
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