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Toward a Chronological Understanding of the NT

My publisher just mailed me a copy of their new chronological Bible. And, well, I’m super impressed with it. I will be reviewing it later this week.

I’m happy to see that publishers are now coming out with chronological Bibles.

Thomas Nelson created one several years ago. And Tyndale just came out with one last month. (I’ll be reviewing it soon.)

Why a chronological Bible?

Well . . . have you ever read your Bible without understanding what you were reading?

Have you ever read any of Paul’s letters and wondered, What did he mean when he penned this verse? Whom was this letter written to specifically? What were the people like to whom he wrote? Where was Paul when he wrote, and what was he feeling? What events prompted Paul to write this letter in the first place?

Have you ever read through the Book of Acts and thought to yourself, When exactly did these events take place? And at what point in this riveting epic did Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude pen their letters? How do all of the Books in the NT fit together? What special historical events were occurring during the first century, and what influence did they have on the early church?

To my mind, reading the NT chronologically and narratively has it’s value. Here are four reasons why.

1. Understanding the narrative of the NT gives us a whole new understanding of each NT letter—an understanding that is rich, accurate, and exciting. It ushers us into the living, breathing atmosphere of the first century.

The circumstances they addressed is made plainer. The people to whom they wrote comes to life. The Epistles turn into living, breathing voices that are part of a living, breathing story.

The result? We will grasp the NT like never before. NT scholar F.F. Bruce once made the statement that reading the letters of Paul is like hearing one side of a telephone conversation. A chronological view of Scripture reconstructs “the other side.” 

2. Understanding the narrative helps us see “the big picture” that undergirds the events that followed the birth of the church and its subsequent growth. This “big picture” has at its center an unbroken pattern of God’s working. And this pattern reflects God’s ultimate goal—which is to have a community on this earth that expresses His nature in a visible way.

The theme of a God-ordained community constitutes a unifying thread that runs throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. (This unifying thread is the Eternal Purpose of God.)

3. Understanding the narrative of the NT supplies us with the proper historical context which enables us to accurately apply Scripture to our lives. Christians routinely take verses out of context and misapply them to their daily living.

Seeing the Scripture in its proper historical context helps safeguard us from making this all-too common mistake

4. Understanding the narrative delivers us from the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study that dominates evangelical thinking today. What is the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study?

It is a rather common practice of coming to the NT with scissors and glue, clipping and then pasting disjointed sentences (verses) together from Books that were written decades apart.

The “cut-and-paste” approach has spawned all sorts of spiritual hazards—one of them being the popular practice of lashing verses together to build floatable doctrines.

Another is that of “proof-texting” to win theological arguments. (A sizeable portion of Western Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random and de-contexualized verse ends all discussion on virtually all subjects.)

The Medievals called this “cut-and-paste” method “a string-of-pearls.” You take one text, find some remote metaphorical connection with another text, and voilá, an ironclad doctrine is born.

But this is a poor approach to understanding the Bible. While it is great for reading one’s own biases into the text, it is horrible for understanding the intent of the biblical authors.

It has been rightly said that a person can prove anything by taking Bible verses out of context.

Let me demonstrate how one can “biblically” prove that it is God’s will for believers to commit suicide. All you have to do is lift two verses out of their historical setting and paste them together:

“And he [Judas] . . . went . . . and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). “Then said Jesus . . . ‘Go and do the same’ ” (Luke 10:37b).

While this is an outrageous example of the “cut-and-paste” approach, it makes a profound point. Without understanding the historical context of the NT, Christians have managed to build doctrines and invent practices that have fragmented the Body of Christ into thousands of denominations.

Understanding the sequence of each NT book and the socio-historical setting that undergirds them is one remedy for this problem.

I have stated four reasons why rediscovering the NT narrative is a worthwhile endeavor. But there is one more reason. There is a very good chance that it will revolutionize your Christian life and your relationship with your Lord.

For these reasons, in The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, I attempt to present a chronological-sociological-historical synopsis of the entire NT.

The purpose of the book is to provide readers with a panoramic view of the first-century church in its chronological and socio-historical setting.

One of my readers created a PDF file which outlines the chronology found in my book The Untold Story of the New Testament Church.

You can download the PDF for free.

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FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.