What Is the Chronological Order of the 66 Books of the Bible?
When I first started reading the Bible, I used to get confused at times, wondering why a book I was reading seemed like it came before another, even though in my mind, it should have come after.
I assumed the Bible was organized in chronological order, and it took a while for me to realize my error. For instance, the first five books of the Old Testament— Genesis through Deuteronomy—are in chronological order, but later, I found timelines began to weave together and overlap.
The Bible is indeed a well-organized collection of writings penned by more than two dozen authors spanning thousands of years. Instead of being organized chronologically, it is organized by literary genre. For example, books from the prophets are all together in one section, while books of history are in another.
What is the chronological order of the 66 books of the Bible? And is there a benefit to reading the Bible chronologically instead of its current order?
As with many things, the answer is yes and no.
Are the Books of the Bible in Order?
The books of the Bible are in order, but not chronologically. Rather, they are organized by the type of literature.
Of the 66 books total, the Bible is divided into the 39 books of the Old Testament (before Christ) and the 27 books of the New Testament (after Christ). Beyond that, the order is grouped by literary genre as follows:
- Books of law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
- Books of history: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
- Books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
- Major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
- Minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
- History of the life of Jesus (Gospel accounts): Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
- Church history: Acts of the Apostles
- Paul’s letters (epistles) to the churches: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians
- Paul’s letters to individual people: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
- Letters by others: Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation
- (Some categorize Revelation not as a letter but as a book of prophecy)
Who Decided What Order the Books Would Go in, and Why?
Ultimately it was God — through His people — who decided what books would be included in His Holy Word, the Bible. Jewish rabbis and scholars selected the first books, and later the early Christians did. These books, called the “canon,” are all considered to have been divinely inspired by God and therefore, as the apostle Paul explained to his mentee, Timothy, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Old Testament had already been compiled before Jesus was born in human form. As for the New Testament, The Muratorian Canon, from around AD 200, is the earliest list of texts resembling the New Testament. Before that, there was no actual “New Testament” but rather a group of books considered to be of greater or lesser value than others. In the 5th century, however, all the different Christian churches came to a basic agreement, assembled by St. Jerome, on the biblical canon.
Most believe the Bible isn’t arranged in chronological order simply because the Bible wasn’t written in one sitting, from start to finish. Many different writers over many, many centuries contributed to the Bible, each one of them inspired by God.
Instead of the chronological grouping, those who compiled and arranged the first Bibles presumably decided a categorical grouping would be more practical or beneficial to God’s people.
What Is the Chronological Order of the 66 Books?
What follows is a rough sketch of the chronological order of the Bible’s 66 books:
There is much overlap, and some of the Gospel accounts about Jesus’s life were actually written years later, even though the events they describe occurred earlier.
Here is the basic chronological order of the New Testament:
- The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (about the life of Jesus, roughly 4 BC to AD 30 or 33)
- Acts and some epistles: Some letters from Paul and other apostles were written during the same time period that Acts (the history of the church) covers. But roughly, the order is Acts, then James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians. The four latter books were written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.
- The “freedom” epistles: Next, during Paul’s time of freedom, come his 1 Timothy and Titus letters, as well as the apostle Peter’s 1 and 2 Peter letters.
- Paul’s second Roman imprisonment: The book 2 Timothy was written next, during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, alongside the books of Hebrews and Jude.
- Last: The last books are the apostle John’s three epistles (1-3 John) and John’s prophetic vision, Revelation.
The Old Testament starts in chronological order, but then veers off chronologically. Here is the basic chronological order of the Old Testament:
- Genesis (concurrent with the Book of Job)
- Exodus and Leviticus
- Number and Deuteronomy
- Judges and Ruth
- 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel
- Concurrent with 1 and 2 Samuel are woven 1 Chronicles and Psalms, as well as the prophets Amos and Hosea
- Concurrent with some of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon
- With 2 Chronicles are 1 and 2 Kings
- Concurrent with 1 Kings are Joel, Micah, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Habakuk, and Jeremiah
- Concurrent with 2 Kings are Lamentations, Jonah, Nahum, and Obadiah
- Then come Israel’s 70 years of exile to Babylon, and the books of Daniel and Ezekiel
- Then comes Ezra (and Esther, at the end of Ezra)
- Then Nehemiah
- Concurrent with Ezra and Nehemiah are the books Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
Pros and Cons of Reading the Bible Chronologically
There are pros and cons of reading the Bible in chronological order. One good thing is that reading it chronologically can help with our historical understanding and context. We see how timelines and ancestral lineage play in, and the warnings and frustrations of the prophets and God Himself become clearer and more dire when we see how far the people had strayed from God and His Law.
However, the Bible is far more than a history book. The lessons we glean aren’t merely on how to act or to help us derive wisdom as we learn about the past mistakes or successes of God’s people. It’s a love letter, timeless and universal as the Lord Himself, and it gives us a deeper understanding of the nature of God. We aren’t meant to read it “in order,” as God’s order is far bigger than any of us can comprehend. Rather, we are meant to understand the entire canon as working together to help us start to grasp God’s beautiful, perfect, loving nature – a nature that transcends time.
If you find yourself confused while reading the Bible and realizing how much ancient history you don’t know, remember: Reading the Bible isn’t meant to be a cerebral exercise but a balm to the soul. The Bible is more than a history — it is a love letter from God to His people, the greatest love story ever.
Whether you read the Bible cover to cover as-is or prefer to bounce around, or whether you decide to follow a chronological reading plan, remember: the Holy Spirit gives us the sort of true understanding we need.
Just ask God for wisdom and understanding, and He will provide all you need.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Sincerely Media
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.