How long does it take to read through the entire Bible in a year?
Less than 10 minutes a day.
(There are about 775,000 words in the Bible. Divided by 365, that’s 2,123 words a day. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute. So 2,123 words/day divided by 225 words/minute equals 9.4 minutes a day.]
If you want to listen to a narrator read the Bible (which you can do so for free at ESVBible.org), they are usually about 75 hours long total, which means at 12 minutes a day you can listen to the whole Bible in a year.
(For those who like details, here’s a webpage devoted to how long it takes to read each book of the Bible. And if you want a simple but beautiful handout, where every Bible chapter has a box, go here.)
Does the Bible ever command us to read the whole Bible in a year?
No. What is commends is knowing the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and meditating or storing or ruminating upon God’s self-disclosure to us in written form (Deut. 6:7; 32:46; Ps. 119:11, 15, 23, 93, 99; 143:5). It is compared to bread and water—not nice things to have when there is time but that which is essential for survival.
The point is not to check off a list or punch in your time but rather to meditate on the Word in such a way that your mind, heart, and actions are transformed in a godly, gospel-drawn way.
As Joel Beeke writes:
As oil lubricates an engine, so meditation facilitates the diligent use of means of grace (reading of Scripture, hearing sermons, prayer, and all other ordinances of Christ), deepens the marks of grace (repentance, faith, humility), and strengthens one’s relationships to others (love to God, to fellow Christians, to one’s neighbors at large).
Thomas Watson put it like this:
A Christian without meditation is like a solider without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory is slippery, and without meditation all is lost.
So reading the Bible cover to cover is a great way to facilitate meditation upon the whole counsel of God.
Despite our good intentions, why don’t more Christians read the Bible in a year?
Simple resolutions are often well-intentioned but insufficient. Most of us need a more proactive plan. As John Piper has written, “Nothing but the simplest impulses gets accomplished without some forethought which we call a plan.”
What are some helps for reading the Bible in a year?
Some Bibles are designed to facilitate daily Bible reading. There are several options to choose from.
For example, Crossway offers the ESV Daily Reading Bible. The readings are laid out for each day of the year—January 1 through December 31—using the popular M’Cheyne reading plan, such that you read through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice. You can download an excerpt or watch a quick video below to get a feel for how this works:
For multiple bindings of the ESV Daily Reading Bible, go here.]
There is also the One-Year Bible in the ESV. Again, the whole Bible is divided up for you into 365 daily readings. In this Bible, you would read from the Old Testament, New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb each day.
The nice thing about Bibles like this is that you don’t need to have a plan alongside you, and you don’t need to flip around to your next reading—all the work is done for you.
On the other hand, this is not the sort of Bible that you could bring to a Bible study or to church, because it’d be difficult to locate a passage quickly.
Also be aware that because there is a reading for every single day, it can be easy to fall behind. In other words, unlike some of the plans below, there is no “grace period” built in for catch-up days.
Bible Reading Plans that Can Be Used with Any Bible
1. Let’s start with the most doable of the plans: Stephen Witmer’s two-year-Bible reading plan. Stephen writes: ”In my opinion, it is better to read the whole Bible through carefully one time in two years than hastily in one year.” His plan has you read through one book of the Bible at a time (along with a daily reading from the Psalms or Proverbs. At the end of two years you will have read through the Psalms and Proverbs four times and the rest of the Bible once.
2. Already mentioned above, the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan, developed by the 19th century Scottish pastor, has been widely used for Bible reading. The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog (which you can subscribe to via email) takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a daily meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. M’Cheyne’s plan has you read shorter selections from four different places in the Bible each day. (For a print version of Carson’s books, see volume 1 and volume 2.)
3. Jason DeRouchie offers his KINGDOM Bible Reading Plan, which has the following distinctives:
- Proportionate weight is given to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and the New getting one reading per day.
- The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of Jesus’ Bible (Luke 24:44—Law, Prophets, Writings), with one reading coming from each portion per day.
- In a single year, one reads through Psalms twice and all other biblical books once; the second reading of Psalms (highlighted in gray) supplements the readings through the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).
- Only twenty-five readings are slated per month in order to provide more flexibility in daily devotions.
- The plan can be started at any time of the year, and if four readings per day are too much, the plan can simply be stretched to two or more years (reading from one, two, or three columns per day).
4. Trent Hunter’s The Bible-Eater Plan is an innovative approach that has you reading whole chapters, along with quarterly attention to specific books. The plan especially highlights OT chapters that are crucial to the storyline of Scripture and redemptive fulfillment in Christ.
5. For those who would benefit from a realistic “discipline + grace” approach, consider Andy Perry’s Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers. It takes away the pressure (and guilt) of “keeping up” with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)
6. There is the Legacy Reading Plan. Here is a description:
The overarching objective of the Legacy Reading Plan is to read through the Bible once a year, every year for the rest of your life. The reading calendar is naturally segmented into seasons and the seasons into months. At the beginning of each year you know that during the winter your focus will be on the Pentateuch and Poetry (249 chapters); in spring, the Historical books (249 chapters); in summer the Prophets (250 chapters); and during the fall, the New Testament (260 chapter). Each season is further broken down into months. Thus every January your goal is to read through Genesis and Exodus and every December the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. There are times when you will naturally read ten chapters at a time and others when you will read one or two. More importantly you will read the Bible just as you read other literature.
If you use this plan, it may be helpful also to have something like this on hand.
7. Finally, here is a 5-day-a-week Bible reading plan recommended by Melissa Kruger. She likes that it allows for flexibility (despite our best intentions, it’s easy to fall behind with a 365-day plan). She also likes it better than traditional chronological-reading plans:
The one downside of the chronological plan was that I didn’t get to the New Testament until October. I prefer a plan that allows me to read them side-by-side throughout the year. In this 5-day plan, the Old Testament is arranged chronologically, and there is a New Testament reading every day. I appreciated the way they grouped the New Testament readings. The gospels are not in chronological order, but spaced throughout the year, one for each season. And, they are done in such a way that you begin with Mark (the first gospel), and then read some of the early epistles of Paul. Then around March, you’ll be in Luke and read it alongside Acts (same author). I read John last month, along with his three letters and Revelation. Basically, I love how it’s all laid out. It gives you the benefit of the chronological ordering for the OT alongside an engaging plan for the New Testament. Truly, I haven’t read a plan that I like better.
What are some online Bible reading plans?
There are a number of Reading Plans for ESV Editions. Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats:
- web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
- RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
- podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
- iCal (download an iCalendar file)
- mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
- print (download a PDF of the whole plan)
Through the Bible chronologically (from Back to the Bible)
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
Daily Office Lectionary
Daily Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
Daily Reading Bible
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
ESV Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
Literary Study Bible
Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
M’Cheyne One-Year Reading Plan
Daily Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms or Gospels
RSS | iCal | Mobile | Print | Email
Try this to access each of these Reading Plans as podcasts:
- Right-click (Ctrl-click on a Mac) the “RSS” link of the feed you want from the above list.
- Choose “Copy Link Location” or “Copy Shortcut.”
- Start iTunes.
- Under File, choose “Subscribe to Podcast.”
- Paste the URL into the box.
- Click OK.
What are the best options for listening to the Bible?
If you go to the ESV Bible site, there’s an audio button at the top (“Listen”) that allows you to listen to the whole Bible free of charge.
You can also purchase various audio Bibles, but I would recommend the dramatized NKJV Word of Promise Audio Bible. (If you’re an Audible subscriber, it’s much less expensive here than getting the CDs.) With various actors voicing the part, and with appropriate music and some sound effects, I think it’s a great experience in bringing various parts of the Word alive in a fresh way.
What are some resources to help me understand the storyline of Scripture and how to read Scripture well?
Here are some good, short books books on the big picture of the Bible:
- Chris Bruno, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses
- D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story
- Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
- Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible
Here are some on reading the Bible responsibly:
- George Guthrie, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word
- Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guide
- Grudem, Collins, Schreiner, eds., Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well
For a focus on the Old Testament, see (in increasing order of level):
- Jason DeRouchie, ed., What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible
- Paul House, Old Testament Theology
- Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology
For a focus on the New Testament, see:
- D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Andy Naselli, Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message
- Andreas Köstenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament
- Frank Thielman, New Testament Theology
For a whole-Bible theology books, see:
- Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology
- Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments
- James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology
For special attention to seeing Christ in the Old Testament, note in particular:
- Nancy Guthrie, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament (Bible studies)
- Michael Williams, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture
- David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament
- ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, ed. Bryan Chapell
Any books to help children catch the biblical storyline?
For helping children trace the storyline of Scripture, see:
- Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible
- David Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible
- Kevin DeYoung, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden
Note that with the Helm book, Crossway has now released a whole set of corresponding materials in the series: including an innovative Scripture memory/catechism of redemptive history, a free audio book, and a family devotional.
Without having to go buy a book, can you give me a quick flyby course on putting together the biblical storyline?
As you read through the Bible, here’s a chart you may want to to print out and have on hand. It’s from Goldsworthy’s book According to Plan. It simplified, of course, but it can be helpful in locating where you’re at in the biblical storyline and seeing the history of Israel “at a glance.”
Goldsworthy’s outline is below. You can also download this as a PDF (posted with permission).
Taken from According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy. Copyright(c) Graeme Goldsworthy 1991. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 (www.ivpress.com) and Inter-Varsity Press, Norton Street, Nottingham NG7 3HR England (www.ivbooks.com)
|Creation by Word||Genesis 1 and 2|
|The Fall||Genesis 3|
|First Revelation of Redemption||Genesis 4-11|
|Abraham Our Father||Genesis 12-50|
|Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption||Exodus 1-15|
|New Life: Gift and Task||Exodus 16-40; Leviticus|
|The Temptation in the Wilderness||Numbers; Deuteronomy|
|Into the Good Land||Joshua; Judges; Ruth|
|God’s Rule in God’s Land||1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9|
|The Fading Shadow||1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings|
|There Is a New Creation||Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther|
|The Second Exodus||Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai|
|The New Creation for Us||Matthew; Mark; Luke; John|
|The New Creation in Us Initiated||Acts|
|The New Creation in Us Now||New Testament Epistles|
|The New Creation Consummated||The New Testament|
Below are Goldsworthy’s summaries of each section.
Creation by Word
Genesis 1 and 2
In the beginning God created everything that exists. He made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden of Eden. God spoke to them and gave them certain tasks in the world. For food he allowed them the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one. He warned them that they would die if they ate of that one tree.
The snake persuaded Eve to disobey God and to eat the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he ate also. Then God spoke to them in judgment, and sent them out of the garden into a world that came under the same judgment.
First Revelation of Redemption
Outside Eden, Cain and Abel were born to Adam and eve. Cain murdered Abel and Eve bore another son, Seth. Eventually the human race became so wicked that God determined to destroy every living thing with a flood. Noah and his family were saved by building a great boat at God’s command. The human race began again with Noah and his three sons with their families. Sometime after the flood a still unified human race attempted a godless act to assert its power in the building of a high tower. God thwarted these plans by scattering the people and confusing their language.
Abraham Our Father
Sometime in the early second millennium BC God called Abraham out of Mesopotamia to Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants and to bless them as his people. Abraham went, and many years later he had a son, Isaac. Isaac in rum had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The promises of God were established with Jacob and his descendants. He had twelve sons, and in time they all went to live in Egypt because of famine in Canaan.
Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption
In time the descendants of Jacob living in Egypt multiplied to become a very large number of people. The Egyptians no longer regarded them with friendliness and made them slaves. God appointed Moses to be the one who would lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. When the moment came for Moses to demand the freedom of his people, the Pharaoh refused to let them go. Though Moses worked ten miracle-plagues which brought hardship, destruction, and death to the Egyptians. Finally, Pharaoh let Israel go, but then pursued them and trapped them at the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). The God opened a way in the sea for Israel to cross on dry land, but closed the water over the Egyptian army, destroying it.
New Life: Gift and Task
Exodus 16-40; Leviticus
After their release from Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There God gave them his law which they were commanded to keep. At one point Moses held a covenant renewal ceremony in which the covenant arrangement was sealed in blood. However, while Moses was away on the mountain, the people persuaded Aaron to fashion a golden calf. Thus they showed their inclination to forsake the covenant and to engage in idolatry. God also commanded the building of the tabernacle and gave all the rules of sacrificial worship by which Israel might approach him.
The Temptation in the Wilderness
After giving the law to the Israelites at Sinai, God directed them to go in and take possession of the promised land. Fearing the inhabitants of Canaan, they refused to do so, thus showing lack of confidence in the promises of God. The whole adult generation that had come out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, was condemned to wander and die in the desert. Israel was forbidden to dispossess its kinsfolk, the nation of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, but was given victory over other nations that opposed it. Finally, forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel arrived in the Moabite territory on the east side of the Jordan. Here Moses prepared the people for their possession of Canaan, and commissioned Joshua as their new leader.
Into the Good Land
Joshua; Judges; Ruth
Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites crossed the Jordan and began the task of driving out the inhabitants of Canaan. After the conquest the land was divided between the tribes, each being allotted its own region. Only the tribe of Levi was without an inheritance of land because of its special priestly relationship to God. There remained pockets of Canaanites in the land and, from time to time, these threatened Israel’s hold on their new possession. From the one-man leaderships of Moses and Joshua, the nation moved into a period of relative instability during which judges exercised some measure of control over the affairs of the people.
God’s Rule in God’s Land
1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9
Samuel became judge and prophet in all Israel at a time when the Philistines threatened the freedom of the nation. An earlier movement for kingship was received and the demand put to a reluctant Samuel. The first king, Saul, had a promising start to his reign but eventually showed himself unsuitable as the ruler of the covenant people. While Saul still reigned, David was anointed to succeed him. Because of Saul’s jealousy David became an outcast, but when Saul died in battle David returned and became king (about 1000 BC). Due to his success Israel became a powerful and stable nation. He established a central sanctuary at Jerusalem, and created a professional bureaucracy and permanent army. David’s son Solomon succeeded him (about 961 BC) and the prosperity of Israel continued. The building of the temple at Jerusalem was one of Solomon’s most notable achievements.
The Fading Shadow
1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings
Solomon allowed political considerations and personal ambitions to sour his relationship with God, and this in turn had a bad effect on the life of Israel. Solomon’s son began an oppressive rule which led to the rebellion of the northern tribes and the division of the kingdom. Although there were some political and religious high points, both kingdoms went into decline, A new breed of prophets warned against the direction of national life, but matters went from bad to worse. In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the power of the Assyrian empire. Then, in 586 BC the southern kingdom of Judah was devastated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and a large part of the population was deported to Babylon.
There Is a New Creation
Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther
The prophets of Israel warned of the doom that would befall the nation. When the first exiles were taken to Babylon in 597 BC, Ezekiel was among them. Both prophets ministered to the exiles. Life for the Jews (the people of Judah) in Babylon was not all bad, and in time many prospered. The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel indicate a certain normality to the experience, while Daniel and Esther highlight some of the difficulties and suffering experienced in an alien and oppressive culture.
The Second Exodus
Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai
In 539 BC Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian empire. The following year, Cyrus the king allowed the Jews to return home and to set up a Jewish state within the Persian empire. Great difficulty was experienced in re-establishing the nation. There was local opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Many of the Jews did not return but stayed on in the land of their exile. In the latter part of the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire. The Jews entered a long and difficult period in which Greek culture and religion challenged their trust in God’s covenant promises. In 63 BC Pompey conquered Palestine and the Jews found themselves a province of the Roman empire.
The New Creation for Us
Matthew; Mark; Luke; John
The province of Judea, the homeland of the Jews, came under Roman rule in 63 BC. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born at Bethlehem, probably about the year 4 BC. John, known as the Baptist, prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. This ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing began with Jesus’ baptism and lasted about three years. Growing conflict with the Jews and their religious leaders led eventually to Jesus being sentenced to death by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He was executed by the Romans just outside Jerusalem, but rose from death two days afterward and appealed to his followers on a number of occasions. After a period with them, Jesus was taken up to heaven.
The New Creation in Us Initiated
After Jesus had ascended, his disciples waited in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began the task of proclaiming Jesus. As the missionary implications of the gospel became clearer to the first Christians, the local proclamation was extended to world evangelization. The apostle Paul took the gospel to Asia Minor and Greece, establishing many churches as he went. Eventually a church flourished at the heart of the empire of Rome.
The New Creation in Us Now
New Testament Epistles
As the gospel made inroads into pagan societies it encountered many philosophies and non-Christian ideas which challenged the apostolic message. The New Testament epistles shows that the kind of pressures to adopt pagan ideas that had existed for the people of God in Old Testament times were also a constant threat to the churches. The real danger to Christian teaching was not so much in direct attacks upon it, but rather in the subtle distortion of Christian ideas. Among the troublemakers were the Judaizers who added Jewish law-keeping to the gospel. The Gnostics also undermined the gospel with elements of Greek philosophy and religion.
The New Creation Consummated
The New Testament
God is Lord over history and therefore, when he so desires, he can cause the events of the future to be recorded. All section of the New Testament contain references to things which have not yet happened, the most significant being the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom of God. No clues to the actual chronology are given, but it is certain that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. The old creation will be undone and the new creation will take its place.
Another helpful guide comes from David Talley’s The Story of the Old Testament.
He points out that the majority of the OT story or narrative is found in the following 11 books:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
If you were to read these eleven books, beginning with Genesis and reading them in succession to Nehemiah, you would read through almost the entire story of the Old Testament. The reason it must be stated that it is “almost the entire story” is because there are some additional stories isolated in parts of other books.
This is a really helpful pedagogical move, as it allows readers to distinguish between the main ongoing narrative and then to examine the way the other 28 books of the OT interpret, reinforce, and supplement this storyline.
Below is his summary of the story through these 11 books.
Genesis begins THE STORY by providing the narrative of the beginning of the world in the first eleven chapters. In these chapters, the story progresses through 20+ generations of people. The goal is to get the story to Abram (Abraham). So these chapters cover a very long time period . . . and, as a result, can obviously focus on very few details. The remaining chapters of the book provide the narrative for the early beginnings of the nation of Israel through the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and concluding with the family of Jacob in Egypt. Then THE STORY slows down, focusing on only four generations of people. The purpose is to provide a “skeleton” of information about the background of everything that leads up to Israel being in Egypt, awaiting the redemption of the Lord.
Exodus picks up THE STORY from Genesis as evidenced by an overlapping connection with Joseph going to down to Egypt, being used by God to preserve Jacob’s family. After Joseph dies, Exodus continues the narrative by 1) recounting the nation’s hardships in Egypt, 2) demonstrating God’s miraculous work of judgment against Egypt and redemption of Israel in the exodus from Egypt to Mt Sinai, 3) providing the establishment of his covenant with Israel, and 4) explaining the building of the Tabernacle so that God can dwell in their midst. Whereas Genesis covers 24-plus generations, Exodus concerns only the life of Moses (his life actually continues to the end of Deuteronomy, the remainder of the Pentateuch). The family of Jacob grows into a nation with whom God makes a covenant. All of this is preparation for taking the nation to the Promised Land.
Numbers continues THE STORY for us, narrating the developments taking place as Israel prepares to take the land. All of the contents occur in Moses’ generation. After the completion of the Tabernacle, this book conveys the story of the organization of the nation, their departure from Mt. Sinai, and the subsequent disobedience of this first generation when they refuse to take the land. The resulting judgment is 40 years of wilderness wanderings, which is also found in this book though not in much detail. We do not have a lot of information about this 40-year time period because the focus of the book is to get us to the border of the Promised Land. The book closes with the preparation of the second generation (after the exodus) in taking the land of Canaan.
The book of Joshua connects to the previous books by beginning with a reference to Moses’ death. (Recall, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his sin when he struck the rock rather than spoke to it.) The leadership of the people for the task of entering the Promised Land is transferred and entrusted to Joshua. The narrative in this book continues THE STORY by providing the events of Israel entering the land by focusing on the conquest, division, and initial settling of the land of Canaan during the life of Joshua.
Judges continues THE STORY by overlapping with the end of the book of Joshua with its focus on the details of Joshua’s death. Since the land has already been settled, this book provides a glimpse of the early years in the land when Israel was led by judges. This period marked by the rule of the judges is summarized by utilizing a similar cycle evidenced by each generation. The cycle is simple, yet disturbing. Each generation is characterized by eventual rebellion, followed by God’s judgment, their crying out to the Lord, the Lord raising up of a deliverer, the actual deliverance, and a subsequent return to obedience for a period of time until the cycle repeats itself. Consequently, many generations are covered as the author seeks to make it clear what this time period was like for Israel. When they are disobedient, there are consequences, but, when they walk in faithfulness, the Lord in his mercy restores them to a place of blessing.
The era of the judges continues into the books of Samuel. Samuel is a judge, but he moves THE STORY from the period of the judges into the period of the kingdom. These two books include the transition from the leadership of the last judge (Samuel) to the beginning of (under King Saul’s leadership) and establishment of (under King David’s leadership) the kingdom. It is also the necessary foundation to the books that follow.
The books of Kings naturally flow out of the books that introduce the kingdom, especially with the overlap of the end of King David’s life. Connecting to the end of the books of Samuel, the books of Kings begin with the latter years of King David’s life, culminating in the transfer of leadership to Solomon as the new king and the story of King David’s death. King Solomon is the focus immediately after King David’s death, and, after his unfaithfulness and the subsequent division of the kingdom, the remaining pages summarize the lives of the kings of the divided (northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah) and the solitary kingdom (southern kingdom of Judah alone). THE STORY points to the “glory” of the kingdom (under King Solomon’s leadership) and the division of the kingdom into the northern kingdom, until this kingdom goes into exile, and southern kingdom, until this kingdom goes into exile, which is the seeming end of the nation as a whole.
At this point we have the exile. The nation is taken out of the land. There are many events that happen during this time, which are part of the growth and formation of the nation. The land is the focus in the Old Testament, so in many ways, and for our purposes, THE STORY takes a 70-year hiatus. But God is not done. His story continues.
Ezra and Nehemiah
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah continue THE STORY by reversing the removal of the people from the land. They now return. After the 70 years of exile are over, these books record the three returns to the land under the leadership of Zerrubabel (to rebuild the Temple), Ezra, and Nehemiah (to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem). The purpose of these returns is ultimately concerned with preparing for the coming Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom. However, each return also includes the many reforms that the people must make along the way. God is continuing his work.
So note very clearly that THE STORY of the Old Testament ends with the book of Nehemiah. Yes, Nehemiah. It is not that God is done with his people. It is just that God will resume his story with the coming of the Messiah, which occurs in the gospels in the New Testament. The end of the Old Testament is one of anticipation, the anticipation of the good news of the gospel in the coming Messiah.
The prophets add to this anticipation as these books begin to fill in certain details about what God is up to, what he is going to do, and when it is going to happen.
The Old Testament is actually the “first testament” or the prelude to the New Testament. Both testaments contain God’s story.
If you want to hear two 10-minute talks overviewing first the message of the Old Testament and then the message of the New Testament, you can watch Jason DeRouchie and Andy Naselli—professors at Bethlehem College and Seminary—below:
Finally, The Bible Project is producing some great, free resources: sophisticated animation that provides an overview of each book of the Bible.
They’ve set up a new Bible reading plan, and if you sign up with them you can get a short animated video about the book’s design and message as you come to it in your plan.
Here are the videos they have produced so far:
The First Five Books
The most recent additions are on the books of Ruth, Job, and the Psalms:
Biblical Themes through the Entire Narrative of the Bible
They have done several of these so far: