As a young person and new believer in Christ, I was often confused about events in the Bible. I just couldn’t seem to get things straight in my mind. When I discovered that the Bible is not written in chronological order that certainly made it easier to understand. However, for several years I struggled with why it was not. I have come to the conclusion that the issue of chronology is significant but not difficult. It is not always easy to determine the exact reason why things in the Bible are recorded in the order that they are, but most of that time it can be figured out with varying degrees of effort.
Please allow me to give a little personal experience. I taught history in public schools for 15 years. I like things in chronological order. Nearly 20 years ago, I purchased a chronologically arranged Bible. I embarked on a project which took about 2.5 years. I read through it, taking the time to write out prayers and meditations based on my daily reading. I learned a great deal. My wife and children are reading through chronological Bibles currently. Based on my recommendation, a man I am discipling started this project on January 1, 2012. Thus, you know that I believe in the value of chronological study. However, for the past 18 months or so, the Lord has been teaching me something new; at least it’s new to me.
It seems to me that God has written His Story, which is somewhat different than history. He has written the story of Redemption. He has included that which is significant to His message at any particular time and place, and omitted that which is irrelevant at that particular time and place. I find myself studying larger blocks of Scripture, (often whole books or even groups of books) looking for clearly defined breaks in topic. It seems that detailed comprehensive chronology is very seldom an important part of my study now. On the other hand, chronology of that which is recorded in a particular block of Scripture is often significant.
In order to make a specific revelation about Christ, the information recorded and the information omitted in each book or passage was intentionally and perfectly selected by the Holy Spirit. I find myself asking the following questions as I read a particular block of Scripture, “If this block were left out of the Bible, what would I miss about Christ?” and “What is the unique contribution of this block of Scripture? What is taught here more clearly, more detailed, etc. than it is anywhere else in Scripture?”
For example none of the four gospel accounts provide a clear and detailed chronological account of the life of Christ. In fact merging the four accounts together still does not produce a detailed, chronological biography in the modern sense. Each section of Scripture, be it Old Testament history, Old Testament prophecy, Pastoral Letter, Gospel, etc. has a specific purpose that is different from any other section. The purpose of the Gospels is to convince us that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. The Gospels are written so that we can know without a doubt that He is the Christ, the Holy One of Israel, the Anointed One, the Second Person of the Trinity. On a secondary level, each gospel is aimed at particular audience. Also, broadly speaking each gospel is designed to reveal one particular aspect of the Christ. Matthew shows all of us in general but Jews primarily that Jesus is The King. Mark shows all of us but Gentiles (Romans) in particular that Jesus is The Servant. Luke shows all of us but Gentiles (Greeks) in particular that Jesus is The Friend of Sinners. John screams at the whole world that Jesus is Almighty God.
In light of the specific purposes for each gospel, the Holy Spirit specifically selected what to include in each book, what to leave out of each book, and how to group that which was included. The more the Bible is studied, the more apparent it becomes that all three of these were carefully and lovingly divinely determined for our benefit and understanding. In some cases chronology had some bearing on the meaning, in many cases it did not.
John 20:30-31 sums it up well. “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. NASU