Reading the Old Testament: Orientation


1 Peter 1:10-12 clearly tell us the value of our Old Testaments: “(the prophets) were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit…”But what can we do if we’re keen to get into it but find it hard in practice?

One big factor that makes it hard for us to read the Old Testament is not knowing where the part we’re reading fits with the whole. For example, if I’m reading about Moses bringing people out of Egypt, did that happen before or after Joshua marched around the walls of Jericho? Or did Daniel come before or after King David? Where do Psalms and Proverbs fit. It all feels very disorientating, kind of like watching episodes of a TV series somewhere in the 4th season without knowing what’s going on.

Moreover, it doesn’t help that the books aren’t in strict chronological order. For example, Ezra comes before Isaiah in the Bible, even though the events of Ezra happened long after the time of Isaiah.

So what can we do? Here’s some ideas to help you (and your spouse, friends etc) get started.

1. Read God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. This is a brilliant short book that explains how the Bible fits together. God's big pictureIt’s clear, easy to remember and will immediately help orient you in your OT reading.

Some big news is that Vaughan Roberts has produced a free online video course based on the book. You can find it here:

I haven’t properly looked at the course yet, so if you’d like to do it and send me a review that would be great.

2. Read Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy. This is an older book that actually inspired Vaughan Roberts to write his book. It was the book that first introduced me to the idea that the Bible fits together. Gospel and KingdomI love his story in the introduction about how he tried to interpret David’s “five smooth stones” in the story of David and Goliath. His doubts about his own teaching lead him to figure out what the OT was really about.

According to plan3. If you enjoy Graeme’s style try his more advanced book According to Plan. Our senior pastor Greg Lee described to me as “Gospel and Kingdom on steroids”.

I’ll drop in here that I got to do a course with Graeme at Moore College on “hermeneutics” (don’t worry about what that means). It was a great experience.

4. Read a chronological Bible reading plan. Clever people have combined research with a bit of guesswork to come up with Bible reading plans that are pretty close to chronological. You can find an example here:

My wife worked through one of these over an 18 month period and she felt it was a good change and helpful for orientation.

5. Look up things now and again. It’s pretty easy to find out things about Old Testament New Bible dictionaryplaces and people and this can help with getting oriented. A good resource is the New Bible Dictionary which I think every Christian should own. To be honest, even Wikipedia wouldn’t be too bad for everyday use.

For a great one-page Bible timeline go to Visual Unit (this site has a lot of other great resources).

6. Try using a Bible reading guide / devotional like the “Time with God” booklets we produce at Hunter Bible Church. Other options are the daily Bible reading guides from Matthias Media or the Explore App from the Good Book Company.

7. Read, keep reading and keep reading your Old Testament. Even if you’re a bit disoriented you will benefit from reading the Old Testament! That’s still true for me a lot of the time, even after a Bible College degree and 10 years in ministry.

So I hope that helps. My prayer is that we would be greatly blessed by God as we read the Bible together (including our Old Testaments). Let those old prophecies serve us, as the Apostle Peter said.