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The New Testament opens with a genealogy that is “shorthand” for God’s ‘Story’ up to that point (Matthew 1:1-17).

Knowledge of this history is presumed—and necessary—if we are to properly understand and live as followers of Jesus.

In this blog, I map out how you can learn the historical backbone of the Bible in ten weeks. It would be difficult to know of a better investment you could make for your life. It involves reading or listening to about 35% of the Bible.[1]

Let me begin by explaining why I call this the “Historical Backbone of the Bible.” 

Functions of a backbone

A backbone is also known as a spine or, more technically, a vertebral column. It is a bony skeletal structure found in vertebrates.[2]

Obviously, the backbone is not the whole body. However, it is foundational to our anatomy and serves several important purposes, including:

  • structural rigidity;
  • muscle attachment points; and,
  • a channel for the central nervous system.

I am making a parallel between the human backbone and the Historical Backbone of the Bible.

The Bible’s backbone

This Historical Backbone of the Bible is the ‘Story’ that we’ve been writing about in the last two blogs. As God’s ‘Story,’ it is a selection and arrangement of historical events, real people, physical things, and places. It relates God’s involvement with humanity from the beginning. And God continues to be present and active in our here and now.

This historical narrative or ‘Story’ gives the Bible structural rigidity. In Matthew 1, history is traced from Abraham (Genesis 12) to David (1 Samuel) to the Exile (end of 2 Kings) and on to the birth of Jesus the Christ (Matthew 1:17).

This ‘Story’ provides muscle attachment points and channels the nervous system, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, and Prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

For instance, we read the history of an incident in David’s life (e.g., 2 Samuel 11-12); we gain insight into the turmoil of his heart during this episode in Psalm 51. We follow the sordid historical events of Israel’s unfaithfulness through 2 Kings; we discern God’s heart and responses to those events through the lenses of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others.

The Historical Backbone of the Bible provides the structure for understanding how the other books of the Bible relate to each other and to us. 

Mapping the Bible’s Backbone

The Backbone (or a significant part of it) is composed of 370 chapters of the Bible. This might sound like a lot, but it is only about 370 pages. Again, this may sound like a lot, but let’s break it into smaller pieces.[3]

You can choose the length of time it will take you to complete these chapters/pages. Many people can read most pages in 5-6 minutes, but that’s me. Some will want to go faster, others slower—it’s up to you.

If a person reads six pages per day x 6 days per week, you will finish in 10 weeks. Again, this is only an example. You might want to go faster, or you might want to go slower—it’s up to you.

Here’s the link to a free resource that lays out this reading program: Historical Backbone of the Bible. It also has a link to a reading log that you might find helpful. Print it off and keep it with your Bible during this project. 

Four recommendations

Here are a few recommendations to encourage you for this project.

1.         Companionship

Agree to do this project with at least one other person. The more, the merrier. Once, I was part of a group of more than 40 people and also a group of two.

Those who have completed this reading venture have invariably found it beneficial to have companions. This doesn’t mean you must read at the same place and time—just that you know you are reading by the same timetable.

Daily or once a week, periodically check in with the other person or persons. It is not only an issue of accountability but also encouragement. One person likened it to riding a bicycle on a tour with others. The very fact that others were doing the tour with you made it more enjoyable and doable: “If others can do it, so can I!”

2.         Keep the goal in mind

The project’s purpose is not to understand every detail of the Bible—if that is even possible. The goal is to become familiar with the ‘Story.’ At this point, reading and becoming aware of people, places, and events is enough.

You may have questions or want to explore some details. Remember, the goal is to read an agreed-upon number of pages or chapters each day with reasonable comprehension. If a question is really important, write it down and keep reading. Often, the question gets answered as you continue reading. Use the question as a point of conversation when you talk to one of your reading/listening companions.

If you miss a day, don’t sweat it. Just pick up where you left off and read the daily quota—don’t worry about trying to catch up.

3.         Read or listen at an optimum pace.

If you read too short a portion daily, completing the Backbone will take much longer, and you will probably lose a sense of the larger Story. It would be like reading only a page of a novel each day—you lose track of the characters and the storyline.

On the other hand, don’t try to set a speed record by reading too much in a day. This might result in reading/listening fatigue and a loss of comprehension.

Agree with your reading companions on a reasonable chapter or page rate. And take a day off each week—allow the ‘Story’ to begin percolating in your mind and heart.

4.         Read or listen in the ‘language of your heart.’

As I explained in the previous blog, it simply means reading or listening to the ancient text in a translation you understand and engage with. If you can access an audio version of the Bible, feel free to use it.

If you have been reading the previous blogs and have begun reading Genesis, you are well on your way already.

As you read or listen to the ‘Story,’ I think you’ll find that it begins to grip you and change your perspectives. You see how God is always present and active—sometimes in the foreground, sometimes behind the scenes. 

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO Five Basic Steps for Learning God’s ‘Story’

[1] This estimate is based on the “backbone’s” 370 pages of my Bible, which has 1,048 pages – 35.3%.

[2] For more details, see, for example, (accessed May 9, 2024).

[3] Of course, this depends on the particular Bible. Depending on the print size, illustrations, and the presence of notes, the number of pages may be more or less in your Bible. I’ve used my English Bible as the basis for this number (no pictures and only a few notes). 

Photo Credit: micolumnasana via Compfight cc

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