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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 a number of important purposes:

  • Structural rigidity;
  • Muscle attachment points; and,
  • Channels the central nervous system.

I’m 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, tangible things and places. It relates God’s involvement with humanity from the beginning. God continues to be present and active in our present.

It is this history or ‘Story’ that gives the Bible structural rigidity. 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 the 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 same events through the lenses of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others.

It is the Historical Backbone of the Bible that 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 major part of it) is composed of 367 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 pick the length of time you want to take to complete these chapters/pages. I estimate that most pages can be read 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, say, 6 pages per day x 6 days per week, you will be finished 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 the Resource page for the reading sections I propose – Historical Backbone of the Bible. Print it off and keep it with your Bible during this project. 

Four recommendations

Here are a few recommendations found helpful for this project.

1.         Companionship – agree with at least one other person to do this project together. The more the merrier. One time I was part of a group of 40 people.

Those who have successfully completed this reading venture have invariably found it beneficial to have companions. This doesn’t mean you have to read in the same place and time – just that you know they are reading on the same time table as you.

Periodically, whether each day or once a week, 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 do-able: “if others can do it, so can I!”

2.         Keep the goal in mind – the purpose of the project is not to understand all the details of the Bible – if that is even possible. The goal is to become familiar with the ‘Story’. It is enough to read about these people, places, and events.

You may have questions or want to get bogged down in details. Remember, the goal is to read an agreed number of pages each day with a reasonable degree of comprehension. If a question is really important, write it down and keep reading. Often the question gets answered as you read. Use the question as a conversation point 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 it will take much longer to complete the Backbone, and you will probably lose a sense of the larger ‘Story’. It would be a bit like reading only a page of a novel each day or so – you lose track of the characters and the story-line.

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.

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

4.         Read or listen in the ‘language of your heart’. This was explained in the previous blog in more detail. It simply means read or listen to the ancient text in a translation with which you can easily engage. If you have access to an audio version of the Bible feel free to use it.

If you’ve been reading the previous blogs, and you began reading Genesis – you’re well on your way already.

As you read or listen to the ‘Story’ I think you’ll find that it begins to get a hold of you and changes your perspectives. You see how God is always present and active – sometimes in the foreground, sometimes behind the scenes. 

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

[2] For more detail see, for example, (accessed January 16, 2015).

[3] Of course this depends on the particular Bible. The number of pages may be more or less in your Bible depending on factors such as the size of the print. 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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