by Rod D. Martin
June 25, 2023

A dear friend recently asked, “Given your strong encouragement to read the Bible straight through [Genesis to Revelation, and not some other way], how has reading in this manner caused you to love Christ more/grow in Christ’s likeness more than reading chronologically or some other way?”

God’s Word is, first and foremost, God’s Word. It is His absolutely unique and unparalleled testimony to Himself. The very rocks might well cry out, and men might attest to that which they’ve seen, but no matter how faithful a witness a rainbow may be, it can and is routinely twisted: only the Bible can infallibly give us its meaning.

That meaning has a context. That context is larger than the immediate story. That greater story — that metanarrative — is HIS story, not merely the story of Him (for no number of books could contain that) but His story, in the same sense that The Tempest is Shakespeare’s story, to be told as he alone sees fit.

We may certainly read passages from All The King’s Men out of order. We may study them intently and gain from that. But doing so is not experiencing Warren’s story. And Warren’s story is not merely a masterpiece but an *experience*, unlike any other. What we learn from it goes far beyond the outline of the text, or the details of the characters, or the history of Louisiana; and I dare say, one might learn more about all of those things from experiencing Warren’s prose than from memorizing every fact in a related textbook. And not just the writing, but the order: it matters that we learn of the Upright Judge’s fall, and the Great Twitch, and Jackie Bird’s love for Anne, and of her “purchase” from Willie, and Adam’s discovery of it, in precisely the order that we do. It would mean little, and we would not value it, otherwise.

The same is true in music. Beethoven did not sit down to write the Ninth Symphony straight through ex nihilo, and we honor the composer’s order, because the Symphony is a story and the master’s order is correct.

If this is true for human creations — if we understand rightly that a chronological re-ordering of The Godfather: Part Two improves nothing, but actually creates two separate, vastly inferior pieces , shorn of their artistry, robbed of their meaning and entertaining no one — how much more so is this true of God’s flawlessly woven story? And indeed, this is one of the first violences we do to the text in our casual approaches to it: we separate a perfect seamless whole into two inferior standalone parts that countless readers mistake as mutually incomprehensible. In fact, the New Testament depends on the Old for nearly everything it wants us to see, painstakingly laboriously intricately bringing us to the climax of the Cross: the story can no more begin with Matthew than Julius Caesar can begin at Antony’s oration. And this leaps off the page at the reader when we treat this Book, and above all its Author, with the dignity we readily accord a comic book.

Now a chronological reading is vastly superior to what most actually do, which is to treat the Word as Wikipedia, or a Ouija board. But a great deal is still lost in that bargain.

So first, we have to understand that the Book IS His story, and not merely of Him (as I’ve said), but of Immanuel: God with us. He walks with unfallen humanity, He retreats from among them at their rebellion, and He certainly punishes their sin; but not without providing both a means of redemption and progressively revealing to them the countless things they had not grasped or even imagined when they fell. He takes His time. He lays foundations, foundations we are expected to know cold all the way through Revelation. He builds on those assumed foundations, in a particular order, just as trigonometry and calculus build on addition and multiplication.

He restores His presence, albeit not initially or even yet as in the Garden. He provides object lessons. He gives wisdom that builds on those narratives. He applies the wisdom with law to evolving situations. He shows patience with transgressions that seem enormous, and impatience with sins we think small, demonstrating a Father’s differing expectations for different children at different stages.

He focuses our attention on some enormous events, recedes to address other topics, and circles back to the same events with added perspective from different directions, sometimes again and again and even yet again, not just giving us history or morality but an intimate understanding of a Father’s priorities, much of which is lost apart from how He tells His story.

Ultimately He conquers sin and death, sweeping away the shadow and ultimately restoring Eden, forever locking the East Gate and walking with us as at the first, the Garden made a City. But it’s not an isolated hope. It’s what the narrative was working toward all along in every twist and subplot and on every page. It is at once a blissful, surprising consummation and what you knew must be all along, in Genesis and Lamentations and Daniel 10 and Job 2.

As helpful as a chronological reading can be, we lose much of this ebb and flow. We get the wrong emphases, and in the wrong order. We reduce the Word to a textbook, and lose much of what makes it the greatest story ever told.

And it must be said: had God wished to write that textbook, He would have. He pointedly did not. That alone bears testament to the essentiality of His chosen form: THIS is how He chose, of the manners He might have chosen, to communicate what He chose to whom He chose. These are the words, these are the literary forms, this is the content, this is the order. This. And only this.

So, after countless readings over many years of His perfect Word and in this manner, I answer your question.

I am overwhelmed by the majesty, the truthfulness, but above all else, the Fatherhood of God, which I have learned above all in this way. Experience is vital and relationship essential, but all of it is but confirmation of His ever living, ever unfolding Word.

I stand in awe of His weaving of all things together for His plan and for His own, in exactly the manner He promised, so much so that every single rebellion of His people ultimately accomplished all the things their obedience would have. Oh, individuals face all manner of judgment, yes. But His plan is never thwarted once, not in any way, not even those parts of His plan that take millennia to unfold and years of study to tease out of the text.

I am amazed at the degree to which every word has a single author. Bits-and-pieces readings support the Higher Critical lie: a faithful reading of His Word in His order impresses more and more upon you that this Book is His alone, across centuries and writers and cultures and languages and prosperity and famine and joy and despair, One. Only possibly one. Whole. Complete. Perfect.

His. And in no wise capable of improvement by the rationalizations of men.

He is Who He says He is. His love and righteousness and justice and mercy and holiness and compassion and timing — oh His timing — are in no wise contradictory, or set against one another, but are a flawless whole, one I could not see apart from Him, but also never saw until I submitted to the discipline of trusting the Author to know best how to tell His own story. We are commanded to respect our fathers. We could do well to start here.

With all my heart and soul I am His, despite sword and famine and slander and betrayal and suffering and the fool’s gold of easy ways out. No matter how flawed I am, and I am not worthy to touch a single page or learn a single line, I am His, and He is mine, my only Father, the only One faithful in a sea of sinners.

I love Him. And I love His perfect Word.