Can You Guess Which Biblical Event Came First?


By: Elisabeth Henderson

7 Min Quiz

Image: Providence Lithograph Company via WikiCommons

About This Quiz

Many Westerners are familiar with the Bible story. You know the narrative: God created the heavens and the earth, people screwed it up, God became a man, Jesus, to save them, Jesus was killed, he rose from the dead, and he is coming back.

But the Bible covers a lot more ground than that essential story. Within the overarching narrative, a multitude of smaller stories unfolds, some of them bizarre and unsettling. Students of the Bible scour the text to find out how these minor stories fit into the larger drama of salvation. Students of history explore these texts to glean knowledge about how the sacred texts interact with historical events. Any literary student will tell you that to understand how a story works, you have to know the order in which things happened. 

How well do you really know the Bible? You may know that Adam and Eve were created before Able was killed, but do you know who was born first, Abraham or Noah? Which city first met its destruction, Nineveh or Jerusalem? Are these details important? It depends on how closely you are reading and how well you know the intricacies of the story. We are reading very, very closely. Are you? We can find out, but you have to start quizzing first! 

Joseph was sold into captivity by his brothers, who told his father he was dead. Did this happen before or after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt?

Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Egyptians, starting a chain of events that would lead to the Israelite people living in captivity in Egypt. When Moses led the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt, he was leading them out of that captivity.


Which of the following patriarchs led God’s people before the others?

Noah precedes Isaac, Jacob and Abraham. In the biblical timeline, Noah is born only 164 years after Adam, the first man, died. The Bible describes Noah as “a just man and perfect in his generation.”


Which disciples did Jesus approach first when he was picking his crew?

Jesus approached Andrew and John when they were following John the Baptist. John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, and Andrew and John began following him, literally. Jesus turned and asked them, “What do you want?” and they responded, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He told them to “Come and see.” And they did.


Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his older and less beautiful daughter, even though Jacob had been working for seven years in order to marry the other daughter. Which daughter did he marry first?

After Jacob worked seven years to earn the hand of Rachel, Laban tricked him by disguising Leah for the wedding day. Not until he woke up the next morning beside the wrong sister did Jacob realize that he had been fooled. After an additional seven years of labor, he married Rachel, too.


Moses led the Israelites for 40 years, wandering in the desert to reach the promised land of Canaan. Did they enter Canaan before Moses died?

Moses did not enter the promised land before his death; he only glimpsed it from afar. The Lord made it clear to him that he would not enter, on account of an incident at the Waters of Meribah, where he failed to keep faith in the Lord’s promise. Nevertheless, Moses is one of the great examples of faith.


Which of these conquests of Joshua happened first?

When Moses was still leading the people of Israel, he sent Joshua and 11 other men to spy on the land of Canaan, to discover whether the land was as promising as they had been told. Of all the 12, only Joshua and Caleb reported that the land was blessed, and they were rewarded by being allowed to enter the land.


Which did Jesus do first, give his famous Sermon on the Mount or feed the five thousand on loaves and fishes?

Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, whereas the feeding of the five thousand is recorded in Matthew 14. Shortly after he performed his first miracles, crowds of people began following Jesus. When he saw the huge crowd, “he went up on a mountainside and sat down” and began to teach.


Which gospel comes first chronologically in the Bible?

None of the gospels precedes the others, because they cover roughly the same period — the life of Jesus and the period shortly afterward. The four gospels, while very similar in their accounts, have some differences between them, and this provides excellent fodder for scholarly debate.


God sent a series of prophets in the Old Testament to communicate messages to Israel. Which of them precedes the others?

The book of Isaiah marks the beginning of the prophetic texts of the Old Testament. Isaiah received the Lord’s call to serve as a prophet in the year King Uzziah died, 742 B.C. Israel faced a time of turmoil, as the Northern Kingdom had collapsed, and the Assyrian and Sennacherib armies drew up around them.


David and Saul both held the title of King of Israel. Who was the first to bear that responsibility?

The story of Saul and David is one of the great dramas of the Old Testament. King Saul, the first king of Israel, lost the Lord’s favor for not following his instructions. The Lord sent Samuel to anoint David to be the next king. When David won Israel’s favor for defeating Goliath, Saul was enraged and sought to kill him.


In the stories of the Tower of Babel and the Flood, God sends epic consequences for people’s sins. Which of these consequences hit first?

According to the biblical timeline, the Flood swept over the earth before 2500 B.C., while the Tower of Babel and its ensuing babbling occurred before 2100 B.C. It had only been 400 years after the great flood when people tried to build a tower to heaven and had their common language jumbled into many as a consequence.


God revealed to Abraham that his people should circumcise men to mark them as set apart for God. He also revealed to Abraham that he would have a son, Isaac. Was Isaac born before circumcision was instituted?

Isaac had not yet been born when the Lord instituted the custom of circumcision. Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, on the other hand, was circumcised the very day that the Lord gave this decree, as was Abraham. Abraham was 99, and Ishmael was 13.


When the Lord revealed to Moses that he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he promised to go before him. He prepared the way for their escape by ravaging Egypt with plagues. How did they begin?

When Pharaoh would not listen to Moses’ pleas to let his people go, God told Moses to enact plagues upon the country of Egypt. It all began when Moses, at the Lord’s direction, struck the water with his staff, and it turned to blood, killing all the fish and releasing a foul odor.


King David, in all his glory, had some low points, like lusting after Bathsheba and setting up Uriah to be killed in battle. Which low point did he hit first?

David’s lust for Bathsheba, of course, led to him sending Uriah, her husband, to his death. After David had taken Bathsheba for himself and impregnated her, he tried to get Uriah to think the child would be his. When Uriah wouldn’t go home to his wife, David had him sent to the front lines, where he’d surely be killed.


Mary and her cousin Elizabeth were both pregnant at the same time. Who was first to give birth?

When Mary visited Elizabeth, after being visited by an angel, Elizabeth was already in her sixth month. In the story, the baby — who would be John the Baptist — leaped in his mother’s womb when Mary told her news.


The birth of the son of God caused quite a stir for those who had his birth revealed to them. Who were the first ones to get to meet him?

When Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable outside Bethlehem, a host of angels cried out in glory in a field nearby. Some shepherds keeping watch of their flocks witnessed the miracle, and the angels revealed the good news to them. Hearing the news, the shepherds went straight to the stable to pay homage.


In the story of Daniel, did he first interpret handwriting on the wall or get thrown in the lion’s den?

Daniel won King Nebuchadnezzar’s favor by his ability to understand the handwriting on the wall. When some of the king’s counselors wanted to catch Daniel out, they made a rule that whoever was caught praying would be thrown in with the lions. David’s prayerful habits got him thrown right in.


Which book attributed to King Solomon comes first?

The Song of Songs, a book about ecstatic love read by many as mystical allegory, is dated at 950 B.C. Ecclesiastes, which laments that “all is vanity,” comes later in the wise king’s life at 937 B.C.


When King Herod gets word that a new king has been born in the land, he orders that all males under the age of two be murdered. Did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus escape to Egypt before or after Herod instituted this decree?

If the Holy Family had not escaped to Egypt before Herod’s decree went into effect, the Bible would be a lot shorter. Joseph received a vision of an angel warning him to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plans, and they made it out in time.


Jesus’ life and ministry were distinguished by the miracles he performed, causing people to follow him to see what he would do next. What was the first miracle he performed?

The first miracle recorded in the gospels is when Jesus turns the water into wine at a wedding in Cana. In the story, Jesus didn’t initiate the miracle. Instead, his mother did. She asked him to do something to help, and he said his time hadn’t come. Mary went on, though, and told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”


It was one of King David’s great hopes that he would live to see the temple built. Did he see it completed before his death?

Though David sincerely wanted to build a temple fit to honor God, God told him through the prophet Nathan that he would not be the one to build it, but his son would. Scholars say one reason for this is that God wanted his house to be a house of peace, while David had lived as a man of war.


When Naomi from Bethlehem was living in Moab with her two sons and her husband, the sons married Moabite women. All the men died, leaving the women widowed. What did Ruth, her daughter, do first after Naomi encouraged her to go home?

After Ruth and Naomi are both widowed, Ruth makes the unusual choice of staying with Naomi rather than returning to her own people. Her words, “your people will be my people and your God my God” are remembered as a symbol of faithfulness.


Jesus has intimate encounters with people who ask genuine questions, like Nicodemus the Pharisee and the woman from Samaria, at the well. Which of these does he encounter first?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a group of scholars of the law who tried to catch Jesus making a mistake. When he came by night to visit Jesus, in John 3, he really came to ask questions, so Jesus answered them. One exchange leads to one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, John 3:16. The woman at the well comes in John 4.


The narratives of John the Baptist’s head being brought on a platter to Herod and the feeding of the five thousand stick out as memorable and graphic scenes. But which came first?

Herod ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded before Jesus fed the five thousand. Actually, after he was beheaded, his disciples took his body, buried it, and told Jesus the news. When he heard the news, Jesus withdrew to a quiet place. As usual, he was followed by a large crowd ... five thousand or so.


God told the prophet Elijah to go up a mountain and wait for God to reveal himself to him. Elijah heard and saw many things before he felt the presence of God. What did he see first?

When Elijah was up on the mountain, waiting, he was first buffeted by a great wind, then an earthquake shook the earth, then a fire licked close to him, but the Lord was not in any of these. Only in the whisper did Elijah feel the presence of God, and he covered his face and went out to meet him.


The time wandering in the desert formed the identity of Israel as a people. Which of these events from the desert wandering came first?

The people had to first leave Egypt before they began their desert wanderings. During their wanderings, in fact, they often lamented that they should not have left Egypt since it was better to be a slave with food than to die of starvation in the desert.


The Lord often fed his prophet Elijah in dramatic, symbolic ways. Once, he arranged for ravens to bring him food to eat. Another time he had to ask a widow to make bread for him with the very last of her flour and oil. Which of these feedings is before the other?

After Elijah predicted a drought and famine on the Land, the Lord instructed him to go to a brook where he would be fed by ravens. The ravens fed him consistently until the brook dried up. Later he visited the widow, who used the last of her flour and oil to feed him. She found afterward that her supplies wouldn’t run out.


When Jesus encounters the woman caught in adultery who is about to be stoned, what is his first course of action?

When Jesus comes upon a mob angrily taking a woman out to stone her, all eyes turn to him, wondering what he will do. He does not do anything with a flair for the dramatic. Rather, he bends down and writes in the dirt. Standing up, he says, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.” Everyone walks away.


After Jesus is raised from the dead, who is the first to encounter him?

After the women found the tomb empty and were told by the angels that “He is not here,” Mary Magdalene stayed behind, perplexed. She ran into who she thought was the gardener until he called her name and she knew it was Jesus.


On the night in which Jesus was betrayed ... which of these events came first?

Judas made a deal with the Pharisees that he would help them apprehend Jesus. When he left on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he had a plan. Before he left, though, Jesus washed his feet along with the other disciples.


Daniel, a servant of God, was taken by the Babylonians to give service to their king. With his friends, they stood out for their faithfulness and fearlessness. Which occurred first during their captivity?

Early in the time that the young men were made servants of the king, they refused to eat the strong food and drink offered to them. Daniel asked the chief official for permission not to eat the royal food. He granted it and was surprised when they looked more healthy than the other servants who ate the royal food.


In the Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in his glory to Peter, James and John. Which element of this story comes first?

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James and John first trek up a high mountain. Once they are up on top, they see Jesus in his true form, with glorious light too bright to look at. In that glory, they see Moses and Elijah conversing with him. Not knowing what to do, Peter offers to build three shelters.


What happens earliest in the narrative of Jesus and the disciples in the storm?

The narrative of Jesus calming the storm begins with the weighty words, “Let’s go over to the other side.” Once they are on the lake, and Jesus is sound asleep, the storm rises and terrifies the disciples, who then wake Jesus to see if he can save them.


The character Job is synonymous with a person who is faithful in spite of great suffering. What starts off Job’s troubles?

The book of Job begins with a description of what a faithful and prosperous man Job was. This idyllic portrait is disrupted by an accusing angel mocking God by saying that Job only serves him because he’s successful. God allows great suffering to befall Job as a result of the accusation, and Job is proven faithful.


When Jesus returns to his hometown after beginning his ministry, what is the first incident to occur?

When Jesus returned to Nazareth, he first taught in the synagogue, reading a passage from Isaiah and insisting that it had been fulfilled. The people did not accept his teaching, and Jesus told them what he thought about them. They took him by force to the cliffside, but he escaped.


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