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Understanding the Bible - part 1

Bible illustration As we look at the Bible, we need to remember that it is not actually just a single book. It is a collection of 66 books, written over a period of 1500 years by 40 different authors. Yet the theme of God's love for this world, and His work of redemption, comes through in every book.

An adage that shows the connectivity between the Old and the New Testaments is: In the Old Testament, the New is CONCEALED, In the New Testament, the Old is REVEALED. The Old Testament speaks of what will happen in the future (New Testament), and the New Testament shows how everything fits into God's plan as revealed within the Old Testament. Both portions are required to understand the full revelation of God's work on our behalf.

Due to the fact that the Bible is not a single book, it is not a book that is necessary to read from the front to the back, like a novel. Each of the books has a different focus, and the books are divided into sections of similar topics.

In most versions of the Bible, we see further divisions of each book into chapters and verses. These divisions were not in the original writings, but were added to make it easier to identify an exact passage. The chapters were added in the 13th century and the verses were added in the 16th century. Through the use of chapters and verses, it is much easier to locate "John 3:16" rather than simply look for "God so loved the world."

Old Testament

The Old Testament is composed of 39 books, divided into five sections: the Law, History, Wisdom and Poetry, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets.

Pentateuch (Law of Moses)

The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Pentateuch, a word meaning "five vessels." These five books are known in Hebrew as the Torah or the Law of Moses.

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy

Historical writings

The next 12 books contain the history of Israel. Here we see God at work and the obedience and disobedience of His chosen people, the Israelites. In other words, they are the historical narratives that tell us how the Israelites did (and didn't) live up to the Law.

  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther

Wisdom and Poetry

The next five books are referred to as either Wisdom or Poetry books. Remember that these have been translated from the original language, so we don't see the flow of language that we would normally call poetry. These books contain questions about God and humanity, as well as the nature of evil and suffering. They take many different forms, such as the short, memorable insights of the book of Proverbs and the dialogues within the book of Job.

The best known of this section is probably the two books of Psalms and Proverbs. Many of the Psalms are believed to be written by David, and many of the Proverbs are accredited to David's son, Solomon.

  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)

Major prophets

The next (and last) two sections of the Old Testaments are referred to as the Major and Minor Prophets. This does not refer to the fact that some are more important than others, but rather the length of the book. These books list teachings and warnings, calls for repentance and words of encouragement as given by the prophets-people chosen to be spokesmen for God.

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations (technically poetry)
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

Minor prophets

The last 12 books of the Old Testament are known as the Minor Prophets, and cover a range of years from approximately 780 to 430 B.C. After the book of Malachi, there are about 400 years where there was no direct communication through the prophets.

  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

New Testament

The New Testament consists of 27 books. The underlying theme is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, followed by instructions and exhortation to His Church.


The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels. Written by four men with varying knowledge of Jesus and His life, they present Jesus in slightly different ways. Matthew presents Him as the King-Saviour, with the emphasis on the lineage of David. Mark presents him as the Suffering Servant and Luke presents Him as the Son of Man. These three books are known as the synoptic Gospels as they present the common theme of Jesus as man. John, however, presents Jesus as the Son of God.

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John


The book of Acts details the beginning of the Church, from the Lord's Ascension through the expansion of the early church to Paul's ministry. The book of Acts is also considered an historical book, along with the Gospels.

Acts also introduces the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter that Jesus promised would come after He left this earth.

Pauline epistles

The next 13 books are letters written by Paul to various churches and people in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. These letters answer many questions about the meaning and application of the gospel. They also give interpretation and instruction regarding the person and the work of Christ.

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon


This letter was written to the Hebrew Christians, rather than a church at a specific location. It was written to encourage these believers not to relapse into the ceremonial observances of Judaism.

This book is sometimes included with the General Epistles under the title Non-Pauline Epistles.

General epistles

These seven books are shorter than Paul's letters. However, they exert an influence which is out of proportion to their length, supplementing the Pauline Epistles by offering different and complementary perspectives on the richness of Christian truth. Each author contributes a richness from his own personal view.

  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude


The book of Revelation, or more properly, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, as the last book in the Bible is truly the conclusion of the Bible as God's revelation to man. The Bible starts with Genesis, the book of beginnings, and ends with Revelation, which is the book which anticipates the end-time events, the return of the Lord, and His end-time reign.



Bible bookcase

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