For our second post in this beginner’s guide (click here for part 1), we’re going to think about the structure of the Bible.
We’ve seen before how there are two Testaments within the Bible – the Old and the New, which correspond to writings before the birth of Jesus Christ, and after. Outside that broad division into two parts, the Bible is really a collection of 66 books – 39 in the Old and 27 in the New Testaments. These books are not arranged strictly in chronological order, but in a thematic way. So we can divide the books like this…
To start in the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are the books of the Law, containing the original Law given to Moses, although these are also some of the oldest books in the Bible.
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First (or 1) and Second (or 2) books of Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther – these are grouped together as the history books of the Bible.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon – these are the poetic books.
Then come the 17 books of the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. These vary in length enormously, depending on the length and the detail of the prophet’s message.
The New Testament begins with the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then another history book, called the Acts of the Apostles (Acts for short).
These are followed by 21 letters written to groups of believers (or sometimes individuals) gathered together in certain places, mainly by Paul but also by Peter and John: The Letter (or the Epistle to the) Romans – often called Romans for short, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude.
Finally comes the prophetic book Revelation.
As you can imagine, each group is written in quite a different style, and together the books represent the work of over 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Yet they all contain a very consistent message, which is a great piece of evidence that the Bible is inspired.
When we talk about inspiration, we mean that God gave words to the writers to record. The original Greek word for inspiration means a “breathing out”, as if God Himself breathed the words into their heads. This means that we can trust that the Bible – in the original languages at least – is totally trustworthy and accurate.
“All Scripture is breathed out [other versions say inspired] by God…” 2 Timothy 3v16.
One final point to note is that the whole Bible (All Scripture) is important for us to read. Nearly every Old Testament book is quoted somewhere in the New Testament, most are quoted by Jesus. We will see later how you need an understanding of the Old Testament to make sense of the New Testament. Very often, questions about something in the Bible are answered somewhere else in the Bible.
In 1 Timothy 5v18, the Apostle Paul writes: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The labourer deserves his wages.'” The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25; the second is from Luke 10. Clearly Paul places both on the same level.
So in summary, the Bible is not structured like one book which you read from start to finish. Rather, it is a collection of books grouped by style. Having said that, Genesis is a great place to begin, and Revelation is better left until much later, but you might like to start with the Psalms, or the Gospels.