The Bible is Not Like Other Books
There are many kinds of books. Some books contain a single story while other books are a collection of stories. Some books contain poems or songs. Some books are used as reference books like dictionaries and encyclopedias. Other books are like textbooks intended to teach about a specific subject or manuals on how to operate complicated equipment. The Bible is a collection of books that are all of these and more.
- It has stories.
- It has history.
- It has poetry and song.
- It has advice and guidance.
- It has explanations of complicated things.
- It even has letters and prophecy.
Let’s learn a little bit about your new Bible so we can read and study it together.
The Structure of the Bible
The Bible was written over a span of more that 1,500 years by at least 40 different authors. It is divided into two portions know as the Old Testament (“Testament” means “covenant” or “promise”) and the New Testament.
- The scope of the Old Testament spans the time from the creation of the world until the height of the Persian Empire around 450 B.C.E.
- The New Testament covers a much shorter time period – less than 100 years beginning with the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ up to and including his crucifixion and resurrection. The rest of the New Testament spans the earliest period of the Christian church’s history.
The two portions consist of different books arranged in divisions based on the type of literature in each book. The Old Testament has 39 books, some of which are very long while the New Testament contains only 27 books, most of which are short.
The Old Testament
The Books of Moses
These first five books are among the oldest books of the Bible and are known to the Jews as the Torah, although Christians rarely use that word. They are called by Moses’s name because he is widely regarded as the one who wrote them. These books cover events that begin with the creation of the world through the escae of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt around 1400 B.C.E.
The Historical Books
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
- 2 Chronicles
These 13 books span nearly 1,000 years of history that cover the events of ancient Israel. In total they tell the story of a wandering group of tribes who establish their presence in the ancient land of Palestine at God’s direction, settle the land according to tribal boundaries, and eventually form a confederated kingdom. The kingdom only lasts three generations before splitting into the northern kingdom and southern kingdom which make war upon each other and their neighbors, although they are sometimes allies against common foes. In time both of these kingdoms are conquered by large eastern empires. The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrian Empire and many years later the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonian Empire. Both empires carried captives to their homeland with them, but after the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian Empire, many of the captives returned to Palestine. They re-established their nation and began the long task of rebuilding their capital city including its protective wall and the temple which served as their central place of worship. Meanwhile, among the Jews that remained behind in foreign lands, some attained high ranks in the government including one who became a queen.
The Poetical Books
- Song of Solomon
This division of the Old Testament contains the widest variety of literature found anywhere in the Bible. Job, thought to be the oldest book in the Bible, is an epic poem that follows the misfortunes of an ancient nobleman and how he was treated at the hands of his most trusted friends. The book of Psalms is a compilation of Jewish songs with a wide variety of musical and poetical forms. While the musical notations are lost to time, the lyrics represent a range of styles from songs of praise and triumph to those of lament, loss, and sadness. Some are instructional poems while others are meant to encourage and inspire. Proverbs is a collection of aphorisms and Ecclesiastes varies between aphorisms and advice as the author explores the meaning of life. The Song of Solomon is a lyric love poem.
The Major Prophets
The Minor Prophets
These divisions of the Old Testament are differentiated by the length of the books they contain. The major prophets contain the longest of the prophetical books while the minor prophets are shorter as a general rule. These books span the time of the divided kingdoms until the return from Babylonian captivity, or about 400 years. These books contain historical narratives, prophetic utterances, and lyric poetry in a variety of styles. Some are addressed to the Jewish kingdoms while others are wholly or in part addressed to the surrounding nations.
The New Testament
These books all tell the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ while he was here on the earth. The first three books are written in the form of historical narratives that cover the major events in the life of Jesus. Because the authors each had a different perspective, they sometimes recounted different events that were important to them. When they covered the same events, they sometimes recounted them from different points of view. Scholars often learn a great deal by comparing and contrasting these accounts. The fourth gospel of John is written as a memoir and is not intended as a historical narrative. Rather it focuses on the teachings of Jesus Christ, primarily what he taught in the final few weeks of his life. These last few weeks account for the text of over half the book.
- The Acts of the Apostles
This is a history of the early church from the time of Christ’s ascension until the imprisonment of the apostle Paul in Rome in about 60 C.E. The book is a sequel to Luke’s gospel and both books are addressed to the same person – Theophilus, a name which means “Lover of God” and may refer to a specific individual or a general title of anyone who loves God. The book begins with a general history of the church, but narrows its focus to the ministry of the apostle Paul and his travels throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
The Letters of Paul
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
This is a collection of letters that Paul the apostle wrote. The first nine are letters that he wrote to churches instructing them on a wide variety of different matters from church government to personal conduct. The last four are letters addressed to individuals and contain advice on pastoring the early churches and advice on how to treat a runaway slave.
The General Letters
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
This section of the New Testament contains letters written by early church leaders to churches, individuals, and general audiences with advice on a variety of topics. All of these books helped the early church draw encouragement from the apostles during difficult times of persecution at the hands of both the Jews and the Romans.
This is the only prophetic book in the New Testament and outlines the events that are to take place after the closing of the Bible. It is rich in figurative and symbolic language and is unlike any other book of the Bible, even though it draws allusions from many books in the Old Testament.
Where Should I Begin?
As you might suspect, the Bible can be quite a challenge to someone who has never read it before. It is easy to be confused by either the broad span of history or the wide variety of literary styles. There are many different characters in the Bible and they have significance for different reasons. The Bible can consume a lifetime of study and the reader will still have more to learn from the richness of the text. This should not be a source of discouragement, however. The following reading guide will offer a way to understand the major events of the Bible that will help you make sense of them in relation to one another. If you read the books listed in the following order, you will be able to grasp the breadth of the Bible that will prepare you to understand the remaining books in more depth.
Bible Reading Plan
The Bible tells us where we came from. It is good to start at the beginning to know the start from the end. There are many beginning stories in the Bible. These are some of the most important
What you will learn about in this book:
- The creation of the world and humanity and how it came to be in its present state (Chapters 1-11)
- The origin of the Jewish people and their neighbors (Chapters 12 – 23)
- The origin of the Jewish tribes (Chapters 24-50)
What you will learn about in this book:
- The escape from slavery in Egypt and arrival at Sinai (Chapters 1-18)
- The giving of the Law to Moses (Chapters 19-31)
- The establishment of a Jewish worship place (Chapters 32-40)
The gospels tell of the ministry of Jesus Christ. If you read them in the following order, you will have a very good understanding of the ministry of Jesus Christ and the major events of his life:
The Bible also tells us about the history of people and nations as well as the history of the church. This reading plan will highlight some of the important stories in the history of the Jews and the early church.
Joshua – This contains the story of how the Jews conquered the land that God had given to them and set up the boundaries of each tribe.
Judges – This provides an account of an age of heroes that God raised up to deliver the tribes from their oppressors
1 Samuel – This book describes the transition from decentralized tribal governments to a centralized national government including the history of their first king, Saul.
2 Samuel – This book describes the major events of the life of David, their second king, widely considered to be their greatest king.
Acts of the Apostles – This is the history of the early church and sets the context for the remainder of the New Testament
Reading the books of the Bible in this order will help you understand the remainder of the books. It will provide you with a strong foundation for learning about God and his relationship with his people in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The remainder of the Bible builds on this foundation of the apostles and prophets.