OVERVIEW OF THE BIBLE
The Bible is not just one big book, but actually a collection of 66 smaller books written over a period of at least 1600 years by about 40 different authors. Everything they wrote was inspired by God. In the front of your Bible is a Table of Contents which lists the names of all the books in the Bible. The Bible is divided into two sections: the first section which contains three-fourths of the Bible is called the Old Testament, the second section is called the New Testament.
What do the numbers mean? There is a handy abbreviation that Christians use to specify verses in the Bible. They list the name of the book first, followed by the chapter number, and then the verse number. For example John 3:16 means the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16. This way you can quickly and easily locate scriptures.
Books of the Old Testament
The Old Testament reveals to us how God dealt with the nation of Israel. It looks forward to the coming Savior of the world, Jesus. It begins with the book of Genesis and ends with Malachi. It is also divided into four general areas:
The first five Old Testament books are known as the books of the Law or the Pentateuch.
The Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The first five books (Genesis to Deuteronomy) tell us the beginning of man and the establishment of the nation of Israel with the promise of the Savior of the world coming from this chosen people. It not only contains the early history of Israel, but also the Law of God as revealed through Moses. For example, Exodus chapter 20 records the Ten Commandments.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis tell about God. Unlike the pagans of the ancient world, the Hebrew people (later known as Israelites or Jews) believed in only one true God. Through the stories of Creation, The Great Flood and The Tower of Babel we see that God created everything, and He loves and actively sustains all His creation.
The remainder of Genesis tells the history of the patriarchs. The Jews trace their ancestry to a man named Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. The Muslim Arabs also trace their ancestry to Abraham, through his son Ishmael.
Exodus and Numbers tell the story of Moses, who led the Hebrews out of captivity in Egypt around 1300 B.C. They wandered for forty years in the desert before arriving at their Promised Land. During the time in the desert, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.
Leviticus and Deuteronomy discuss the relationship between God and His chosen people, the Hebrews. They also give details of the Law that regulated almost every aspect of Hebrew life.
Moses is traditionally considered to be the author of the Pentateuch, but as with many other books of the Bible, the author and date written are sometimes not known for certain.
The remainder of the Old Testament Books are in sections of Historical Books, Wisdom Books and Book of Prophecy.
The Historical Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
The next twelve books (Joshua to Esther) are the historical books of the nation of Israel after it became a kingdom in Canaan. The historical books tell the history of Israel from the time of Moses until several hundred years before the time of Jesus. After 40 years in the desert, the Hebrews conquered their Promised Land of Canaan. For a time, the tribes of Israel were ruled by a series of judges.
Then, in the eleventh century B.C., came the monarchy with King Saul, David, Solomon and several other kings. Israel suffered a number of military defeats. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. and many captives were taken away to Babylon. Eventually, the people were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and their civilization. Two short books in this section which reveal God's hand on the life of believers, which new Christians may enjoy, are the books of Ruth, and Esther.
The Wisdom Books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
The next five books (Job to Song of Solomon) are the books of poetry and wisdom in the Bible. Psalms, Proverbs, Wisdom contain many sayings of practical wisdom to help live a happy, successful and holy life.
Job and Ecclesiastes deal with the weightier issues of the meaning of life, the existence of evil and our relationship to God.
Song of Solomon is a love song glorifying romantic love between a man and woman, although it is sometimes interpreted allegorically as a story about the love of God for Israel or the Church.
Especially helpful to new believers are the book of Psalms, which was the hymnal or songbook of the nation of Israel; and Proverbs, which contains the sayings and advice of the wisest king Israel had.
The Books of Prophecy: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahm, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
The last seventeen books (Isaiah to Malachi) are the books of the prophets of Israel who God sent to warn, admonish, and encourage his people toward the end of the history of Israel as a nation. Prophecy means speaking the mind of God. Some prophecies predict the future. Others are special messages of instruction or warning from God. The prophets were called by God to give these predictions, messages and warnings to kings, other leaders and the people.
Except for Lamentations each of these books is named for one of the well-known Hebrew prophets, but there were many minor prophets also.
Books of the New Testament
The New Testament (Recommend reading the New Testament first).
The New Testament reveals to us Jesus and the plan of salvation. It begins with the book of Matthew and ends with the book of Revelation. It is divided into four general areas:
The Gospels: The first four books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Tell us the story of Jesus when he was on this earth. The four Gospels tell of the birth, life, ministry, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus was crucified. Matthew and Luke were written between 80 and 90 A.D. Finally, the Gospel of John around 95 A.D.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are very similar. Each author then added some unique material. The Gospel of John is quite different. It is much more of a spiritual and theological work, although it relates many of the same events as the other three Gospels.
A new believer should always start reading the Bible in the first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospels. The book of John is especially easy to understand.
If you are new to the Bible or are a new Christian we highly recommend starting at the Book of John in the New Testament. We have two study guides on the Gospel of John.
Plan 1 - With the 21 days Bible Reading 5 minutes a day challenge, you'll walk with Jesus through the Gospel of John and engage God's Word on a daily basis. It's as easy as reading a chapter a day here.
Plan 2 - This plan is 21 days Bible Reading 15 minutes a day challenge for new Christians and for those searching and people on the go. Start your day by talking to God, reading the Bible and reflecting on your day. We have created a special series of study guides to go along with your daily reading on Gospel of John sent once a day by email for 21 days on the Gospel of John here.
Acts of the Apostles
The Book of Acts tells us the history of the early church after Jesus' death and resurrection. Acts of the Apostles is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, written by the same author. It tells the history of the first 30 years of the Christian Church. The story is mostly centered on the apostles Peter and Paul who were the preeminent leaders of early Christianity.
New Testament Epistles (Letters): Romans,1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation.
The letters (from Romans to Jude) are correspondence from early Christian leaders to other churches or individuals. Many of the New Testament letters (also known as epistles) are traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul. Paul wrote his letters to various Christian communities to instruct and encourage them in the faith and to address specific problems and disputes that had arisen in those communities. Many of the beliefs and practices of Christianity originated from Paul's teachings in these letters.
The book of Revelation tells us the future story of the end time when Jesus will come back to this world and reign on earth. Revelation is also a letter, but it is in the form of apocalyptic literature, which tells a story through symbols, images and numbers. Revelation offers comfort and encouragement to Christians of all ages that God is firmly in control. When the time is right, the forces of evil that seem to dominate our world will be utterly destroyed, and God's eternal kingdom will come into its fulfillment.
Some short letters in the New Testament (also called epistles) which are helpful to new believers are the books of Philippians, James, and 1 John.
More On Bible Study Methods here.
Free Bible Study Guides here.
Study the Bible by Topical Study Methods here.
Study God's Word here.
Bible Study Methods here.
10 Creative Bible Reading Methods here.
Overview of the Books of the Bible here.
Themes of the Bible Books here.