One of the most important--and most basic--things about Bible study is understanding the overall structure of the Bible itself. Bible structure is fairly straightforward, but there might be a few things you’ve never thought of before.
The most obvious division of Bible structure is the two Testaments: the Old and New
The two Testaments are divided because they are addressing two different groups of people. “Testament” means covenant, so these two testaments are recording God’s covenants with the Jewish people (the children of Israel) and the Church (those saved under the new promise of the Cross).
Bible structure: Old Testament
1. The Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)
These five books (also called the Pentateuch by Jewish scholars) are the record of the beginning of humanity, God’s choosing of the Jewish people as His special people, and the law that they were to live by.
2. History (Joshua - Esther)
Covering a large span of history, including the rise and fall of the Jewish nation of Israel, these 12 books give us valuable insight. From the life of David to the faith of Esther, we can learn an awful lot from the examples that God gave us (and some of them were to teach us what not to do. Just sayin’.)
3. Wisdom + Poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon)
Pretty much all of life’s issues are addressed at some point in one of these books. The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun (in Ecclesiastes no less), and it’s absolutely true. People have been having the same problems for ages. And God is still the answer.
4. Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel)
These were the prophets with the largest ministries: the ones that had the most to say and the longest time to say it in. 😉 They were greatly used of God to warn Israel about impending judgement.
5. Minor Prophets (Hosea - Malachi)
These prophets weren’t necessarily under-age. 😉 They had important ministries too, but the span of their ministries were smaller, shorter, and more localized than the Major Prophets’. There is actually a lot of dual-nature prophecies here that relate to future events. Revelation isn’t the only prophecy about end times. 🙂
Bible structure: New Testament
1. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
These books were written specifically to share the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Each author was writing to a specific group of people: Matthew wrote to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks, and John to the church. They also focused on different aspects of Christ’s ministry, which explains the differences in their accounts. (Note that they are differences, not contradictions.)
2. History (Acts)
Simply called “Acts,” the Acts of the Apostles is an account of the formation of the New Testament church after Jesus’ ascension. We can learn a LOT about how missionaries should work from this book, as the majority of it follows Paul on his many missionary journeys. It also gives account of Peter and the original apostles’ ministry in Jerusalem as well as setting the stage for the epistles that follow.
3. Pauline Epistles (1 Corinthians - Philemon + possibly Hebrews)
Even though these kind of sound like boring letters from your Aunt Pauline, it’s actually a scholarly term for the fact that Paul wrote them. The letters with place names were written to the churches in those cities: Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, etc. Back then, they had one church in each city, so Paul could write one letter and all the Christians in the city would get to hear it. Paul also wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to a few of the pastors that he left in charge of those churches. These are the books with people names: 1+2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. The book of Hebrew doesn’t say who wrote it, so some theologians argue over whether Paul did or not, but it is my personal opinion that he did.
These books have most of the doctrines that make up our Christian faith and traditions. Paul was instrumentally used by God to explain how salvation works, how the church works, and how evangelism works. (Plus a whole lot of other stuff that can apply to anything you’re going through in life.)
4. Other Epistles (1 Peter - Jude)
These are the letters not written by Paul. They are named according to who wrote them. (James wrote James, John wrote 1, 2, + 3 John, etc.) There are a lot of good doctrines and practical Christianity in here too. These authors weren’t as busy as Paul, but they were still chosen by God to contribute to His Word.
5. Prophecy (Revelation)
The only book of prophecy in the New Testament, Revelation is a widely misunderstood book because it hasn’t happened yet. (I know, shocker, right? :P) John was given a vision about the end times and he was instructed to write certain things down for us to read and consider. There are tons of ways that people have interpreted it, but the most important thing to remember is this: God wins, Satan loses (spoiler alert!) and we Christians get to live with God forever in heaven. The End. Not too bad, huh? 😉
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