The Bible contains two main parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament tells the history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people while the New Testament tells the story of God bringing the Gentiles into His kingdom along with the Jews.
Both of these parts are actually about the same thing. They both focus on Jesus, the Son of God, Who came to be a sacrifice and enabled God to have a relationship with sinful man. In Luke 24:27, we read what Jesus said about it:
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Again in Acts 3:18, we read what Peter says about it:
But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
That is the basic story of all sixty-six books in the Bible. Let’s take a look at each part a little more in-depth.
The Old Testament is organized differently in our Bibles today than it was in the Hebrew Bible. We will look at both ways of organizing the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament.
The Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible, including what Jesus and His disciples would have used, was divided into three main parts:
- The Law
- The Prophets
- The Writings
While they are organized differently than our Bibles organize them, they are the same thirty-nine books we have in our Old Testaments.
The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the books of the Law. The Jews call these books, the Torah. They are sometimes called the Pentateuch, which just means “five books.” They were all written by Moses. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
They tell the story of the beginning of mankind and how they fell into sin. They include stories of some particular people who God used. They end with God bringing about His plan to establish a special nation through which His Son would be born much later.
They are called The Law because they contain the law God gave to this special nation, Israel. They also contain some law that God has given for all mankind long before He established this nation.
The prophets included two divisions:
- The Former Prophets
- The Latter Prophets
The Former Prophets contained Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. The Latter Prophets contained Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as what was known as “The Twelve.” The Twelve were the twelve books we call the Minor Prophets in our Bibles. Notice that Daniel was not included in their list of the prophets. He is in the last division.
The Writings contained all the other books of the Old Testament.
Jesus mentions these divisions in Luke 24:44:
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
While “the Writings” are not mentioned by name, Psalms is part of that division.
The “Christian” Bible
The Bibles we use are divided into five main divisions. They are:
- Books of the Law (of Moses)
- Books of History
- Books of Wisdom (or Books of Poetry)
- Books of the Major Prophets
- Books of the Minor Prophets
Books of the Law
The books of the Law in our Bibles are the same five books that are called “The Law” in the Hebrew bible, written by Moses.
Books of History
Our books of History are from Joshua through Esther. These are the books that focus mostly on the telling the history of the Jews, without much prophecy of the future or giving of new law from God.
Books of Wisdom (Poetry)
The books of Wisdom or Poetry are from Job through the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). These books are all written in a poetic way (as are some of the books of prophecy) and focus on giving wisdom from God to man. The book of Psalms is of particular importance as it was the song book for the Jews and also contained several prophecies about Jesus.
Books of the Major and Minor Prophets
The only real difference between the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets is the length of the books. The books of the Major Prophets are longer than the books of the Minor Prophets. It is not about how important the books are or the prophets who wrote them.
The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are divided into four main sections:
- The Gospels
- The Book of History
- The Epistles (Letters)
- The Book of Prophecy
The word gospel means good news and The Gospels tell us about very specific good news (the best news). They are about the story of Jesus coming to earth and living among men as an example and a teacher. While He was here, He gave plenty of proof that He was the Christ that the Old Testament prophesied about. Then we see the ultimate purpose of His coming in His dying as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone.
There are four books that tell the same story, but focus on different aspects of what Jesus did and said. These are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Book of History
While The Gospels are books that tell us history, they are categorized differently because they focus on the life of one man, Jesus. The one book that is categorized as “History” is the book of Acts. It is about the history of the early church and focuses on how the gospel of salvation went throughout the whole earth.
The Epistles (Letter)
The word epistle is just a fancy word for letter. These are the letters from Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and whoever wrote Hebrews to churches and individuals. They contain much of the direct teaching about what Christ expects from His people.
The Book of Prophecy
While prophecy of the future can be found in several New Testament books, the one book that is all about prophesying the future (especially the near future for the Christians at that time), is the book of Revelation, written by the apostle John as an older man, and almost certainly the last book to be written.
What is important for us to understand about the way our Bibles are organized is that they are organized by style of writing more than by time in which they were written. They are not organized to be read from beginning to end in order. Some of them overlap in time, as well.
Each book was written on its own, not as part of a collection. The exceptions are 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, where each pair of books was originally one book and was divided into two parts because of its length.
Each book was included in the Bible because it was written by the inspiration of God. The way they are organized is not inspired by God and is simply an accepted organization to help us understand better what the books are about.