IN ONE broad sweep on these pages you can see the Bible’s organization, continuity and main thrust. Capsule summaries of each book will help you “think through” the Bible and put details into their context. For those fairly new to the Bible this article should lay a valuable foundation for further study in the years to come. For others, it should be a good review.
The Old Testament
Genesis: The “book of beginnings.” Records the beginning of the universe, man, the Sabbath, marriage, sin, sacrifice, nations, government. First eleven chapters focus on events, the others on people: Abraham (12-23), Isaac (24-27), Jacob (28-36) and Joseph (36-50). Book closes in Egypt.
Exodus: How Israel became a nation, with Moses as leader. In bondage (1) Israel is delivered (2-14) and journeys to Mt. Sinai (15-18) where the Law is given (19-24). Chapter 20 contains the Ten Commandments, 21-24 social regulations, 25-40 religious instructions.
Leviticus: A “manual of worship” for Israel under the law. Theme of how a sinful people can approach a holy God points also to the coming of Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God.”
Numbers: Records Israel’s nearly forty years of wandering in the wilderness, a result of disobedience. Title comes from two “numberings” or censuses taken during the long trek.
Deuteronomy: In large part a review of the laws set forth by Moses in Exodus and Leviticus. Also records the Palestinian Covenant (27-30) and the close of Moses’ life (33-34).
Joshua: In three brilliant campaigns Joshua, successor of Moses, leads the people into the Promised Land. Chapters 1-12 record the conquest of Canaan, 13-24 its division among the twelve tribes.
Judges: Mingling with the Canaanites, Israel strayed from God after Joshua’s death, doing “that which was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). God raised up judges, or military rulers, to deliver them. Believed written by Samuel.
Ruth: The warm story of Ruth, a woman of Moab, an idolatrous Gentile nation, who chooses to serve the God of Israel and becomes the great grandmother of king David. Written during time of the judges.
1 Samuel: The rise of Israel under monarchy. Book centers around three persons: Samuel, last of the judges (1-7); Saul, the first king (8-15); and David, who succeeded a disobedient Saul (16-31).
2 Samuel: The forty-year reign of king David – seven years over Judah in Hebron (1-4), 33 years over all Israel from Jerusalem (5-24). The height of Israel’s glory.
1 Kings: King Solomon’s reign (1-11); the kings of the divided kingdom (12-22) through the reigns of Ahab in the north and Jehoshaphat in the south.
2 Kings: The final decline and fall of Israel (722 B.C.) and then Judah (586 B.C.). Key book in giving the historical setting for the Old Testament Prophetical books. 1 and 2 Kings cover 400 years. Author may have been Jeremiah.
1 Chronicles: The reign of king David and preparations for building the temple. Time period parallels 2 Samuel. Believed written by Ezra the priest and scribe.
2 Chronicles: Continues Israel’s history through Solomon’s reign (1-9), then focuses on the southern kingdom (10-36). Closes with decree of the Cyrus. Parallels 1 and 2 Kings, but emphasizes the religious rather than political aspect.
Ezra: The return of the Jews from Babylon after the decree of Cyrus (536 B.C.) – one group under Zerubbabel (1-6) and another 78 years later under Ezra (7-10). The temple rebuilt.
Nehemiah: The rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls under Nehemiah, begun about fourteen years after Ezra’s return.
Esther: God’s providential deliverance of the Jews through Esther and Mordecai during time when many of them had dispersed throughout Persian empire after decree of Cyrus.
Psalms: The believer’s communion with God in prayer, praise. David wrote at least half of these. One-fourth of the New Testament quotations are from Psalms. Some psalms are Messianic-foretelling of Christ.
Proverbs: Divine wisdom applied to the practical problems of everyday life. Written by Solomon.
Ecclesiastes: The futility of life from a human perspective – or philosophical approach – apart from God. Solomon the author.
Song of Solomon: The blissful romance of Solomon and his Shulamite bride. Can represent God’s love for Israel and prophetic of Christ and the Church.
Isaiah: Warns of coming Judgment against Judah (southern kingdom), which indeed materialized when the country later fell to the Babylonians. Written during the decline and fall of Israel (northern kingdom) to the Assyrians. Chapters 1-39 focus on God’s judgment, 40-66 on His comfort. Much of Isaiah is Messianic.
Jeremiah: Written during the later decline and fall of Judah (southern kingdom) to the Babylonians. Jeremiah saw doom and urged surrender to Nebuchadnezzar.
Lamentations: Jeremiah’s lament over Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem. Also portrays God’s lament over this necessary act of divine chastisement.
Ezekiel: Writes first of Jerusalem’s impending fall (586 B.C.), then foretells its future restoration (33-48). Book is highly prophetic.
Daniel: The prophet Daniel also captured during early siege of Judah, wrote from Babylon. Book divides into the historic (1-6) and the prophetic (7-12). The foundational book in understanding Bible prophecy, especially the book of Revelation.
Hosea: Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah. Theme is Israel’s unfaithfulness, chastisement, restoration.
Joel: One of the earliest of the prophetic writings (perhaps around 825 B.C.). Locust plague foreshadows future judgment in the “Day of the Lord.”
Amos: In a period of material prosperity but moral decay, Amos tells Israel and surrounding nations of God’s inevitable judgment on sin.
Obadiah: God’s judgment against Edom, a nation located south of the Dead Sea and descended from Esau.
Jonah: Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire, turns to God under Jonah’s reluctant preaching. Shows God’s love and plan for the Gentiles.
Micah: Another prophecy against Israel’s sins by a contemporary of Isaiah. Foretells the birthplace of Christ 700 years before.
Nahum: Foretells the impending destruction of Nineveh spared some 150 years earlier under Jonah’s preaching.
Habakkuk: Reveals God’s plan to punish a sinful nation by an even more sinful one. Teaches “the just shall live by faith.”
Zephaniah: Judgment on Judah prefigures the “Day of the Lord,” but restoration also prophesied. Theme similar to Joel.
Haggai: First minor prophet after the exile. Jews urged to resume rebuilding of temple after fifteen-year delay from enemy resistance.
Zechariah: Further urging to complete the temple and nourish spiritual depth. Foretells Christ’s first and second comings.
Malachi: Exhorts against spiritual shallowness. Foretells coming of John the Baptist, Christ. The Bible’s 400-year “silence” that followed was broken when these two figures finally appeared on the world scene.
The New Testament
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Matthew: The promised Messiah’s arrival and His ultimate rejection. Emphasizes Jesus Christ as King. Directed especially to the Jews. Quotes heavily from the Old Testament. “Fulfill” a key word.
Mark: The most concise of the four Gospels. Emphasizes Jesus Christ as the Servant of Jehovah. Begins with his ministry, not his birth. Directed especially to the Romans. Key word “immediately” denotes action.
Luke: Most detailed of the Gospels, reflecting a historian’s skill. Presents Jesus Christ as the perfect Man, the Savior of imperfect men.
John: Somewhat distinct from the other three (Synoptic) Gospels in coverage, yet harmonious with them. Stresses Jesus Christ as the Son of God, author of eternal life. Written later – about A.D. 90.
Acts: The early growth of Christianity from Christ’s ascension to Paul’s Roman imprisonment – about 33 years. Stresses work of Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. Chapters 1-12 focus around Peter, 13-28 on Paul. Luke the author.
2 Corinthians: Speaks of the true gospel ministry (1-7), stewardship (8, 9), Paul’s apostolic authority (10-13).
Galatians: Counteracts the error of mixing law and faith. Theme of “justification by faith” parallels the stress of Romans.
Philippians: Stresses the joy of the Christian experience. (Background on the church at Philippi, first one in Europe, is in Acts 16.)
1 Thessalonians: Counsel in Christian living and emphasis upon the Lord’s return. (Founding of church at Thessalonica described in Acts 17).
2 Thessalonians: Further clarification of the Lord’s return and what it should mean in daily life.
1 Timothy: First of the three “pastoral epistles.” Stresses sound doctrine, orderly church government, principles to guide the church in the centuries to come.
2 Timothy: Describes the true servant of Jesus Christ. Warns of apostasy already set in. Stresses the Word of God as the remedy for all error.
Titus: Paul’s letter to a young minister on the island of Crete. Again, he stresses sound doctrine and a godly life.
Philemon: Paul’s intercession for the runaway slave of a wealthy Colossian Christian. Illustrates Christ’s intercession for us.
Hebrews: Presents the absolute pre-eminence of Jesus Christ and Christianity’s superiority over Judaism. Christ is the Great High Priest, the one mediator between God and man.
James: First of the general epistles. Teaches that true faith produces works. Does not contradict the doctrine that salvation is by faith alone – as some have charged.
1 Peter: A letter of comfort and encouragement to Christians – especially those suffering attack from those without (non-Christians).
2 Peter: A warning against the dangers from within – false teaching which had already gained a toehold. Written shortly before Peter’s death; theme is similar to Paul’s last letter before his death (2 Timothy).
3 John: Warning against refusing fellowship with those who are true believers.
Jude: Another warning against apostasy and false doctrine. Theme is similar to that of 2 Peter.
Revelation: The revelation of Jesus Christ in the climactic events of world history. Amplifies Daniel and other prophetic Old Testament passages. Book outlines itself in the Lord’s own words to the author, John (Rev. 1:19): “Write the things which you have seen (1), and the things which are (2, 3), and the things which shall be hereafter” (4-22).
The Bible’s Unity
From the account of Creation in Genesis to the prophetic record of future events in Revelation the Bible gives us a sweeping picture of God’s dealings with man. It does not record what man thinks about God, but what God has to say to man – about sin and its consequences, about God’s justice and mercy and love, and about His Son.
It is impossible to understand this full sweep of God’s revelation without knowing the relationship between the Old Testament and the New. Each is essential to the other. The New completes and fulfills the Old (Matt. 5:17). And the Old is the foundation for the New (it is estimated that the Old Testament is quoted or alluded to over 600 times in the New).
Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the world was, is the Book’s central figure. The world was made by Him and for Him (Col. 1:16) and world history will culminate in Him (Rev. 11:15). The Old Testament looks forward to Him. The New reveals Him … the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5).
The harmony and unity of the Bible – though written by about forty authors (whose writings God superintended) over a period of some two thousand years – is a tremendous argument for the Bible’s divine nature and authority.
MOODY MONTHLY, edited by Campus Christians