If you are going to learn to study the Bible, one of the first things that you will want to do is get a firm grasp on some basics. One of the basics is learning how the Bible is organized related to the Testaments and the placement of books within each Testament. The Bible is divided into two testaments: the Old and the New. In addition, you will want to know what type of literature each book is and a general understanding of the theme of each book. In this first post, I will give a general overview of the Old Testament and include some key knowledge you will want to know before beginning serious Bible study.
The arrangement of the Old Testament books is basically the same for most English translations. The books of the Old Testament are grouped under four main headings: law, history, wisdom literature, and prophecy.
The books of the Law are also known as The Books of Moses or The Mosaic Law because Moses was the human author of all of these books. It is also known as The Pentateuch (Greek for “five-volumed”). These books contain the history of Israel beginning with the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) and ending with the nation on the threshold of the Promised Land. Most of the content of these books is history, or what we might call stories or narrative literature. However, there are strands of other types of literature contained within also. There are five books within this section:
Genesis The beginning of the world and the nation of Israel.
Exodus Israel’s redemption from Egypt to receiving the law at Sinai.
Leviticus Israel’s need for the atonement of sins and personal holiness.
Numbers Israel’s wilderness wanderings teaches them the consequences of obedience and disobedience.
Deuteronomy Moses reviews the Law for Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
There are twelve books within the historical section of the Old Testament. This section describes Israel’s entry into the Promised Land under Joshua and culminates in Judah’s return from exile in Babylon. These books span approximately 1,000 years of history. They are historical narrative books that primarily describe the history of Israel under its rulers and kings.
Joshua Israel enters and occupies the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.
Judges Israel repeatedly commits apostasy, yet God is faithful to deliver the nation.
Ruth God is good and sovereign amidst difficulty even to those outside of the nation of Israel.
1 Samuel God guides the nation as it receives its first king and languishes under wicked leadership.
2 Samuel The nation of Israel thrives and suffers under the leadership of David, its greatest king.
1 Kings Israel rebels against God then splits before God sends the prophet Elijah to rebuke the wicked King Ahab.
2 Kings The nation of Israel collapses from within while the prophet Elisha brings the word of the Lord.
1 Chronicles A record of God’s faithfulness to Israel under the reign of King David.
2 Chronicles A record of God’s faithfulness to Israel under the reign of King Solomon.
Ezra Being released from Babylonian captivity, Israel is to be faithful to the Lord as Ezra leads them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and keep the Mosaic law.
Nehemiah Being released from Babylonian captivity, Israel is to be faithful to the Lord as Nehemiah leads them rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and keep the Mosaic law.
Esther God in His sovereignty uses Esther, a Jewish girl who became a Persian queen, to preserve His chosen people, Israel.
These books are known as Wisdom Literature, the Poetical Books or Poetry. The wisdom books relate to Israel’s spiritual life. These books were to teach Israel how to possess godly wisdom and how to suffer well. Christians have turned to these books for thousands of years in times of suffering and also in times when they needed God’s wisdom. There are five books within this section:
Job God has a purpose when the righteous suffer.
Psalms Songs to be sung to God amidst all seasons of life.
Proverbs Godly wisdom to navigate a life that will honor God.
Ecclesiastes Life has no meaning if it is not lived for God.
Song of Solomon Marital love is to be enjoyed and celebrated.
This section is also known as the Prophectical Books, the Books of the Prophets and the Books of Prophecy. This section is subdivided into the major and minor prophets simply based on the length of the book, not its importance. These men prophesied before, during, and after the exile of Israel and Judah to Babylon. They ministered from approximately 760 BC until 460 BC, and some ministered to Israel or Judah at the same time.
Isaiah Israel will suffer because of its disobedience but it will experience future glory.
Jeremiah God will bring inescapable judgment upon Israel through the Babylonian Captivity because of rebellion.
Lamentations Jeremiah weeps because his beloved city of Jerusalem has been destroyed.
Ezekiel Israel is told that God is holy as Ezekiel vindicates God’s reputation.
Daniel God is sovereign over history and the empires of the world.
Hosea Israel’s unfaithfulness cannot break God’s redeeming love for the nation.
Joel Repent because of the day of the Lord is coming.
Amos The judgment of God is certain on Israel and its enemies.
Obadiah Edom will be judged because of how it treated Israel.
Jonah God is not only gracious to Israel and a reluctant prophet, but He is also compassionate to pagans.
Micah Disobedience to God brings His judgment, yet He will forgive.
Nahum Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, will be destroyed.
Habakkuk Triumphant faith amidst difficulty and misunderstanding.
Zephaniah The day of the Lord is coming in which God will judge the sinner and bless the obedient.
Haggai God’s people should be faithful to rebuild the temple and be assured of His presence with them in Jerusalem.
Zechariah God’s people must recognize that their work of rebuilding the temple is bound up with God’s plan to bring their Messiah.
Malachi Judah is called to repent from its dead worship and return to faithfulness to God.
You have made a commitment to start studying the Bible and possibly sharing what you’ve learned. Where do you begin? Begin with a basic knowledge of the Bible. This basic knowledge includes how books of the Old Testament are grouped together and the major theme of each. Think about these simple questions:
- Can I name the books of the Old Testament in order?
- Do I know how the books of the Old Testament are grouped together in sections?
- What are the names of these sections?
- Am I able to give a brief theme for each book?