The Bible is the sacred book of Christianity. It tells of the working of God throughout human history and his plan for humanity. This series of articles provides a topical guide of how to understand the Bible.
A. The Bible’s Two Main Divisions
The Christian Bible adopted the sacred book of the Jews as its own. This Hebrew Bible (a title used to reflect the language in which it is mostly written) is called the Old Testament (OT) by Christians. “Testament” is another word for “covenant” or “agreement.” For Christians, this title represents the way that God dealt with the nation of Israel (today known as Jews) before the coming of Jesus.
After Jesus, Jews who were convinced that he was the Jewish Messiah (which means “anointed one”—translated into Greek as “Christ”) began to form their own religious communities. They told the story of Jesus and reflected on how he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. This led to a series of writings that is called the New Testament. It completes the Old Testament.
B. The Old Testament
The OT is not a single book. It is actually a collection of books written over hundreds of years by many different authors. Most of these authors are anonymous. Jewish tradition has tried to name many of these authors.
There are different types of books in the Old Testament. History, laws, poetry, and prophecy are the main types. Some books have more than one type within them.
These books are written in Hebrew, except for a few chapters in Ezra and Daniel. These sections are written in Aramaic, a closely related language to Hebrew. The use of Aramaic makes sense in this context. This is the list of Old Testament books that you will see in most Christian Bibles:
9. 1 Samuel
10. 2 Samuel
11. 1 Kings
12. 2 Kings
13. 1 Chronicles
14. 2 Chronicles
22. Song of Songs
Minor Prophets (The Twelve):
C. The New Testament
The New Testament was written by leaders in the early church. It is written entirely in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire in that time. The books either name their author or have a solid tradition relating to who wrote it (with the exception of Hebrews). The time period for their writing was very short—about 50 years.
Paul’s Letters (also called Epistles)
7. 1 Corinthians
8. 2 Corinthians
13. 1 Thessalonians
14. 2 Thessalonians
15. 1 Timothy
16. 2 Timothy
Other Letters (or Epistles):
21. 1 Peter
22. 2 Peter
23. 1 John
24. 2 John
25. 3 John
The Bible contains 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. These books were written by dozens of authors over a 1000+ year period. The next articles will give more detail about its content. A later article will address how and why they came to be collected.
Bob Caldwell, PhD, is Theologian-in-Residence at Network 211.