If you need some spiritual direction when it comes to understanding the Bible, this site may be very helpful to you. Here you may find a summary for every book listed in the Bible. Other web sites linked to this page can offer even more insight about the book called "The Word of God."
A Brief Overview of the Bible
*The Bible is divided into two main segments – the Old Testament & the New Testament
The word “testament” is something of a misnomer. It should actually be “Old Covenant” & “New Covenant.” The two divisions represent the Scriptures which pertain to God’s covenant with Israel (Old) & his covenant based on Jesus Christ (New). Both divisions constitute “Scripture” (sacred writings) for the church.
*The Bible contains a total of 66 “books” (documents):
Old Testament: 39 books
New Testament: 27 books
These books were written over a time-span of approximately 2000-3000 years, by about 40 different authors. The names & identities of many of these writers are unknown to us.
*The Old Testament can be divided into 4 distinct groups of writings:
1. Five Books of Law:
GENESIS: Describes the creation of the universe & of humanity. It tells of the rebellion of humans against their Creator & God’s choosing of Abraham & his descendants as a means of ultimately blessing the whole world.
EXODUS: God rescued the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) from slavery in Egypt & led them through the Sinai desert. There he made a covenant with the people, based on the Law he gave to Moses.
LEVITICUS: Specific laws for the Israelites, mostly concerned with holiness & worship.
NUMBERS: Because of their rebellion & disobedience, Israel had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a time of testing before entering the Promised Land.
DEUTERNONOMY: Literally, “Second Law.” Moses re-tells the people what God expects of them, just before they enter the Promised Land.
2. Twelve Books of History:
JOSHUA: After Moses’ death, Joshua becomes leader of the Israelites. They conquer much of the territory in the Promised Land.
JUDGES: The nation repeatedly failed to live up to God’s expectations, so he allowed their enemies to oppress them. When they repented he raised up a series of deliverers known as “Judges.”
RUTH: A story of love & loyalty between a widowed non-Israelite woman & her Israelite mother-in-law, showing that goodness existed even during one of Israel’s darkest periods.
1 SAMUEL: A prophet named Samuel becomes a transitional leader between the Judges & the Kings. He appointed Israel’s first two kings. Saul, the first king, tried violently to prevent David from succeeding him.
2 SAMUEL: David manages to unite the nation & becomes Israel’s greatest king. However, his own sins bring trouble to his family & crisis to the nation.
1 KINGS: Solomon succeeds David as king. He becomes very wise, then behaves very foolishly. After his death, the nation divides into Northern Kingdom (Israel) & Southern Kingdom (Judah).
2 KINGS: Gives the records of the kings of the divided kingdoms, most of whom were evil. None of the northern kings followed God consistently, so the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Judah lasted approximately 150 more years before being defeated by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. A long period of captivity begins.
1 CHRONICLES: Traces many developments in the reigns of Israelite kings, but only those of the Southern Kingdom. Some of this material parallels 2 Samuel.
2 CHRONICLES: Continues tracing the history of the kings of Judah, with special emphasis on the good kings. Parallels much of the Books of Kings.
EZRA: After decades in Babylonian captivity, the Israelites (now often called Jews) were allowed by their Persian captors (who had defeated the Babylonians) to return to their homeland. Ezra, a priest, was the leader of one of these groups of returned exiles.
NEHEMIAH: Another returned exile, Nehemiah led in re-building the city wall of Jerusalem & joined Ezra in leading a religious revival among the people.
ESTHER: A story of captive Jews while still in Persia. A courageous Jewish girl becomes queen & manages to save her people from destruction.
3. Five Books of Poetry (Wisdom Literature):
JOB: The story of the best man in the world, who suffered inexplicable tragedy & loss. Deals with the problem of the experience of evil in human existence, even among those who are righteous.
PSALMS: Prayers & hymns, many written by David, which served as the “hymnbook” of ancient Israel. They offer insight into how we can relate to God during both good & bad times.
PROVERBS: A collection of sayings by various authors which offer guidance for everyday life.
ECCLESIASTES: A man who has tried everything in life reports his findings, concluding that all that matters is to “fear God & keep his commandments.”
SONG OF SONGS: A collection of love poems celebrating romantic & physical love between a man & wife.
4. Seventeen Books of Prophecy:
ISAIAH: Criticizes the people of Judah for their shallow worship & ungodly lifestyle. Foretells defeat to come, but also the certainty of national restoration & the coming of a Messiah who will bring peace.
JEREMIAH: Prophesies to Judah during the years leading up to the destruction & captivity by the Babylonians. A stern message of judgment, yet one that holds out the promise of a “new covenant” that God will make with Israel & Judah.
LAMENTATIONS: Written by an eye-witness of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the writer laments the tragedy that has befallen the nation.
EZEKIEL: Prophesies to the Jews while still in Babylonian captivity. A book of strange visions & symbolism, it warns of God’s coming judgment due to ongoing sin.
DANIEL: Written by a captive in Babylon, Daniel relates his experiences of remaining faithful to God in spite of pressure to do otherwise, then tells of visions which God showed him of the future of the nation & of the world.
HOSEA: Condemns Israel’s “spiritual adultery” against God, as exemplified in Hosea’s marriage to an immoral woman, but shows God’s unfailing love for his wayward people.
JOEL: A recent catastrophic locust plague serves as a symbol of God’s judgment to come upon Judah.
AMOS: A shepherd & dresser of sycamore trees from Judah goes northward to Israel to condemn their material excesses & spiritual indifference toward God.
OBADIAH: Foretells the destruction to come on Edom, a nation bordering Judah, which had failed the test of brotherhood when Judah was overrun by enemies.
JONAH: Summoned to preach to Israel’s enemies, the people of Ninevah, Jonah tries to escape but ends up being swallowed by a great fish. He repents & goes to Ninevah, but is angered when God spares the now-penitent city.
MICAH: Tells both Northern & Southern Kingdoms that God doesn’t want more religion, he wants more righteousness. Foretells the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
NAHUM: The repentance of Ninevah brought about by Jonah’s preaching didn’t last, so Nahum cried out against their violent & idolatrous ways & foretold their eventual destruction.
HABAKKUK: A prophet who speaks to God rather than to God’s people. He questions God’s justice & when he hears God’s reply, he expresses absolute confidence that the Lord will do right.
ZEPHANIAH: Foretells the coming “day of the Lord,” a time of judgment, but also of the formation of a “remnant” of faithful people who will be blessed by the Lord.
HAGGAI: After the return from Babylonian/Persian captivity, the people lagged in rebuilding the temple. Haggai utters specifically-dated oracles urging them to renew their efforts.
ZECHARIAH: Also wrote to encourage rebuilding of the temple. Includes many texts which point to the coming of the Messiah.
MALACHI: After the exile, the nation had grown indifferent toward God. Malachi condemns their apathy & urges them to repent “before the great & terrible day of the Lord comes,” promising that God will bless them if they will only trust him.
The New Testament also can be divided into 4 groups of writings:
1. Four Gospels (“gospel” comes from a Greek word meaning “good news.” Each of these 4 tells the story of Jesus from a particular perspective.):
MATTHEW: Written for a Jewish audience, Matthew shows the link between Jesus & OT history, as well as his fulfillment of numerous prophecies & other Scriptures. The goal is to show that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel, as well as the Savior of “all nations.”
MARK: Written for a Gentile audience, Mark focuses on the power & authority of Jesus. The shortest of the 4 Gospels, it shows through Jesus’ actions that he is in fact the Son of God.
LUKE: Longest of the 4 Gospels, Luke was written by a well-educated Gentile who wanted to demonstrate that Jesus came to be good news for all, but especially for those on the fringes of Jewish society.
JOHN: Whereas Matthew, Mark, & Luke all present Jesus in a similar way, John is different. He presents Jesus as the divine “Word” of God who became flesh in order to reveal God to mankind. He centers his book around 7 “signs” done by Jesus which reveal his true identity & nature.
2. One History of the Church:
ACTS: As a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, Acts shows the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome, & from the confines of Judaism outward to the Gentile world. Luke’s method was not to write a connected history, but to show selected scenes of greatest significance from the church’s first 30 years.
3. Twenty-one Letters:
13 LETTERS by PAUL: Written to various churches & individuals to help them make practical application of the message of Jesus.
ROMANS: A systematic explanation of how God saves sinners & why salvation is necessary, as well as how saved people ought to live & behave toward one another.
1 CORINTHIANS: Paul had a difficult relationship with the church in Corinth, & in this letter he responds to some negative reports about their attitudes & conduct, as well as to a series of questions they had sent to him by letter.
2 CORINTHIANS: Some problems addressed in 1 Corinthians had improved, but there was still opposition to Paul’s authority as an apostle, so he writes a very intense letter which mixes relief with rebuke.
GALATIANS: The churches of Galatia were mostly Gentile, but Jewish Christians were trying to persuade them that they couldn’t be saved without undergoing circumcision. Paul writes to refute that notion & to proclaim the freedom in Christ enjoyed by believers.
EPHESIANS: One of Paul’s letters from prison, Ephesians combines an articulate explanation of the blessings we have in Christ with specific instructions on how the faith should be lived out in the church.
PHILIPPIANS: Writing to a church that he loved dearly, Paul seeks to lift them out of their disgruntled state, & urges them to practice concern for each other & to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
COLOSSIANS: Someone was trying to impose a strange mixture of Jewish & Hellenistic beliefs on the church at Colossae, telling them they were incomplete if they had only Jesus. Paul shows the absolute superiority of Christ, as well as his all-sufficiency.
1 THESSALONIANS: Paul had spent only a few weeks with the young church in Thessalonica before being driven out of town, so he writes to express his love for them, his relief in knowing they are holding to their faith even under persecution, & to address some problems they were confronting.
2 THESSALONIANS: In a follow-up letter to 1 Thessalonians, Paul touches again on questions surrounding the return of Christ & the need for the church to practice discipline among themselves.
1 TIMOTHY: Paul writes to encourage a young protégé to pursue his ministry with vigor & determination, along with giving him instructions on how to set the church in Ephesus in order through the appointment of qualified leaders & insistence on orderly worship.
2 TIMOTHY: Written just before Paul’s execution, this letter continue the themes of 1 Timothy, but closes with a poignant description of Paul’s loneliness as well as his hope as he faced death.
TITUS: Paul had left another young protégé, Titus, in Crete to perform the difficult task of refuting false teaching & setting the church there in order. This letter gives both encouragement & instructions.
PHILEMON: The shortest & most personal of all of Paul’s letters, Philemon concerns the return of a runaway slave, Onesimus, to his Christian master who was also a close friend of Paul’s. What Paul says helped revolutionize the Christian view of slavery.
8 GENERAL LETTERS (written by others than Paul):
HEBREWS: Not actually a letter, this sermon/essay on the superiority of Christ over the Jewish system presents Jesus as our great High Priest who offered the ultimate sacrifice for sins, “once for all.”
JAMES: A very practical letter of instruction to a group of Jewish Christians facing hard times, but who needed to recognize that this was no excuse for not doing what is right.
1 PETER: A letter of encouragement to Christians facing persecution, instructing them how to live as “aliens & exiles” in this world, which is not their/our true home.
2 PETER: A warning against the inroads of false teachers, as well as words of encouragement in view of Christ’s ultimate return.
1 JOHN: False teachers had presented an unacceptable view of Jesus & had left the churches to whom John wrote in disarray. John writes both to refute the false teachings & to reassure the faithful of their standing with God.
2 JOHN: A one-chapter letter to an unidentified recipient, warning against false teachers who deny the true nature of Christ.
3 JOHN: Another one-chapter letter of encouragement to a believer named Gaius, reassuring him that the antics of a rebellious church member named Diotrephes will not go undisciplined.
JUDE: A brief letter of reassurance concerning the ultimate doom of those who disturb people’s faith through false teaching, based on God’s judgments as recorded in the Old Testament.
4. One Book of Prophecy:
REVELATION: Through visions & symbols, John reassures his readers of ultimate victory through Christ, in spite of opposition from both Jewish & Roman persecutors.
*Why study the Bible?
1. In order to know the God who created us.
2. In order to know how to live in this world in the best possible way.
3. In order to find salvation so that we can live forever in God’s presence.
4. Because it was “breathed out” by God (is “inspired”) & is our only way of knowing for certain what he desires from us. See 2 Timothy 3:14-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Romans 15:1-6. (Note: The last text shows that the Old Testament is equally as important for Christians as is the New Testament & ought not to be neglected in our study of the Bible.)