The Divisions of the Bible: A Starting Place

The Bible is a library of 66 books, composed over a period of fifteen hundred  years. The authors involved in this inspired anthology come from a variety of  backgrounds, locations, historical situations, professions, and ethnicities.

While each book has its individual purpose, each work develops the overarching theme that humanity is the creation of an eternal Creator, and due to personal sin has fallen spiritually. This fallen state is addressed both historically and theologically in the development of the scheme of redemption, finally materializing in the ministry of Jesus.

In order to appreciate this history of redemption and the books of the Bible, it is vital to have a working knowledge of the divisions of the Bible. Moreover, a better understanding of the Bible improves one’s comprehension of sermons and Bible classes. The following is an extremely brief sketch to the Bible and its arrangement of content as we have it in our modern Bibles.

Chronological Divisions

The Patriarchal Period

The name of this period derives from the method God communicated his will, by  speaking the “fathers” of the family (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.); hence, the term “patriarch” which means “the male head of a family” (Heb 1:1). The biblical content covering this period is Genesis 1-50 and Exodus 1-19, that of the creation and the fall, the flood, and the call of Abraham to be in covenant with God and to be the father of “many nations”.

Through the nation of Israel, God would bring about the redemptive “seed” (Jesus, Gal 3:15-16) to bless all the nations of the world (Gen 12:3). Moreover, this covenant promise was reiterated to Isaac (Gen 26:1-5), Jacob/Israel (Gen 35:9-15), and the children of Israel after the exodus from Egypt on Mt. Sinai.

The Hebrew Period

While technically the story of the Hebrews in the biblical record goes back to Abraham the Hebrew (Gen 14:13), as a major division of the biblical story the Hebrew period reflects the story of God and His covenant people Israel (cf. Acts 7:2-53). This period covers Exodus 20-Malachi, and the time period of the ministry of Jesus (Matt–John). The historical story of the Exodus transitions into the giving of the Law at Sinai.

During this period, Israel received “the law”, wandered in the wilderness for forty years, conquered and settled into the Promised Land, transitioned from a theocracy (where God ruled through prophets) to a monarchy (where God ruled through kings). This period also covers the history of the divided kingdoms of Israel (North) and Judah (South) and their eventual demise. The kingdom and the covenant were both to be superseded by a new kingdom (Dan 2:44-45), and a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34); the design of which was to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus (Gal 3:19-29; Heb 9:11-28).

The Christian Period

The Christian Period technically begins upon he death of Jesus of Nazareth, when the “testament” came into effect (Heb 9:16-17); however, the teaching of Jesus as it anticipated the Christian era is found in the Gospel Narratives and occurred while under the Law of Moses was still in effect (Matt–John; Gal 4:4-6). Moreover, the confirmation of this “new” testament was accomplished in Christ by God in the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4-5; Acts 2:14-36; 1 Cor 15:1-11).

This period begins then with the establishment of Christianity in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and continues on through the expansion of the Christian faith not only geographically (Acts 1:8) but also ethnically (Acts 2:39, 10:28, 11:18). The Christian era will continue, time-wise, until the return of Jesus, at the Second Coming (Matt 28.20; 1 Cor 15:22-28); and at this time the present world will dissolve away and we will be with our God (2 Pet 3:8-13; 1 Thess 4:13-18).

Division of Books by Category

The following is a listing of the books of the Bible according to category, along with a useful numeric memory tool to learn the divisions of each section.

The 39 Old Testament Books (5, 12, 5, 5, 12)

Books of Moses (5). Written by Moses to provide the origins of the human family, the Hebrew nation, and incorporates the Law of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

Hebrew History (12). Follows the story of Joshua and the conquest and settlement of Canaan to the rise and demise of the Hebrew Kingdom, and the exile into Babylon and their return (Joshua, JudgesRuth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther).

Hebrew Poetry (5). A series of volumes set in Hebrew poetic prose, written by a number of authors, designed to impart divine wisdom and perspective (Job, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of SolomonProverbs).

Major Prophets (5). Popularly so-called due to the size of each work, and not for their spiritual value. (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel).

Book of the Twelve (12). Grouped together from ancient times, the “Minor” prophets are brief volumes that pack spiritual “punch” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, HabakkukZephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Both the Major and the Minor Prophets are from various time periods, these works contain words of woes, judgments, and hope; moreover, they provide a great wealth of messianic prophecies.

The 27 New Testament Books (4, 1, 21, 1)

Gospel Narratives (4). Written to chronicle the teaching and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, his rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. Two of the four authors are apostles (Matthew, John), one known to be an associate of Paul (Luke), and the other believe to be of Peter (Mark).

Acts of Apostles (1). As the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, Acts covers the beginning of the church, its expansion from Jerusalem to Rome; a period of some 30 plus years.

Apostolic Letters (21). Written to churches and individuals teaching and exhorting  Christian to live faithful; furthermore, the letters address false teachings and local issues (Roman, 1-2 CorinthiansGalatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, TitusPhilemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude).

Revelation (1). Addressed to seven churches in Asia, this final “revelation” is a message of victory of God and His people over their enemies. It is rich in apocalyptic language, much like Daniel, Ezekiel, and other prophetic books.

Concluding Thoughts

When Vince Lombardi took the helm of the coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers, it is said that he gave a speech which established clearly the importance of the basics. It runs as follows:

“Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of football.

The team became very successful, and this anecdote reminds us of the importance of getting back to basics. Understanding the fundamental components of the Bible are essential to obtaining the wisdom needed to know what to do to be saved (2 Tim 3:13-14). May we all be so blessed.

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