A LITTLE GUIDE TO
UNDERSTANDING YOUR BIBLE

THE BIG PICTURE

If you pick up your Bible and start reading in the beginning it might seem fine at first. But pretty soon you’re reading geneaology lists and instructions for building a tabernacle. And then you jump to battle stories, to poetry, to vivid warnings to God’s people, then you read Jesus’ life story...four times in a row...why isn’t the Bible in order?

Most books you’ve read have one, maybe two authors. But because God used so many people to write the Bible, getting a “big picture” becomes more difficult. It helps to get two basic overviews: the “plot”, what happens in the Bible, and the “order”, how the Bible is organized.

THE PLOT: A Timeline of Major Events and Time Periods

1. THE BEGINNING
The Bible begins at the very beginning...of everything. It tells us that God created the earth, including the first people, Adam and Eve. These two had a close relationship with God until they chose to follow their own desires instead of God’s. Sin has been causing all sorts of trouble for us ever since. God began planning a way to undo the trouble it caused.

2. MEET THE FOUNDING FATHERS
God wanting some people to call His own that would play a part in carrying out His plan to save us from sin. So God chose Abraham. He was living in modern-day Iraq when God asked him to move to modern-day Israel. Abraham had a son named Issac, who had a son named Jacob. Later in life, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. These are the guys the nation of Israel -- or Israelites -- came from.

3. A LITTLE TRIP TO EGYPT
Jacob (Israel) and his family move to Egypt during a severe famine and stick around longer then they probably intended. As they grow in number, they wind up becoming slaves of the Egyptians.

4. TAKING THE “SCENIC ROUTE”
God uses one of these Israelites, Moses, to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt. Over a million of them head north to the land God promised to give them, taking a 40 year detour in modern-day Saudi Arabia for an attitude adjustment. God used this “detour” as an opportunity to give them laws for their new nation.

5. HOME SWEET HOME
After serving their time in the desert, Moses handed his leadership over to Joshua, who led the Israelites into the “Promised Land” of modern-day Israel. As they established their place in the land, God used them to route out the evil in the land.

6. ONE NATION UNDER GOD
The Israelites were ruled by God, who used people called “judges” to uphold His standards and lead the people.

7. THE GOLDEN AGE
The Israelites decide they want a “real” king. Saul, the first king, was later replaced by David, the nation’s greatest king. Israel was at the peak of success during the time that David and his son, Solomon, ruled.

8. THE GREAT DIVIDE
The kings became corrupt and the country split: Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Both countries began serving other gods and after many years, God used the Assyrian and Babylonian nations to punish them. They were exiled to modern day Iraq, and later returned.

9. HE’S FINALLY HERE!
God sends His solution to our sin problem: His son, Jesus. Jesus takes our punishment of death upon himself when He dies on the cross...and shows the victory over sin He provides by coming back to life.

10. START SPREADING THE NEWS
Jesus goes back to God in heaven, and those who believe Him gather together, forming the early church. Early church leaders like Paul, Peter, and James spread the good news of Jesus and strengthen the church.

THE ORDER: Understanding How the Bible is Organized

Even though the Bible has a clear “plot”, the various styles of writing make it nearly impossible to put “in order”. One author might be writing a historical account of nation of Israel, while another is writing down what God has to say about the spiritual condition of the people at the time. So instead of being arranged in exact chronologial order, the Bible is categorized by the style of writing, and then chronologically (typically) within each section.

The books of the Bible are divided into the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament covers the beginning of time until about 300 years before Jesus’ birth. In it we learn more about who God is and His desire to know and love us. The New Testament covers Jesus life until about 60 years after his death. Here, God reveals His plan to restore our relationship with Him and save us from sin.

THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Law
Books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

These books cover the origins of the Jewish race and culture, and includes the laws that God established for the Israelites. Genesis is mostly narrative, with the remaining books containing mostly rules for the Jewish religion and society with a few stories scattered throughout.

History
Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

These books contain the history of the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land until they return from exile. The books contain many exciting stories, but were also “record books” for the nation, so there are lists of people and places that have little significance for most modern readers. Although the books within this section are in chronological order, some overlap and some periods of history are not covered.

Poetry
Books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)

The poetry in these books are raw expressions of real life. With songs of praise to God, asking Him “why?”, crying out for help, words of wisdom and conclusions about life and love, these books show people expressing genuine thoughts and feelings that reflect who God is and how we are to relate to Him.

Prophecy
Books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

God used prophets to get messages across to His people. These prophets relied on memorable communication methods, because not everyone could read or had access to writings. Some prophets “acted out” God’s message and some used poetic language, both of which would leave a lasting impression for listeners.

THE NEW TESTAMENT

History
Books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts

The first four books, the gospels, cover Jesus’ life and ministry. They are separate narrative accounts that focus on various aspects, but many stories overlap. Acts contains a history of the early church.

Letters
Books: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation

Apostles, those sent by Jesus to minister to the early church, wrote letters (also called epistles) to individuals and churches to encourage and instruct them in their faith. Revelation is unique from the other epistles because of its apocalyptic/prophetic style.

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M. Schmidt © 2005