A quick introduction to the Bible

The Bible is a Story. It is the Story of God’s great love for humanity, and His quest to rescue and redeem His creation. This narrative recounts God’s activity in the world. And strange as it seems, invites us to participate in it. The goal of Bible reading is not to just dig out principles of truth, but to dive into the Story itself.

The Bible is divided into two major parts, The Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament tells the story of God’s engagement with humanity from the Creation story up to about 400 years before the birth of Jesus.

The New Testament is all about Jesus. In fact, He is the “New Testament” (or demonstration) of God’s incredible love for the world. It begins with the birth of Jesus, follows Him through His life and ministry, His death and resurrection, and the worldwide movement that is sparked in His name.

To distinguish the second section as “New” does not remove the significance of the “Old.” They are intricately connected, with each part shedding light on the other. For instance, the teachings and actions of Jesus in the Gospels are profound and powerful when read as stand alone stories. But read them through the lens of the Old Testament prophets, or in light of the OT story of Moses, and suddenly new layers of meaning take shape in a breathtaking way.

Each of these two major parts is also broken into several different sections.

The Old Testament
Pentateuch: Pentateuch simply means 5 books. They are the first five books of the Old Testament. The first is Genesis, which introduces us to the story of Creation, as well as several major figures in Israel’s history. The other four books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) focus on Moses. They tell the story of how God used Moses to lead Israel out of slavery under the empire of Egypt. They also include the intricate Laws that God handed down to Moses. These Laws set the people of Israel apart from their contemporaries, a symbol to the world that there was something different and unmistakable about this peculiar people.

History: The history books are written in narrative form, tracing the story of Israel from the end of the life of Moses (Joshua, Judges, Ruth), through the period of their kings (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles), to their destruction as a nation, and ultimately, their restoration and return to the homeland (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther).

Wisdom/Poetry: The Old Testament is more than history and law. It also contains books of beautiful ancient poetry, often called wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs).

Prophets: The final type of book in the Old Testament is prophecy. These books include the recorded ministry of prophets from Israel. They were special people, selected by God at a special time to deliver a special message. They spoke this message under the influence of God’s Spirit. Sometimes the message had present implications, sometimes future. Sometimes the message was about coming destruction, sometimes hope and restoration. They are divided into Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel) and Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

The New Testament:
The Gospels: ‘Gospel’ simply means good news. These four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are called ‘good news’ because they tell the story of the life of Jesus. These books recount his teachings, his miracles, his death, and his resurrection.

Acts: The official name for this book is ‘Acts of the Apostles.’ It records the story of what happened to the movement of Jesus after his time on earth. The key figures in this story are the apostles, or the 12 disciples that followed Jesus during his life. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, these ordinary men launch a movement that would change the world forever. We are also introduced to a new figure in this book.  Saul had been in violent opposition to this upstart faith. He led the charge in putting new Christians to death for their beliefs. But Acts tells us that one day he has a miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus. The moment is nothing short of revolutionary for him… and for us. His named is changed to Paul and he becomes the most influential Christian leader of the movement.

Letters: The rest of the New Testament comes in the form of letters. These letters were originally written to Churches or individuals as a way to encourage the faith in these groups. They contain everything from practical instruction to sweeping inspiration to truthful criticism. These letters were often circulated from group to group, fanning the flames of this young movement. Paul is the author of the first 13 letters of the NT (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon). This means that a man that once killed Christians to stamp out this faith, ends up writing over half of the New Testament. Other early leaders of Christianity write the remainder of the letters (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2,3 John, Jude, Revelation).