The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books, containing literature of many kinds—history, law, genealogy, architecture, wise sayings (or proverbs), songs (or psalms), stories (parables), biography, theology, encouragement, warning and predictions (prophecy). Each book is divided into chapters. Each chapter is divided into verses. Each verse is usually a sentence of two long. So Genesis 1:2 would be refer to the second verse of the first chapter of the book of Genesis. The books of the Bible are not always in chronological order.
The sixty-six books of the Bible are divided into two sections: The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament centers around the Jewish people and the nation of Israel up until about 400 years before the time of Jesus. The New Testament centers around the life and teachings of Jesus and His early followers.
The Bible opens with God creating all things. The six days of creation described in Genesis 1 are understood in different ways by different people of faith. Here are four common interpretations:
1. The Young Earth Creationist Theory. These are literal days that took place six to ten thousand years ago. The universe was constructed with apparent age which explains why things appear to be billions of years old.
2. The Gap Theory. The universe was created long ago, possibly 14 billion years ago, but somewhere along the line the earth underwent some cataclysm or judgment. The six days of creation explain the process of God restoring the earth from the perspective of someone standing on the surface of the earth.
3. The Dual Perspective Theory. Based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the six days of creation are six literal days from God’s perspective or from the perspective of anyone traveling at near light speed or faster in an expanding universe. However, those six days would be experienced as 14 billion years from the perspective of someone on the surface of the earth.
4. The Parable Theory. The six days of creation, and perhaps one or more of the following chapters of Genesis are not to be understood literally, but rather figuratively. Humans, like all living things, evolved under a God-directed process of Intelligent Design.
Bible book: Genesis
Genesis describes a perfect world inhabited by the first two humans, Adam and Eve. This perfection was shattered when they chose to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. As a result, a curse fell on humanity and on all of creation. Over the space of centuries, the descendants of this first couple populated a large area of the then known world. However, widespread violence and corruption led God to judge the world with a flood. Only Noah, his wife, his three sons, and his three daughters-in-law escaped destruction with the animals on the ark, a large boat.
After the flood, God wanted the descendants of Noah to spread out and repopulate the earth. However, the consensus among humans was that they stick together around one single metropolitan area. As a result, God gave different people different languages, forcing them to scatter.
Bible book: Genesis
The story picks up several hundred years later with the account of Abraham. God directed him to leave the land of his birth (Iraq or Ur) and the land where his father settled (Turkey or Haran) and travel to a land God promised to give his descendants (Israel also called Canaan or Palestine). Abraham and his wife Sarah have a child, Isaac, at an advanced age. Isaac becomes the father of twins, one of which is Jacob who was later renamed Israel. Jacob’s twelve sons become the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Much of the book of Genesis is the story of God healing the dysfunctionality in the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s son Joseph is sold as a slave by his brothers. He ends up in Egypt where he interprets the Pharaoh’s (king’s) dream and correctly predicts a famine. As a result, he rises to a position of great prominence and authority in Egypt. His father, his brothers, and their families come to Egypt to escape the famine, and are reconciled to Joseph.
Bible book: Genesis
Meanwhile, God is at work in the life of a man living in a different part of the world, Uz (possibly in or near Saudi Arabia). This man’s name is Job (rhymes with lobe). Satan, the accuser, is having a conversation with God. God points out how good Job is, and Satan claims that Job is only good because God has bribed him with wealth, health, and protection. God agrees to allow Satan to ruin Job, stripping him of health, killing his children, taking away his riches. Job is bewildered, but refuses to turn to evil. Job’s “friends” come to comfort him, but end up accusing him of evil. Why else—in their worldview—would all this trouble happen to him? In the end, God speaks to Job and his friends. “Who are you,” He says in essence, “to second guess my motives?” Then God restores Job’s health and wealth. He gives him a new family, and a full and rich life. The book of Job, possibly the oldest in the Bible, continues to challenge many of our paradigms even today.
Bible book: Job
Meanwhile, the descendants of Jacob had become a people group (the Hebrews) numbering more than a million people. The Egyptians subjugated them into slavery and oppression. Moses confronted Pharaoh, and God brought disasters to Egypt until Pharaoh agreed to allow the Israelis to leave. After they left, the Egyptians changed their mind, pursued them with their army, but God opened up the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelis marched across on dry land. When the Egyptians attempted to pursue them, the Red Sea closed up again, drowning the Egyptian army.
Moses and the Israelis spent forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Israel, or Canaan). During this time, God gave Moses a set of laws for His people to follow. The laws fell under three categories:
1. Moral law. These are universal principles that continue to define right and wrong today. Example: “You shall not murder.” The Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 are usually considered examples of moral law.
2. Ceremonial law. This ancient code of worship was designed to help a nomadic, tribal, agricultural people understand the holiness of God. It included procedures for animal sacrifice, provision for priests, a central place of worship, clean and unclean foods, cleansing from ritual impurity. The book of Leviticus centers around ceremonial law.
3. Civil law. This was a code of laws and penalties expected to be enforced in the theocracy of ancient Israel. It included laws governing military missions, the execution of murderers, restitution for theft, liability for negligence, and so on.
Bible books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
After the death of Moses, a new leader, Joshua, led the Israelis into Canaan (what is now Israel and Palestine) where he used military action to wipe out or drive out the people groups who had settled in that land. The Bible explains that God was fulfilling His promise to Abraham and judging the settlers of these lands for their evil actions (including child sacrifice).
Bible book: Joshua
After the death of Joshua, the Israelis fell into a pattern of idolatry and corruption. As a result, God sent various other people groups to come into the land and oppress the Israelis. In times of trouble, the nation turned back to God, and a leader (or judge) emerged to lead the people in a military victory over their oppressors. Prominent judges included Gideon, Barak, Deborah, Samson. This period lasted about 400 years.
Bible book: Judges
The prophet Samuel was Israel’s last judge. In addition to serving as a priest and teacher, he rallied the Israelis to defend themselves against the marauding Philistines. As he grew old, the people asked him to appoint a king.
Samuel appointed Saul (not to be confused with Saul of Tarsus from the New Testament) king over Israel. Saul started well, but ended poorly. After he failed to follow Samuel’s instructions on a military campaign, God rejected him as king. He clung to power, but suffered from depression and fits of rage.
Meanwhile, at God’s instruction, Samuel secretly appointed David king over Israel. Soon after, David, a gifted musician (and author of many of the songs in the book of Psalms), was called to the palace to play music to cheer up King Saul (who had no idea David was appointed to replace him).
David came into national fame when he took on the Philistine giant, Goliath, in a one-on-one battle. Saul, initially delighted, plunged into deep jealousy when he heard the Israelis celebrating David’s military prowess at the expense of Saul’s. After Saul attempted to murder David, David was forced to go into hiding.
Eventually, King Saul was killed in a battle with the Philistines and David ascended to the throne. David’s exemplary character was marred when he had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. He tried to cover up the affair, and, when that didn’t work, arranged to have the soldier killed on the battlefield. While the son born to Bathsheba as a result of that affair died, David and Bathsheba had another son, Solomon, who eventually succeeded David as king over Israel.
Meanwhile, David’s son Amnon, the crown prince, raped his half sister Tamar. Tamar’s brother Absalom murdered Amnon when he saw that David, though furious, did nothing to punish Amnon. Later Absalom organized a revolt against his father, King David, and attempted to take over the kingdom. However, Absalom was killed in the resulting battle.
Solomon succeeded his father as king. When offered by God a choice of any gift he wanted, he asked for wisdom. So he became known for his wisdom and his wealth. Solomon also built God’s temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, his harem enticed him into idolatry in his later years, and, as a result, by the judgment of God, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms after his death.
Bible books: 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon)
King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, mismanaged an early challenge during his administration. As a result, Jeroboam led a revolt establishing a separate kingdom for the bulk of Israel in the north. In the south, Israelis (primarily from the tribe of Judah) remained loyal to King David’s descendant. The southern kingdom was often called the Kingdom of Judah or simply Judah.
Jeroboam got the northern kingdom of Israel off on the wrong foot when he introduced aberrations (including idols) into the Israeli system of worship. From that point, things went from bad to worse culminating in the administration of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who flagrantly violated God’s commands, and introduced pagan idolatry.
Elijah the prophet confronted Ahab and decreed a famine for the land. After that, Elijah went into hiding. After three and half years, Elijah again met with King Ahab, and arranged a showdown with the pagan prophets on Mount Carmel. Two altars were built. The true God was to demonstrate his presence by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. The altar to the pagan god Baal remained untouched, while the altar to the God of Israel was consumed with fire from heaven.
Later, Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. His assistant, Elisha, succeeded him as prophet.
The northern kingdom went through a succession of dynasties usually started by military leaders. For example, Jehu overthrew the house of Ahab, and ended Baal worship in Israel. However, the Israelis continued down a path of corruption. Finally, after being repeatedly warned by prophets such as Amos and Hosea, around 709 BC the Assyrian Empire (portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran) renown for its cruelty invaded the northern kingdom, deported its people into slavery.
The Assyrian army under Senacherib also invaded Judah and attempted to capture Jerusalem. However, King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah prayed. God sent an angel who killed 185,000 Assyrian troops overnight.
God sent the prophet Jonah to the Assyrian capital city, Nineveh. But Jonah did not want to go, so he headed off in the opposite direction toward Tarshish (Spain). When a storm came, the sailors, at Jonah’s instruction, threw him overboard, where a “great fish” swallowed him and later spit him out on dry land. Then Jonah went to Nineveh, delivered his warning, and the people of Nineveh turned to God. Jonah was angry because he wanted to see the people of Nineveh punished, but God explained that He desired to have mercy on the innocent and the repentant.
Meanwhile, the kingdom of Judah remained loyal to the house of David. King David’s descendants were sometimes good, sometimes evil. The character of the people tended to mirror that of the kings. As corruption intensified in Judah, God brought judgment on the nation by causing the Babylonian Empire to invade under the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. In 586 BC, the Babylonian army entered Jerusalem, tore down the Temple, and took the people of Judah to Babylon where they remained for 70 years.
Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel and others had repeatedly warned the people of Judah to turn back to God, but their voices were ignored.
Bible books: 1 & 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Joel, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Obadiah
During the Babylonian Captivity, the Israeli prophet Daniel came to prominence as an adviser to King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is known for revealing King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation, as well as surviving a night in the lions’ den under King Darius. The prophet Ezekiel also gave messages to the Jewish people.
The Persian Empire took control of the Babylonian Empire. As prophesied 200 years earlier by Isaiah, the Persian King Cyrus issued a decree that the Temple in Jerusalem was to be rebuilt—an operation undertaken by Ezra. Later Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and became governor of that province.
Esther, a young Jewish woman, became queen of Persia. At great personal risk, she foiled a plot by the king’s adviser Haman to commit genocide against the Jews.
The prophets Zechariah and Malachi finish up the Old Testament with their messages to the nation of Israel.
Bible books: Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Haggai, Nehemiah, Esther, Zechariah, Malachi.
The New Testament begins with the story of Jesus. Jesus, a descendant of King David, was the son of the Virgin Mary. At this time, the Roman Empire controlled the area where the nation of Israel had been. The ministry of Jesus was announced by His relative, John the Baptist (or Baptizer…the Baptist denomination did not come into existence until hundreds of years later).
The life of Jesus is recorded in the Gospels, that is, the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As a traveling rabbi, he was accompanied by a group of followers or disciples, most prominently the Twelve. Jesus healed people of disease and blindness. He performed other miracles such as raising people from the dead, walking on the water, and feeding the 5,000 with only a small lunch of bread and fish. He taught people, and frequently ran afoul of the religious establishment of His day by emphasizing mercy over religious technicalities. While many Jews were expecting a military messiah, Jesus focused on personal transformation and practical righteousness. He spoke frequently on themes of inner righteousness, reconciliation to God, heaven and hell, future events.
After a three year ministry, He was betrayed by one of His disciples (Judas Iscariot), arrested by the Jewish temple guard, handed over to the Roman authorities, and crucified on a cross. He was buried and on the third day rose from the dead. After meeting with His disciples intermittently over a period of 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven. His return to take charge of the earth was promised. Meanwhile, His followers were commissioned to teach people from all nations His ways.
Bible books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (plus the first chapter of Acts)
The church began with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At this time, Peter, one of the Twelve, spoke to the crowd assembled in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, and many became followers of Jesus. The church grew rapidly, but soon persecution broke out. At first hard line religious leaders among the Jewish people persecuted the followers of Jesus. Later the Roman authorities persecuted the church.
Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Jew who persecuted the church out of a sense of religious duty. On his way to the city of Damascus to round up Christians and throw them in prison, he was met by Jesus Christ and became himself a Christian. His name was changed to Paul, and he became possibly the most influential leader of the early church, traveling through the Roman Empire to set up churches everywhere he went. He was frequently beaten and imprisoned for his efforts. (Nearly all of Jesus’ apostles were murdered or martyred for their faith. Since the founding of Christianity, about 200 million Christians have been murdered for their faith.)
Paul and other followers of Jesus wrote letters (or epistles) to early churches. In these letters, Christian teaching and practices are explained in detail. Perhaps the most comprehensive of these letters is the Biblical book of Romans, although other letters contain important information not found in Romans.
The New Testament ends with the book of Revelation, authored by John the Apostle. This book contains visions of great calamities, followed by the return of Jesus to earth, a final judgment, and the arrival of God here on earth to restore all things to beauty, peace, and perfection.
Bible books: Acts, 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