A brief list and description of the Bible documents can be seen here.
Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament)
The ‘Old’ Covenant Books
The Jewish scriptures were compiled and treated as the words of God several hundred years before Jesus comes on the scene. He approved of their source and authority. They describe God’s dealings with mankind through the nation of Israel and trace His ultimate plan to deal with the problem of sin.
The Law is the first section of the Hebrew Scriptures. It consists of 5 books (sometimes called the Pentateuch). It includes both narrative and legal codes which describe the foundation for God’s relationship with mankind, and more specifically, with Israel.
This is the first book of the Bible. It describes creation, human error, and hints toward God’s restoration plans. This book sets the tone and initial premise for the rest of the story of scripture. It primarily follows the man Abraham and his descendants while God plans to use that family to bring restoration.
Abraham’s descendants became slaves in Egypt for several centuries. The exodus describes how God brought Israel out of bondage, adopted them as His own, and instructed them how to become holy and righteous.
God is Holy and must be treated with upmost care and respect. God chose the Israelite subfamily Levi to serve as priests and ambassadors for uniting the people with His holiness. This book is mostly legal code directed to the Levites spelling out parameters of Holiness.
After being freed from Egypt, Israel prepared to enter a new home. God chose to exact judgment from the nations living in Palestine and replace them with Israel. The Israelites, far from perfect, had many difficult encounters along the way, most of which were due to lack of trust and respect for God. “Numbers” refers to the census of the people listed at the beginning of the document.
Before entering their new home, Israel’s new generation needs to hear first hand about what God had done for them, and what they should do for God. Their aged leader Moses gives this ‘second telling’ of their history and the law. This speech urges the Israelites to be faithful to God and warns about the punishments for not doing so.
Twelve more accounts document the history of Israel between when they entered Palestine in c.1400BC and when they re-entered the land after a period of much needed correction in c.500BC. These books focus on specific elements of Israelite history and provide commentary to how God viewed their faithfulness and their unfaithfulness.
Joshua was the successor to the famed Moses. Joshua’s job was to judge Palestine and wipe it clean for Israel to start fresh. God demonstrates that He is behind their success and is with them. Much of the book documents land boundaries per Israelite family and urges the people to remain faithful while in the land.
Israel, comprised of flawed humans, quickly forgets their purpose and contract with God. God corrects them by allowing foreign nations to invade for a time until they remember and cry out for help. God sends judges to free the people and steer them back to His ways. This cycle is disturbingly repetitive, being needed nearly every generation.
Within the time period of the Judges, a particular woman of remarkable faith is described. The foreigner Ruth finds a home in Israel and is blessed by God. Her situation is a microcosm of God’s dealings with all those who seek Him. She becomes an ancestor to vital characters in the coming years.
1 and 2 Samuel-
The books of Samuel have been separated for ease of access. This first half of the work describes how God sets up a king in Israel through the prophet Samuel. He gives the people the kind of king they demanded, who was disastrous, just as predicted. Throughout, God accompanies His replacement king, the true man after His own heart: David.
For the second portion, David is officially recognized by Israel as King. Though not perfect, David’s trust in God and willingness to repent and serve ushers in the golden age of Israelite history. God reveals to David that one of his descendants would be the key to human restoration.
1 and 2 Kings-
After David, his dynasty in Israel is long lasting. Before long, however, a civil disturbance breaks the nation into two autonomous halves: Judah and Israel. The record of the kings follows both Judah and Israel and God’s continual urges to guide the people back to Him.
The farther time passes, the more stubborn and resistant the Israelites are to hearing God. God sets up point of no return parameters for both Israel and Judah. When they both cross the lines, God brings in other nations to wipe out both nations and give the survivors time to rethink their dedication to Him.
1 and 2 Chronicles-
The chronicles of the kings are a re-telling of the reign of Israel from David through the last kings before their destruction. This telling of the story focuses on the religious obligations that were neglected. It was written for the benefit of the remnant survivors of the destruction to remind them to be zealous to preserve their responsibilities.
Ezra lived after the destruction of Judah and witnessed the survivors return and rebuild Israel. He records the initial return from captivity and describes efforts to revive the worship practices. His efforts along with Nehemiah successfully restore the people and prepare to await God’s restoration through David’s promised heir.
For a whole generation after the return from captivity, the walls of Israel’s capitol city Jerusalem lay in shambles. Nehemiah gains motivation and favor in the site of the current world leader of Persia and personally goes to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem serve as a symbol for Israel to rebuild their nation.
During the Israelite captivity, a particularly malicious government leader in Persia attempted to destroy the Jews in a genocide. Through God’s providence, Israel is spared through a humble young woman named Esther. This story shows God’s continued work to preserve His people and honor His promises.
Taking a completely different literary style, the wisdom and poetry works actually comprise a significant portion of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Psalms are poems, originally set to music, which prescribe praise and thanks to God, as well as share concerns and hope. The works of wisdom find their basis in the Law and promote the practical side of how Israelites should live.
This account shows the struggles of a despondent man and his well meaning friends in their attempts to explain the problem of suffering. The righteous man Job loses everything and suffers tremendous emotional trauma and can’t understand how God could allow it to happen. His friends hopelessly offer their opinions. God finally appears to Job and tells him that the answers are not always knowable, but we should trust Him anyway.
This set of poems and songs are a treasure trove of encouraging thoughts and prayers. In every situation of life, the psalmists offer up prayer and praise. No matter what they feel or face, they bring it all to God and trust that everything will work out the way God has promised.
For those who love God and see the big picture, money is nothing compared to wisdom. The Proverbs exhort the value of wisdom and ethic. All its anecdotes are grounded in God’s Law and His promises. They were a very real way for the Israelites to perceive the law. They offer us great advice and insight into God’s character.
From the perspective of a man who has done it all, the preacher of this book tells his readers to not trust in temporary pleasures. This of this life will not last. Therefore, the best thing we can do while we are here is to learn to trust God with what we have.
Song of Solomon-
Marriage is established by God as a bond worthy of symbolizing His own love and commitment. In this poetic and theatrical work, we read of love and its proper affection in marriage. God promotes healthy relations and encourages us to see love through His perspective.
The major prophets (described so because of their lengthy works) were sent by God to turn the people back to Him. Even before the point of no return, God wanted Judah and Israel to turn back to the covenant. Fully recognizing that Israel would continue to fall, God uses the prophets to look ahead to David’s heir who would restore all things.
Isaiah lived well before the destruction of Israel and Judah, and preached vehemently for a revival. At the same time, Isaiah is better known for his prophecies of David’s coming heir, labeled the Messiah. Through a prominent message of doom there remains hope through the messiah for a better life.
Even until the final moments of Judah’s destruction, God used Jeremiah to inform the people of why judgement had come. Jeremiah himself lived through the destruction of Judah and laments the poor choices of the people.
This short work specifically addresses Jeremiah’s lament of the fall of Judah’s capitol: Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was the center of worship and its kingdom, its destruction symbolized God’s utter disappointment with the people’s choices. This monumental turning point in Israel’s history is a dark time for those who want to serve God.
Israel remains stubborn, even in the face of judgement. God uses Ezekiel to describe, in vibrant and visual ways, His offer of a second chance. Even though the people of Ezekiel’s day were stubborn, we see that God’s intent to restore Israel is certain. Ezekiel’s colorful and apocalyptic prophecies take extra care to understand but can be summarized in God’s desire to restore His people.
Part third person narrative, and part first person vision, this prophet is one of the most well known. Daniel was one of the first captives take from Judah and lived long enough to see the first survivors return back. In both the moments in Daniel’s life and in the visions for the future, the overwhelming point of Daniel’s work is to show God’s preeminence and rule over the kingdoms of men.
The ‘minor’ prophets (shorter works) span a range of Israelite history. Some preached to Israelite kings and some to Judian kings. Others preached to other kingdoms. Together, they show us that God holds all nations accountable for their actions and that He alone is responsible for their survival. Each nation has a point of no return which God decides and, when reached, will always be judged.
Israel had completely abandoned its promises to God. God feels of this like a husband when his wife cheats on him over and over. God uses this analogy to describe His frame of mind. In spite of all His anger and disappointment, He still offers a second chance.
Judgement is nearing. Without repentance, God will unleash other nations upon His own people to show them the error of their ways. Joel speaks in apocalyptic language which is typical of ‘end times’ prophecies. Indeed the nations of Israel and Judah were nearing the end. Yet there is hope for salvation as Joel looks to God’s Spirit dwelling and working again with His people. In spite of all His anger and disappointment, He still offers a second chance.
All nations face judgment when they turn away from God. Israel thought they were immune. God makes it clear that their insincere ritualistic lip service to Him does not please Him. God is determined to ‘straighten them out’ and restore the true nature of a covenant people. In spite of all His anger and disappointment, He still offers a second chance.
A neighboring nation to Israel was Edom. Edom were also descendants of Abraham who lost their birthright position. Any time Jerusalem came under attack Edom made a habit of mocking and rejoicing over their troubles. God wants them to know that they have taken their jeering too far. The end which God has in mind will be destruction of Edom but restoration of Jerusalem.
Unique among the minor prophets, the book of Jonah is a story. Its a story about the prophet Jonah as he resisted transmitting God’s message. As he runs away from God, God teaches Jonah about mercy. When Jonah faces death, God delivers Him. Jonah grudgingly completes his mission. He preached God’s message of repentance to Israel’s enemy of Nineveh. Surprisingly, Nineveh repents and are spared judgement. An upset Jonah had not learned the lesson that all men are granted mercy from God.
Israel is very close to it’s destruction. Micah informs both Israel and Judah that God expected much better from them. Their time has passed, and the end is coming. The message is even for Judah who still has time to learn from Israel’s mistakes. If Judah will learn to trust God and take refuge in Him, then they will be spared Israel’s fate.
The city of Nineveh had at one time repented at the message of Jonah. Now, however, they had fallen back into evil ways. Nineveh, which represents the whole of Assyria would soon be judged for their cruelty. God used them to bring down Israel, but He did not approve of their methods. He has all rights to judge them for their wickedness and hatred for His own people.
The last days are upon Judah for ignoring God’s urges to repent. The prophet Habakkuk wonders who will bring judgement. God tells him that the Babylonians would be His instrument. Habakkuk can hardly believe that a nation who is worse than Judah would be God’s instruments. God assures him that He knows what He is doing. Both Judah and Babylon had ignored Him and turned to idol worship, and both would be punished in their own time.
Judah was headed on the wrong path. They were within a generation of destruction. God sends yet another warning to return. Judgement and punishment awaited them as with all nations who turn away from what is good. In spite of all His anger and disappointment, He still offers a second chance.
After the survivors of Judean captivity returned to rebuild Israel, they started rebuilding the temple. They met discouragement and pushback, however, so they put a halt to the work. Haggai came to encourage new Israel to get back to their commitments to finish the temple. Even their well meaning leaders needed ‘shaking up’ to get back to work. Haggai’s message is successful, and the second temple was completed shortly thereafter.
As the survivors from Judean captivity rebuild their nation, God wants them to know that He Himself will come to them. He urges the people to prepare themselves for future times. They would meet trouble and difficult times. Zechariah speaks in visions, as is typical with signifying adversity. Through the visions, they people can know that God is in control, and if they will trust Him, they will be preserved and blessed.
After Jerusalem had been rebuilt and the people began waiting for David’s son the Messiah, God had one more message for them: stop it. He was disappointed and disgusted with the way they were approaching His worship. They had focused on ritual but completely lacked a proper desire to love Him. They needed to rethink their approach before the Messiah came.
The New Testament Books
When Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses (i.e. the ‘Old’ Testament), there were writings which explained Him. These writings by His personal disciples tell us who Jesus is and what He expects from the rest of His disciples.
Four disciples wrote about Jesus in the first century. Two were personal friends of Jesus and wrote their own eye-witness accounts. Two others were close friends with numbers of eye-witnesses and conducted thorough research to present the teachings of Jesus. The Gospels are focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Matthew was formerly a tax collector and then became a personal follower of Jesus. He was impressed with Jesus’ fulfillment of the Jewish law and wants his readers to think primarily about Jesus’ kingship. Matthew presents Jesus as the expected son of David. His death and resurrection finalize His rulership and place as king.
The most brief of the gospels is the arguably the most packed and selectively written. It seems its brevity is due to each word being chosen with care. Mark, who was a close associate of Paul and Peter chose to split Jesus’ ministry into two parts: Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus as the Son of God. Mark focuses on the miracles of Jesus to show His authority as King and power as God.
The message of Jesus started to be spread far and wide. The companion of Paul, Luke, determined to fully research every detail of Jesus’ ministry so that those who love God will know for sure what happened. The life of Jesus is laid out in an orderly fashion and recognizes Jesus’ primary mission: to go to Jerusalem to die. Luke focuses on Jesus’ fulfillment of the old law prophecies. Jesus begins His ministry by fulfilling scripture and even after the resurrection explained how He fulfilled all the law.
One of the closest followers of Jesus picks up on some of the most vivid illustrations and themes of salvation. John uses themes of glory, light, living water, living bread, love, and resurrection. He ardently testifies that all these accounts were personally witnessed. John includes many personal moments, though never mentions his own name. His reason for writing is so that we, who do not have his experiences, can also share in belief of Jesus.
Acts- (of the disciples and the Holy Spirit)
One of the most valuable accounts Christians have is Luke’s ‘sequel’ account of the church. Luke starts by detailing the start of the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch, and then shifts to his own travels with Paul, establishing churches around Greece and Rome. Within this narrative we see how the apostles taught, how the christians dealt with persecution, and how Jesus continued to help his disciples.
The Christians of Rome appeared to have problems with the Jew vs Gentile conflict. Paul focuses on bringing both Jew and Gentile together into the same boat. All are guilty of sin, and all can come to the blood of Jesus. He also combats the temptation to treat Grace as an open ticket to do what we want. We must honor God’s grace and use it to put others first.
The Christians in Corinth had many difficulties to overcome. Paul answers all their problems with the resurrection of Jesus. If Christ was raised from the dead, then all other cultural, personal, and doctrinal issues will filter into place. Much of what Paul writes is criticism, but it is backed by his love and desire to see good things from the Corinthians. In this letter Paul gives great insight to how the church should function.
After his first letter, some decided to criticize Paul’s authority and reintroduce the Law of Moses. Paul has to defend himself and his message. He follows up on some of the issues he mentions in the first letter, but focuses on remaining true to the gospel of Jesus.
Paul feared that the Galatians were in danger of losing their salvation. They had begun to accept an alternative gospel not based in the truth about Jesus. Some felt that Judaism was necessary and even more important than faith in Jesus. Paul builds an argument that the law of Moses lead to faith in Jesus, not the other way around. Anything that is placed higher than Jesus’ own message is guided by the flesh and not the spirit.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus to encourage them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” In their growth they must acknowledge Jesus as the preeminent head, their unity with one another, and the need to personally conform to a new way of life in Christ.
The church at Philipi appears to be a strong work. Paul hopes to visit them shortly, but wants to remind them of a few important things. Primarily he wants them to persevere and not give up. He uses his own situation to remind them that they should keep pushing on toward heaven. Secondly he stresses that Christ is the ultimate example, and following Him means being humble in all things.
A companion letter to Ephesians, this letter hits many of the same main points, but focuses on wisdom and reliance on God for full support. The message can be outlined: Jesus is pre-eminent, He saved us from our sins, and we must act accordingly.
The Thessalonians are praised for their love and zeal for promoting the Gospel. They lived in a dangerous city, filled with all kinds of evil. Paul encourages them to steer clear of the sexual promiscuity the city advertised. He also reminds them that Jesus’ resurrection provides hope. Those who die in the Lord are not gone, but await the final judgement like we do. He wants them to prepare for that final day.
Some of the readers of the first letter took what Paul said to some undue extremes. When they heard the Lord was coming, some assumed it was within days, and so they discontinued their daily living. Paul re-assures them that the Lord is in fact coming, but it won’t be so predictable: other things have to come first. He urges them to get back to daily living and back to promoting Christ’s message.
Timothy was on of Paul’s most loyal followers and understudies. Timothy had devoted his life to preaching the gospel and strengthening the church. Paul writes to Timothy helping solidify some practices all the churches ought to adopt. At the same time he encourages Timothy in the line of work he has chosen.
Titus was a young companion of Paul, much like Timothy. Paul writes to Titus to encourage him in his efforts to strengthen the brethren. Paul wants Titus to be strong in sound doctrine, and promote unity and love among all the members of the church.
One of the most personal letters is written by Paul to Philemon. There was a rift between Philemon and his servent. Because the servent had just become a follower of Jesus through Paul’s influence, the relationship needed attention. Paul urges Philemon to apply dillagence to living in love and to turn a loving and forgiving eye to his servent.
This letter is written toward those Jews who held to the Law of Moses as equal to faith in Jesus. The anonymous author makes a series of logical interpretations from Jewish scripture to show that Jesus fully replaced the old law, and is better in every way.
James, the brother of Jesus and elder of the church in Jerusalem, writes a common sense and proverb-like support of true faith. True faith causes us to behave certain ways. James warns against favoritism, apathy, strife, and pride. He promotes unity and the bond of brotherhood in Jesus.
When persecution arises, true disciples of Jesus must be willing to stand to the end. Peter focuses on the unwavering nature of Gods promises. He also urges Christians to look at Christ as the example of perserverence. Peter encourages all Christians to remain faithful and to expect difficult times.
It does’t take long before false teachers infultrate the church. Peter writes to ward off some of the trends that were leading churches away from solod ground. These false teachers upset people’s confidence of faith by trusting whims and human fabrication rather than solid truth. Matters which Peter addresses include confidence in salvation, source of truth, and final judgement.
So many similar themes comprise this letter as the Gospel of John, that there is almost no doubt John wrote this letter. His main point is how we need to avoid the error of the world through hatred, and instead follow our Father in true love. True love is defined by Jesus, and those who love God will change their behavior to love others too.
This is a unique letter most likely written by the apostle John. It is addressed to a singular ‘Elect Lady,’ which might very well mean a particular church in Asia. The quick letter simply reminds ‘her’ of his love, and warns against false teachers, known by their willingness to sin and denial of Jesus’ humanity.
Similar to 2 John, this third letter is addressed to an individual. This man, Gaius, presumably maintains a church. John approves of his work and reputation, and disproves of another man who wants to selfishly rule over the church.
One of the early dangers facing the church early on were false teachers- those who changed the gospel to fit their own agenda. Jude, a brother of Jesus, writes a general letter against the early myth-purporting false teachers. They claim special knowledge based on unproven fantasy. Jude stresses such as folly and drives the reader to, instead, listen to the original message of the Apostles.
A book of much confusion, the revelation given to John remains one of the most disputed works to interpret. John’s message is in two parts: exhortations of Jesus to seven specific churches, and a series of visions about persecution and judgement. The visions are symbolic in nature and repeat themselves, as apocalyptic literature tends to do. Its audience was accustomed to the writing technique and benefited from the encouragement. The essence is this: the Satan will persecute the church and things will look hopeless, but God is in control and will save His own and judge the enemy.