Navigating the Bible The Bible is an amazing book that has great

Navigating the Bible
The Bible is an amazing book that has great breadth, richness, and complexity. This is exactly what we
would expect from a book where we find the very words of God to us. Frankly, though, this also can
make it a little intimidating to try to navigate the Bible! You might especially feel this way if you are not
familiar with the Scripture. Knowing some basic facts about the Bible and how it is organized can help
you avoid the feeling of being “lost” and grant you greater skill and confidence in your study of God’s
Terms for the Bible
The word Bible, which comes from the Greek word for “book,” is the most common term for the
collection of writings that are literally “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16)—that is, they are the direct
communication of God to human beings through human authors (see also 2 Pet. 1:20–21). Sometimes
people also refer to the Bible as the Scripture or the Scriptures. Another term for the Bible isGod’s
Word. The terms Bible, Scripture(s), and God’s Word are essentially interchangeable (see how we use
the terms in the above paragraph!).
The Divisions of the Bible
Though we consider the Bible to be one book, it contains 66 individual writings that are also known
as books. The first 39 of these books comprise the Old Testament, and the remaining 27 comprise
the New Testament.
The Old Testament. The books of the Old Testament cover the time period from the beginning of the
world to approximately 400 B.C.* They contain much historical information and focus primarily on God’s
dealings and relationship with the people of Israel, that is, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and
The first five books of the Old Testament, or Genesis through Deuteronomy, are known as
the Law (or the Pentateuch, meaning “five volumes”), because their primary subject is the
history and nature of the legal agreement (or covenant) that God made with the people of Israel
through Moses sometime around 1400 B.C.
The next several books of the Old Testament, from the book of Joshua through the book of
Esther, are the books of history. These books tell the history of the people of Israel for about the
next thousand years, or from the time they entered the Promised Land until about four hundred
years before the time of Jesus.
The books from Job through Song of Solomon are the books of poetry. These are some of the
most artistic and expressive books in the Bible and they provide much helpful instruction on
how to relate to God and how to live life. The topic of wisdom is very prominent in the poetic
The remaining books in the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, are collectively called
the Prophets. We refer to the first five of these books as the Major Prophets because of their
relatively large size. The remaining 12 books are the Minor Prophets. The prophetic books
present God’s message to His people Israel through various prophets that He sent to instruct,
warn, rebuke, and console them.
Another name for the Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible. This is the collection of books that the Jewish
people accept as authoritative.
Old Testament Books with Abbreviations and Pronunciation Help
Law (Pentateuch)
Genesis (Gen.)
Exodus (Ex.)
Leviticus (Lev.; luh-VIT-ti-cuss)
Numbers (Num.)
Deuteronomy (Deut.; dew-tur-RON-no-mee)
Joshua (Josh.)
Judges (Judg.)
1 Samuel (1 Sam.)†
2 Samuel (2 Sam.)
1 Kings
2 Kings
1 Chronicles (1 Chron.)
2 Chronicles (2 Chron.)
Nehemiah (Neh.; nee-uh-MY-uh)
Esther (Est.)
Job (JOBE)
Psalms (Ps./Pss.; SOLMS)
Proverbs (Prov.)
Ecclesiastes (Eccl.; uh-clee-zee-AST-ees)
Song of Solomon (Song)
Major Prophets
Isaiah (Isa.)
Jeremiah (Jer.)
Lamentations (Lam.)
Ezekiel (Ezek.; ee-ZEE-kee-ul)
Daniel (Dan.)
Minor Prophets
Hosea (Hos.; ho-ZAY-uh)
Obadiah (Obad.; oh-bud-DIE-uh)
Micah (Mic.)
Nahum (Nah.; NAY-hoom)
Habakkuk (Hab.; hab-BACK-kuk)
Zephaniah (Zeph.; zef-fu-NY-uh)
Haggai (Hag.; HAG-guy)
Zechariah (Zech.; zeck-uh-RYE-uh)
Malachi (Mal.; MAL-uh-kai)
New Testament Books with Abbreviations and Pronunciation Help
Gospels/Historical Books
Matthew (Matt.)
of the
life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the establishment, growth, and instruction of the early
church, and the nature of God’s future dealings with the world. All of the New Testament books were
written in the first century A.D.
The first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are called
the Gospels, and they are named after their authors. These books record events from
immediately prior to Jesus’ birth to His ascension into heaven after He was raised from the
dead. A disproportionate amount of the Gospel material deals with the last week of Jesus’ life,
His death, and His resurrection and post-resurrection appearances.
The book of Acts, which forms the second volume of Luke’s record of Jesus and the Church, tells
the story of the growth of the early church via the Holy Spirit’s work. The book covers the time
of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (approx. A.D. 30) until the time of Paul’s house arrest in Rome
(approx. A.D. 60). The Gospels and the book of Acts collectively form the historical books of the
New Testament.
The books from Romans through Philemon are the letters of Paul, or the Pauline epistles. These
books were letters from Paul the Apostle to churches or individuals. Paul’s letters constitute the
majority of New Testament books. They contain both deep theology and practical instructions
for Christians.
The books from Hebrews through Jude are called the general epistles because they are letters
written not to specific churches or believers, but to wider audiences.‡ There is a great deal of
variety in the subject matter and style of these letters, and they were written by a number of
different authors.
The book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible and, appropriately enough, the majority of
its text describes events yet to take place, including the end of the world in its present form. The
language and images of Revelation are vivid and can be somewhat difficult to interpret.
Pauline Epistles
Romans (Rom.)
1 Corinthians (1 Cor.)
2 Corinthians (2 Cor.)
Galatians (Gal.; guh-LAY-shuns)
Ephesians (Eph.; uh-FEE-shuns)
Philippians (Phil.; fu-LIP-pee-uns)
Colossians (Col.; cuh-LOSS-shuns)
1 Thessalonians (1 Thess.; thess-suh-LOAN-ee-uns)
2 Thessalonians (2 Thess.)
1 Timothy (1 Tim.)
2 Timothy (2 Tim.)
Philemon (Philem.; fye-LEE-mun)
General Epistles
Hebrews (Heb.)
1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John
Revelation (Rev.)
------What Does It Mean when I See Something Like “Genesis 1:1” or “John 3:16?”
A long time ago the Bible was divided into chapters and verses in order to make it easier to locate a
specific text. Each biblical book is divided into chapters, except those books that only have one chapter
(such as Obadiah or Philemon). Furthermore, each chapter of each book is divided into verses.
As a result, we can use references like “Genesis 1:1” or “John 3:16” to indicate a particular verse of
Scripture. Biblical references include the name of the book first, then the chapter number, then a colon,
then the verse number. In other words, to locate John 3:16, you would first find the book of John, then
turn to the third chapter, and then look down at the 16th verse.