This book contains 6000 years of recorded history. It tells the stories of the Jewish people, of the Messiah Jesus and of the early church. It contains intrigue and romance, love and betrayal. It’s made up of flowing poetry, gripping prose and soaring apocalyptical prophecies. It’s not just one book it’s a collection of many books, written by many authors, authors who we believe were working under the inspiration of the almighty God. But those many books make one book; a book that we believe was preserved for us by God for instruction, information and edification.
Our summer series is entitled “The Story of the Book” and for the next eleven weeks we will be taking a look at the story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, but today we are going to look at it all in 23 minutes or so, so hold on.
Let’s start with some basic stuff. The Bible contains 66 books and is divided into two major portions, the Old Testament with 39 books and the New Testament with 27 books. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible: 929 in the Old Testament and 260 in the New Testament.
The Longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 with 176 verses. The shortest chapter is Psalm 117 with 2 verses. Psalm 117 is also the middle chapter in the Bible. The Longest verse is Esther 8:9 the shortest verse is John 11:35.
Although the stories of the Bible range across what we now know as the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean they are primarily centred in what was known as Canaan in the Old Testament and Israel in the New Testament. If we pull up a map of that area this is where most of it happened. Centred in what we know now as Israel Canaan stretched as far north as Lebanon and as far south as Egypt and east into what is now Syria and Jordon.
The first five books of the bible are called either the Pentateuch which is Greek for “Five scrolls” or simply the Torah which means the law. This section includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Tradition tells us that Moses was the author of these five books however during the past 100 years some scholars have come to the conclusion that there were several different authors. However they don’t have any concrete proof of that theory. The reality is that Moses could have written them. We are told that he was educated in the Pharaohs court and from scripture we know that Moses was able to write. He was the leader and organizer of a movement that he believed would last for many generations so it’s likely he would have wanted to record their history for future posterity.
Scholars feel that these books were probably written fifteen hundred years before Christ was born.
The first book of the bible Genesis contains many of the bible stories that we learned about in Sunday School it contains the story of Creation and the first couple: Adam and Eve along with how they disobeyed God and were expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result. The account of Noah and the ark is here and how God destroyed the world because the inhabitants became so evil. It’s in this book that we read about Abraham and Sarah and how their son Isaac was born in their old age.
This is also where we read about Joseph’s coat of many colours and his adventures in Egypt.
In the next four books we read about the baby Moses being placed in a basket in the Nile River to escape Pharaoh’s plan to kill all the male children of the Israelites. And how he was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. How Moses eventually led God’s people out of the slavery they were in in Egypt, and how God parted the Red Sea to help them escape. It’s in these books that Moses was given the Ten Commandments and we see how God led the people through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud during the day and column of fire at night. How they were fed miraculously with Manna and Quail and water that sprang out of rocks. We learn of their disobedience and lack of faith and that they had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the Promised Land. It’s in these five books that the fundamental laws of the Jews were laid down.
The Pentateuch ends with the death of Moses.
The next section of books is referred to as the Historical Books by most and as the Early Prophets by others. It includes the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. These books cover about nine hundred years in the history of God’s chosen people. They chronicle the history of the nation of Israel starting with the Israelites finally entering the Promised Land or the Land of Milk and Honey under the leadership of Joshua and Caleb. We had discovered in the previous section that when Moses had sent spies into the Promised Land that only Joshua and Caleb believed that God could keep his promise and give the land to the children of Israel, and as a result they were the only ones who saw the promise fulfilled.
Several authors wrote these books, including Joshua and the Prophets Samuel, Ezra and Nehemiah between 1390 BC and 480 BC
It is here that we discover how the 12 tribes of Israel were comprised. They were the descendants of the sons of Jacob with the exception of the descendants of Levi who became the priests. How the the 12 Tribes were united under King David as one Kingdom but after the death of his Son Solomon it became the twin Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.
The historical books record how when God’s people were obedient they flourished and when they worshipped other gods and became disobedient God removed his blessings and they came under military oppression. You’d think after that had happened a few times they would have gotten the idea.
Eventually the ten tribes which made up Israel or the Northern Kingdom were conquered by the Assyrians and were scattered. If you ever hear people talking about the lost tribes these are the people and there are many theories about what happened to them including that they populated the British Isles or alternately that they eventually crossed the seas and became the people who we refer to as the First Nations or Native Americans.
A couple of centuries after Israel had been conquered the Kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon and we read about the dispersing of the Jews, get it Judah – Jews, and how they eventually were allowed to return to their country. The book of Nehemiah records how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt after having been destroyed by the Babylonians.
Familiar bible stories from the Historical books are Joshua and the children of Israel marching around the city of Jericho for seven days and then the walls falling down. Samson the Judge with the long hair and how Delilah cut it and Samson lost his strength and was captured by the Philistines. I’m sure most of you know the story of David and Goliath, where the shepherd boy defeated the giant champion of the Philistines with just a sling and five stones. Later we read how David became king and how he committed adultery with his neighbour’s beautiful wife Bathsheba and later we read of his repentance. We discover David and Bathsheba’s son Solomon assumed the throne and built the temple of Solomon to God’s glory.
It’s here we read about the prophet Elijah and his student Elisa and their exploits. Of Ruth the grandmother of David and how she found love, of Esther and how she became the Queen of Persia and saved the Jews who were exiled there from being killed. By the way out interest sake God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. If you like trivia then here’s another one for you Ezra 7:21 is said to contain every letter in the alphabet with the exception of J.
The next group of books are called Poetry & Wisdom Literature This section contains the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. And they are exactly what they are called, books made up of poetry in the case of the Psalms and Song of Solomon and the wisdom included in the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
We don’t know who wrote the book of Job, the Psalms were primarily written by King David we know that he wrote at least 73 of them. Other writers include his son Solomon, Moses and several others whose names you won’t recognize. The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, with a couple of additional contributors. Solomon was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived, and if you’ve taken the time to read the proverbs you’ll understand why.
Traditionally we have been told that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes but we don’t know that for sure, the author only identifies himself as “The Teacher”, “The Preacher” or “The Leader of the Assembly.” Likewise tradition tells us that Solomon wrote the beautiful love poem called the “Song of Songs” some people even refer to it as “The Song of Solomon” but we don’t know that for certain.
For the most part these books were written during the reign of David and Solomon around 1000 years before the birth of Christ although Job was probably written around the time of Abraham 1000 years earlier.
You are familiar with these books because of the story of Job a righteous man who the Devil attacked in order to show God that Job only worshipped him because God prospered Job and protected him. Throughout the book Job refuses to curse God and in the end good prevails. When you hear someone say “They must have the patience of Job.” This is the reference.
The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, as a matter of fact in some churches the only songs they sing even today are the Psalms. In the Psalms we see familiar words like Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures he leadeth me beside still waters. If I ever visit you in the hospital I will probably read from the 23rd Psalm and if I ever preach at your funeral I will probably use the 23rd Psalm it is a Psalm of comfort. Psalm 51 was written when David cried out in repentance over his sin with Bathsheba and said Psalm 51 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. Perhaps you have a favourite Psalm of your own.
The book of Proverbs is one of my favourite books in the Old Testament and is the collected wisdom of Solomon. It has great gems like Proverbs 26:17 Interfering in someone else’s argument is as foolish as yanking a dog’s ears.
and Proverbs 10:1 A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother.
Ecclesiastes was written as the author struggled with the meaning of life, if you’ve ever wondered “why?” this is the book for you. It reveals how to find spiritual significance in our world.
The Song of Songs was written in celebration of a couple’s courtship and marriage, it is very intimate and might make you blush. The rabbis maintained that it was written as an allegory for the Love God had for the Jewish people and some Christians see in it the imagery of Christ and his bride the Church.
The rest of the Old Testament is made up of the Prophets. It has been divided into two sections, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. Hear now and forever more Major and Minor do not, never have and never will reflect the importance of these books. They are designations reflecting the length of the books, so they could be called the long winded Prophets and the rest. For example any one of the individual books of Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel are longer then the 12 minor prophets all combined together.
The Major Prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah who also wrote the Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi or Malachi if you are Italian.
The authors are named in the title of the individual books some of these guys were professional prophets and others were called to be prophets for a specific period of time.
Unlike the priests of Israel who came upon their position genetically, that is they were all part of the family of Levi; the prophets were specifically called of God to present their message.
Bible Stories that you would be familiar with from the prophets would be Daniel in the Lions Den. The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is also found in the book of Daniel, where these three young men who had been brought as captives from Judah to Babylon refused to bow down and worship an idol and were tied up and thrown in furnace. But when their captors looked in they saw the guys wandering around, unscathed and so they were released. Jonah and the big fish can be found in the prophets, as well as the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer, golly.
These prophets weren’t prophets like Psychics and fortune tellers claim to be a prophets. They were primarily proclaimers of the divine will of God, not predictors of the future, though they did foresee what kind of future was in store for their listeners if they obeyed or disobeyed the will of God. The message of these guys in a nutshell was “Turn or Burn.”
Another aspect that the prophets, especially Isaiah, focused on was the coming Messiah and during the Christmas and Easter seasons various portions of Isaiah are often quoted.
Wow, that’s the first 39 books, you ready for the next 27?
Between the last book of the Old Testament, the Prophet Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament story was a gap of about 400 years during which the Jewish people anxiously awaited the Messiah to deliver them from their oppressors. The first four books of the New Testament tell the story of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
These four books are called The Gospels and they are comprised of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each of the books is named after it’s author and each has a particular thrust and audience. It is in these books that we read the story of Jesus, from his birth to his death and resurrection. There are some people who complain that the writers tell the same story in different ways. So? I would be worried if all four gospels were identical, because that would show that they were just copies of one account. If four of us went on a trip, preferably someplace warm, let’s say that we went to Disney World. When we came home if someone asked us to write down our recollections of the trip I wonder how they would compare? One event might strike me as important and you as trivial, I would see a ride as tame you might see it as terrifying or the other way around. Perhaps at one point I might see an attraction with someone other then you and my account would speak of that event and yours wouldn’t.
It’s in the Gospel where we find many of our familiar New Testament Bible Stories. It’s here that we read the Christmas Story and the Easter Story, we see Jesus teaching on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and feeding 5,000 people with a few fish and a couple of small loaves of bread. We marvel at Jesus as he walks on the water and weep with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus and then laugh and rejoice with them when Jesus raises him from the dead. It’s in the gospels that we reel in horror at the death of Jesus, and then realize the triumph of his resurrection.
The author of the book of Matthew was one of Jesus apostles and he was a tax collector before he began to follow Christ. It was Matthew who threw a party after he was called by Christ and he invited all his grotty friends over to meet his new friend Jesus. The particular thrust of Matthew is to reveal Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament Prophets. His book was addressed particularly to a Jewish audience and he frequently uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God”
The book of Mark was written by John Mark the son of a Jerusalem widow whose home was a meeting place for early believers. Tradition holds that Mark acted as a scribe for the Apostle Peter and that Mark is telling the story from Peter’s perspective. The book of Mark is viewed as the first of the gospels to be written and was written to encourage the believers as they began to be persecuted by the Roman authorities.
This is a very fast paced gospel giving you the highlights of the life of Jesus. Mark skips many of Jesus’ discourses and focuses on his miracles; it’s more about what Jesus did rather then about what Jesus said.
The Gospel of Luke is believed to have been written by a gentile doctor by the name of Luke, surprise, surprise. Luke is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament. He wrote this gospel for a friend by the name of Theophilus, which to you might be a funny name but two things should change your mind about that; the first is that it literally means Lover of God, what a compliment, and secondly it was my great-Grandfather’s name.
Dr. Luke wrote this book primarily to show that God’s love reaches beyond the Jewish people to the entire world. Luke, being a doctor, includes more detail then either Matthew or Mark. And it’s in Luke that we find the details of the first Christmas. Luke tends to focus on the kindness and compassion of Christ.
John is the favourite Gospel of many people. It was written by the apostle John, and not John the Baptist. The focus of the book of John is that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. The purpose of the book is summed up by John himself who wrote in John 20:31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. The opposite of Mark’s account because John focuses more on what Jesus said, especially about himself, then on what he did.
John in particular seems to describe Jesus as both light and life.
The next book in the bible stands by itself and it is the book of Acts or Acts of the Apostles. The gospels began with Christ’s birth and ended with his resurrection and the book of Acts begins with the resurrection of Christ and chronicles the life of the early church. The author is the same Luke who wrote the third gospel, and again it was written to his friend Theophilus. The first chapter tells how Christ ascended to heaven and how the apostles chose someone to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot.
It’s in Acts that we read about the first Christian martyr, a young man named Stephen, and we read about the conversion of a prominent Jewish teacher by the name of Saul who was renamed Paul and became the greatest teacher of Christianity. It was through Paul that the message of Jesus spread throughout the ancient world.
The book of Luke and the Acts account for one fourth of the New Testament.
The next section of books was written by the Paul who we read about in the book of Acts. They are known as epistles which does not mean the wives of the apostles instead it’s a fancy word for letters. Specifically these are called the Pauline Epistles or letters of Paul and they include: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Some scholars feel that there isn’t enough evidence of Paul’s authorship to include the book of Hebrews in this group and have suggested that it might have been written by Barnabas, Apollos or possibly Priscilla. But because tradition ascribed it to Paul we’ll leave it here.
Understand that these books were originally letters to specific churches dealing with specific issues, it’s like we are opening someone else’s mail and reading it. We have to keep in mind that the first people who read these letters had inside knowledge that we don’t have about what was happening in their particular situation. However God in his infinite wisdom chose to preserve these specific letters for the entire church so even though they were intended for a specific audience they are for us today as well.
It’s in Romans we discover the wages of sin is death, but he gift of God is eternal life, we find the attributes of love listed from 1 Corinthians 13, we discover the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5, and we are told that we can do everything through the power of Christ in Philippians. In Ephesians we are reminded that we are saved by grace through faith, and in Hebrews we read about God’s faith hall of fame.
If you are every frantically flipping through the New Testament looking for books keep in mind all of the books that start with T are clumped together.
There are seven other letters in the New Testament that were written by others and these are often referred to as the General Epistles these include the books of James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and the book of Jude. These were written for the same reason as the letters of Paul were written, to encourage and instruct local churches. These letters were written by two of Jesus’ brothers James and Jude as well as the apostles Peter and John. The book of James is my favourite epistle although Martin Luther referred to it as: An epistle of Straw. It was written to warn believers about slander, favouritism, pride, the misuse of wealth and a lack of patience. This may have been the first New Testament book written.
Simon Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter for two very different reasons. The first letter was a letter of encouragement to the persecuted church offering the early believers hope and meaning in the middle of the suffering they were enduring for their faith. 2 Peter on the other hand was written as a warning against false teachers and contains very harsh condemnations of these teachers.
1, 2 and 3 John were all written by the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John. They were written for very similar reasons as Peter’s letters. The first letter is a letter of encouragement, the second a letter of warning and the third letter is a short personal note warning a friend about a specific person in the church.
Jude Is a dark little letter that ends the epistles. Written by Jesus’ brother Jude the letter was written to warn believers about the dangers of some of the strange doctrines being spread throughout the church by false teachers.
And here we are at the end, the book of The Revelation, did you catch that there’s no S, it’s not many revelations, never has been, never will be it’s only one revelation. Sometimes it’s called The Revelation of John, but actually it’s the Revelation of God to John. It says that in the first verse and so I guess that makes the author God. The human author or scribe is identified as John who wrote down the revelation and sent it to the seven churches in Asia. Although we don’t know exactly which John this was tradition holds that it was John the Apostle who wrote this book while an exile on the Island of Patmos which is located in the Aegean Sea just off the coast of modern day Turkey
The Revelation refers to itself as: a revealing, an unveiling and an explaining. Anyone who has read anything written about the Revelation knows that people have very dogmatic beliefs about this book and everyone is convinced that theirs is the only correct view. Understand that there are any number of interpretations of this book and every one of them has difficulties and require some straining to make things fit.
The parts of this book that we are most familiar with is the number 666 and the antichrist, neither of which has been or will be revealed until the end times come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Revelation is the playground of the religiously eccentric. Don’t get so caught up in what you don’t understand here that you miss all the stuff you can understand in the rest of the book.
That’s it, Genesis to Revelation in 25 minutes or so. What is the most important part of the Bible? Whatever part leads you into a relationship with God.