Your Guide to the Bible

Bible Sunday in our church is what we call the day when third graders, kids who have mastered reading, are called to the stage to receive their very own Bible. It is a sweet occasion, fidgeting kids and parents taking pictures to remember the day. After every third grader has been called, we pray for these kids. 

I remember this day well. I was one of the first called on stage because of my last name. I was handed a devotion book and a small pink Bible with a yellow butterfly. I stood through the whole occasion. Once I got home… I didn’t know what to do. I knew the Bible was very important because we had studied it in Sunday school but I now I had my own Bible. I didn’t have any directions or Sunday school teacher telling me what to read. 

Once I started trying to read the Bible, it was confusing! Not only was there the Gospel of John, but a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John as well! In addition, I discovered when I read the words from one Bible translation, they were different from another Bible translation. I was lost. 

If you feel the same way, keep reading! Now I understand the Bible more than I did before, and I want you to understand it too! It is the foundation of our faith. In this post, I am going to talk about the basic set-up of the Bible because it’s important to know how the Bible is set up before diving into the content, which is what really matters.

While you read this, I suggest picking up your Bible or the one you have at home so you can follow along. 

Translations

Usually on the cover or first few pages of the Bible there will be an acronym that tells you the Bible’s translation. The Bible in its original form was written in multiple languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with some parts in Aramaic, because those were the native languages of the writers of the Bible. The New Testament was written in Greek because Alexander the Great had conquered most of the nations by that time, making the common language Greek. What that means for us is our Bibles need to be translated from those languages into English so we can read the Bible. Here is a list of the most common translations — your Bible might be one of them! 

  • ESV = English Standard Version
  • KJV = King James Version
  • NASB = New American Standard Bible 
  • NIV = New International Version 
  • NLT = New Living Translation 

Some denominations prefer one translation over another. Sometimes it’s a personal preference. I like having and using different translations so I can compare the different wordings. In my youth group, most of the Bibles we use are NIV because it is a very reader-friendly version. When you choose the translation you are going to use, it’s recommended you choose one you can easily understand. That way, you’re more likely to read it. 

Set-Up

The Bible has 66 books in all — 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. It’s written by many different people in different periods of time, but all of it is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). 

There is a lot of history, advice, and prayers in the Bible. People dedicate their lives to reading its content. The Bible’s length and detail can make it seem very daunting, but that’s why it is separated into categories. Each of the 66 books is split into chapters and each of these chapters is split into verses which are about a sentence long. 

The books themselves are also put into genres because of their topics, which is another helpful tip to remember when reading. Here are the typical categories the books are broken into. 

Old Testament

The Old Testament focuses on the nation of Israel and the Old Covenant Laws. It was written to give an account of the history of Israel and point back to the fulfillment of the Law through Christ. 

Law
These five books are the basis of the Jewish faith. They tell stories of history and the Old Covenant Law. 

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy 

History
These books tell more about the history of the Jewish nation. 

  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther

Wisdom
These books are poetry and proverbs about life. Some express emotion and others give advice. 

  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs 
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Songs of Songs

Major Prophets
Prophets were people chosen by God to preach messages to His people. 
These prophets aren’t “major” because they are greater but because their books are longer so we know more about them. 

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

Minor Prophets
These prophets are called “minor” not because they were lesser, but because their books are shorter. 

  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

New Testament 

The New Testament focuses on how Christ fulfilled the Law and how Christians should live in response. 

The Gospels
These four books document the life of Jesus Christ. The word “Gospel” means Good News. 

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke 
  • John

History
This book tells us about the spread of the Good News and the beginning of the early churches.

  • Acts

Letters/Epistles 
Letters written to the new churches. Romans to Philemon were written by the apostle Paul. The writer of the book of Hebrews is unknown. James wrote James, Peter wrote 1st and 2nd Peter, John the elder wrote all three Johns, and Jude wrote Jude. 

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Phillipians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy 
  • 2 Timothy 
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrew
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

Prophecy
A book about the revelation of Jesus about “the second coming” or “the end times” revealed to John the elder. 

  • Revelation

Extras

Your Bible might come equipped with all sorts of extra special stuff. Some have maps, indexes, historical context notes, or mini devotionals on how to apply a passage or verse to your life. 

Your Bible is something special, so get to know it! Pick it up, read it, and get familiar with its format. The more you read, the more you understand. Look for devotional booklets or Bible reading plans to guide you. The Bible is God’s Word for us. We read it because it’s one of the ways He communicates with us. 

Sources & Resources

A lot of what inspired this post and helped me understand the Bible was this book The Ultimate Guide to the Bible by Carol Smith. It was a helpful book and I recommend it. Here is a link to it on Amazon. 


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3 thoughts on “Your Guide to the Bible

  1. Cool! It’s the table of contents mine never had XD. It’s interesting how some are [number] [name], instead of [name] [number] – maybe it’s a holdover from Greek or Aramaic or whatever language it was originally written in…

    …oh wait. It’s probably so you don’t have to say “Corinthians 1, no that’s book one, I’m talking about the book, we’re turning to verse whatever.”

    Liked by 2 people

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