THE OLD TESTAMENT
The term “Old Testament” in Christianity refers to ancient Israel’s religious writings. You can divide the Old Testament into these broad categories:
- Pentateuch, which describes God’s election of Yisrael as His chosen people.
- The history books detailed Canaan’s conquest and the Israelites’ defeat and exile in Babylon.
- Poetic and wisdom books address ethical issues.
- Biblical prophetic books warn about the consequences of turning away from God.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis and ending with Malachi. They’re arranged according to the subject matter in one long list. Tanakh, on the other hand, contains only 24 books. Hebrew and Christian Bibles differ in number because 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are combined into Samuel. The same goes for King 1 and 2 and the Chronicles.
The Tanakh is in the Hebrew language, while the Old Testament exists in various languages, mostly translated from Tanakh.
Click here for more information on the Tanakh.
THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS
The first five books of the Bible tell the beginnings of the Jewish (Israelite) race and culture. The first five books of the Bible is called the Torah (Hebrew) or Pentateuch (Greek).
This book describes creation, the first rebellions against God, and God’s choosing of Abraham and his family as God’s people – the Israelites.
God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them to the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1). There, he gave Moses the laws to govern the new nation.
God set up laws for the Israelites. Many of the laws were about being holy and worshiping God.
Because of their rebellion and disobedience, the Israelites had to wander in a wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land.
Just before his death, Moses made three emotional farewell speeches, recalling the history of the Israelites and warning them about making more mistakes.
The next 12 books continue the history of the Israelites: They moved into the land of Canaan and established a kingdom that lasted almost 500 years.
After Moses’ death, Joshua commanded the armies that conquered much of the territory in the promised land of Canaan.
The new nation had a series of failures. God established leaders called “judges” to help rule the people and bring them back to God.
This story of love and loyalty between two widows shines out brightly in an otherwise dark period of time.
Samuel became a leader between the time of the judges and the time of the kings. He appointed Israel’s first king, Saul. After his own failure, Saul tried to prevent God’s next king, David, from taking the throne.
David, a man after God’s own heart, brought the nation together. But after committing adultery and murder, he suffered family and national failures.
Solomon became the next king. At his death, a civil war tore apart the nation. Later kings were mostly bad. The prophet Elijah had dramatic confrontations with evil King Ahab.
This book continues the record of the rulers of the divided kingdom. None of the northern kings followed God the way he wanted, and eventually Israel was destroyed by another nation. The southern kingdom of Judah lasted much longer, but finally Babylon conquered Judah and took away the people.
This book opens with the most complete genealogical record in the Bible, then adds many events from the life of David (often the same as those in II Samuel).
Often telling similar things as the books of I and II Kings, this book records the history of the rulers of Judah, emphasizing the good kings.
After being held captive in Babylon for decades, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland. Ezra, a priest, helped lead the people as they rebuilt the city.
Nehemiah returned from the Babylonian captivity after the temple had been rebuilt. He concentrated on restoring the protective wall around Jerusalem and joined Ezra in leading a religious revival.
this story is set among captive Jews in Persia. A courageous Jewish queen stopped a plan to exterminate her people.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Almost one-third of the Old Testament was originally written in poetry form. These books concentrate on questions about pain, God, life, and love.
Job, a good man, suffered great personal tragedy. The entire book deals with the question, “Why do people Suffer?”
These prayers and hymns cover the full range of human emotion. Together, they represent a personal model of how to relate to God. Some were also used in public worship services.
The proverbs offer advice on many areas of life. Wise living is described here as leading to a fulfilled life.
this book reminds us that a life without God leads to meaninglessness and despair.
Song Of Solomon
This beautiful poem celebrates romantic love and can be seen as an example of how God loves us.
BOOKS OF THE PROPHETS
A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Though some prophets did predict future events, their main role was to call God’s people back to him.
Isaiah looked at the failures of all the nations around him and pointed to a future Messiah (Jesus) who would bring peace for the people of Israel.
Jeremiah had many bad things happen to him, yet he held to his stern message that the people needed to turn back to God. He spoke to Judah in the last decades before Babylon destroyed the nation.
All Jeremiah’s warnings about Jerusalem came true, and Lamentations records five poems of sorrow for the fallen city.
Ezekiel spoke to the Jews who were captive in Babylon. He often used dramatic stories and sometimes acted out illustrations to make his point.
Although he was a captive in Babylon, Daniel became prime minister in the government. Daniel lived a life of obedience even when he was faced with pressure from others.
By marrying a woman who was unfaithful to him. Hosea lived out his message: Israel has been spiritually unfaithful to God.
Beginning with a recent plague of locust in Judah, Joel foretold God’s judgement on Judah.
Amos preached to Israel during a time of prosperity. He told the people that God would judge them for not helping the poor.
Obadiah preached warnings to Edom, a nation bordering Judah.
Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh and found Israel’s enemies responsive to God’s message.
Micah exposed corruption in every level of society. But he ended his book with a promise of forgiveness and restoration for God’s people.
Long after Jonah had preached in Nineveh and the people had turned to God, Nahum foretold the mighty city’s total destruction.
Habakkuk addressed his book to God, not people. In a frank dialogue with God, he discussed problems of suffering and justice.
Zephaniah focused on the coming “day of the Lord,” which would destroy Judah. But God would save Jerusalem in the end.
After returning from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began rebuilding the temple of God. But soon they set aside that task to work on their own homes. Haggai reminded them to put God first.
Writing around the same time as Haggai, Zechariah also urged the Jews to work on the temple. He used a more encouraging approach, describing how the temple would point to the coming Messiah (Jesus).
The last Old testament prophet, Malachi faced a nation that had grown indifferent to God. He sought to stir them to turn back to God.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The word gospel means “good news.” Almost half of the new Testament consists of four accounts of the life of Jesus and the good news he brought to earth. Each of these four books, or Gospels, has a different focus and a different audience. Taken together, they give a complete picture of Jesus’ life and teaching. About a third of their pages are devoted to the events of his last week on earth, including the crucifixion and resurrection.
The book of Acts continues the history into the period after Jesus left earth.
Written to a Jewish audience, this Gospel links the Old and New Testaments. It presents Jesus as a Messiah and King promised in the Old Testament. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ authority and power.
Mark’s Gospel stresses action and gives a straightforward, blow-by-blow account of Jesus’ work on earth.
Luke was a doctor. His Gospel provides many details of human interest, especially in Jesus’ treatment of the poor and needy. A joyful tone characterizes Luke’s book.
John has a different, more reflective style than the other Gospels. Its author selected seven signs that pointed to Jesus as the Son of God and wove together everything else to underscore his point.
Acts tells what happened to Jesus’ followers after he left them. Peter and Paul soon emerged as leaders of the rapidly spreading church.
The young church was instructed by apostles who set down their beliefs and messages in a series of letters. The first 13 such letters (Romans through Philemon) were written by the apostle Paul, who led the advance of Christianity to non-Jewish people.
Romans describes theology in a logical, organized form.
A very practical book, I Corinthians talks about some problems of the church in Corinth: marriage, factions, immorality, public worship and lawsuits.
Paul wrote this follow-up letter to defend himself against accusations by false teachers.
A short version of the message of Romans, this book addresses legalism. It shows how Christ came to bring freedom, not bondage to a set of laws.
Although written in a jail, this letter is one of Paul’s most optimistic and encouraging. It tells of the advantages a believer has in Christ.
The church at Philippi ranked among Paul’s favorites. This friendly letter tells us that joy can be found in any situation.
Written to oppose certain cults, Colossians tells how faith in Christ is complete. Nothing needs to be added to what Christ did.
Composed early in Paul’s ministry, this letter gives a capsule history of one church, as well as Paul’s direct advice about specific problems.
Stronger in tone than his first letter to the Thessalonians, the sequel goes over the same topics, especially the church’s questions about Christ’s second coming.
As Paul neared the end of his life, he chose young men such as Timothy to carry on his work. His two letters to Timothy form a leadership manual for a young pastor.
Written just before Paul’s death, II timothy offers Paul’s final words to his young assistant.
Titus ministered in Crete, a difficult place to nurture a church. Paul’s letter gave practical advice on how to go about it.
Paul urged Philemon, owner of runaway slave Onesimus, to forgive his slave and accept him as a brother in Christ.
No one knows who wrote Hebrews, but it probably first went to Christians in danger of slipping back into Judaism. It interprets the Old Testament, explaining many Jewish practices as symbols that prepared the way for Christ.
James, a man of action, emphasized the right kind of behavior for a believer. Someone who calls himself or herself a Christian ought to act like it, James believed, and his letter spells out the specifics.
Early Christians often met violent opposition, and Peter’s letter comforted and encouraged Christians who were being persecuted for their faith.
In contrast to Peter’s first letter, this one focused on problems that sprang up from inside the church. It warns against false teachers.
John could fill simple words – light, love, life – with deep meaning. In this letter, he elegantly explains basic truths about the Christian life.
Warning against false teachers, John counseled churches on how to respond to them.
Balancing II John, this companion letter mentions the need to be hospitable to true teachers.
Jude gave a brief but fiery lesson on dealing with heretics.
A book of visions and symbols, Revelation is the only New Testament book that concentrates on prophecy. It completes the story, begun in Genesis, of the battle between good and evil being waged on earth. It ends with a picture of a new heaven and new earth.