What Is the Bible?

Translated in more languages than any other book, the Bible has been the best-selling book of all time. It has also been the most attacked book of all time. Yet, it endures, crossing cultures and changing people’s lives.

But what is the Bible? Just an ancient artifact from the eastern Mediterranean? An outmoded religious rule book? Or the revealed word of the living God?

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.

~2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

In an earlier post, “Lenses Through Which to See the World,” I discussed how everyone has a worldview. Now I want to focus on the biblical worldview, the worldview through which I choose to see the world. Before I can clarify what it means to have a biblical worldview, I need to explain its source, the Bible.

The Bible is known by many names: the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, the Good Book. Although it is bound in one volume, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books. This portable library has two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament contains the 39 books. The Jews recognize these as their Hebrew Bible and have arranged these books into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Christians have grouped the books of the Old Testament into five sections: law, history, poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets. The Christian Bible follows a different book order than the Jewish Bible as well.

The Law: The first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses and are also called the Pentateuch or the Torah. They describe the creation of the world, the fall of man into sin, Noah’s flood, the call of Abraham (the father of the Jewish people), the Patriarchs, Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt, Israel’s 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and the laws God gave the Israelites through Moses.

History: These twelve books record Israel’s history, beginning with the conquest of the Promised Land, Canaan, then continues through the period of the judges, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdom, the Assyrians scattering the Northern Kingdom Israel, Babylon taking Judah into exile, and finally the return of a remnant to Judah under the Persian Empire.

Poetry: These five books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Solomon) make up the Jewish wisdom literature and worship songs. King David composed many of the Psalms, and his son, King Solomon, authored the last three books.

Major Prophets: The five prophecy books in this section are called the major prophets because of the length of the books. These prophets and their messages were not more important than the minor prophets.

Minor Prophets: These twelve books are called minor because they are much shorter than the major prophet books.

Prophecy doesn’t always mean telling the future. The prophets functioned as God’s spokesmen to Israel and declared instructions on how to follow God, warnings of judgment, and the promise of a future hope to the people of Israel.

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Photo by Lorinda Newton

The New Testament

The New Testament contains the 27 books written by Jesus’ disciples in Greek during the first century AD. Just as the Old Testament, the New Testament is traditionally divided into five sections: the gospels, history, Paul’s epistles (letters), the general epistles, and prophecy. The picture above uses a slightly different grouping that is traditionally used, but I found it to be a helpful graphic.

The Gospels: These four books describe Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Each gospel author presents a different point of view to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah that the Old Testament authors wrote about.

History: The book of Acts, its full name is The Acts of the Apostles, records the history of the early church starting from Christ’s ascension to heaven, then Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the Apostles, Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, and ending with his imprisonment.

Paul’s Epistles (Letters): This section contains 13 letters Paul wrote to churches, young pastors, and friends. Most of the letters address doctrinal issues and respond to problems or questions the letter’s recipients had. Each book is named for the recipient.

General Epistles (Letters): These eight letters are named for their authors and were addressed to the early Christians throughout the Roman empire. They provide instruction and encouragement as well as warnings against false teachings.

Prophecy: The book of Revelation, written by Apostle John while living in exile on Patmos, describes a vision about the end times. Its purpose was to encourage Christians.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

~1 John 5:13 (NASB)

Even though the 66 books of the Bible were written by over 40 authors over a span of 1600 years (1500 BC to 100 AD), the theme of God’s redemption of the world ties all these books together into a cohesive whole. God spoke through these various authors to reveal himself and his plan to Israel and then to the entire world. The Bible isn’t a work of men but the inspired word of God.

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