Many Christians call the Bible “the Good Book.” They see it as a book which teaches morality and spiritual laws. And it is. But the Bible is a Good Book primarily because it tells us about a Good God. Like all major works, the Bible has a theme. Amazingly, this book – a collection of 66 books—is written by authors who all have the same theme -- the theme of God’s amazing love. It tells us about other things too – the rebelliousness of man, the working of evil in the world, the importance of faith in God. But its primary purpose is to point us to God.
1: What does the word Bible mean?
The word “Bible” means a “book of books.” The Christian Bible contains 66 books. The Books are always arranged in the same order, unless one has a Bible which places them in the chronological order in which they were written. These books are divided into The Old Testament and the New Testament.
2: What is a testament?
A testament is a testimony and an inheritance, as in “Last Will and Testament.” A testament is a spiritual and/or material gift given to hiers when a death occurs. The testaments are also called covenants. People who are part of a covenant have responsibilities, rights and inheritances under that covenant. A “covenant” is a vow or promise with responsibilities on both sides. The word “testament” means something like a contract, or a covenant. We see the word today in the phrase “Last Will and Testament.”
3: What is the difference between the Old and the New Testament?
The “Old Testament” is the “Law and covenants” God made with the Jewish people. The “old testament” contains many promises and covenants. The New Testament is the set of promises and covenants God gave the world because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some people don't like the phrase “old testament.” They say that it implies that the “new testament” is better, or that the old testament is finished and done away with. Instead of using the words “Old” or “New” Testament, some people use the phrase “The Jewish Covenant” and the “Christian Covenant.” Although the covenants seem to be different, they mirror each other. In both the Old and the New Testament the covenant or contract is sealed by sacrificial blood. The blood of the Passover Lamb and the sprinkling of blood sealed the contract under the Law and is called the Old Testament or the Old Covenant. The Blood of Jesus sealed the contract under Grace, and is called The New Testament or the New Covenant. Grace means God’s undeserved Love which He gives us because His son died for the sins of the world. Those who are under one Covenant cannot be under the other. Either one is seen as holy by fulfilling all the requirements of the law or one is seen as holy by accepting Jesus’s righteousness and trusting God’s love.
4: What books are called the Old Testament?
The books that describe the Old Testament (Old Inheritance or Old Covenant) are The Books of Moses, the history of the Jewish people, Prophecies and Wisdom books. These are the books from Genesis to Malachi.
5: What books are called the New Testament?
The books that described the New Testament (or New Inheritance) are the gospels, the book of the Acts of the apostles, the epistles, and The Book of Revelation.
6: What are the books of the Bible?
The books of the Bible are:
GENESIS: The book that tells about beginnings: beginning of humanity, the world, sin, and the nation of Israel.
EXODUS: tells about the first Israelites escape from Slavery and their journey to the land God had promised their ancestors.
LEVITICUS: means religious laws. It is named after the tribe of Levi who were the priestly tribe.
NUMBERS: means census.
DEUTERONOMY is when the law was given again. Read the Bible to find out why.
These first five books of the Bible are called The Torah. They tell about the journeys and wars of the Israelites as they journeyed towards the Promised Land.
JOSHUA: the book named after the leader who succeeded Moses.
JUDGES: describes the leaders of the people. It is almost like a collection of short stories and tells about the errors of human judgement and where expectations are turned on its head. Its theme is “Each man did what was right in his heart.”
RUTH is a love story about a woman who is the ancestor of David.
I+II SAMUEL, I+II KINGS, I+II CHRONICLES. These are historical books that tell about the history of Israel. The books of Samuel tell about David and his descendants. The books of Kings and Chronicles tell about the division of Israel into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The people of Judah are taken into captivity. Kings and Chronicles mirror and supplement each other.
EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER are about the Israelite exile in Babylon and the return home.
The Wisdom books:
JOB: is about the suffering of a good man. Job is the oldest book in the Old Testament but it is not the first book a reader sees when opening the Bible.
The PSALMS: songs, prayers, prophecies and praises to God. Many are written by David and many are for group worship.
The PROVERBS: are a collection of the nations proverbs.
ECCLESIASTES means The Preacher's sermon and is the memoir of a Preacher/King.
SONG OF SONGS or SONG OF SOLOMON is a play made from a collection of marriage songs by Solomon.
The Prophetic books made of:
The major prophets:
ISAIAH prophesies before the people of Judah are conquered and taken into exile.
JEREMIAH, who also wrote LAMENTATIONS, prophesies just as Babylonians are approaching. He is also called the weeping prophet.
EZEKIEL was a priest who accompanied his people into exile.
DANIEL was a prophet who served the king
The minor prophets --HOSEA, JOEL, AMOS, OBADIAH, JONAH, MICAH, NAHUM, HABAKKUK, ZEPHANIAH, HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH, and MALACHI all prophesy at different stages after the exile and when Israel returns to the land.
It is a good idea to read the prophets and the historical books together in order to comprehend the prophecies.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament books are made up of the gospels, the epistles and the prophetic book, Revelation.
What is the Gospel?
Gospel means “good news.” There are 4 gospels that tell us about the good news of the testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They tell about the spiritual benefits of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
MATTHEW: The gospel written by one of Jesus’ followers who had been a tax collector.
MARK: Mark was an early companion of Jesus’ friends.
LUKE: Luke was a Greek doctor and researcher who was a friend of Paul.
JOHN: John was Jesus’ closest friend.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES: This book was written by Luke. He tells us what happened in the early days of the church and how the gospel was spread to people who were not Jewish.
What is an epistle?
An “epistle” is a letter. The New Testament is full of letters which were written to different Christian churches by some of Jesus's followers. An epistle is named after its author or (if the letter is written by Paul) the epistle is named after the city the letter was addressed to.
Epistles were written to the churches in the following cities by Paul:
Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest New Testament book. This also is not the first book one sees when opening the New Testament.
Paul also wrote letters to the following people:
I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Timothy and Titus were ministers in the church. He wrote the letters to Timothy and Titus to encourage them and to show them how the churches should be organized. Philemon was a wealthy man who had a runaway slave whom Paul met. Paul wrote the letter to ask Philemon not to punish his slave.
One letter was written only to Jewish believers (the others were written to congregations that were both Jewish and Gentiles). This is the letter to the Hebrews.
Three letters were written by Jesus’ closest friends:
James, I & II Peter, I, II, & III John
One letter was written by Jesus’ brother:
The Apocalypse or the Revelation of St John was written to tell God’s people what would happen at the end of the world
It is also interesting to note that there are a few other letters mentioned in the New Testament that do not appear in the Bible. First Corinthians, for instance, is not really the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. But the first letter was lost. The letters to the Thessalonians were written by Paul because some unknown person had forged a letter using Paul’s name to tell this church that the Day of the Lord had arrived. Also, Paul writes that he has written a letter to the Laodiceans. This letter has not been found, or else it became the letter to the Ephesians.
7: Now open your Bible. What do you see?
What do all those numbers in the left margin of my Bible mean?
If you’ve ever sat in church or seen a televised sermon or if you have a Bible-quoting friend, you will hear a lot of Bible names, chapters, numbers and verses being spoken about. As you read your Bible, you will see large numbers at the beginning of each chapter and smaller numbers to the left of sentences. The little numbers at the left of each column are verse numbers. The books of the Bible were not originally written in chapter and verse. But over the years, it became useful to number those chapters and verses. All Bibles share the same verses and chapters to make it easier for Bible readers to discuss certain texts and to read the same place. When a Bible book has a roman numeral before its title (I or II as in I Corinthians 13:1 or I Cor 13:1), this means the book is a two-parter. So, if a minister tells you to “go to First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 1" he is sending you to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the thirteenth chapter and the first verse.
You should also notice how certain words are written. Publishers use different fonts within a Biblical passage to signal readers about certain words. For instance, many Bibles will use The Lord written with a Capital L and The LORD in small capitals. Notice the difference. This is the Publisher’s way of showing the different words used for God. There are other publishing clues. We still aren’t sure of the meaning of some Biblical words. Some Bibles will add a footnote at the bottom of the page to explain all the possible meanings of a word. Some will add footnotes in the margin. Some Bibles, like the King James Version, will italicize those words the translators were unsure of. As Biblical archeologists make new discoveries and words are defined, newer Bibles have less and less italicized words.
8: The names of books in the Bible
The titles of many Bible books are regular words. Sometimes these words are not common words. The word “Genesis” means “Beginnings.” The Book is called “Genesis” because the first words of the book reads, “In the Beginning.” The English translators could easily have used the word “Beginnings.”
9: Names of countries, regions, and nations
The Bible uses the ending “ites”, “ians” to describe types of nations, peoples. The ending “im” is often used to name types of angels and spiritual beings. The word “Israelites” is the Bible word for Israel. In modern times, we use the word “Israelis” to describe people from the nation of Israel.
10: Names of People in the Bible
Some Bible names take a lot of getting used to. Don’t let this bother you. The thing to remember is that the Bible people named their children in the same way we name our children. The name means something to us. Sometimes children are named in memory of dead family members. Sometimes the name is a symbol of a parent’s hope for a child. We can understand the meanings of many names, names such as Faith, Hope, Joy, Mercy, Crystal, Tiffany or even Carol. (The name Carol means “a song of joy.”) Most Biblical names have meanings. Sometimes the meanings of these names do not matter. Usually they do. Sometimes the writer of the Bible story will tell the meaning of the name. Sometimes he doesn’t. Many Bibles have the meaning of the names in margins. As you move along the Bible, remember these names are often transliterated. This means that the sounds of the names are translated. Just as Ian, John, Ewan, Ivan, Yan, Jan, and Owen are really all transliterations of the Hebrew name Ionannan, which means “God's gift.” The name “Jesus” was a common Biblical name. Joshua, Jesus, Jesu, Yehoshua, Iesu, are the same sounds for the name “Jesus.” All these different versions of the name mean “God Saves.”
Sometimes whole doctrines – and changes of doctrines—revolve around how a verse is translated in a particular Bible.
The KJV translates the words of Jesus to the father of the epileptic boy as, "If you can believe all things are possible to those who believe.”
But most translations –ancient or modern-- translate it in this way, “Jesus said to the boy's father, "Why do you say, 'If you can?' All things are possible to him that believes." Amazing what a well-placed punctuation will do.”
Another example: In the story of Cain and Abel, there are some intense conversations between Cain and God. The more versions of this conversation you read, the more you understand the extent, subtlety and depth of their conversations. Stuff is being talked about – birthright, mastery of sin, the power of conscience, the nature of self—that only can be understood by reading about these encounters in four or five different translations.
I therefore suggest that every Bible reader have at least three different versions or translations. That isn’t too hard, actually. You can actually find used Bibles at bookstores that sell used books. You can also go to certain Bible sites such as biblegateway.com and bible.cc. In my house, I have about six English translations (two ancient translations and four modern English ones), plus a French version and a Spanish version. The more we understand a passage, the more we can understand the dynamics of a passage.