Introduction to the Bible

An overview of the Bible summarizing the content and central theme of Scripture, four reasons for its importance, and how we got our Bible.

Introduction to the Bible
photo by Priscilla Du Preez

The Christian Basics series covers the basics of Christianity. This article gives an overview and introduction to the Bible.

Article Content

  1. Overview of the Bible
  2. The Old Testament
  3. The New Testament
  4. Central Theme of the Bible: Christ
  5. Why Is the Bible Important?
  6. How We Got Our Bible?

1. Overview of the Bible

The Bible is God’s word. It is inspired by God. God moved the writers through the Holy Spirit to pen the words of Scripture. The original words are true and authoritative because they come from God Himself.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

The 66 books of the Bible were written by approximately forty different men. These men lived in several different countries from 1400 BC to AD 90. The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

2. The Old Testament

The books of the Old Testament in English Bibles are grouped under four main headings: law, history, poetry, and prophecy.

A. Law (The Pentateuch)

The books of the Law are also known as the “Five Books of Moses” because Moses was the human author. It is also known as The Pentateuch (Greek for “five-volumed”). It was written around 1400 BC.

The Law explains the origin of man and sin. It contains the history of Israel beginning with the Abrahamic Covenant and ending with the nation on the threshold of the Promised Land. It contains God’s law given to Moses and the Israelites.

  • Genesis: The book of beginnings - creation, man, sin, redemption, and the nation of Israel.
  • Exodus: God delivers His people from Egypt and gives His law at Sinai.
  • Leviticus: Collection of priestly laws on holiness and worship through sacrifice and purification.
  • Numbers: God’s people disobey and wander in the wilderness for forty years.
  • Deuteronomy: Moses gives final discourses to prepare God’s people to enter the Promised Land.

B. History

There are twelve books within this historical section of the Old Testament written from 1400-450 BC. This section describes Israel’s entry into the Promised Land under Joshua and culminates in Judah’s return from exile in Babylon.

  • Joshua: Israel enters and occupies the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.
  • Judges: Israel repeatedly commits apostasy, yet God is faithful to deliver the nation.
  • Ruth: God is good and sovereign amidst difficulty even to those outside of the nation of Israel.
  • 1 Samuel: God guides the nation through the prophet Samuel as it receives its first king Saul.
  • 2 Samuel: The nation of Israel thrives and suffers under the leadership of King David.
  • 1 Kings: A summary written to the exiles, describing Israel’s history from King Solomon to the divided kingdom.
  • 2 Kings: The nation of Israel and Judah collapse due to their disobedience and unfaithfulness.
  • 1 Chronicles: An Old Testament history record written to repatriated exiles opening from Adam to King David.
  • 2 Chronicles: History record continues from King Solomon to the return from Babylon, focusing on the Southern kingdom of Judah.
  • Ezra: Released from Babylonian captivity, Israel is led by Ezra to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and keep the Mosaic law.
  • Nehemiah: Released from Babylonian captivity, Israel is led by Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and keep the Mosaic law.
  • Esther: God in His sovereignty uses Esther, a Jewish girl who became a Persian queen, to preserve His chosen people, Israel.

C. Poetry (Wisdom Literature)

These books are known as Poetry or the Wisdom Literature. These books were to teach Israel how to possess godly wisdom and how to suffer well. There are five books within this section:

  • Job: God has a purpose when the righteous suffer.
  • Psalms: Songs to be sung to God amidst all seasons of life.
  • Proverbs: Godly wisdom to navigate a life that will honor God.
  • Ecclesiastes: Life has no meaning if it is not lived for God.
  • Song of Solomon: Marital love is to be enjoyed and celebrated.

D. Prophecy

This section is also known as the Prophetical Books, the Books of the Prophets and the Books of Prophecy. This section is subdivided into the major and minor prophets based on the length of the books, not their importance.

Prophets were commissioned by God to deliver His message to men. These men prophesied before, during, and after the exile of Israel and Judah to Babylon. They ministered from approximately 760 BC until 460 BC, and some ministered to Israel or Judah at the same time.

Major Prophets

The first five books are called “Major Prophets” because these books are longer.

  • Isaiah: Israel will suffer because of its disobedience but it will experience future glory.
  • Jeremiah: God will bring inescapable judgment upon Israel through the Babylonian Captivity because of rebellion.
  • Lamentations: Jeremiah weeps because his beloved city of Jerusalem has been destroyed.
  • Ezekiel: Israel is told that God is holy as Ezekiel vindicates God’s reputation.
  • Daniel: God is sovereign over history and the empires of the world.

Minor Prophets

  • Hosea: Israel’s unfaithfulness cannot break God’s redeeming love for the nation.
  • Joel: Repent because of the day of the Lord is coming.
  • Amos: The judgment of God is certain on Israel and its enemies.
  • Obadiah: Edom will be judged because of how it treated Israel.
  • Jonah: God is not only gracious to Israel and a reluctant prophet, but He is also compassionate to pagans.
  • Micah: Disobedience to God brings His judgment, yet He will forgive.
  • Nahum: Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, will be destroyed.
  • Habakkuk: Triumphant faith amidst difficulty and misunderstanding.
  • Zephaniah: The day of the Lord is coming in which God will judge the sinner and bless the obedient.
  • Haggai: God’s people should be faithful to rebuild the temple and be assured of His presence with them in Jerusalem.
  • Zechariah: God’s people must recognize that their work of rebuilding the temple is bound up with God’s plan to bring their Messiah.
  • Malachi: Judah is called to repent from its dead worship and return to faithfulness to God.

We have 400 years of silence before Jesus arrives.

3. The New Testament

The New Testament reveals Jesus Christ. It reveals the life of Christ, the way of salvation, the beginning of Christianity, the instructions for Christian living, and God’s plan for the future.

The Old Testament gives historical foundations, symbolical illustrations and prophetical anticipations. The New Testament gives the peak of revelation.

A. The Gospels

These are the first four books of the New Testament. These books tell the good news of Jesus Christ.
They bear the name of the human authors. All four describe the life, birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is the center of God’s plan of redemption, also known as the gospel. Each of the four gospels present Jesus in a unique light.

  • Matthew: Jesus is the King of the Jews who was rejected by His own countrymen.
  • Mark: Jesus is the Servant of God who ministers to people’s needs.
  • Luke: Jesus is the Son of man who is the Savior of all.
  • John: Jesus is the Son of God in whom we should believe for eternal life.

B. Acts (History of the Early Church)

“The Acts of the Apostles” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” is Part II of the Gospel of Luke since both share the same author and both are addressed to a man of antiquity named Theophilus (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). Some group the book of Acts with the Gospels and call all five books “History.”
The book can be divided into three parts:

  • Acts 1-7: The church witnesses to Jewish people in and around the city of Jerusalem.
  • Acts 8-12: The church witnesses to Samaritans in and around the provinces of Judea and Samaria.
  • Acts 13-28: The church witnesses to Gentiles throughout the known world.

C. Epistles of Paul

Paul was converted to Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1ff) and God used him to author two-thirds of the content of the New Testament.
Paul introduces himself as the human author of every one of these epistles (letters) usually within the first few verses of the first chapter.
These letters of Paul can be sub-divided into those written to churches (Romans-2 Thessalonians) and those written to people (1 Timothy-Philemon).

  • Romans: The theology of salvation explained in intricate detail from start to finish.
  • 1 Corinthians: The church is to address internal divisions so that the gospel can go forth.
  • 2 Corinthians: The relationship between suffering and the power of God as seen in the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
  • Galatians: The heart of the gospel, faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, is to be defended and protected.
  • Ephesians: Christ unites people from all nations to Himself and one another in the church.
  • Philippians: Joy and encouragement mark those who know and serve Jesus Christ together.
  • Colossians: Christ is Lord of all of creation, including things seen and unseen.
  • 1 Thessalonians: Be ready for the return of Jesus when He will resurrect the just and condemn the unjust.
  • 2 Thessalonians: A healthy church understands what it means to be faithful to the Lord as it awaits His return.
  • 1 Timothy: The gospel will produce evidence in the lives of church leaders who must then maintain order in the church.
  • 2 Timothy: Church leaders should persevere in gospel work despite difficulties.
  • Titus: The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be used to correct false teaching and to produce correct living.
  • Philemon: The gospel of Jesus Christ can change people and restore relationships.

D. General Epistles

The General Epistles speak either to no specific audience (Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 John, Jude) or to an audience whose exact identity is broad (James, 1 Peter) or vague (2, 3 John). They include what some call the Johannine Epistles (1, 2, 3 John) and the Petrine Epistles (1, 2 Peter).

  • Hebrews: Christ is greater than all; therefore keep holding onto Him by faith.
  • James: A list of evidences to test whether a person is a doer of the word of God that is fruit of saving faith.
  • 1 Peter: Persevere by faith while suffering persecution because you already possess the promises of God.
  • 2 Peter: The grace of God in Christ transforms and enables you to live right in the face of opposition.
  • 1 John: Explaining the basics of the Christian life: correct beliefs, correct living and correct commitment.
  • 2 John: Live in the love of God in accordance with the truth of Jesus.
  • 3 John: Work together in love as you confront difficult people in the church.
  • Jude: The church must contend for the Christian faith once for all delivered to the saints while resisting false teachers.

E. Revelation

The technical name of this last book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The book of Revelation identifies itself as both apocalyptic literature (“revelation,” 1:1) and prophesy (1:3).

This book reveals the future events: the return of Jesus Christ, the reign of Jesus Christ, the glory of Jesus Christ and the future state of believers and unbelievers.

4. Central Theme of the Bible: Christ

The central theme of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament anticipates and foreshadows Christ. The New Testament more fully explains Christ.

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

5. Why Is the Bible Important?

1. The Bible is inspired by God and therefore useful.

“And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)

2. Every word of the Bible is inspired and valuable.

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

3. The Bible, God’s word, is uniquely powerful.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

4. The Bible promises spiritual blessing to its readers.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8)

6. How We Got Our Bible?

  • 1500 B.C. to A.D. 100: Original manuscripts from 66 distinct works. Some of the writers are unknown.
  • We have copied manuscripts in the original language and translations into other languages and quotations.
  • A.D. 385-404: The Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation
  • A.D. 700-1000: Various Anglo-Saxon partial translations
  • A.D. 1382: Complete translations by John Wycliffe and followers.
  • A.D. 1525-1535: First printed translation by William Tyndale
  • A.D. 1611: The King James Version
  • More discoveries of manuscripts are made.
  • A.D. 1885, 1901: English Revised Version and American Standard Version
  • A.D. 1947: Dead Sea Scrolls
  • A.D. 1952-Present: Modern English Translations like Revised Standard Version (RSV), New American Standard Version (NASB), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV)

Further Resources on the Bible