An Overview of the Bible: Your Full-Course Spiritual Meal for a Lifetime!
As you learn to search the Scriptures for yourself and prepare your own spiritual meals, we want you to know What’s on the Menu! Perhaps by the end of this overview of the Bible, you’ll start getting hungry for a spiritually nourishing and satisfying meal from the Scriptures—God’s life-altering smorgasbord of wisdom and direction.
To get started, please sample some savory nuggets of information about the nature of God’s Word. The Bible is comprised of 66 individual books—some taking the form of personal letters, wide-sweeping chronicles of historical periods and masterfully composed grand narratives or stories that tell of God’s dealings with individuals, families, and whole nations throughout the course of time. Every word of every book of the Bible was breathed by God through His Holy Spirit, as human authors—40 of them!—wrote as the Spirit directed and inspired them to write. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he explained to his ministry apprentice, Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Bible is divided into two major sections: the Old Testament, a sweeping assortment of masterful writings that points to the coming main course, God’s promised Messiah, His Son, Jesus, and the New Testament, which reveals the fullness of Jesus as the Messiah through a colorful and deepened portrayal of his life and ministry and His ultimate purpose in redeeming the world from sin.
Interestingly, the books of the Bible are not arranged chronologically. That can bring a certain degree of confusion to someone just getting started in the searching the Scriptures process. So, it’s helpful to know that the Bible is arranged more like a buffet of meal options, where soups and salads are in one section, the main course meats and sides follow along in another section, with fruits, breads, and savory desserts coming closer to the end of the long, scrumptious buffet. Another way to understand it, as Chuck Swindoll suggests, is that “the Bible is put together much like a newspaper . . . all the news stories are placed in one section, the sports reports and statistics are put in another section, the business or lifestyle stories are grouped together in yet another section, and the want ads in another.”1Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 4.
Likewise, in the Bible, the Old Testament opens with a section of books marking periods of ancient history—from Genesis to Esther. Following that group are the books of poetry and songs—from Job to Song of Solomon. The final spread of wonderful offerings in the last part of the Old Testament are the books of prophecy, from Isaiah to Malachi.
Similarly, the New Testament offers a range of savory options that together provide rich and satisfying spiritual meals. The Gospels, which include the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present the wonderful Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, followed by the book of Acts, a marvelous history of the birth and growth of His church (author is Luke).
What follows are the letters (whole meals in themselves!) divided into the letters of Paul, which include Romans through Philemon, and the general letters, or epistles, which include Hebrews through Jude. Finally comes Revelation, which is a book of prophecy.
|Types of Books in the Bible2Ibid, 5.|
|The Old Testament||The New Testament|
Books of History
Books of Poetry
Books of Prophecy
Book of History
Book of Prophecy
All of this information is only preparation—like delectable hor d’oeuvres—to whet your appetite for a completely satisfying spiritual meal prepared from the Scriptures. Time for the second course!
Soup and Salad
Just as those tasty offerings of soup and salad precede the main course of a carefully prepared meal, so too, all the books of the Old Testament prepare us for the Main Course which is Jesus, God’s Son, the promised Messiah. The aroma of Christ and His coming waft throughout the stories, narratives and pages of the Old Testament mouth-watering smells from a banquet kitchen, signaling to guests of something wonderful yet to come. From Genesis to Malachi, the Holy Spirit adds the flavor of Christ and His grace into every message, whetting the recipients’ palates for more.
First, are the books of history, presented at the opening of the Old Testament. Much of the material in this section of Scripture is presented in narrative form, that is, telling a story of God and His dealings with Creation. Also in this section, the first five books of the Bible, you will find the Ten Commandments and laws that God gave Israel to follow. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, then, are often referred to as the Law.
God desired a deep and faithful relationship with His prized creation—Adam and Eve, and all humanity. When that covenant of love was broken by sin (Genesis 3), God moved in grace and mercy to provide a way for all who would fall under sin’s curse, to be reconciled to Him.
The great stories embedded in the books of history convey that theme of God’s unconditional covenant love for His people, a certain promise of blessing for obedience to His commands, and spiritual peril for anyone who chose willfully to ignore Him.
Out of the books of history flow the books of poetry— the songs (the book of Psalms) and lyrical expressions (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) of kings and people prone to wander, yet protected by and oft drawn back to the everlasting shelter of a gracious, all-forgiving God (Psalm 84:1-7)!
This collection of Old Testament writings is also referred to as wisdom literature for its timeless truth given to impart wisdom to those who believe God and obey His Word.
What follows are the books of prophecy (Isaiah to Malachi). God’s people, either as individuals, or as an entire nation, sadly, at many times failed in their keeping of God’s commands. Therefore, God commissioned prophets to herald messages of stern warnings regarding the consequences of their continued disobedience. These words came seasoned with the bitter spices of God’s disappointment and wrath with the aim of bringing about Israel’s complete and unswerving repentance.
The Old Testament books Isaiah to Daniel comprise what has come to be known as the major prophets because they are significantly longer than the other books of prophecy. The shorter books of prophecy (there are 12) span from Hosea through Malachi and are for the most part confrontational in nature, as God uses these choice men to draw Israel back to Himself.
The books of prophecy are comprised of God’s words of warnings and His commands to the many kings that ruled over Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) and the surrounding pagan nations of that day.
The Old Testament closes (the end of Malachi) with an ominous unresolved tension, with God’s people having never fully turned from their errant and stubborn ways.
The table is set for the Main Course!
The Main Course
The Main Course is Jesus! He comes filled with grace and truth, and declaring Himself to be “the bread of life" (John 6:35) while promising to satisfy the enduring spiritual hunger of the human heart.
The table now beautifully set, the New Testament serves up the all-nourishing, totally satisfying message of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. His birth, life, death and resurrection are portrayed, each with differing themes, in the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, being a Jewish tax collector who followed Jesus, had a deep burden for his own people, so he emphasized Jesus as Messiah and the nature of His kingdom on earth. Mark, writing most likely during a time of intense persecution of Christians at the hand of Nero, focused primarily on the cost of discipleship, lifting beleaguered believers’ eyes to Jesus, whose suffering brought their salvation. Luke, also writing to a specific audience, focused his theme on the evidence that Jesus in fact was who He claimed to be by delivering an almost scientific, journalistic review of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection (Luke 1:3-4).
John’s gospel offers an inspiring, theologically complex, and captivating defense of the deity of Jesus, exquisitely portraying each episode of Christ’s miraculous deeds, with an implicit and impassioned aim: That you might believe (John 20:31)!
Don’t Forget the Sides!
Just as every magnificently served main course is accompanied by correspondingly appropriate side dishes, so the main message of the Gospels—Christ’s life, ministry, death and resurrection—comes fortified and served with a supporting menu of complimentary books, starting with one book of history, the book of Acts, written by Luke, followed by the letters of Paul, Romans through Philemon, and the general epistles, authored by various other apostles, including Peter, James, John, and Jude, the half-brother of Jesus. These letters include Hebrews (author unknown) through the book of Jude.
Each writer, with careful attention to expanding on and interpreting the words and works of Jesus, brings deeper meaning to His Gospel, applying it to the Christian life. With unlimited spiritual nutrients (applications), these books provide everything you need to mature in your faith, including how to trust that God is working all things for your good (Romans 8), how to love and serve your spouse (Ephesians 5), defend and stand firm against the strategies of the Devil (Ephesians 6), to win over worry in prayer (Philippians 4), to view yourself seated in heavenly places, where Christ sits at the right hand of God (Colossians 3), to eagerly await the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5), to maintain sound teaching, with a clear conscience and sincere faith (1 Timothy 1), to stand firm in the faith and come boldly to the throne of grace in prayer (Hebrews 4), to be a doer of the Word and not a mere hearer (James 1), to not be taken back by coming persecution (1 Peter 4), to bear one another’s burdens (1 John), and to snatch sinners from the flames of judgment, without yourself being burned (Jude 23).
What a wonderfully satisfying and rich spiritual meal is provided to all of us in the spread of the New Testament!
And there’s more . . .
The final course is the sweet revelation that in the end, Jesus is coming again! The final book in the Bible is the book of Revelation, a book of prophecy. Like the sweet culmination of a wonderfully enjoyed multi-course meal, Revelation concludes the Bible story with the sweet message of Christ’s return and the fulfillment of all God’s revelation. Written by John, exiled on the island of Patmos, this rich and image-filled book of prophecy promises eternal blessing for anyone who reads or listens to its truths.
So, how was it? Are you full? Has your appetite for more nourishment from God’s Word increased? Now that you know what’s on the menu, don’t waste any time trying your hand at preparing your own spiritually satisfying meals by searching the Scriptures for yourself! Make sure to get a copy of Chuck Swindoll’s book, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs(Carol Springs, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 3–19.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 4.|