The following is a very brief synopsis of each of the books of the Bible, and it’s intended to give the novice reader a sense of each Book and how it fits with in the overall picture of the Bible. It’s highly recommended that the reader refer to additional reference sources for a more complete explanation and understanding of each of the Books of the Bible.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is the first major section of the Christian Bible, and it’s composed of 39 individual books. The first five books, written by Moses, tell of the rise of mankind, the call of Abraham, and the formation of the Nation of Israel. The other books pertain to wisdom and poetry, the history of Israel, the Law of Moses, and various prophets. It’s called the “Old Testament,” meaning the “Old Covenant,” as a reference to the covenant God made with Israel when He instituted the Law through Moses.
The first five books of the Bible are called the Torah—a Hebrew word meaning “instruction.” They are also referred to as the Pentateuch, meaning “five scrolls.”
The Book of Genesis is the book of beginnings. It focuses on God’s creative actions, the Fall of Adam and Eve, the degradation of the human race and the corruption of the world. Following the Flood of Noah, God calls Abraham, a man who completely trusts God and to whom God makes a promise that he will be the father of many nations and through his offspring all the people of the world will be blessed. This is a promise that the Redeemer will come one day through Abraham’s bloodline.
Exodus means “the departure,” and this book portrays the departure of Israel from Egypt after years of captivity. During their 40 years of travel in the wilderness, they receive the Law of Moses, a covenant that God makes with them in which He promises to provide for them as long as they are faithful in their obedience to Him.
One of the twelve tribes of Israel was the Levites, and the book of Leviticus focuses on the duties and responsibilities of the Levites in leading the Nation of Israel in their worship of God, as well as on laws and regulations to keep Israel holy before God.
The book of Numbers tells of the 40-year wanderings of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. It begins with Moses and Aaron taking a census, includes a description of the people’s failure to trust God when they come to the Promised Land, and describes their punishment: that the older generation must all die before the younger can enter the land.
Deuteronomy literally means “second law”, and it’s the book that records Moses’ repetition of the Law, as well as adding some additional laws that are necessary for life in the Promised Land. Moses encourages the people’s faithfulness to God and exhorts them to be obedient as they enter the Promised Land.
Following the first five books of Moses, there are 12 books containing the historical accounts of the Nation of Israel during the time of the united kingdom, the splitting of Judah and Israel, and their dispersion under the Assyrians and carrying away into Babylonian captivity.
When Moses dies, the mantle of leadership is passed on to his assistant, Joshua. Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land and wages numerous military campaigns in conquest of the land. After conquering most of the land under Joshua’s leadership, the land is divided among the twelve tribes.
Following the death of Joshua, the Israelites undergo a period of about 350 years involving a repeating cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, deliverance, and rest. The Book of Judges includes some remarkable stories of the people who judge Israel, such as Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, and Samson.
This is a beautiful story that takes place during the same period as the book of Judges. Ruth, a Moabitess, marries a young Israelite who dies. Instead of returning to her family, Ruth stays with her mother-in-law, demonstrating great love, faithfulness, and devotion to her. Eventually Ruth remarries and becomes the great-grandmother of King David, through whom the Messiah comes. Ruth is a story of grace and mercy, demonstrating the principle of the “kinsman redeemer”—that is, a near relative who redeems someone from difficult circumstances—as a foreshadowing of the Messiah.
1 & 2 Samuel:
Samuel is the last judge before Israel demands a king like all of the other nations around them. Samuel anoints Saul, the first king, and also the young boy David when Saul fails to obey God. 2 Samuel provides an account of the reign of David the warrior king, his missteps, and his wonderful heart to serve God.
1 & 2 Kings:
Starting with King Solomon, the books of 1 & 2 Kings tell the stories of the various kings who rule the divided kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Eventually, the kingdoms fall because of disobedience to God and are judged for their idolatry.
1 & 2 Chronicles:
These books cover the same general timeframes as 1 & 2 Kings. They cover much of the same material, but with different details. Many consider them to be written with a spiritual context.
Ezra tracks the restoration of the people to the land of Israel following their captivity in Babylon. Under Ezra’s leadership, the people begin rebuilding the Temple.
Nehemiah is a contemporary of Ezra and it’s under his leadership that, against great opposition, the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt. Ezra and Nehemiah are the last books of the Old Testament chronologically.
Prior to the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra, the Persians conquer Babylon. During the reign of the Persians there is a plot to exterminate all of the Jews, but God raises up Esther to become queen and through her He saves His people.
Throughout the span of history, God has spoken to His people through His prophets. He established various covenants (Abraham, Moses, and David) and called people back to them through the prophets. It wasn’t the role of the prophets to manage the day-to-day affairs of the people, but to provide them with guidance and special revelation that pertained to God’s plans and purposes.
This book tells the story of a prophet from the tribe of Judah whom God raises up to warn of the coming Assyrian dispersion and Babylonian captivity. Isaiah also predicts the coming of the Persian king Cyrus who will release Judah and allow them to return to the Land. In addition to his message of judgment, Isaiah also delivers many comforting prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and his kingdom.
Known as the “weeping Prophet,” Jeremiah speaks of the coming dark days of Judah’s deportation to Babylon. The record of Jeremiah shows how, as a result of speaking truthfully for God, he suffers greatly at the hands of wicked rulers. Suffering for speaking the truth is one of the themes of the Bible, and in that suffering Jeremiah certainly foreshadows the suffering of Jesus Christ. Eventually, Jeremiah’s words come to pass and Israel is conquered and carried off to Babylon.
Although technically a book of poetry, Lamentations contains Jeremiah’s mourning following the fall of Jerusalem. The walls of the city have been torn down, the glory of Jerusalem is gone, and all that the people can do now is mourn and hope. Lamentations shows us that there is no sin in mourning when disaster occurs, but that we should always combine it with hope.
Jerusalem is conquered in a series of three waves. During this time, God raises up a contemporary of Jeremiah, a young priest named Ezekiel, who serves as a “watchman on the wall”—warning the people but also encouraging them with the vision of the new Temple of the Lord in the Millennial Kingdom.
Carried off into captivity as a young boy, Daniel is raised to serve in kings’ courts with the schooling of wise advisors. He survives the Persian conquest of Babylon and rises to a prominent position of power in the Persian Empire. Daniel shows us that even if our circumstances are undesirable, God is with us and we can prosper. Daniel is also given remarkable visions concerning the end times.
The following books are considered the “minor prophets,” not because they are of little importance, but because their books are shorter, limited in scope, and more narrow in focus. The major and minor prophets tend to be the least-read books in the Bible, primarily because they can be difficult to understand given that they usually contain condemnations of the sinful behavior of various peoples and kings.
Hosea prophesies to Israel, the unfaithful northern kingdom. This book contains a record of how God uses Hosea and his marriage as a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
The book of Joel is only three chapters long. It’s a call for Judah, the southern kingdom, to repent and return to God. Joel also prophesies about the end times.
Amos is a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. He is a shepherd and a farmer, and even though he lacks a priestly background, God calls him and sends him to the northern kingdom of Israel because of their corruption, neglect of God’s word, idolatry, greed, and oppression of the poor.
With only 21 verses, this is the shortest book in the Old Testament. Obadiah condemns the Gentile kingdom of Edom for their sins against God and Israel.
God calls a man named Jonah to warn Nineveh, a city in the nation of Assyria, of God’s coming judgment unless they repent. Instead, Jonah tries to run from his mission from God. His disobedience results in personal calamity; he is thrown overboard from the ship he was using to escape from God, where he is swallowed by a large fish, dies, and is in the fish for 3 days and nights—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ time in the grave before his resurrection. Jonah is then brought back to life, repents, and finally does what God asked him to do—in spite of some additional complaints.
Micah condemns the leadership of Israel—its rulers, priests and prophets—for their exploitation of the people. The book is a warning of judgment, but it also includes a message of hope and restoration as well as a prophecy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
This is a book written after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, and in it Nahum foretells that Nineveh, capital of Assyria, will suffer severe consequences for their sin and brutal treatment of Israel.
The prophet Habakkuk questions God, asking Him why He is allowing His people to suffer. God replies, and the prophet’s faith is restored.
The prophet Zephaniah writes before the fall of Judah as a warning of coming judgment and a call for repentance. He also foretells a day when a remnant of the people will return from exile.
Haggai challenges God’s people concerning their priorities after they return from captivity in Babylon. They have done little to restore God’s Temple and have instead focused on their own projects and homes. The prophet promises restoration and blessings from God if the people will do what is right and put God’s Temple first.
This book includes a call for God’s people to do what is right, to administer justice, and to never oppress the needy. He also prophesies concerning the Messiah and the end times.
Malachi calls out to God’s people who have forsaken His commands. He reproves the priests who are sacrificing blemished animals and not taking their roles seriously. Malachi predicts the coming of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1-6). The close of Malachi begins a period of about 400 years of silence during which no prophets add to the Scriptures.
Books of Wisdom and Poetry
One can easily recognize the differences in the style of literature when comparing the books of law and history to the books of wisdom and poetry.
Some scholars believe that this is the oldest book in the Bible. It opens with a scene of the spiritual dynamics taking place between God and His nemesis, the Devil. It portrays the suffering of Job and demonstrates how even the righteous suffer now, that our suffering isn’t necessarily the result of our personal sin, and that in all situations we must stay faithful to God because He is always faithful to us.
This is the longest book in the Bible with 150 individual psalms. It’s a collection of Hebrew poetry and song lyrics, many of them written by King David. Most are praises and prayers to God, dealing with the subjects of creation, worship, sin, justice, righteousness, and God’s protection.
This book is known as the “book of wisdom,” and its primary purpose is to teach the young and inexperienced how best to live life. Many of the proverbs are credited to Solomon, King David’s son, the wisest man who has ever lived. Proverbs says that it will give the reader wisdom so that they will know the right, fair, and just path of life.
Like the book of Proverbs, this book was also written by King Solomon, and it contains many maxims and wise sayings. It was written to show future generations the pain and depression that comes from the meaningless pursuit of money, power, sensual pleasure, and other earthly endeavors. The book concludes by pointing out that everyone will inevitably die, so without God and our obedience to Him, all man’s endeavors are meaningless.
Song of Solomon:
This is a book of prose written about the love between a man and a woman. It points out the joys of love and even of sex, and foreshadows the great love that Jesus will have for his “bride,” the body of believers.
The New Testament is the second major section of the Christian Bible, and it’s composed of 27 separate books. The New Testament chronicles the life and teachings of Jesus in four Gospels, then traces the actions of his first followers and the spread of Jesus’ teachings in the first century through the Book of Acts and 21 letters written between Jesus’ followers, and concludes with the Book of Revelation, a book of prophecy that focuses on end time events. This section is called the “New Testament”, meaning the “New Covenant” between God and mankind that Jesus established, as prophesied in the book of Jeremiah.
Each of the four Gospels is a narrative of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They include many of Jesus’ teachings and speak of him from differing perspectives, collectively forming a fourfold portrait of Christ.
This book presents a portrait of Jesus as a king from the line of David. The phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” a reference to the time when Jesus will reign on earth as the King of Kings, occurs more than 30 times in Matthew. The phrase “Son of David” is also used ten times, another reference to his kingship.
In Mark, Jesus is depicted as a humble servant. Emphasis is placed on his “doing,” and the language is simple and forceful, underscoring the works he did as a servant instead of his words (teaching).
This Gospel places greater focus on the humanity of Jesus, opening with his birth and presentation at the Temple and showing that he was subject to his parents like all children are. He is also depicted as a warm, loving, kind, and compassionate person. Additionally, in this book we see his great concern for the poor and less fortunate.
The Gospel of John emphasizes Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. Jesus refers to God as a “Father” more times in this book than in all of the other Gospels combined. The writer makes it clearly known at the end of this Gospel that its purpose is to help people believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.
This book is a narrative of the history of the first-century followers of Christ, and it includes a description of their activities right after Jesus’ death as it follows the spread of Christianity.
Letters of Paul
The Apostle Paul traveled extensively through the Gentile world, spreading the message of Jesus. The letters of Paul, also known as the “Epistles,” are written to many of these communities and contain the fundamental Christian beliefs and instructions on how followers of Christ are to live.
A very important letter explaining the fundamentals of salvation, the essential matters to Christianity and those of lesser importance. Paul also wrote this letter to strengthen, encourage, and unite the Christians in Rome, imparting wisdom to them regarding proper conduct with each other despite their differing backgrounds.
In this letter Paul addresses some serious problems that have crept into the Corinthian congregation, such as division, immorality, marital strife, church discipline, and issues regarding worship.
This is a subsequent letter to 1 Corinthians, and in it Paul addresses issues related to his authority as an Apostle, forgiveness, and giving to others.
This book addresses the controversy caused by peopled advocating for adherence to the Mosaic Law, especially the practice of circumcision. Paul stresses that salvation is by grace and not by any of the works of the Law.
This letter emphasizes that the followers of Christ are all members of the Body of Christ. It also reiterates the most fundamental doctrines of One Body, One Lord, One God, One Hope, One Faith, One Baptism, and One Spirit, and ends with an encouragement for Christ’s followers to stand united in the face of all opposition.
Often referred to as “the book of joy” because of the numerous times Jesus’ followers are told to have joy and to “rejoice in the Lord.” It involves practical instructions on how to live honorably as citizens of heaven, humbly as servants of Christ, and obediently as children of God.
Warns the reader to guard against false teachers and heresy, and provides rules for holy living.
Provides specific instructions concerning relationships among Christians, explains the current state and future hope of those who have died, and encouragement to look to the hope of Christ’s return for the church.
Paul provides additional encouragement about the coming of Christ for the church, and a call to stay strong in their faith.
Paul’s Pastoral Letters
The following letters were written by Paul to individuals who had oversight in the church, and they address issues of leadership and doctrine.
Instructs the reader on how to oppose false teaching and includes instruction on the behavior of the church— especially on how leaders are to behave.
Exhorts strength and endurance in times of persecution and contains instruction on properly handling Scripture and fulfilling one’s personal ministry.
This letter speaks mostly about morality, good works, and good conduct both in the church and in the world. This was Paul’s final letter before he was executed by the Romans.
A personal letter from Paul to a man named Philemon regarding a runaway slave, Oneismus. This book sheds light on the shift in social and cultural norms within the Christian circles at the time of Paul.
The following letters vary in length and are written by various apostles and leaders in the early church.
This book emphasizes the completion of the old covenant by Jesus’ life and death, and encourages the reader not to let their faith be shaken. It shows how Jesus is “better” than what the Jews had under the Law (the word “better” occurs 16 times in the 13 chapters of Hebrews). It also recounts many of the Old Testament “heroes of the faith” who showed great trust in God, and urges the reader to follow their example and endure in holiness. It also expands on Jesus’ role and duties as a high priest.
By bringing back to remembrance the Old Testament Law, the book of James highlights the importance of doing good works and how genuine faith is demonstrated by obedience. James’ focus is not on a believer’s salvation, but rather their manner of life. His emphasis is that believers should live their faith. This book also cautions to guard the tongue and seek God’s wisdom in all things.
Addresses the suffering experienced by persecuted Christians, and encourages them to stand fast in the living hope.
Warns against false teachers and further impresses upon the reader the importance of right living while awaiting the return of Christ.
These books address subjects such as the validity of Christ, Christian conduct and teaching, love, truth, and faithfulness. They also warn against becoming distracted from God-centered living.
Jude contains a wonderful and poignant message about grace, a warning against apostasy, and a call to uphold and defend the Christian faith.
This is a prophetic book written by the Apostle John. It speaks about events in the last days and the final 7-year period of time commonly known as the Great Tribulation, as well as describing the New Jerusalem, a huge and magnificent city with streets of gold.
(This article was taken from Dan Gallagher’s book “Learning to Enjoy the Bible“)