This brief survey of the Bible will introduce you to the most essential book in the world.
It will undoubtedly become your most prized possession as you grow as a Jesus follower.
Even though you want to jump into Bible study, let’s get a survey of the Bible covering its main features.
In particular, where it got its name, how it’s laid out and fits together.
I. Survey of the Bible
- Bible is Greek for Book
- The Bible is a Library of 66 Books
- Unity of the Bible
- Navigating the Bible: Bible References
- What is the Old Testament?
- How is the Old Testament Organized?
- What is the New Testament?
- How is the New Testament Organized?
- How does the Bible Fit Together
1. “Bible” = Greek for “Book.”
The first essential fact in our survey of the Bible begins with its name. To start with, the word “Bible” was first used in c. A.D. 150.
Correspondingly, the word “Bible” comes from the Greek word for “books” (Biblia).
Accordingly, the earliest manuscripts were written on book-like material. For example, “paper-like” papyrus and various animal skins (leather, parchment, and vellum).
2. The Bible is a Library of 66 Books
Second, a point often overlooked is that many people think of the Bible as a single book. But our survey of the Bible reveals it is a library.
In fact, the Bible is a collection of sixty-six books. This collection comprises the “canon” or complete collection of the Word of God.
To explain, the word “canon” means the “standard” or “rule of authority” for Christians. Moreover, the Bible will never have any other books added to it.
That is why we call the Bible a closed canon.
In this case, forty different human authors wrote these books of the Bible over 1,500 years (c.1400 B.C. to c. A.D. 90). Thus, the authors came from various socio-economic backgrounds. For instance, kings, fishermen, priests, government officials, farmers, shepherds, and doctors.
Despite its diversity, the entire Bible focuses on Jesus.
3. A Survey of the Bible Shows Its Unity
Third, one thing stands out in our survey of the Bible. In a word, unity.
Basically, unity refers to the unifying message of the Bible. And specifically, its focus on Jesus Christ.
It seems impossible that 66 books covering so many subjects could be unified, especially with the number of authors, timeframe, and three languages on three continents.
And while the Old Testament anticipates Christ, the New Testament reveals Jesus.
For this reason, the only explanation for its unity is that the Bible had one ultimate divine author, God.
And the Bible unquestionably agrees that it is “inspired” by God or “3. God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). As a result, God guided each human author precisely as he wanted.
Put another way; the Holy Spirit “carried along” each human. He used their language, skills, and experience, creating God’s perfect and holy Word (2 Pet. 1:21).
4. Navigating the Bible: Bible References
The fourth fact in our survey of the Bible is finding our location.
Navigating the Bible is easy once you know a few facts.
To begin with, the Bible consists of two “testaments.”
First is the Old Testament (O.T.), with its thirty-nine books.
Second is the New Testament (N.T.), with its twenty-seven books.
References to Bible verses include:
- First, the book (Romans)
- Second, chapter(8)
- Third, verse (28)
For example: “Romans 8:28.”
These chapter and verse divisions were not in the original writings. Consequently, the chapter divisions occurred in 1228. After that, the New Testament verses followed in 1551.
It’s important to realize that all translations have the same chapters and verses. Furthermore, there are many reliable English translations, including:
- English Standard Version,
- New American Standard Bible,
- New International Version
In addition, there is no specific sequence of biblical books.
The current arrangement of the sixty-six books comes from the Latin Vulgate. This Latin translation of the Bible is from A.D. 383–405.
5. What is the Old Testament?
The fifth fact in our survey of the Bible books begins with an overview of the Old Testament.
It’s important to remember that these thirty-nine books are sacred to Jews and Christians.
These were the Scriptures Jesus, the apostles, and the early Church used.
In fact, it took more than one thousand years to write the O.T.
To begin with, Moses wrote the first books around c. 1400 B.C.
Subsequently, around 400 B.C. Malachi wrote the last Old Testament book.
Additionally, the approximately 25-30 writers were all Jews. They included prophets, judges, kings, and other Israeli leaders.
The O.T. is written in Hebrew, except for Aramaic portions in Ezra-Nehemiah and Daniel.
6. How is the Old Testament Organized?
The sixth fact in our survey of the Bible considers the organization of the O.T.
The Hebrew Bible has four parts:
- Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
- History (Joshua-Esther)
- Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon)
- Prophecy (Isaiah-Malachi)
To clarify the ordering of the Old Testament books, they correspond to either:
- First, the chronological sequence
- Second, the subject matter
The Septuagint (c. 280-100 B.C.) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
The traditional Hebrew Bible consists of twenty-four books. But these books correspond to all thirty-nine Old Testament books.
Why the difference in number?
Because the Hebrew Bible combines many books into one that Christians list separately.
For example: listing “Samuel” as one book instead of “1 & 2 Samuel” and keeping Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.
In general, the O.T. covers many broad-ranging topics.
However, the O.T.’s overriding theme is God’s dealing with his chosen people.
And that theme is the anticipation of the coming Messiah.
To clarify, “Messiah” is a Hebrew word. It is the equivalent of the Greek word “Christ,” meaning “anointed one.”
7. What is the New Testament?
The seventh fact in our survey of the Bible examines the New Testament.
In due time, the New Testament was written over fifty years in the first century.
The authors generally began writing in the early A.D. 40s (about a decade after Jesus’ resurrection) to around A.D. 95.
Indeed all nine authors were Jews, except for the Greek physician Luke. Luke was Paul’s companion and the writer of Luke and Acts).
Further, the authors came from various walks of life. They included a doctor, a tax collector, fishermen, and religious leaders.
Finally, Greek is the original language of the New Testament books.
8. How is the New Testament Organized?
The eighth fact in our survey of the Bible is the organization of the N.T.
In the same vein as the O.T., the order of the twenty-seven books of N.T. is roughly chronological.
The New Testament has five parts:
- The Gospels
- Paul’s Epistles
- General Epistles
Firstly are the “Gospels.” These first four books of the N.T. are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- They describe the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
- They also include his teachings and training of his followers, called disciples.
- These disciples were to carry on his work after his return to heaven (Ascension)
Secondly is the “Acts of the Apostles,” a sequel to Luke’s Gospel.
- It continues the narrative after Christ ascends to heaven.
- It describes the immediate events after the coming of the Holy Spirit.
- And then tells the thirty-year history of the growth of the Church. From its beginning in Jerusalem, throughout the Mediterranean region
Thirdly are thirteen of Paul’s letters or “epistles.” written by Paul.
- He writes to churches he founded and young ministers he tried to encourage.
Fourth are eight epistles written by various authors. These are called the “General Epistles.”
- Their authors included Peter, John James, Jude, and the writer of the Hebrews (who is unknown).
- All the epistles interpret Christ’s life and how we should respond to all he has done.
Fifth is the last book of the N.T. named Revelation.
- It is an apocalyptic work.
- It portrays the ultimate triumph of Christ through visions and symbolic language.
9. How Does the Bible Fit Together?
The ninth fact in our survey of the Bible has led us to see how it all fits together. From the moment of creation to the end of time, the entire Bible’s subject is about Jesus Christ.
- The O.T. is about Israel’s anticipation of a Messiah who would rescue humans from God’s condemnation.
- The NT reveals that Messiah and Savior are to be Jesus.
As Augustine wrote more than 1,500 years ago, “The New (Testament) is in the Old (Testament) contained; the Old is in the New explained.”
II. What Are Your Next Steps?
We have concluded our survey of the Bible. It is your turn to investigate it for yourself.
Start by reading one chapter in an O.T. book. For example, Genesis is an excellent place to start. Concurrently read one N.T. chapter starting in Matthew.
At the same time, you can read one chapter of Psalms and Proverbs if you have time.
Don’t rush through your reading time. You are studying God’s Word to draw closer to him.
After a few months, you will be amazed at your progress and how much of the Bible you know.