Updated: May 11
The Bible continues to be the number one best-selling book in the world. It has been read by more people and published in more languages than any other book. The manuscripts were preserved by meticulous scribes and the Bible has more manuscript evidence that any ten pieces of classical literature combined. The Bible was the first book to be mechanically printed. Over the centuries many tried to burn it, ban it and destroy it and there were many periods of time when possessing Scripture was grounds for being put to death in a brutal way. And yet the text survived. It has a detailed remarkable history of the Hebrew people. It contains prophesy relating to individual nations and to all peoples of the earth. It was written by people who were quite forthright about their failings and sin.
The Bible has greatly influenced literature. It is the most quoted book of all time. There are more than 1300 documented quotations and allusions to the Bible in the writings of Shakespeare! In a 2005 survey of high school English teachers, 98% said students who are biblically literate have an edge academically over those who are not. We get such sayings as “the salt of the earth’; “fought the good fight”; “a drop in the bucket”; and “handwriting on the wall” from the Bible. A 2006 survey of English professors from the top universities in the United States agree that “regardless of a person’s faith, an educated person needs to know the Bible,” saying that the Bible is “indispensable” and “absolutely crucial” for a person who wishes to be considered well educated. (1)
You’ve meant to read the Bible, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day. It’s a long book and perhaps you don’t even like to read. It is intimidating.
You may be thinking of the Bible as one big book. Think of it instead as a library of books - like a bookshelf and you are going to take a book off and read it.
When you think of the Bible as a library, it isn't quite so intimidating to begin.
However, there is an order to the Bible and it helps to know a little about that before you start. The Bible is divided into two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are 66 books in the Bible – 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Old Testament takes up about 2/3rds of the Bible!
The Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years by over 40 authors from every walk of life. David and Solomon were kings. Peter was a fisherman. Luke was a doctor. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul was a rabbi and tentmaker. Nehemiah was a cupbearer. Do you know what a cupbearer is? It is the person assigned to the king to take a drink out of the cup before the king to make sure the drink wasn’t poisoned. Some job, huh?
The books of the Bible were written in different places on three different continents – Africa, Asia, and Europe. Paul wrote some of his books while in prison. John wrote a book while exiled on the island of Patmos. Moses wrote in the wilderness.
Comprised of 66 books written over centuries by many authors from various locations and walks of life; yet the Bible has one story! The Bible is all about God’s redeeming love for us and how we should share that love with others. It’s a love story – a remarkable, fascinating, transforming love story about His grace for us.
The books of the Bible are NOT in chronological order! That is not how the canon of Scripture was organized. (Canon just simply refers to the books that are considered the authoritative Word of God. The term “canon” comes from a Greek word that meant “ruler.” To us it means the “rule of faith.”)
The OT was divided into 3 sections: history, writings, and prophecy. The first 17 books, Genesis – Esther, tell us about the history of the Hebrew nation. It helps to read these books in order because they are chronological. The next 5 books, Job – Song of Solomon, are considered poetical books or wisdom literature. They can be read at any time. The last 17 books of the OT, Isaiah – Malachi, are considered the prophetical books. The prophets have to do with certain historical time periods. A total of 39 books in the OT.
The Hebrew Bible – the Jewish Scriptures - used by Jewish people today has the same text as the Protestant Bible’s Old Testament. However, the Hebrew Bible has different divisions and arrangements of the books and they combined some books. Or should I say we separated some books? But they have the same text as our Old Testament, just arranged differently.
The NT was also divided into 3 sections: history, writings, prophecy. The first 5 books, Matthew – Acts, are considered the historical books. They tell us about the life and ministry of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and the founding of the universal church. The next 21 books, Romans – Jude, are letters to churches and individuals. You will often hear these called epistles which is a fancy word for letters. They tell us how to live as believers. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is prophecy and tells us about the future when our Lord will triumphantly return and good will triumph over evil. A total of 27 books in the NT.
Again, neither the Old Testament or New Testament books are organized chronologically. They are organized in the canon of Scripture by category.
History – 17 books
Writings – 5 books
Prophecy – 17 books
History – 5 books
Writings – 21 books
Prophecy – 1 book
So where to start? I recommend starting in the New Testament with one of the Synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark, or Luke.
The thing is, just start. Read a little each day. If all you can do is 5 minutes a day, then start with that.
Commit to read the book of your faith.
(1). George H. Guthrie, Read the Bible for Life, (B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 3. (affiliate link)