Literary Structure of the Bible

Jim George

Old Testament


The Historical Books:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles
The first 17 books of the Bible trace the history of man from creation through the inception and destruction of the nation of Israel. In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), Israel is chosen, redeemed, and prepared to enter a promised homeland.  The remaining 12 historical books record the conquest of that land, a transition period in which judges ruled over the nation, the formation of the kingdom, and the division of that kingdom into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms, and finally the destruction and captivity of both kingdoms.

The Poetic Books:  Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon  
The 17 historical books which comprise the first portion of the Old Testament are concluded. They gave the history of civilization from creation to the time of the Persian Empire.  They record the history of the Jewish nation from its inception through its days of glory and deportation, and finally, to its days of survival as a small, insignificant nation surrounded by enemies intent on destroying it.

Now comes a different set of books, which are known as the poetic books of the Bible: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. They don't relate historical experiences.  Rather they relate the experiences of the human heart. They do not advance the story of the nation of Israel. Instead, through the use of Hebrew poetry, they delve into the questions of suffering, wisdom, life, love, and most importantly, the character and nature of God. And finally, they have another important function—they serve as a hinge linking the history of the past with the prophetic books of the future.

 The Prophetic Books:  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
The next 17 books of the Bible comprise about one-fourth of the Scriptures and make up the last division in the Old Testament—the Prophets. The office of prophet was instituted the days of Samuel, and those who were prophets stood along with the priests as God's special representatives. The men who wrote these books were called or appointed to "speak for" God Himself. God communicated His messages to them through a variety of means, including dreams, visions, angels, nature, miracles, and an audible voice. Unfortunately, the messages they shared from God were often rejected and their lives endangered.  The prophetic books have four major themes and purposes:

1. To expose the sinful practices of the people

2. To call the people back to the moral, civil, and ceremonial law of God

3. To warn the people of coming judgment

4. To anticipate the coming of Messiah

New Testament


The Historical Books:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is not one book, but a collection of 27 individual books that reflect a wide range of themes, literary forms, and purposes. The first five books in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (called the Gospels), and Acts—are entirely narrative and the only historical books in the New Testament. The first four books, or the Gospels, are a historical account of the life and times of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, whose birth, life, death, and resurrection were prophesied throughout the Old Testament. The book of Acts provides a factual report of the period from Christ's final words to His followers and His ascension into heaven to the travels and trials of the apostle Paul. Acts describes some of the key events in the spread of the "good news" from Judea to the far reaches of the Roman Empire.

The Doctrinal Books:  Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation
With the end of Acts and the historical books of the New Testament, the Bible moves to 22 letters (called epistles are letters of doctrine—teaching and instruction in Christian truth and practice.

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