The Bible is divided between the Old and New Testaments. Books written before the time of Jesus make up the Old Testament. Book written after Jesus’ ministry on earth comprise the New Testament.
In the modern English Bible, the 39 books of Old Testament are divided into 4 main parts based on genre. Within each genre, books are organized by author, chronology and size. The number of books in each division is easy to remember: 5-12-5-5-12.
Modern Christian Old Testament
The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses and they contain the Law as well as a good deal of history plus a few speeches and songs. They cover creation, the fall, the flood, Babel, the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt, Sinai, and the 40 year wilderness wandering.
The Books of History begin where the Books of the Law end. THey cover the conquest of the Promised Land, the period of the Judges, the united kingdom, the divided kingdom, the Babylonian exile and the return from exile.
Poetry and Wisdom
The Books of Poetry are written in Hebrew poetry rather than narrative.
- Song of Solomon
Throughout their history, God spoke to His people through prophets. As a group, the prophets did more than predict the future. They also encouraged the people in times of distress, rebuked and warned them to repent as needed and encouraged them to remain faithful to God.
Some of the prophetic books are simply longer and are referred to as the “major” prophets. The prophetic books, referred to as the Minor Prophets, should not be see as unimportant. They are merely smaller.
The Hebrew Bible
The modern Hebrew Old Testament is divided into 3 main parts, based on genre. The Jews combine the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra/Nehemiah and the Minor Prophets into one book for a total of 24 books.
The Jews call the Scriptures the “TaNaKh,” an acrostic of the first letters of the names of the three parts: Torah (the Law of Moses), Nebi’im (the Prophets), and Khethubim (the Writings).
The first two of these correspond to what Jesus calls “The Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) or “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29,31; 24:27). On one occasion (Luke 24:44), Jesus referred to all of the writings in the third category as “Psalms,” when he says “The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms”.
The Law – 5 books of Moses (Torah)
The 8 books of the Prophets (Nebi’im)
- The Twelve Minor Prophets
The 11 books of the Writings (Kethubim)
- Song of Solomon
According to the 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus, the Jews recognized 22 books as the Scriptures because the books were grouped differently:
- 5 books of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy:
- 7 books of the Prophets: Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah/Lamentations, Ezekiel, The twelve (Hosea to Malachi)
- 10 books of The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth/Judges, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles.