If you are having a conversation with Christians about their faith, they will often refer to the Bible. This is their primary source of information about God, and plays an important role in their lives. Therefore, in discussions they might say things like: “In second Thessalonians 3 verse 16, Paul says…”. This is a reference to a Bible verse, wishing the readers that “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
But for “beginners”, this might not be immediately clear. It might rather sound as incomprehensible jargon. If you belong to this category and don’t know where to start: here is a quick navigation guide to (and through) the Bible.
Let’s deconstruct a Bible reference
- Although the Bible is often referred to as “a book”, it actually is a collection of 66 books written by different people over a period of about 1500 years. Therefore, if people want to refer to a particular Bible verse, they’ll start with the name of the Biblical book, which may be the name of the author, the name of the recipient, or a summary of the book’s content. Sometimes they’ll add a number, like “2 Samuel” or “first Timothy”, if there are multiple parts of a book, or multiple letters written by or to the same person. Most Bible copies contain a list of all Biblical books with corresponding page numbers to help you find them. In digital versions (for example on Biblegateway), just type the name of the book in the navigation bar.
- Most biblical books are pretty long. Therefore they have been divided into chapters indicated with a number, like “John 3”
- Sometimes people want to refer to just one sentence. To make that easier, chapters have been divided into verses. These also have a number, and are often indicated by a “:”. For example: “John 3:16” means the gospel written by John, third chapter, verse number 16. Just try to find this verse for yourself; it contains the most important truth ever!
The order of Biblical books
To make things more complex, the Biblical books are grouped into two collections: the so-called “Old Testament” and “New Testament”. The main difference is that the Old Testament was written before Jesus Christ was born, and the New Testament was written after his coming. For more information about these two collections of books, see What is the Old Testament and the New Testament?
Within each Testament, most contemporary Bible versions have ordered the books according to genre and / or chronologically. Jewish versions have a different order of the Old Testament (and don’t have the New Testament at all).
The genres of Biblical books
Here is a list of the various genres as they are generally ordered:
- The Old Testament
- The Pentateuch: These are the first books of the Bible, also known as “the books of Moses”. They are about the first “chapters” of human history, from creation until the beginning of Israel as a nation. These books include many laws and prescriptions God gave to Israel.
- Historical books: this section is made up of twelve historical books, predominantly about Israel.
- Poetic books: The Old Testament contains five books with Psalms, proverbs and wisdom literature.
- Prophetic books: There are 17 prophetic books, containing messages of God (mainly to the people of Israel)
- The New Testament
- The gospels: The first four books of the New Testament narrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- The book of Acts: This book tells us about the birth of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection, and how the good news about Jesus began to be preached throughout the world.
- Letters: there are twenty-two letters to churches and individuals. They mainly focus on what it means to be a Christian and how to live as a Christian.
- The book of Revelation: This is a prophetic book about what will happen in the future.
Getting to know the Bible for yourself
Now that you roughly know how to navigate through the Bible, I encourage you to start reading! It’s for a good reason that Christians are so enthusiastic about the Bible. It’s God’s Word, and it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).