The Books of the Bible

What do the books of the Bible contain?

  • When you read a book, usually you open it on page one and read through to the end. Reading the Bible is slightly different. Opening the Bible is like walking into a library. There are lots of books – 66 in all – written in different styles, or genres. These were written over about 1500 years by lots of different writers. There are stories, poetry, letters, laws and much more.

    The Bible is broken into two parts: the Old and New Testaments. The 39 books in the Old Testament are amongst the most sacred books of Judaism, where they are called the Tanakh or Written Torah. They include ancient stories and writings, as well as the laws given to people by God himself. The 27 books in the New Testament are special in Christianity. They tell the stories of Jesus Christ and the beginnings of the Christian church.

    Find out more about each book in the Bible here.

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    The Old Testament

     

    There are 39 books in the Old Testament.

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    Genesis

     

    Genesis means ‘beginning’. It sets the scene for the whole Bible, telling stories of how the world began and where things began to go wrong, and God’s special promise (covenant) with Abraham and the beginning of the Jewish race. Look also in Genesis for: Adam, Eve and the creation of the world; Noah and the Ark; Jacob and Esau; and the story of Joseph, often remembered for his multi-coloured coat.

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    Exodus

     

    Exodus means ‘exit’. The first half of the book tells the story of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt, and how Moses led them into freedom, into the Promised Land. The second half contains laws given by God to Moses, showing how the Israelites should live as the chosen people of God. The most famous set of laws is the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20.

    Leviticus

    This is another book containing laws given by God. Some laws are about how to worship God – where and how. Others are about practical day to day matters like health and hygiene.

    Numbers

    The Book of Numbers continues the story of the Israelites as they head for the Promised Land. It gets its name from the census – counting – of the first tribes to leave Egypt. Things did not go smoothly and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Many argued with Moses as he tried to lead them in God’s way, including his own brother and sister.

    Deuteronomy

    This is the last book of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, believed to have been written by Moses. It contains stories of the Ancient Israelites as they waited to enter the Promised Land and laws given by God. At the end of the book, Moses appoints a new leader of the people – Joshua.

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    Joshua

     

    Joshua was chosen by Moses to lead the Israelites after his death. The book tells the story of the Israelites finally entering the land God had promised to Abraham.

  • Judges

    This book contains important stories from when the Judges ruled Israel. These were not always good times: often, foreign enemies raided the land. But the stories celebrate how God saved the people at the right time, reminding them to live in the way God called them to.

     

    Ruth

    Ruth

     

    The book tells the story of Ruth, a young woman who married into an Israelite family. She is a loyal and kind person who shows what true friendship looks like. Her great-grandson becomes King David, one of Israel’s greatest kings, and she is a direct ancestor of Jesus.

    1 Samuel

    Samuel was an important prophet – a man who listened to God and gave His messages to the Israelites. This book tells how there came to be kings in Israel, starting with King Saul. But Saul lets God down and Samuel tells him his days are numbered. God has chosen a ‘man after His own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14). That man is David. You can find the story of David’s showdown with Goliath, a giant from the enemy Philistine army, in 1 Samuel 17.

    2 Samuel

    This book continues the story from 1 Samuel. David becomes King of Israel after Saul’s death. He loves and trusts God, but that he still makes mistakes. For example, David falls in love with a married woman, Bathsheda, and is largely responsible for her husband’s death.

  • 1 and 2 Kings

    These books tell stories of Ancient Israel’s kings, the battles they fought, and how well or badly they ruled in God’s eyes. It starts with the wise and wealthy King Solomon who built God’s temple in Jerusalem (Chapters 5-9). This would be Israel’s first permanent place of worship. In these books we also meet the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who reminded the people of God how they should live and delivered God’s messages to the kings. They also performed miracles. (See Elijah and the never-ending jar of oil in 1 Kings 17, or Elisha healing Naaman from leprosy in 2 Kings 5.)

     

     

    1 and 2 Chronicles

    These books include stories of Israel’s kings, told from a different perspective. You can find out more about David, Solomon and the many that followed them. It also tells of a very important event in the nation’s history: the exile. The Babylonians captured Jerusalem and took the Jews and their most precious treasures to Babylon, where they stayed for about 60 years.

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    Ezra and Nehemiah

     

    These books tell the story of the Jewish people’s return from exile in Babylon, and their plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed many years earlier. Nehemiah deals with the Jewish people’s renewed commitment to living God’s way, and includes instructions on how to live and worship in the new, rebuilt Jerusalem.

  • Esther

    Esther

     

    This book is a short story about how God delivers His people from their enemies. Esther is a beautiful Jewish woman who marries a foreign king. There is a secret plot to kill the Jewish people, but Esther uses her influence to save them. The story would be remembered every year at Purim, a Jewish feast day.

    Job

    The Book of Job is an ancient poem about a man called Job. He is a rich, God-fearing man. The devil bets God that Job would turn his back on God if everything he has is taken away. Job loses his family, his wealth and many of his friends, but he still chooses to trust that God is good. In the end, God restores his fortune, giving him more family and wealth than he lost.

    Psalms

    This book contains lots of poems, used by the Jewish people as they worshipped God. Some tell God how great He is, others say thank you to God. Some say sorry to God, and others ask God for help in difficult times. They were written by different people, the most famous writer being King David – Israel’s greatest king and keen musician.

    Proverbs

    This is a ‘wisdom’ book, believed to be written by King Solomon. It includes short, memorable sayings that will help people live their lives to the fullest. They cover subjects like dealing with money, family life, loving God, ambition and work, amongst many others.

  • Ecclesiastes

    This is another ‘wisdom’ book. It is an older man’s reflection on his life and its meaning. How important is money? How important are relationships? How important is the work we do? His conclusion is simply to love God and enjoy each day.

    Song of Songs

    This is a beautiful long poem about love. There are three key voices narrating the story of a special relationship: the man, the woman he loves and her friends. Behind the poem is a symbolic message about God's love for his people

    Isaiah

    Isaiah

     

    Isaiah was a prophet – somebody who heard God speaking to them and passed on His messages to the people of Israel. The book is made up of these messages, including: God’s judgment of Israel and the neighbouring countries; the foretelling of the Jewish people’s exile to Babylon; and the hope of their return and everlasting peace in the nation.

    This book contains prophecies about a special person – a servant of God’s who will bring freedom and peace – at times through his own suffering. Many Christians believe that these refer to Jesus. Jesus himself quotes verses from this book, most famously this one from Isaiah 61 when he begins his ministry.

    Jeremiah

    This is another prophetic book, written by and about the prophet Jeremiah. He reminds people to live to serve and worship God, and warns of Jerusalem’s fall – the consequence of people disobeying God.

    Lamentations

    This book is made of poems, written after the people of Israel had been captured and were living a long way from home (the exile). The poems are sad when they remember how Jerusalem fell, but they also say sorry to God and hope He will forgive and save them.

    Ezekiel

    Ezekiel is a prophet. In this book, he tells the people of Israel how they have ignored God’s call to be a special, ‘holy’ people. But he also explains that God will make things right.

  • Daniel

    Daniel

     

    This book tells the story of Daniel - a bright young man who is taken to Babylon to serve in the royal palace. He loves God, and learns how he can live God’s way when everybody else seems to do things differently. He famously gets thrown in the lion’s den because he will not worship the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. The book also contains descriptions of Daniel’s visions of God.

    Hosea

    Hosea is a prophet. This book contains God’s complaint that Israel has turned its back on Him and His laws, choosing to serve other things instead.

    Joel

    Joel is a prophet. In this book, he warns of a day of judgment for the people who have chosen to disobey God. However, there is hope that God will forgive and live happily with his people again.

    Amos

    Amos is a prophet. In this book, God is angry that His people have stopped living according to His laws, and as a result people are being treated unfairly – particularly the poorest and weakest members of the community. The people are asked to repent and return to what God asks of them.

    Obadiah

    This is a short book – just one chapter. Obadiah is a prophet who sees a vision of what will happen to the people of Edom (close neighbours of Israel) because they did not help Israel in her time of trouble.

    Jonah

    Jonah

     

    This book tells the story of Jonah, a prophet who was sent by God to Ninevah. Ninevah was full of people living in a way that dishonoured God. Jonah was scared and ran in the other direction – and ended up in the belly of a big fish. The story ends by Jonah reaching Ninevah, passing on the message and seeing a whole city changed.

  • Micah

    Micah is a prophet. The book tells God’s unhappiness at the way Israel has forgotten God and the need for them to change their ways.

    Nahum

    Nahum is a prophet. He foresees the downfall of the city of Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian empire - a punishment for the sins committed by the Assyrians.

    Habakkuk

    This book reads like a conversation between the prophet Habbakuk and God. Habakkuk does not understand why God can look on the evil in the nation and do nothing. God says he has a plan, to bring justice and ultimately peace.

    Haggai

    Haggai is a prophet. His message is about the need to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem – God’s house that was destroyed during the exile – and the promise that God will bless His people once again.

    Zechariah

    Like Haggai, Zechariah is a prophet who called the people to rebuild God’s temple. He tells God’s people to return to God, in order to know his blessing.

    Malachi

    Malachi is a prophet. God is angry at the way the Israelites have fallen short of their promises to Him, and he warns of judgment. However, he promises forgiveness and blessing for their land if they choose to serve him again.

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    The New Testament

     

    There are 27 books in the New Testament.

  • Jesus

    The Gospels

     

    Matthew, Mark, Luke

    Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. These three books, plus John, are known as the gospels. They tell the stories of Jesus: his birth (in Matthew and Luke), his miracles, his parables, his death and his resurrection. These gospels were written by people who collected stories told by eye-witnesses at the time.

    John

    This is the fourth gospel, written by one of Jesus’ disciples. It tells important stories from Jesus’ life including  healings and other miracles, his death and resurrection. But John also explains more about who Jesus is: the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

    Paul

    Acts

     

    This book was written by Luke, the gospel writer. It’s his ‘sequel’, and carries on the story of what happened after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples preach to thousands and church communities are set up throughout the Roman Empire. Acts tells the story of Paul – a highly religious man who used to kill Christians before meeting Jesus and changing completely. Acts tells the story of how he himself travelled over Europe and East Asia telling people about Jesus.

    Romans

    This is a letter to the church in Rome, written by Paul. In this letter he explains why Jesus’ death was so important in paying the price for the bad things people have done – sin.

    1 and 2 Corinthians

    These are letters written to the church at Corinth in Greece, again by Paul. From reading the letters, it seems that the church was struggling with problems around how to worship God together, issues about marriage and remarriage, and questions about Jesus’ resurrection. Paul writes his answers. Some famous passages in these letters include the account of Jesus’ last supper, often read as Christians take communion, and the meaning of love, often chosen to be read at weddings.

    Galatians

    This is another letter written by Paul to the church in Galatia, in modern day Turkey. The church was made of non-Jews, converted by Paul. Since then, some Jewish Christians had told them to live according to the customs of Judaism in order to be saved. Paul writes to tell them that God’s forgiveness in Jesus was enough.

     

  • Ephesians

    This letter also written by Paul is to the church in Ephesus, in modern day Turkey. Paul founded a church there on his journeys. He wrote to give them a bigger picture of the love of God and the impact it has on their lives.

    Philippians

    This is a letter written by Paul to the church in Philippi, in Macedonia. It is a thank you letter for a present they sent him while he was in prison, and an encouragement for them to keep serving and loving each other.

    Colossians

    This is a letter written by Paul to the church in Colosse, in modern day Turkey. It seems from the letter that the church was being taught things about Christianity which were not true or necessary. Paul writes to correct some of these false beliefs.

    1 and 2 Thessalonians

    These are letters written by Paul to the church in Thessalonica in Macedonia. The Christians there were being persecuted – some put in prison, some even killed. The letter encourages them to keep believing and trusting in God.

    1 and 2 Timothy

    These are letters written by Paul to a young man named Timothy. He was helping lead a church and Paul writes to encourage him in his ministry. He gives advice about worship in church, choosing church leaders and avoiding heresies, or false teaching.

    Titus

    This is a letter by Paul to a man named Titus, who went with Paul to help set up a church in Crete, a Mediterranean island. The letter gives advice for the new Christians there – about how to live as members of the new church.

    Philemon

    This is a letter by Paul to a friend named Philemon. It is a very specific letter, vouching for a slave called Onesimus, who had run away from Philemon’s household. Paul asks Philemon to forgive him, explaining what a good friend he has been to Paul while he was in prison.

     

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    Hebrews

     

    This is a letter written to early Jewish converts to Christianity. It talks about why Jesus is so special and important, chosen by God to fulfill His plans for peace and salvation for the whole world.

  • James

    This is a letter written by James (the brother of Jesus), probably for Jewish converts to Christianity. It talks about standing firm in faith during hard times, being careful to do as God asks, watching what you say and trusting God.

    1 and 2 Peter

    These are letters by Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. They talk about following Jesus’ example in day to day life and looking forward to Jesus’ return to earth.

    1, 2 and 3 John

    These are letters written by John, one of Jesus’ disciples. They remind believers of God’s love for them in sending Jesus into the world, and encourage the early Christians to live in a way that will please God.

    Jude

    This is a letter by Jude, possibly one of Jesus’ brothers. He wrote to early Christians warning them to watch out for people targeting young churches with false teachings.

    Revelation

    Revelation

     

    This book is a vision of Jesus in heaven, the end of the world and the building of a new heaven and a new earth. It was written by John, one of Jesus’ disciples, in his old age. The language is poetic and cryptic, and over the centuries many people have interpreted the book in different ways.

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