What do the books of the Bible contain?
The Bible is in two sections: The Old Testament and the New Testament. There are a number of different genres of writing within it, including:
- Poetry and Songs
Read through this timeline to find out more about the Bible.
The Old Testament
There are 39 books in the Old Testament.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The New Testament
There are 27 books in the New Testament.
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.
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.
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.
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.