By Elysia McColley
If you are somewhat new to Christianity, or even if you have been a Christian for most of your life, you may have some questions about the Bible. It is a massive book, with approximately 800,000 words! Just for comparison, War and Peace has about 587,000 words, and Les Miserables has about 655,000 words. Many people spend their entire academic lives, all the way up to doctorate degrees and postdoctoral research, trying to understand the Bible, and there is plenty left for them to figure out. If someone tells you that you should read the Bible to try to understand something, the task is certainly overwhelming!
Let’s step back and look at what the Bible is, how it is organized, and how we should approach it. Hopefully, this article will lay a foundation for you to better understand this book and apply it to your life.
What is the Bible?
The word “Bible” literally means “book.” It is actually composed of 66 books, which were written from about 1500BC (though Job may have been written as early as 2000BC or before) through the first century AD. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. These 66 books together comprise the Bible.
The Jewish people had long viewed the first 39 books of the Bible to be scripture; the early church fathers agreed and included them in the Bible. They also included a collection of writings from Paul, John, and other early leaders to comprise the 27 books of the New Testament. The final canon, or official list of books included in the Bible, was presented in 367AD in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, who was the bishop of Alexandria.
In referring to the canon, we are really referring to the Word of God that He divinely revealed to human authors. People specially called by God heard from Him and wrote down what He had to say; in partnering with God, together they wrote the 66 books of the Bible.
How is the Bible Organized?
The Bible is roughly organized into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is what occurred before the life of Jesus, while the New Testament tells the story of His life and the early church.
Within the Old Testament are several divisions: the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses), the books of history, the writings (poetry and psalms), the major prophets, and the minor prophets. Within the New Testament are the gospels, Acts, the epistles (or letters), and prophecy; Acts tells of how the church began, and the section on prophecy refers to the book of Revelation.
How Should We Approach the Bible?
We should approach the Bible with reverence and the anticipation that we will hear from God when reading it. There is a limit to how much we can gain from it with our human wisdom; God’s supernatural wisdom and revelation are necessary for us to understand what it says.
If you are approaching the Bible for the first time, or the first time in a long time, a good place to start is the gospels. The gospel of Mark is the shortest and most succinct; you can easily read through it in one sitting.
Many people prefer to read a section from the Old Testament and a section from the New Testament each day. The Navigators has excellent resources that can help you get started on a Bible reading plan: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/.
To really get the most out of reading the Bible, the best thing to do is partner with a mentor who has a lot of experience in both studying it and applying it to his or her life. Your pastor or other church leader can probably connect you with someone who can disciple you in the Word of God.
Hopefully, the Bible as a whole now makes a little bit more sense. Don’t be intimidated as you try to seek out the truths that God has revealed in it; Jeremiah 29:13 says that you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart.