|Many people, not least many sincere Christians, are put-off reading the Bible simply because of its size and apparent complexity. They feel intimidated by it, and really don't know where to begin.
We hope you will find what follows both interesting and useful, as an important first step towards increasing your Confidence in the Word.
The Bible certainly is a big book. Most printed English versions run to well over 1,000 pages. But once you know how it is arranged you will surprisingly easy to find your way around, thanks to its unique reference system.
What is sometimes not realised is that, although the Bible is often published as a single volume, it is not really one book at all, but a collection of 66 books. This collection is arranged in two unequal sections, called Testaments.
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Testament is merely an old word for agreement. When it is used in connection with the Bible it refers to the two principal agreements, or covenants, which God has made with mankind. First came the Old Covenant based upon the Law which God gave to Moses. The Old Covenant is the main subject of the Old Testament. Many centuries later this was followed by the New Covenant based upon God's free and underserved grace shown to us in Jesus Christ (see John 1:17 (NIV)). This is the main subject of the New Testament.
The Two Testaments
Law versus Grace
We need to explain that the distinction we have drawn between the two testaments offers a considerably over-simplified view of the Bible. The principle of grace on which the New Testament rests was, in fact, established early in the Old Testament, 430 years before the Law was given to Moses (see Galatians 3:17; and compare Genesis 15:6 with Romans 4:1-5 and Galatians 3:5-9). God never intended the Law to be the means by which humans would gain salvation, but to show them the need for his grace, as the apostle Paul makes clear in Romans 3:19-20 and 7:7-13. He sums up the whole matter in Galatians 3:21-25.
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The Old Testament is by far the larger of the two and is always comes first in any complete Bible. It is sometimes published separately from the New Testament. The Old Testament occupies approximately three-quarters of the Bible and consists of 39 books, some of which are very long indeed (eg Isaiah and Jeremiah). It deals with the period of time from the creation of the world up to about 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Both Jews and Christians recognise our Old Testament as Scripture (though the Jews arrange their's in a somewhat different way to Christians). So, when Jesus and the New Testament writers, such as the apostle Paul, refer to the Scriptures they are referring to what Christians call the Old Testament.
The New Testament is a much smaller section of the Bible, and consists of 27 books, some of which are very short (eg 2 and 3 John). It is frequently published separately. The New Testament relates the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the development and teaching of the early church as guided by the Holy Spirit, including a remarkable collection of letters to the infant churches and others, and ends with a glorious vision of what will happen at the end of time.
Some Bibles have a third section called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. This has been the subject of much dispute since even before the Christian era. If it is included in an English Protestant Bible it is invariably found as a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. Most of the books are recognised as authentic Scripture by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and are included in the main body of the Old Testament in their Bibles. They are divided into chapters and verses in exactly the same way as the Old and New Testaments (see Chapters, Verses & References).
For moreinformation about the Apocrypha please see our subsidiary page The Apocrypha.
(After much consideration, we have decided not to include further reference to the Apocrypha in this website. From this point onwards, whenever we refer to the Bible we mean the English Protestant Bible as generally accepted, consisting of the Old and New Testaments only. We humbly believe that these books alone, which the Universal Church has accepted as authentic Scripture from the earliest times, contain all that is needed to enable the reader fully to regain, and increase, his or her complete Confidence in the Word.)
Within each Testament the books are arranged in groups according to the type of writing (although you will not find this shown in most Bibles).
The Old Testament is made up of four groups of books:
This group of books is also called the Pentateuch, or the Five Books of Moses (in Hebrew, Torah).
Beginning with the creation of the world, the fall of humankind and the flood, and continuing with the three generations of Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel)), this group of books focuses principally on the Law given by God to his people through Moses, set in the context of the early history of the Israelite nation.
This group of books tells the history of Israel from the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, through the periods of the united and the divided monarchies, down to the return from the exile in Babylon and the restoration of the nation (about 400 years before the birth of Jesus).
This group, sometimes called the Writings, includes profound reflections on life's circumstances and its problems. The part most familiar to many people is the Psalms, the hymn-book of the Old Testament. It also includes a collection of wise and witty sayings (Proverbs), together with a love poem (Song of Songs) in which many consider to be an allegory of God's love for Israel and of Christ's for his Church.
These books consist of interpretations of events and attitudes current at the time of writing (many of which still apply today), accompanied by pronouncements of God's judgment on his people for their disobedience, delivered by a remarkable group of men, appointed and inspired by God. However, they always contain a note of hope of the eventual restoration of Israel, and in many places point to the coming of the Saviour.
In the New Testament there are three groups of books:
The first four books in this group (the Gospels) relate the life and teaching of Jesus up to his resurrection and ascension, and the fifth (Acts) tells how the Church developed after the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost.
This unique collection of correspondence deals with many matters of Christian belief and conduct was written by some of the Apostles to infant churches, individuals, and the Church of God as a whole. As well as providing much teaching and encouragement, they also address many problems experienced by the early Church, and so can offer guidance where similar situations arise today.
The Bible concludes with a single book (Revelation), which includes messages from Christ to his Church and visions of events in the last days, written to encourage Christians suffering persecution for their faith. There are a number of conflicting interpretations given to the book but the main outline is clear. Christ's true followers, though suffering much in this present age, will eventually triumph, all evil will be defeated and the Kingdom of God established forever.
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In order to avoid this page becoming unduly long we have appended tables of the books of the Old and New Testaments in the order in which they are found in the English Protestant Bible. We have also shown the groups into which they fall.
You may find it helpful to print these pages for reference while working through the next part of this page.
We mentioned at the beginning that the Bible has a reference system to help us find a particular place in it. As we have already explained, the Bible's two Testaments each consist of a number of Books. Within each testament these books are arranged in a number of Groups.
Each book is divided into a number of Chapters. There are just a few exceptions to this, where the book is so short that it has only one chapter.
Each chapter is further sub-divided into a number of Verses. A verse may be just a single phrase or sentence, though many verses contain several sentences.
To find a a Bible Reference (or Text as it is sometimes called) we therefore need to know four things:
- The name of the Book;
- Where the book is to be found in the Bible;
- The number of the Chapter within the book;
- The number of the Verse (or verses) within the chapter.
So, for example, the reference John 3:16 means that the verse is to be found in the Book of John. (You will probably already know it is in the New Testament.) So first turn to the New Testament and find the book: it is in the fourth book (in the History group). Then turn to Chapter 3 and look for Verse 16. Here we read the wonderful statement, translated in the New Living Translation as:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
We suggest that you try finding this verse for yourself in a printed Bible. You may also like to read it in other versions, or languages, using the Bible Gateway facility. To see the verse in a variety of other English versions, simply click on the reference here: John 3:16.
Now for a reference from the Old Testament. Try to find Proverbs 14:21 in your Bible. First find the book in the list of Books of the Old Testament (it comes in the Poetry group). Then, remembering the order, book-chapter-verse, you may like to say to yourself: "Book of Proverbs; Chapter 14; Verse 21."
You should come to the verse, which reads in the NLT:
It is sin to despise one's neighbours; blessed are those who help the poor.
Again, you may like to see how other English versions translate the verse by clicking on the reference, Proverbs 14:21.
Just to make life a little more complicated, there are two exceptions to the general rule:
In the Book of Psalms (the second book in the Poetry group of the Old Testament) each Psalm is numbered individually and also has a number of verses (like a hymn, which is really what the Psalms are). The easiest way to think of them is to think of each Psalm as a separate chapter. So the reference Psalm 23:1 means: Book of Psalms, Number =chapter 23, Verse 1, where we read (in the NLT):
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
We again would encourage you to try this for yourself using your own Bible. To view a range of other English translations, click on the reference: Psalm 23:1.
Books which consist of only a single chapter. These have only two parts to their references: Book and Verse. So, for example, Jude 24 (in the NLT) reads:
And now, all glory to God, who is able to keep you from stumbling, and who will bring you into his glorious presence innocent of sin and with great joy.
Again, after finding this reference in your own Bible (Jude is the next to last book of in the New Testament) you may wish to see how some other versions translate the verse, Jude 24.
You will find that, not only most printed Bibles, but also online Bibles, and Bibles included in software packages, also use the book-chapter-verse reference system. Sometimes this is applied rigorously even in the single chapter books: so, for instance, in our example above Jude 24 might be referred to as Jude 1:24. Because this reference system is used so widely, we would strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself thoroughly with it. The best way to do this is simply by practising looking up verses in your Bible until it becomes as natural as changing channels on the television!
Many people find it a great help to memorise the names of the Books of the Bible, in order. This saves having to look up a list of books each time you need to find a reference. Again, this is something we would commend to you.
The occasional differences in the verse divisions found in various English versions can sometimes cause confusion. These arise mainly because some more recent translations have combined in a single verse what were two or more verses in earlier versions. For example, at the end of 2 Corinthians in the New Living Translation, what are traditionally verses 12 and 13 become a single verse (verse 12) and the last verse (normally verse 14) becomes verse 13.
Occasionally, verses are omitted in some versions as, for example Matthew 17:21 and 18:11 in the New International Version. This is because the verses are not found in the Greek text from which the translators have worked. (In both instances the omitted verse is given in a footnote.)
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The practice of dividing the books of the Bible into chapters and verses dates from the Middle Ages, but has its origins in Jewish custom. To begin with the books of the Bible had no divisions at all. This is why the writers of the New Testament often refer to the Old Testament only by the name of the book, as for example in Matthew 2:17-18, or sometimes by as vague a reference as somewhere he (God) has spoken (Hebrews 4:4 (NIV)).
The first attempts at breaking up the Bible into recognisable sections were made by the pre-Talmudic Jews. They divided the Old Testament into sections, rather like our present chapters. These were governed largely by the length of the scrolls on which the Scriptures were written.
The chapter divisions we use today are attributed to Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1228. The verse divisions of the New Testament are based on those which Robert Stevens (or Stephanus) introduced in the 1551 edition of his Greek New Testament, and were first used for an English version in the Geneva Bible of 1557, which rapidly became the favourite version among the ordinary people.
Most Bibles, Bible reference works (concordances, commentaries and dictionaries), and books about the Bible use abbreviations when referring to the names of the books of the Bible. So, for example, the book of Genesis is commonly shortened to Gen (or Ge or Gn). Nearly all Bibles and reference works include a list of the abbreviations they have adopted.
To avoid confusion for those not familiar with the names of the Bible books, in all Bible references in Confidence in the Word we have given the name of the book in full.
What Happened to the Saints?
Older versions of the Bible (eg the Authorised Version, known as the King James version in USA) refer to the New Testament writers as Saints (eg St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, St John). Confidence in the Word has preferred the more modern custom of referring to them simply by name (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). However, we have used the designation the apostle where this applies (eg Paul, James, Peter). We assure users of this website we intend no disrespect by this practice. On the contrary, we would honour the Bible writers as men sovereignly used of God in a unique way for the purpose of transmitting his eternal Word to the human race in written form, so that a herald may run with it (Habakkuk 2:2 (NIV)).
We hope that this page has helped you to find your way around the Bible more easily and that you will now feel better prepared to embark on the voyage to discover that you can indeed have every Confidence in the Word.
We begin by asking the all-important question: Whose word is the Bible - is it God's word, or merely man's?
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