Books of the Bible - Short Summaries
As we go through a Bible Reading Plan, here is some background information on each book.
Genesis is the 1st book of the Bible and the 1st book of the 'Pentateuch'. The word genesis means beginnings and that is fitting since Genesis tells the story of how humanity began and how God's covenant with Abraham (and Israel) began. Traditionally, Moses is thought to be the compiler of the various records/accounts that make up the book of Genesis. It contains many famous stories like Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, the infamous Fall of humanity, Noah's flood, the Tower of Babel, and the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Genesis ends with the family of Israel in Egypt.
Exodus is the 2nd book of the Bible and the 2nd book of the Pentateuch. As you can probably tell from the title, it's a book about an exit. Jacob's descendants (the Israelites) had become numerous which made their Egyptian hosts so afraid that they were enslaved. The first half of the book is about God leading the Israelites out of Egypt through a series of judgments (plagues) against Egypt and through the person of Moses. In the second half of the book, a covenant is set up between God and Israel that includes many civil laws and religious ceremonies (including the 10 Commandments).
Leviticus is the 3rd book of the Bible and the 3rd book of the Pentateuch. In Jewish circles, the book is titled 'And He (God) called' and the book is about the calling placed on the Levites (one of the tribes of Israel) to be Priests. In truth, all of Israel was to serve as priests to the world, but among God's people, the tribe of Levi was to serve as Priests to Israel. The book divides into instructions for Old Covenant worship (chapter 1-17) and instructions for living (18-27). God called His people to counter-cultural worship practices and counter-culture behaviors.
Numbers is the 4th book of the Bible and the 4th book of the Pentateuch. In Jewish circles, the book is called 'in the desert' because it focuses on the years spent in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land. Christians call it 'Numbers' because of the 2 censuses taken of the Israelites during that time. The book explains why the Israelites had to spend an entire generation in the wilderness. It is often applied as an explanation for why so many of God's people experience initial salvation (deliverance from the enemy), but not much victory in their lives (true spiritual victory).
Deuteronomy is the 5th book of the Bible and the 5th book of the Pentateuch. The title means 2nd law (because Moses spoke the words of the law to Israel a 2nd time at the end of the 40 years in the wilderness). The Hebrew title, in fact, is Devarim (spoken words). The book is a collection of what are essentially farewell speeches by Moses prior to his death and Israel's entrance into the Promised Land. The speeches retrace the steps of the Israelites over the past 40 year and reiterate the importance of the law going forward. Deuteronomy contains the Shema, the most famous statement of Jewish monotheism (belief in 1 God). The book ends with Joshua being installed as Moses' successor (thus creating a link to the next section of Scripture... the historical books).
Joshua is the 6th book of the Bible and the 1st book in a section called the historical books (12 books: Joshua-Esther). It serves as a segue from the Pentateuch to this new section as it transitions us from the leadership of Moses to that of Joshua. It contains the story of the conquest of the Promised Land (preparations, conquest & division of land). Many today apply its narrative to the subject of spiritual warfare.
Judges is the 7th book of the Bible and the 2nd in the section of the Old Testament referred to as the historical books (that tell the history of the Israelites in the Promised Land). The book is about a cycle of sin and deliverance among God's prior to the rise of the monarchy. Repeatedly, the people forgot about God, fell into sin, cried out for help, and were delivered by a (usually quite flawed) human deliverer empowered by God's Spirit.
Ruth is the 8th book of the Bible and the 3rd in the section of the Old Testament referred to as the historical books (that tell the history of Israel in the Promised Land). After a tragic beginning (linking it to the previous book of Judges), the book tells the delightful story of Naomi (a Jewish widow) and Ruth (a Moabite widow and her daughter-in-law) returning to Israel where Ruth eventually (spoiler alert) marries a good Jewish man named Boaz. The book provides the ancestry of (spoiler alert #2) King David.
1 Samuel is the 9th book of the Bible and the 4th in the 'historical books' section of the Old Testament (a section which tells the history of God's people in the Promised Land). The beginning of the book focuses on the life of Samuel. Samuel's story transitions us from the period of the 'judges' to the period of the 'monarchy' (Samuel himself serves, in a sense, as the last 'judge' and the first 'prophet'). Near the end of Samuel's life, the people asked for a King. The rest of 1st Samuel is all about the 1st King (Saul) and his eventual jealousy toward the one who would be the 2nd (David). 1 Samuel ends with Saul's death
2 Samuel is the 10th book of the Bible and the 5th in the 'historical books' section of the Old Testament (a section which tells the history of God's people in the Promised Land). Picking up from the death of Saul at the end of 1st Samuel and essentially covers the entire reign of King David as he unified Israel, extended its borders, fell into sin, and dealt with the consequences. Especially significant is chapter 7 which contains God's covenant with David (ultimately fulfilled in Christ).
1 Kings is the 11th book of the Bible and the 6th in the 'Historical Books' section of the Old Testament (which tells the history of God's Old Covenant people). The book begins with the transition from David's reign to the reign of his son Solomon. Solomon's reign was marked by prosperity and the building of the Temple, but his many wives led to his downfall and the kingdom was split in two. The northern part of the Kingdom (made up of 10 tribes) took the name Israel. The southern part of the Kingdom (made up of the remaining 2 tribes) took the name Judah. Each had their own kings. The rest of 1st Kings covers these (mostly bad) kings and introduces us to the prophet Elijah.
2 Kings is the 12th book of the Bible and the 7th in the 'Historical Books' section of the Old Testament (which tells the history of God's Old Covenant people). As one might expect, it briefly tells the stories of many different kings (flipping back in forth, chronologically, between the Northern Kings of Israel and the Southern Kings of Judah. Key moments include the departure of Elijah, death of Elisha, Fall of Israel to Assyria and the Fall of Judah to Babylon.
1 Chronicles is the 13th book of the Bible and the 8th in the 'historical books' section of the Old Testament (which tells the history of God's Old Covenant people). The book begins with detailed records of the roots (all the way back to Adam), tribes and clans that made up Israel. The rest of the book covers the reign of Israel's most famous king: David. 1st Chronicles covers much of the same material as 2nd Samuel, but from a later perspective.
2 Chronicles is the 14th book of the Bible and the 9th in the 'historical books' section of the Old Testament (which tells the history of God's Old Covenant people). It begins where 1 Chronicles left off (the beginning of Solomon's reign, which takes up the first quarter of the book). After Solomon, the kingdom divided into two kingdoms (2 rival thrones). The Northern Tribes became known as Israel. The Southern tribes (Solomon's descendants) became known as Judah. 2 Chronicles covers the Southern Kings from the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam all the way to the the Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BC (about a 400 year period).
Ezra is the 15th book of the Bible and the 10th book in the 'historical' section of the Old Testament. The book picks up where 2 Chronicles had left off. After 70 years of exile, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. The book tells the story of those returnees, their efforts to rebuild the Temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during this time) and the subsequent reforms enacted by Ezra.
Nehemiah is the 16th book of the Bible and the 11th in the 'historical books' section of the Old Testament. Nehemiah was appointed (by the Persians) as governor over the returned Jewish exiles in the middle of the 5th century B.C. Through skillful leadership, he oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and thus protected the city, its people, and the newly built Temple of God. Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra.
Esther is the 17th book of the Bible and tells the story of a young Jewish woman who lived during the time of the Persian Empire. Esther goes from being a female exile to being the Queen of the Kingdom, which puts her in the position to save her people from annihilation. Jews celebrate this salvation annually as the Feast of Purim.
Job is the 18th book of the Bible and tells the story of one man's enormous loss and its aftermath. Behind the scenes of history, spiritual realities wreak havoc in Job's life (though he is ignorant of all this). The book is made up of ignorant dialogue between Job and his friends before God interrupts with words of wisdom and restoration.
Psalms is the 19th book in the Bible and the 2nd book of the 'wisdom' section of the Old Testament. It is also the longest book in the Bible (in terms of number of chapters, not in terms of word count). It is traditionally attributed, mostly, to David (many of the individual Psalms are headed by a note as to authorship). Psalms is the 'hymnal' of the Bible... a collection of songs for the saints of God. It is a brutally honest hymnal, however, covering the full gamut of human emotions. There are many different types of psalms contained in this great book, as well as some particularly famous psalms (23, 119, 139, etc.). This book is highly quoted by the New Testament authors.
Proverbs is the 20th book of the Bible and the 3rd book of the 'wisdom' section of the Old Testament. It is unique among all the biblical books in that it is a collection of wise principles. Traditionally, most of the individual proverbs are attributed to Solomon (he was gifted with wisdom from God, after all), but he also collected wise saying throughout his life. Of note, proverbs are not absolute truths. They are principles. Wisdom is knowing when a particular principle applies.
Ecclesiastes is the 21st book of the Bible and the 4th book in the 'wisdom' section of the Old Testament (Job-Song of Solomon). It tells the story of 1 man's (thought to be Solomon) search for meaning and purpose in life. But the man does not find any meaning/purpose 'under the sun'. It is only when we recognize God (Who is above the sun, so to speak) that the meaning of life becomes clear.
Song of Solomon is the 22nd book of the Bible and the 5th book in the 'wisdom' section of the Old Testament (Job-Song of Solomon). It dramatically tells a love story. Some believe this love story is a metaphor for God's love for His people. Others feel it is simply God's approval of romantic love. It could, of course, be both.
Isaiah is the 23rd book of the Bible and the 1st in the 'Prophets' section of the Old Testament. Isaiah prophesied while the Assyrian Empire was overwhelming the people of Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom, Israel, eventually fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.). The book divides nicely into two sections. The first 39 chapters speak mostly of judgment. The final 27 chapters speak mostly of hope.
Jeremiah is the 24th book of the Bible and the 2nd in the 'Prophets' section of the Old Testament. Jeremiah prophesied while the Babylonian Empire was overwhelming the people of Judah (the Southern Kingdom, Judah, eventually fell to the Babylonians in 587/586 B.C.). Jeremiah's job was to, for about 40 years, tell the people of Judah the bad news about Babylon. Because of this task, he is sometimes referred to as the Weeping Prophet.
Lamentations is the 25th book of the Bible and the 3rd in the 'Prophets' section of the Old Testament. Tradition suggests it was written by Jeremiah (likely in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586 B.C.). As the title suggests, Jeremiah is lamenting what has happened to his people and city, much as Jesus later weeped over 1st century Jerusalem.
Ezekiel is the 26th book of the Bible and the 4th in the 'Prophets' section of the Old Testament. Ezekiel lived and ministered before, during and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586 B.C.) He prophesied that the demise of the city was a judgement by God, but, later, prophesied a glorious future for God's people. Ezekiel's story includes an interesting 'calling' story and a number of visions and dramatic presentations.
Matthew is the 40th book of the Bible, but the 1st book of the New Testament. It serves as an excellent transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament because Matthew (as an author) was primarily writing to Jewish Christians and, therefore, made a lot of connections between the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew contains the Christmas story (from Joseph's perspective), the Sermon on the Mount, and a large number of parables... but the biggest emphasis (as is the case for each of the 4 Gospel accounts) is on the week culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection.
Mark is the 41st book of the Bible and the 2nd book of the New Testament. The majority of scholars believe it was the first of the 4 gospel accounts to be written (though some consider Matthew older). For sure, though, it is the shortest of the 4. It's brevity may be connected to its theological theme. Mark is concerned to show Jesus as a man of action. But Mark also presents Jesus as more than just a man. Jesus is the Christ and the 2nd Gospel conveys His greatness over and over. The first 10 chapters give a fast-paced account of Jesus' 3 years of earthly ministry. The final 6 chapters cover the Passion Week.
Luke is the 42nd book of the Bible and the 3rd of 4 accounts of the good news of Jesus Christ. Luke was a doctor and companion of Paul whose travels provided him the opportunity to investigate the story of Jesus. He, therefore, gives us information about Jesus' birth, childhood, and the beginning of his ministry. He tells of his teachings and works in Galilee and his journey to Jerusalem. As with the other gospel accounts, Luke's story of Jesus culminates with His passion, death, and resurrection.
John is the 43rd book of the Bible and the 4th of 4 accounts of the good news of Jesus Christ. Whereas Matthew, Mark & Luke share many similarities (and are, therefore, sometimes called the Synoptic Gospels), John is quite different (much is missing, and new stories are included). The reason for these differences could be based on the author's more intimate familiarity with Jesus ministry or the possibility that he wrote his reflections down long after the other 3 gospels had already been written and wanted to fill in what was missing from them.
Acts is the 44th book of the Bible and the 5th book of the New Testament. It was written by Luke and serves as the sequel to his gospel account and serves as a bridge, in the New Testament, between the gospel accounts and Paul's letters (for which it provides a historical backdrop). It begins with Jesus ascension and then covers the coming of the Spirit (Pentecost) and the activities of the early (Spirit-filled) church (the mission to the Jews and the mission to the Gentiles). It terms of time, it covers from the early 30's to the mid-60's of the 1st century.
Romans is the 45th book of the Bible, the 6th book of the New Testament, and the 1st in the section of Paul's writings. Because of its length, the ground that it covers, and the importance of the city of Rome in the early church, Romans is widely considered Paul's masterpiece. In this letter to the Roman Christians, Paul builds an argument that all people (both Gentiles and Jews) are sinners in need of salvation and describes the way in which God will bring all people together in Christ. The later chapters in Romans deal with specific issues and applications of the theological argument made in the earlier chapters.
1 Corinthians is the 46th book of the Bible, the 7th book of the New Testament, and the 2nd in the section of Paul's writings. Paul planted the church in Corinth (Greece) during his 2nd Missionary Journey (he stayed about a year and a half). But after he left, the church fell into disunity, sin & confusion. Paul's letter is in response to those issues and addresses them head on. 1 Corinthians is most famous for its section on love (chapter 13) and resurrection (chapter 15).
2 Corinthians is the 47th book of the Bible and the 3rd in the section of Paul's writings. It was likely written during Paul's 3rd Missionary Journey (late 50's of the 1st century). Paul is responding to some in Corinth who were questioning his Apostleship. Because of this, 2 Corinthians is a very personal letter (not as doctrinal as most of his letters). He defends his integrity, apostleship, and asks for their partnership.
Galatians is the 48th book of the Bible, the 9th book of the New Testament, and the 4th of Paul's letters/epistles. During Paul's 1st missionary journey, he had planted churches in such towns as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra & Derbe. After returning to his sending-church (Syrian Antioch), Paul heard reports that these young churches were being led astray by some who were insisting on the necessity of keeping the Law of Moses. Paul wrote to all the churches in that region (Galatia) in an attempt to rescue his work from the false teachers. Galatians is sometimes considered a mini-version of Romans.
Ephesians is the 49th book of the Bible, the 10th book of the New Testament, and the 5th of Paul's letters/epistles. Paul had stayed a long time in Ephesus during the 3rd Journey and, later, wrote them this letter of encouragement in basic Christianity.
Philippians is the 50th book of the Bible, the 11th book of the New Testament and the 6th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of how they are presented to us). Philippi was a city in Macedonia which Paul visited on his 2nd and 3rd Missionary journeys. In this epistle, Paul encourages the Philippian Christians to continue their humble pursuit of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
Colossians is the 51st book of the Bible, the 12th book of the New Testament, and the 7th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Colossae was a city in (modern day) Turkey. Interestingly, we have no direct evidence that Paul ever visited this small city, but it wasn't far from Ephesus (where Paul did spend a significant amount of time). Most scholars believe that Paul heard about problems in the church in Colossae while he was a prisoner in Rome. Colossians addresses those issues.
1 Thessalonians is the 52nd book of the Bible, the 13th book of the New Testament, and the 8th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Thessalonica was a city in Achaia (modern day Greece). Paul visited this church on both his 2nd and 3rd missionary journey, but the letters were likely written during or just after the 2nd journey. Paul has a good relationship with the church and provides them with some encouragement (as he has been encouraged by reports of them).
2 Thessalonians is the 53rd book of the Bible, the 14th book of the New Testament, and the 9th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Thessalonica was a city in Achaia (modern day Greece). Paul visited this church on both his 2nd and 3rd missionary journey, but the letters were likely written during or just after the 2nd journey. Paul has a good relationship with the church and provides them with some encouragement (as he has been encouraged by reports of them).
1 Timothy is the 54th book of the Bible, the 15th book of the New Testament, and the 10th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Timothy was a faithful companion of Paul (perhaps a protege of sorts). Paul sent this letter to give him encouragement and instructions in leading the church in Ephesus.
2 Timothy is the 55th book of the Bible, the 16th book of the New Testament and the 11th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Timothy was a faithful companion of Paul (perhaps a protege of sorts). This is Paul's second letter sent to bring Timothy encouragement and instruction as he oversees the Church in Ephesus.
Titus is the 56th book of the Bible, the 17th book of the New Testament and the 12th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Titus was a co-worker with Paul in spreading the Gospel. This letter was sent to provide encouragement and instruction to Titus as he oversaw the Church on the island of Crete.
Philemon is the 57th book of the Bible, the 18th book of the New Testament and the 13th of Paul's letters/epistles (in terms of the order in which they are presented to us). Philemon was a Christian in Colossae (this letter was likely send with Colossians). Paul's letter was an attempt to persuade Philemon to relate properly to a man named Onesimus (who was quite likely Philemon's runaway slave turned Christian).
Hebrews is the 58th book of the Bible and the 19th book of the New Testament. It's author is unknown, but it is usually considered to have some connection to Paul and his ministry. The letter attempts compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with Jesus and shows that Jesus and the New Covenant is greater in every way than the old.