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What's it about?

Unfamiliar with the Bible? Can't find your way around?
Here are some brief notes that may help.


The Bible is a collection of documents, or books, which is at the heart of both the Christian and Jewish faiths. It is sometimes called 'Scripture' or 'The Scriptures'.

Whatís in the books?

Many of the books contain history or similar accounts of events, but it is always history told against a background of faith. It is not just the story of certain events or characters, but the story of God in action both in history and in the lives of people.

As well as history the Bible contains many other sorts of writing, including songs, prayers, poetry, biography, letters and prophecy. Contrary to the popular view, prophecy is not primarily about foretelling the future. It is the teachings or writings of people called prophets, who declared Godís message to the people of their day.

Godís message, as declared by the prophets, was sometimes encouragement or promise. At other times it could be some instruction, or even a judgement or a warning. The prophets did not usually set out to foretell the future, but often the message had relevance beyond the time when they spoke or wrote. Promises and warnings, obviously, often referred to future events or possible future events, and the prophecy was said to be fulfilled when these events took place.

The books are divided up into chapters, and the chapters into verses. These divisions were not in the original writings and are often somewhat arbitrary and even occasionally misleading. However, they provide a convenient 'reference' system which enables us to find or refer to particular passages. There are a couple of 'references' in the paragraphs below - you can click on these links to go to them:

Exodus 19:5-6 means the book of Exodus chapter 19 verses 5 and 6.

John 3:16 means the book (or Gospel) of John chapter 3 verse 16.


The Christian and Jewish Bibles

The Old Testament - the Hebrew Scriptures.

Most editions of the Christian Bible contain two sections. The first section, usually called the Old Testament, is the larger of the two. It is also the Bible of the Jewish faith and is shared by both religions. It is often referred to as the Hebrew (or Jewish) Scriptures.

The Old Testament tells the story of the people of Israel up to about 400 years before the time of Jesus, including how they got their Law, which includes the Ten Commandments. It also contains a lot of prophecy, including promises that Christians believe were fulfilled by the coming of Jesus.

There is a list of the books of the Old Testament below, with a brief note of what they are.

The New Testament.

The second, smaller, section, called the New Testament, contains the books which are special to the Christian faith. It includes the Gospels, the accounts of the life of Jesus.

Most of the other books in the New Testament are actually letters, written by St Paul and other early church leaders. Many of them were addressed to some of the new Christian communities which grew up in the first century AD (CE) after Jesusí death and resurrection. Some were addressed to other Christian leaders. The letters were written to explain the faith and deal with various problems that arose. With the Gospels they are the prime source of our understanding of the Christian message.

In the New Testament there are sometimes references to 'Scripture' or 'the Scriptures'. These mean the Old Testament, which was the Bible, or Scripture, already in existence when the New Testament books were being written and the events they describe were happening.

There is a list of the books of the New Testament below, with a brief note of what they are.

The Apocrypha.

Some editions of the Bible contain a third section - the Apocrypha, also known as the Deuterocanonical Books. This is a further collection of books which are regarded as part of the Old Testament by many parts of the Church. Sometimes they are simply included with the rest of the Old Testament, but usually they appear in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. They include additions to some of the other Old Testament books and writings dating from, or describing events in, the 400 years immediately before the time of Jesus. Most editions of the Bible do not have them and they are not included in the list below.

Testament, Apocrypha, Deuterocanonical? What do these words mean?

The word 'testament' comes from a Latin word meaning 'covenant' or 'promise' or 'will'. The Old Testament is so called because it tells the story of the Old Covenant, the covenant made between God and the Israelites when they got the Law, and it involved keeping the Law:
'...if you obey my [God's] voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession...a priestly kingdom and a holy nation...' (Exodus 19:5-6).

The New Testament tells us about the New Covenant, which God made through Jesus and which is based, not on keeping the Law, but on his grace, his freely given love, effective through faith in Jesus:
'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [Jesus] so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16).

'Apocrypha' means 'hidden' or 'secret' and is not a particularly good name for these books - they were well known even in the time of Jesus! But they are not accepted as part of the 'canon' of Scripture (ie fully authentic and agreed) by either Jews or many Protestants (that does not mean they are regarded as of no value). They are accepted by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and so are a 'second canon', which is what 'Deuterocanonical' means - 'deutero' comes from the Greek meaning 'second'.


The Word of God

Christians believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is not just a collection of writings about the faith but the inspired Word of God, and that God speaks to us, and reveals himself to us, in and through it. That doesn't mean all Christians believe every word is literally true. After all, God can speak to us through stories as well as history - as Jesus did in his parables. But it is all true in the sense that it reveals the truth about God and what he does - and our relationship with him.


The Old Testament.

The Old Testament is the 'Bible' that people had in the time of Jesus Ė the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the first (and bigger) part of most copies of the Bible.

Book Name Notes
Genesis The books of the Jewish Law Ė including the early history of Israel
c. 2000-1200 BC (BCE)
Joshua Books which tell the later history of Israel and stories from the same time
c. 1200-400 BC (BCE)
1 Samuel  
2 Samuel  
1 Kings  
2 Kings  
1 Chronicles  
2 Chronicles  
Job Books of songs, poetry and 'wisdom'.
Song of Solomon  
Isaiah Books containing the writings, sayings or stories of the Prophets.


The New Testament.

The New Testament contains the writings special to the Christian faith. It is the second (and smaller) part of most copies of the Bible.

Most books have a 'short' title by which they are known (eg 'Matthew'), which appears first. The full title follows in brackets, (eg, 'The Gospel of Matthew').

Book Name Notes
Matthew (The Gospel of Matthew) The Gospels - accounts of the life of Jesus
Mark (The Gospel of Mark)  
Luke (The Gospel of Luke)  
John (The Gospel of John)  
Acts (The Acts of the Apostles) An account (by St Luke) of the growth of the early church after Jesus' death and resurrection
Romans (The letter to the Romans) Letters from or attributed to St Paul
1 Corinthians (The 1st letter to the Corinthians)  
2 Corinthians (The 2nd letter to the Corinthians)  
Galatians (The letter to the Galatians)  
Ephesians (The letter to the Ephesians)  
Philippians (The letter to the Philippians)  
Colossians (The letter to the Colossians)  
1 Thessalonians (The 1st letter to the Thessalonians)  
2 Thessalonians (The 2nd letter to the Thessalonians)  
1 Timothy (The 1st letter to Timothy)  
2 Timothy (The 2nd letter to Timothy)  
Titus (The letter to Titus)  
Philemon (The letter to Philemon)  
Hebrews (The letter to the Hebrews) Letters from other early Christian leaders
James (The letter of James)  
1 Peter (The 1st letter of Peter)  
2 Peter (The 2nd letter of Peter)  
1 John (The 1st letter of John)  
2 John (The 2nd letter of John)  
3 John (The 3rd letter of John)  
Jude (The letter of Jude)  
Revelation (The Revelation to John) A book of prophecy - with warnings and encouragements, and the promise that, despite tribulation (graphically described!), salvation is assured.


© Copyright David Gray 2006-2010

This page is based on one originally published on the website of the Parish Church of Immanuel and St Andrew, Streatham, London, UK.

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Page last updated 03 July 2010.

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A personal selection, including photographs and reflections on faith.

Links to related pages:

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Photo of part of Streatham Common, looking towards Immanuel and St Andrew Church (1148a.jpg)

Part of Streatham Common, looking towards Immanuel and St Andrew Church.

Links to the main pages are at the ^TOP^ of the page.