As a seminary student, I am continually reminded that most Christians are biblically illiterate. While the term biblically illiterate is broadly defined, it generally references the fact that Christians either 1) spend little to no time reading the Bible or 2) do not take the time to study and understand the scriptures they examine. Because I view this as a problem, I am always interested in figuring out why it is so. In considering the issue carefully, I have concluded that many people are overwhelmed by the Bible’s vastness. Yet breaking it down is quite simple. A good place to start would be with an overview of the Old Testament. Please consider the summary below.
The Bible is comprised of many sections, but the broadest terms in which to define it are the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. They include the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Bible-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are important because they contain several important historical events-the act of Creation, the Fall, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and various dietary regulations that were to determine what God’s people did and did not eat.
Following the Pentateuch, you have a series of books detailing the lives of many people who were affected by the workings of God-Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, and Esther. Like the Pentateuch, these books are very important because they record significant historical events. Esther, for example, recounts how one woman played a primary role in saving the Jewish people from intense persecution.
In addition to narrating events in the lives of various important historical figures, the Old Testament also includes the stories of prophets. These were special men of God who were set apart to prepare and deliver His word to both rebellious and obedient people. The minor prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The major prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The designations “major” and “minor” do not refer to order of importance, but rather the length of the books. Although not considered major or minor prophets, Ezra and Nehemiah are men of God whose doings are recorded in books bearing their own names.
In addition to prophets. the Old Testament includes the books of Wisdom. They are Job and Proverbs. Like these books-which place emphasis upon providing readers with practical wisdom regarding how to live a successful life-Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are predicated on the development and application of knowledge that results in being a productive and positive person. The book of Psalms, on the other hand, contains numerous songs of praise to God which can be sung to a stringed instrument.
As one can see from the summary listed above, the Old Testament is a vast book which conveys a plethora of information that had historical significance on various religious, political, economic, and social levels. Individuals who want to learn even more about the Bible’s form and content can make great use of these articles:
1. “A Brief Overview of the Pentateuch” by Bible Doc
2. “Summary of Genesis” by Erika Grey
3. “An Overview of Moab’s Role In The Bible” by Gail Sanders
Readers can also learn much from a book I studied during an Old Testament course I took last year:
Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007. Print.
My studies of the Bible have increased my awareness that there is always more to learn about this dynamic book. I hope this brief overview helps you gain a better understanding of the Old Testament’s shape and substance. Good luck!
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies.