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Bible Origin & Content

by Tim Isbell

Christians recognize the Bible as a book that is divinely inspired by God. At the top level, it is God’s description of who he is, who we are, and how he wants us to relate to himself and to each other.

The Bible is a collection of ancient books inspired by God and authored by over 40 people spanning more than 44 generations. It’s divided into two sections: the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament’s 39 books were primarily written in Hebrew from about 2000 BCE (Before the Common Era, a new way to notate BC) to 450 BCE. By the time of Christ, these scriptures were translated into Greek (called the Septuagint) and were well studied by the Jews. The New Testament’s 27 books were written in Greek from about 50 CE (Common Era, same as AD) to 100 CE. The earliest available New Testament manuscripts come from the 2nd or 3rd century. Scholars believe the first book written was 1 Thessalonians (around 53 CE). Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel written, Luke and Matthew followed, and finally John. The New Testament began in the form of letters and manuscripts which were available in differing degrees among first century churches. Near the end of the fourth century, Bishop Eusebius was told by Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, to produce 50 complete Scriptures. His research resulted in the canonization of the 66 books that we still recognize as the inspired word of God: the Bible.

Authentic Christians place themselves under the authority of the Bible’s 66 books. We don’t just grab isolated verses and use them as directives for our lives. Instead, we ask the Holy Spirit to teach us how the verses fit together into God’s ultimate plan to redeem us from sin and restore us to Christ-like-ness. In order to understand the context of a passage, and separate culturally specific or time specific information from timeless truth, we need to know the history of the times when the Scriptures were written. We believe that the writing of Scripture and the selection of the 66 books were both under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We believe that God’s purpose is to provide all generations a description of who he is, who he designed us to be, and how he wants us to relate to himself and to each other. Scripture tells of a loving Creator who created us to faithfully follow and love him. The Bible is not a science book. While Scripture includes some history, it is also not primarily a history book. It is primarily a library of books about truth and relationships.

There are many excellent versions of the Bible in modern English. The New Living Translation (2004) is most often used around New Life Church because of it's accuracy and readability, especially among people whose first language is not English. The Revised New International Version is another popular one. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) is also a good choice for serious Bible students. And The Message is also an excellent paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson.

There are also many support books available to help us study Scriptures in depth. If you remember a word or two from a verse, you can use a Concordance to locate the verse in the Bible. If you want more information on a person or place in the Bible, or even on some basic themes of the Bible, you can find them in a Bible Dictionary such as Unger’s. If you want to investigate a certain passage more deeply, you can read a Commentary such as Barclay's or Word Bible Commentary. Today there are many computer based resources for biblical study, too.

The objective of this resource is to familiarize you with the various kinds of literature in the Bible. We will do this by sampling some popular Scriptures of each type. In the Old Testament you will find history, law, wisdom literature, and prophesy. In the New Testament you will find some more history, some letters, and a book of prophesy.


Old Testament Timeline

The Bible is a collection of books which start out in chronological order, but soon become impossible to arrange in order of time.  There are very detailed timelines available from most Bible bookstores, but the following list summarizes the main flow of time.
Creation - Adam & Eve
Fall (the first sin)
Flood - Noah
Patriarchs (means “fathers”)
Abram, later called Abraham (father of the Hebrew race, meaning “across the river”)
Jacob, later called Israel
Joseph and 11 other sons
Egyptian captivity ... ~ 400 years
Moses (Ten Commandments & other books of the Law)
Joshua (Israelites take over Palestine)



Divided kingdoms
Jeroboam (10 tribes, called Northern Kingdom, Israel or Ephriam)
... Ahab (Elijah, followed by Elisha, 2 famous prophets)
... Jeroboam II  (Amos, the prophet from Judah)
...Assyrian Captivity (circa 721 BCE, dispersion ... never a nation again)
Rehoboam (Judah & Benjamin, called Southern Kingdom or Judah)
... Hezekiah
... Josiah
... Babylonian Captivity  (circa 606 BCE, lasts 70 years)
Zerubbabel returns to rebuild Jerusalem (circa 536 BCE)
Ezra returns to Jerusalem to rebuild temple (circa 444 BCE)
Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall (circa 444 BCE)
Malachi writes last book in OT (circa 444 BCE)

Intertestament Timeline

Greece (Alexander the Great) captures Palestine (332 BCE)
Egyptians take over Palestine (323 BCE)
Syrians take over Palestine (197 BCE)
Maccabean revolt (164 BCE)
Romans take over Palestine (63 BCE)

New Testament Timeline

Jesus is born (circa 6 BCE to 3 BCE, discrepancy due to error by 6th century abbot)
Jesus ministry (circa 27-30 CE), crucifixion, resurrection & ascension
Apostle Paul’s conversion (circa 33-35 CE)
Christian church grows (all books probably written before 100 CE, surely before 130)

Reading Samples from the different time periods

Pentateuch sampler (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

1.   What are the lasting effects of The Fall (the sin of Adam and Eve)?  (Gen 3)
2.   Why do you suppose God especially liked Abram and chose him?  (Gen 12.1-9)
3.   Which are the three most challenging commandments for you to keep today? (Ex 20.1-17)

Old Testament history sampler (Joshua through Esther)

1.   Why did the Hebrews want a king?  (1 Sam 8.1-9)
2.   Where did David get all his confidence?  What was it that morally outraged David?  Why is it that God seems to choose the least likely person for some very big jobs?  (1 Sam 17.3-51)

Old Testament wisdom literature sampler (Job through Song of Solomon)

1.   How can you take advantage of God as your refuge and strength?  (Ps 46.1-3, 10)
2.   What do you have to do so that the Lord can lead you in whatever is the best direction for you.  (Prov 3.5-6)
3.   Why should you fear God and keep his commandments?  (Eccl 12.13-14)

Old Testament prophesy sampler  (Isaiah through Malachi)

1.   How did Isaiah respond to God’s question?  (Isaiah 6.1-8)
2.   How did Jonah respond to God’s question?  How is it different from Isaiah?  (Jonah 1.1-3)
3.   Who do you suppose Jeremiah means by the Righteous Branch?  (Jer 23.1-6)

New Testament history sampler (Matthew through Acts)

1.   Who does Peter claim that Jesus is?  Does Jesus confirm this claim?  How confident are you that Peter was right?  (Matt 16.13-17)
2.   From the boy’s point of view, what is the primary lesson in this story?  How can you apply this lesson to your life in some way?  (John 6.1-13)

New Testament letters sampler (Romans through 3 John)

1.   What is the relationship between our salvation by faith and the good works God wants us to do?  (Eph 2.8-10)
2.   In Phil 4.4-9, verses 4-7 tell how to receive the peace of God; verses 8-9 tell how to have the God of peace.  Based on the requirements in this Scripture, which is most challenging for you?  Why?

New Testament prophesy sampler (Revelation)

1.   God has promised those who believe in him that he’ll restore the world to be like it was back at the creation.  What blessings come with the New Jerusalem?  What part of the new life is most attractive to you?  (Rev 21.1-4)

Memory verse

2 Tim 3.16-17


Optional reading

Earle, Ralph, How We Got Our Bible.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1971.
Halley, Henry H., Halley’s Bible Handbook.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965.

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