An Overview of the World’s Best Book
Getting the big picture of the Bible

One of the best classes I took in college was music history. It was one full semester on the four major musical eras: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern. Those classes gave me the framework of basically the entire history of Western art music.

Having that framework in mind proved to be immensely helpful in ways I didn’t anticipate. Once I understood it, I grasped and remembered new pieces of musical knowledge much better—whether about specific composers, pieces of music, types of ensemble, music theory, national styles or anything else. Whatever tidbit I encountered, I could find the right spot on that framework of music history to hang it on. The more pieces that went on the framework, the more they locked together with the pieces next to them, and the clearer the picture became.

Would your understanding of the Bible benefit from this kind of framework?

God’s Word is a big book. In fact, it’s not just one book, but a miniature library. It consists of a condensed collection of ancient writings from foreign authors who lived over a span of millennia. It can easily overwhelm the modern Twitterpated mind.

But the Bible becomes much less overwhelming when you zoom out and see its overview—its logic, structure and order. This framework will make the Bible less intimidating, easier to understand, and simpler to recall. When you read a particular scripture in your personal study, in a sermon or anywhere else, you will have a sense of context. You will know who wrote it, for whom, and why. You will know its placement in history and how it relates to the rest of the Bible, to today, and even to the future!

Such knowledge makes the Bible much more exciting to study. As the big picture becomes clearer in your mind, your studies into the details become more rewarding. Fitting those finer points into a framework also makes them easier to remember. This really helps you learn and memorize scripture (particularly helpful if you attend Herbert W. Armstrong College!).

My wife and I have worked to give this overview to our children since they were quite young. First we taught them all the books of the Bible. Then we focused on the two divisions, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the structure of each. We use the inspired biblical order since it has a better logic to it.

The Old Testament has three parts:

  1. The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  2. The Prophets, which divide into three sections—former: Joshua-Judges, Samuel-Kings; major: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; and minor: the Twelve(Hosea through Malachi).
  3. The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.

The New Testament has four parts:

  1. The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
  2. The Acts.
  3. The Epistles, of which there are those written by Paul: Romans through Philemon; and those written by others, known as the General Epistles: James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2 and 3 John; Jude.
  4. Revelation.

Altogether that makes seven divisions, with a total of 49 books. Seven times seven reflects the completeness of God’s inspired scriptural canon. Pretty awesome, huh?

In our family Bible studies, I often ask questions like: What are the Bible’s seven divisions? Which books are the former prophets? Who are the 12 “minor” prophets? You know the answers to those questions just from what you’ve read in this article!

Once you have this overview, it becomes easier to fill in more and more detail. In our family studies, we have gotten into each book’s author and purpose. Over time, we have covered more and more particulars. Now I can ask questions about specific books and topics: What is the book of Acts about? Who wrote the book of Revelation? If I wanted to read about Abraham, which book would I go to? Where would I read about Israel entering the Promised Land? What is the book of Numbers about? Where would I read about the construction of the Second Temple?

Learning the answers to these types of questions will help you know where to find a particular piece of information you may seek and also help you know what you are looking at when you open the Bible to a particular passage.

With time, you can gain a firm grasp of some extraordinary specifics: which prophets lived at which time in history and for what purpose God sent them; what makes each of the Gospel accounts unique; the character of the congregations to which Paul wrote and what problems he was trying to correct; and so on. You will remember more about specific books if you learn about notable chapters. For example, you can more readily remember that in Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth, chapter 1 deals with Church division; chapter 7 with family relations; chapter 10 with warnings from ancient Israel; chapter 12 with Church government; chapter 13 with love; and chapter 15 with the resurrection.

If you would like more help learning the specifics of each book, go to www.pcog.org/go/overview where you can find a handy pdf with more information. I hope you enjoy delving into, decoding and learning the framework of the world’s best book!