How to Read the Bible (part 1): What is the Bible?

Updated: Feb 3

In the baptismal liturgies of the Lutheran church, parents make a promise to put the word of God in the hands of their children and teach it to them. Implicit in that promise is teaching their children how to read God’s word. In the same liturgy, the church promises to come alongside them and support them in this endeavor, and this series of short articles on how to read the Bible is part of our effort to do just that.

A quick note regarding this series. It consists of 19 short articles based on a series of videos from BibleProject using the same name. Each article will be short and contain a video that is five to six minutes long. So while there are 19 articles, each is designed to be brief, to the point, and practical.

So what exactly is the Bible?

Some common answers are an old boring book we read in church, a collection of religious documents and stories, or the Word of God. More than simply recording God speaking, the Bible is what God uses to reveal himself and his actions throughout history to us. It is the story of the creation and the salvation of the world, of you, and of me.

Watch the following video from BibleProject to learn more.

What else should you know about the Bible?

The Bible is divided, so to speak, in a few ways that are helpful to know about when we read it. The biggest division is between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s also divided by individual “books,” 66 in all. The Old Testament has 39 books; the New Testament has 27. Each book is also divided into chapters and each chapter contains verses. While the chapter and verse divisions are not original to Scripture, they are helpful in reading the Bible together with others.

The TaNaK and the Old Testament have the same books only in different orders. Both begin with Torah/Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), but our Old Testament breaks up the historical books the prophets wrote like Joshua, 1 Samual, 2 Kings, etc. from the individual prophetic writing like Isaiah, Jonah, Malachi, etc. with what is often referred to as poetic and wisdom literature. These would be Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.

The New Testament contains the four gospels/biographies of Jesus, one history of the early church (Acts of the Apostles), 21 epistles or letters to churches and individuals from Apostles, and one letter written in an apocalyptic style addressed to seven churches (Revelation).

The Bible was not originally written in English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. Both were written in languages common to the people. God’s Word was not written in a secret special language, but one everyone could understand.

What about those other writings?

The Apocrypha, or Deutero-Canonical books, are generally comprised of seven separate Jewish texts from the second temple period, plus additional material from the same period between the Old and New Testaments. These intertestamental books are not Scripture, but they give us great context, history, and understanding of the world we come to find in the New Testament, how it came to be, and why Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious & civil leaders believed what they believed.

The Apocrypha contains the following books: Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach), Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, 1 & 2 Maccabees, an older Greek version of the book of Esther, and additions to Daniel— Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Holy Children, and the Prayer of Manasseh.


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