Special Study Articles
Synopses of Bible Books
Old Testament Books
The Jews saw these books divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This is also called the TaNaKh, which is an acronym for the Torah (the Law), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings). Jesus said that “all that was written about Him in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44-45). This fits the same three-fold designation of this part of Scripture:
The book of beginnings: Creation of heavens and earth, plants, animals, and mankind. Sin brings curse upon creation, and mankind is separated from God. God puts into effect His plan for mankind’s redemption and salvation. He gives the promise to Abram (then Isaac and Jacob) that through his seed, all nations would be blessed. This would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The book shows the start of how God would bring this plan into effect.
The children of Israel (Jacob) had become slaves in Egypt. God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt so that they could be His special nation through which Messianic promises (the seed promise given to Abraham) could be fulfilled. After much turmoil with Pharaoh and the plagues God brought upon them, the children of Israel finally left Egypt and received the Law at Mt. Sinai. Various laws, the Passover, and the tabernacle (God’s “dwelling” among the people) receive special attention. God’s mighty acts of power are stressed.
A book pertaining primarily to the work of the Levites and the Priesthood. It deals with the various responsibilities of the priests, particularly regarding the sacrifices (worship) and their holiness (living as God’s people should live). Perhaps the key passage is in 11:44-45, where God stated, “be holy, for I am holy.” Peter quoted from this, showing how Christians are to be holy themselves (1 Peter 1:15-16). Holiness is the theme.
“Numbers” (census) refers to the counting of the Israelites. In the book, the children of Israel continued their wilderness wanderings. Due to their complaints, the older generation of Israel would die in the wilderness, unable to enter the promised land (chapters 13-14). The younger generation is then prepared for entering the land. Throughout the book are seen the consequences of disbelief and disobedience.
Deuteronomy is the repetition of the law given at Sinai. At the end of Moses’ life, he gave the children of Israel this last series of addresses in which he reiterated the need to obey God and remain faithful to God’s covenant. Commandments and warnings are given throughout, with the respective blessings and curses. Obedience would result in continued favor from God; disobedience would result in the loss of special blessings.
After Moses died, Joshua became the leader of the children of Israel. Under his leadership, they entered the promised land of Canaan and conquered it. The land was then divided into sections for the habitation of the tribes. At the end of his life, Joshua encouraged the people to choose to serve the Lord continually. The people were faithful to God as long as Joshua was alive.
After entering and dividing the land, the people went through cycles in which they engaged in sin. God would then allow some oppressors to give them problems. After their cries for help, God would send deliverers (judges) to save them from the bad situation. This would be followed by a period of peace. Then they would enter the cycle of sin again. Judges 2 shows how the cycle continued to get worse and spiral downward as Israel remained unfaithful to the covenant.
Ruth was a Moabite woman who had married into an Israelite family, in the days of the judges. When her husband died, she determined to return to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and worship Yahweh. She went to work in the field of Boaz. Boaz redeemed her (see ch. 4), and they were eventually married. They were ancestors of Jesus. The story is one of love, devotion, and reward, with a primary point showing how the seed promise would continue in David’s line.
Samuel was the last of the judges. He was a righteous man. But the people were not satisfied with what they had and asked for a king so they could like the nations around them. God would let this happen, but they would soon find out that having kings was not going to be so great for them. Saul was the first king. He turned out to be wicked, and David was chosen by God to take over as king when Saul died. 1 Samuel focuses on the reigns of Saul and David, contrasting the two men as one turned from God (Saul) and the other turned toward God (David).
2 Samuel zeros in on the reign of David and the difficulties he faced as king, as well as the consequences of his own sins. His sin with Bathsheba, the rebellion and death of Absalom his son, and the other struggles he faced are found here. We also see David’s ultimate desire to do what is right in the sight of God. In spite of the problems, God promised David that his seed would establish a kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
1 Kings deals with the final years of David as king of Israel, the reign of Solomon (David’s son), and begins the narrative of the divided kingdom years (the northern kingdom is still called Israel; the southern kingdom is called Judah). It is the story of a great nation which had a glorious beginning, but fell into a terrible state of apostasy. After Solomon, the kingdom divided, and the majority of those who were God’s people fell into such sin that they would eventually be punished for it.
2 Kings continues where 1 Kings ends. After the kingdom of Israel divided, the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel became increasingly wicked. They were finally carried away by the Assyrians in about 721 B.C. Meanwhile, Judah lasted longer, but still would eventually fall as captives to the Babylonians. This book shows how God removed kings and carried out the covenant curses (from Deuteronomy) against those who disobeyed Him.
1 Chronicles has several parallels to what is also covered in later 1 Samuel and much of 2 Samuel. It contains much genealogical information in the first several chapters. The book primarily covers the reigns of Saul and David. It appears to have been written after Babylonian exile to remind the people how unfaithfulness to God yields bad results (see chapter 9:1—“Judah was carried away into exile to Babylon for their unfaithfulness.”).
2 Chronicles continues where 1Chronicles leaves off. Solomon is king over all Israel, and is now going to build the temple for which David had helped make preparations before he died. Building the temple is successful. However, after Solomon died, Rehoboam, his son, took over, and the kingdom soon split. It ends with the sad events of Judah being carried away to captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem (about 586 B.C.).
As the prophets foretold, the people of God went into captivity for 70 years in Babylon due to their unfaithfulness. After this time, Cyrus, king of Persia, was stirred up to allow them to go back home and rebuild their temple (about 538 B.C.). A remnant returned to Jerusalem to build the temple (finished in 516 B.C.), and later the walls of the city of Jerusalem (444 B.C.). Ezra records what happened as they returned from captivity. He was active in calling the people back to God. Ezra’s return was in about 458 B.C.
Though earlier Jews had returned from exile and rebuilt the temple (Ezra), the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in ruins. When Nehemiah heard of this, he wept, prayed, and asked to be able to return to complete this task. He was allowed to do so, and under great pressure from without, he led the rebuilding of the walls. It was completed in 52 days because the people had a mind to work together. This was in about the year 444 B.C.
Ezra speaks of the return of Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple (about 536 B.C.). Nehemiah covers his own return to rebuild the city (about 444 B.C.). Esther falls in between (about 483 B.C.). She was a Jewess who was crowned Queen of Persia. During her time, an effort was made to destroy all Jews. Because of her willingness and efforts, the people were saved. Though God’s name is not mentioned, the book plays a vital, historical role in the fulfillment of God’s plan as His people are spared from destruction.
Job was a righteous man whom God allowed Satan to test. He lost his children and possessions, and suffered tremendous physical pain. Three friends visited Job, and began to accuse him of sin. Job defended himself, but God finally spoke and showed how they all were thinking wrongly about matters. In the end, Job was blessed even more than he had been before. He remained faithful throughout his sufferings. Trusting God through difficulties and trials is the theme.
Basically, a psalm is a special song of praise. The Psalms are a collection of songs and poetry, covering many different moods and feelings. There is much praise for God, and they contain some of the deep feelings that the writers themselves had as they were struggling through their times. Many were written by David, though there were several other authors involved.
A proverb is a general saying that teaches practical wisdom. The book of Proverbs is a collection of such sayings setting forth godly wisdom. Solomon is the chief human author, but others were also involved. A host of subjects are treated, and the wisdom set forth is timeless for all ages. It is important for us to be familiar with the book today, as the applications are always needed for making choices in life that glorify God. The foundation for godly wisdom and knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
The one called the “preacher” sought to find meaning to life through many avenues such as wisdom, pleasure, riches, and power, all apart from God. He kept coming up empty: “all is vanity.” The things of life are fleeting and empty, especially when one tries to live without God. True meaning in life is found in serving God. The conclusion, after all was heard, was to fear God and keep His commandments. God will bring every act to judgment, so life “under the sun” is all about serving Him.
Song of Solomon
This is love poetry expressing a man’s desire for a special woman. The song shows the importance of the physical aspect of love within marriage. God created the physical union between husband and wife for mutual enjoyment, but God still expects us to show wisdom and purity. Many have used the book allegorically for God’s relationship to Israel, or even Christ’s relationship to the church. The primary point, however, is about the love within marriage.
A Note on the Prophets: the prophets were God’s mouthpieces to the people during difficult and strained times. They generally operated between about 800 B.C. and 400 B.C. They pointed the people back to the Covenant God made with them. They called out common sins of which the people needed to repent, primarily the sins of idolatry, religious ritualism (just going through motions while living sinful lives), and oppression of the poor and needy. They also pointed to the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Through the prophets, God gave the people many opportunities to return to Him. Sadly, most of the people did not listen.
Isaiah prophesied beginning at the end of the reign of King Uzziah (6:1), from about 740-700 B.C.. He gave many warnings to Israel, and was around to witness Isreal’s demise. He also worked with Hezekiah of Judah. But Isaiah is usually most noted for the Messianic prophecies contained throughout the Book. He is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet.
Jeremiah prophesied during the time that Judah was taken away into captivity, and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. He warned Judah that if they did not repent, they would be just like their sister Israel. He endured a great deal of suffering in order to preach to the people, even though few listened. He is sometimes referred to as the “weeping” prophet because of his sorrow over the nation.
Lamentations, likely written by Jeremiah the prophet, is a dirge of mourning over Jerusalem. Written after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the prophet mourns over the desolation of the city. It is, essentially, the funeral of Jerusalem. It was used by the Jews as a reminder of the consequences of sin. Even so, they are also reminded of the faithfulness of God who would allow them to return.
Ezekiel was one of the Israelites taken in captivity by the Babylonians. He was a priest who received visions and revelations from God about the nations, Israel’s restoration, and the temple. He reminded the people why they were in captivity, but his message was ultimately one of hope to the common people. The book is filled with figures that help the message come to life.
Daniel was a young man taken into captivity by the Babylonians to serve the King, Nebuchadnezzar. God gave him the ability to interpret dreams and prophesy. He foretold the history of the nations after Babylon, and how the kingdom of God would be established to overcome them all. There are great lessons about what it means to be faithful to God, even in difficult times.
Hosea’s message is to the northern kingdom of Israel before she fell. God had begged her to return to Him, but she kept committing spiritual adultery against God. One sees the heart of God bleeding as He yearns for Israel to return to Him. As an object lesson, Hosea married a woman who committed adultery against him; then he was told to take her back. This showed God’s love toward Israel as He continued to take her back after sinning against Him.
Joel’s message was one of calling God’s people back to Him in light of approaching judgment. He uses a terrible plague of locusts to foretell judgment. He also has Messianic implications, as is seen in the fact that Peter quotes from Joel 2 on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and preaches that what Joel said was fulfilled.
Amos prophesied in the eighth century B.C. to Israel, during a time of wealth and corruption. He strongly condemned their addictions to luxury, idolatry, and moral depravity. Because of these things, they would go into captivity. Amos emphasizes the character of God and His relation to the nation.
Jonah was sent by God to the Ninevites (capital of Assyria) to tell them of their impending destruction. At first Jonah ran from it, but after three days in the belly of a fish, he went when God told him to go again. When he preached, they repented, and God did not destroy them just yet. This angered Jonah, and he was rebuked for his attitude. It shows God’s care for the lost. Jesus used Jonah’s account to foretell His resurrection (Matthew 12:40).
Micah was contemporary with Isaiah, prophesying to “Samaria and Jerusalem” (the northern and southern capital cities). His effort was to remind rebellious people that “the Lord is coming forth from His place.” They will be judged for their sins. Yet Micah also has prophecies about the Christ. God would spare a remnant, in which His plans would be fulfilled.
Like Jonah, Nahum was a prophet to Ninevah. However, this time, Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, would not be spared. So Nahum prophesied shortly before the fall of Assyria in about 612 B.C. His theme is very pointed: it is about the fall and destruction of Ninevah. Once again, the lesson is taught that for a nation to survive, it must be established on the principles of righteousness and truth.
Habakkuk prophesied from about 612-605 B.C., about the same time as Nahum and Jeremiah. He was concerned about the wickedness in the land, and wondered when God would do something about it. God told him that He would handle it in His time, using the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to punish Judah, then punishing Babylon for their own wickedness. One of the major themes is “wait on the Lord.” Let God take care of matters in His own time.
Zephaniah prophesied during the days of Josiah (c. 639-608 B.C.). Josiah’s reign was preceeded by Manasseh, whose wickedness sealed the destruction of Judah. However, Josiah stalled it by his great reforms; but Zephaniah still spoke of the Day of Jehovah, a day of judgment. Only a remnant would escape it. Yet, there would be a day of redemption. Further, Zephaniah emphasizes that Jehovah is the God of the universe. He is above all.
Haggai returned from Babylonian captivity with those under Zerubbabel (starting at about 538 B.C.). Upon return, the people started rebuilding the temple, but then ceased. Haggai’s message was very pointed: build the temple! The people needed to accomplish this task if they were to have the hope of blessing from God. The Messianic hope is seen in his message: the house would be filled with glory that would surpass anything else they had seen. The people did finally get back to work on the temple and finished it about 516 B.C.
Zechariah worked in conjunction with Haggai to urge the people to rebuild the temple. The background for their messages is identical. Zechariah’s message was even more Messianic, looking beyond the material temple to the Messiah and His spiritual temple. God’s purpose would be fulfilled through the Messiah and His rule. Even though there would be much opposition, God would fight for His people, and they would be victorious.
Malachi was the last of the prophets prior to the 400 year span between the Old and New Testaments. The temple and the city had been rebuilt, but now the people had fallen into a state of indifference. Worship was in decay; they were divorcing their wives to marry heathens. Malachi makes it clear that their actions were intolerable to God. They needed to wake up and return to the Lord.
New Testament Books
A Note on the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are referred to as the Gospels. These are snapshots of particular aspects of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in nature and are sometimes called the synoptic Gospels because they are “seeing together” essentially the same events and teachings, though there are differences. John has his own unique style and emphasis. All four Gospels teach the death and resurrection of Jesus as the culmination of what He intended to accomplish.
Matthew’s focus is the kingship of Jesus. Jesus is presented as the Son of David who came to rule on His throne. Jesus is the promised Messiah (Christ, anointed one) and His works and miracles testified to this. Jesus died on a cross and was raised again, and through the resurrection secured His kingship. All authority thus belongs to Him.
Mark is written with a focus on showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). He emphasizes the miracles of Jesus to show that He is who He claimed to be. The first part of Mark ends with Peter confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and latter part shows that, as Jesus died, even a Roman centurion recognized that He is the Son of God. Mark’s style is brief and to the point.
Luke began by claiming to have investigated everything carefully, including the eyewitnesses to Jesus, so that Theophilus, to whom Luke wrote, would know exactly what happened (Luke 1:1-4). Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus as He ministered to the poor, but also shows that He was indeed the promised Messiah who would bring salvation. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
John’s style differs much from the other writers. He emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus. Jesus is presented at the Creator, the Light of the world who brings life, and the Lamb of God who would die to take away the sins of the world. Jesus is God who came in the flesh (1:14), demonstrating His great love for us by going to the cross. In spite of the fact that Jesus is divine, He voluntarily subjected Himself to the suffering and death of the cross to bring salvation.
Acts was written by Luke as a “part 2” to Luke’s Gospel. Jesus ascends to heaven after the resurrection and leaves the work of teaching the world to His chosen disciples. The apostles begin in Jerusalem and then start carrying the gospel message out to the ends of the world. The first part of Acts focuses on Peter, while the second part focuses on the apostle Paul after his conversion to Christ. Overarching all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit in confirming the message of the gospel as being the truth. Acts ends with Paul as a prisoner in Rome, but the implications are that the work of spreading the gospel had just begun.
Letters written by Paul (between @ A.D. 50-66)
The relationship between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) who became Christians was one of the early problems for disciples. Paul, here writing to a large Gentile audience, stressed the fact that both Jews and Gentiles were guilty of sin before God. Both Jews and Gentiles stood before God needing forgiveness and grace. The Jews could not simply appeal to the Law to be justified, nor could either group claim superiority over the other. All sinned and needed grace, and ultimately both groups must come together in Christ and respect each other’s situations.
Corinth was at the crossroads of many philosophies and cultures. Because of this, it was known as a very immoral place. The church at Corinth was reflecting the problems of the culture and were struggling to stay united in Christ. Paul writes to plead with them to be united and to treat one another with love as they work through the issues that threatened them.
Paul had rebuked the Corinthians in the first letter, and now with one of them repenting of sin, they needed to learn how to show love and forgive. Paul also had his critics, and there were those who were trying to compete with Paul’s authority, which forced Paul to defend his apostleship. Paul warns that they must not allow their focus on Christ to be divided.
The problems between Jew and Gentile are dealt with head on. There were some Jewish teachers who were affirming that Gentiles, in order to be Christians, had first to be circumcised and essentially keep the Law of Moses. Paul wrote that they needed to guard against the perversion of the gospel message. In Christ, they were set free from the Law of Moses and needed to stay true to Jesus. The Law had served its purpose in bringing people to Christ.
Paul enumerates the blessings found in Christ. The first three chapters stress these blessings and the salvation from sin by grace through faith. Because of this, they were to strive to walk in a manner worthy of the calling from God. The last three chapters provide practical teachings about growing in Christ and living in the way that God desires. This includes being prepared to fight the spiritual battles that all Christians face.
The church at Philippi had helped Paul in his preaching of the gospel. Paul writes to encourage them in their work and fellowship. They were to live properly, do nothing selfishly, treat others as more important than themselves, and show the mind of Christ in the way they lived and treated one another. They could then we lights in the world. Paul points to the hope of resurrection and the need to press toward that goal. In the meantime, they could trust the Lord and think about things that were right and noble.
Much like Ephesians, Colossians points to the blessings of being in Christ. Christ is preeminent above all, the head of the church, and in Him Christians are made complete. Because of this, Christians are to think on things above, not on on earthly things. Because they are alive in Christ, believers are to live in a way that reflects their full trust in Christ as the Lord.
One of Paul’s first epistles, Paul commends these brethren for spreading the gospel. He defends his own work among them, encourages them to live holy lives, and assures them that Christ is coming again. Those who died in Christ were awaiting the resurrection. They all needed to be prepared for the return of Christ and the final judgment.
Some were concerned that the Lord had already come or that He would be coming back immediately. Certain things needed to happen before then, but they were assured that God would vindicate his people who were being persecuted. In the meantime, they needed to stand firm in the teachings they had been given.
Timothy was a younger coworker of Paul. Paul had left him in Ephesus in order to help the church there. Timothy is encouraged in his work as an evangelist. Paul stresses the need for sound teaching and reliance upon Scripture because there would be some who would stray from the faith.
Paul was coming to the end of his own life and writes Timothy one last time to encourage him in his work. Timothy was to guard what was entrusted to him and to follow the pattern of sound teaching he had learned. Christians were not to be quarrelsome, but they were to stand for what is right. Scripture is able to provide the needed spiritual tools to make God’s worker complete. Paul would soon be sacrificing his life for Christ.
Another of Paul’s traveling companions, Titus was left in Crete to help set things in order among the disciples. Titus, like Timothy, was to help appoint elders in the church there so that they could be led properly. Titus, too, was to stress the sound teaching of Scripture, to be ready for every good work, and to avoid the pitfalls of error.
A man named Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon and had run away. Philemon had become a Christian, and when Onesimus left, he, too became a Christian. Paul had become close to both o them, so Paul pleaded with Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. This shows how relationships can change when people turn to Christ.
Hebrews is an anonymous letter written to encourage Jewish Christians at the time to remain faithful to Jesus. Because of persecution, many were tempted to return to their former ways in Judaism. The writer shows how everything in Christ is better since Christ was the fulfillment of the old covenant. He shows how the old contained many shadows and types that were completed in Christ. For instance, the animal sacrifices in the old covenant were fulfilled by the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, through whom is true forgiveness and access into presence of God.
James, the brother of Jesus, writes this letter to Christians as a practical encouragement to listen to Scripture, treat others properly by not showing partiality, and show their faith by how they act toward others. The letter contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. James encourages his readers to be careful with how they speak, learn to be humble before God, and be patient and prayerful through trials.
Peter writes to encourage Christians who are undergoing persecution. They are born again to a living hope and can rejoice in their inheritance reserved in heaven. Even though they suffer trials, they can trust God for salvation. Because of the trials, they needed to be determined to keep a good example before others and be ready to suffer more if needed.
Peter here warns about false teachers who would come in among the people and cause many problems. Christians needed to grow in God’s grace and knowledge, determined to become stronger so that they don’t stumble. There would be those who scoff at the idea that God would bring judgment on the world. God is patient, however, and wants all to repent. Yet there would come the time that God judges and ushers in the new heavens and new earth.
John encourages fellowship in Christ by walking in the light of God’s will. Christians are to avoid sin, but they can have confidence that Jesus is their advocate. John stresses love for God and one another, and also accepting the truth about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. They were to test all teachers by what they said about Jesus and seek to abide in the truth of Jesus. By loving God and obeying His commandments by faith, God assures Christians can overcome the world.
John here briefly warns about false teachers regarding Jesus Christ. Christians are to love one another and seek to abide in the teaching of Christ. Those who do not do so are not to be given fellowship.
John writes to encourage Gaius in his work with the church where he lived. Sadly, a man named Diotrephes wanted to dominate over the Christians there and he refused to acknowledge the authority of the apostles. John indicates he will deal with the problem. In the meantime, they were to imitate what is good.
Jude wanted to write a letter about the common salvation of Christians, but was compelled to write to contend for the faith because there were false teachers who were secretly bringing in destructive doctrines among Christians. They needed to be identified and avoided, for they would be judged. Christians needed to stay true to the faith and do whatever was needed to save others.
The apostle John writes to seven churches of Asia minor (where modern Turkey is). Christ had a message for each church, identifying both positive and negative people, doctrines, and attitudes found in each. For some, they needed to repent; for others, they needed to remain faithful. The book is filled with symbolic language that is geared toward showing that there is a great war between Christ with His armies and the devil with his forces. There are signs showing that powerful government forces (like Rome) would persecute the people of God. However, the point of the book is that Christ will always be triumphant and His people will be vindicated. A final judgment will render reward and punishment accordingly. The language in Revelation relies heavily on Old Testament books like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.