Structure and Characteristics of the Bible


1. Languages of the Bible

The word “Bible” originates from the Greek word βιβλος [Biblos=Book].

(1) The Old Testament was written in Hebrew

※ Some books in the Old Testament (Ezr 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Jer 10:11; Da 2:4-7:28) were written in Aramaic [Chaldean], a language used in Babylon. It is said that the Jews spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic languages after the time of the Babylonian exile.

(2) The New Testament was written in Greek, a language which was used throughout the world at that time. Greek became the official language of the Roman Empire in the 1st century.

※ The reason why the New Testament was written in Greek, not in Hebrew or Aramaic, was because the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles as well.(Since Alexander conquered the east, most countries used Greek in those days.)

2. Characteristics of the Bible

The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years from the time of Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, to the time of John the Apostle who wrote the last several books of the New Testament. It was written by dozens of people from diverse backgrounds; there were kings like David, shepherds like Amos, and many more (Am 1:1). The books of the Bible were written in different specific historical situations and at different times. However, there is one thing we must pay attention to: It is God who let all the prophets write the Bible.

Since the author of the Bible is God, not man, the Bible does not contradict itself—all the words in the 66 books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation are consistent in their messages. Every word has power and authority, and all the prophecies have been fulfilled and are being fulfilled. That is why the Bible has been regarded as sacred and read by so many people.

  • 2 Ti 3:16 『“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching.』
  • 2 Pe 1:21 『For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.』

3. The canon and the non-canonical books

(1) The canon: 39 books of the Old Testament, and 27 books of the New Testament

※ The 39 books of the Old Testament were formally recognized as the official canon of the Hebrew Bible.

(2) The non-canonical books: The books excluded from the canon of the Bible through several Bible screenings

These are the books that were written until the birth of Jesus after the time of the prophet Malachi (400 BC) .

The moral tone of the non-canonical books is far below that of the Bible, and they also contain doctrines that contradict the Bible. For this reason, they were never accepted as part of the traditional Jewish canon. Since they are of such inferior quality and have no historical value, they are also called the Apocrypha.

Jesus never quoted from the Apocrypha when He preached a sermon.

※ The Roman Catholic Church officially accepted the apocryphal books; St. Jerome, one of the bishops, translated the Bible into Latin and then the Apocrypha for an appendix around the 4th century, which paved the way for the use of the non-canonical books. As the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha, the Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent (1545-1547) and declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible.

4. Structure of the Bible

The Bible consists of 66 books—39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament.

(1) Arrangement of the Old Testament books

① Pentateuch (5 books of Moses): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

② Books of History: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

③ Books of Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs

④ Books of Prophecy: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

※ As shown above, the books of the Bible are not arranged in chronological order, but on the basis of subjects or topics, including history, poetry, and prophecy.

e.g. 1) The book of Jeremiah, which was written before and during the Babylonian exile, is classified as a book of prophecy. But the book of 2 Chronicles, which was written after the return from Babylon, is classified as a book of history, and that is why it is arranged before the book of Jeremiah.

  • Jer 25:11 prophesied that the Jewish people would be taken captive to Babylon for 70 years.
  • 2 Ch 36:21 depicts its fulfillment.

e.g. 2) The book of Isaiah, which was written about 100 years before the Babylonian captivity, is a book of prophecy and it is arranged as the twenty-third book of the Bible. But the book of Ezra, which was written after the return from the Babylon captivity, is classified as a historical book and arranged as the fifteenth book of the Bible.

  • Isa 45:1 prophesied that the Jews would be released from the Babylonian exile by Cyrus
  • Ezr 1:1 shows its fulfillment.

(2) Arrangement of the New Testament

① 4 Gospels (Records of Jesus’ work): Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

※ The Gospel of John was written between twenty and thirty years later than the other three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

② Book of History (Records of the Apostles’ work): Acts

③ Epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon

※ Travel Epistles (Paul’s letters written on his missionary journey): Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians

※ Pastoral Epistles (Paul’s letters to pastors): 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus

※ Prison Epistles (Paul’s letters from prison): Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon

④ General Epistles (Letters addressed to Christian communities in unspecified or general localities): Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude

⑤ Book of Prophecy: Revelation

※ Like the books of the Old Testament, the books of the New Testament are also arranged by type, rather than chronologically.

e.g.) The book of 2 Peter is arranged as the twenty-second book in the New Testament, but it was written before the Gospel of John which is arranged as the fourth book of the New Testament of the Bible.

  • Peter wrote that he would soon put aside the tent of his body (2 Pe 1:14).
  • It is proven that the book of John was written after Peter’s death (Jn 21:19).