With sixty-six books of the Bible written over two thousand years, the Bible is the most diverse collection of literature in the world. Those books contain some of the most famous stories, most respected wisdom, and most powerful prose (and poetry) ever known.
But for Christians, the books of the Bible are so much more. They are the inspired Word of God that help us know the creator of the universe and live in a way that honors him.
Timothy writes about Scripture’s significance in the life of a Jesus-follower, saying: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16).
So what are these sixty-six books of the Bible that have inspired so many of us?
Here are the books of the Bible in order, from Genesis to Revelation—with a bit about each book’s context that helps us understand what God is saying to us today through it.
Quick note before we dive in: a good study Bible is an excellent tool to give context and insights as you read each book. The Faithlife Study Bible is an excellent—and free—option.
- Old Testament books
- The Pentateuch
- New Testament books
- The Gospels
- Letters (or Epistles)
- Read & study the Bible online
Old Testament books
Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible as “the Old Testament” because it describes the old covenant God made with the Israelites through Moses. The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books, typically divided into four parts: the Pentateuch, History, Wisdom books, and the Prophets (both major and minor). The Catholic Old Testament includes an additional fourteen books called the Apocrypha.
Most of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew. Parts of Ezra and Daniel are written in Aramaic.
The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, which literally means “the five scrolls.” They’re also called the Torah or the “books of Moses.” These books tell the story of God’s people from creation through the death of Moses. They also include the laws upon which the Israelites based their cultural, religious, and legal lives.
Traditionally, both Jews and Christians have taught that Moses wrote all five books.
The book’s name comes from the Septuagint (the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). Mostly written in a narrative format, it tells the story of creation through the Israelite patriarchs, ending with Joseph and his family settling in Egypt.
The book contains many of the most well-known stories in the Bible, including Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the Tower of Babel, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Joseph and his coat of many colors. They also tell the early stories of Israel (Jacob) and his twelve sons, who were the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Named by the book’s second-century BC Greek translators, the title means “going out” or “departure.” The first half of the book is almost completely narrative in genre. It begins roughly three hundred years after the death of Joseph, which closes out Genesis. The Israelites had become slaves to the Egyptians, whom the Bible describes as particularly harsh taskmasters. The narrative portions of the book focus on Moses, telling his story from his birth through his conflict with Pharaoh and his leadership of the Israelites out of Egypt and throughout their desert sojourn.
The Exodus (chs. 12–14), where Moses leads the Israelites across the Red Sea and into freedom, is arguably the central event of the Old Testament.
The book’s English title, again given by second-century BC translators, means “pertaining to the Levites.” Traditionally said to be written by Moses, the book centers on the sacrificial system given to the Israelites. It describes how the Israelites can have a relationship with God in spite of their sinfulness. The book’s genre can be classified as ancient laws.
The English name relates to the census at the beginning of the book and the variety of lists throughout. The book chronicles the Israelites’ forty-year journey to Canaan. The book includes a variety of genres, including significant portions of narrative, as well as lists and sections of law. The narrative portions of the book document both Israel’s faithfulness and disobedience to God—and the consequences, for good and bad, of those choices.
Meaning “second law” in Greek, the book contains a series of three speeches by Moses as the Israelites are poised to enter the Promised Land. The book ends with an epilogue, describing Moses’s installment of Joshua as Israel’s new leader and the death of Moses. The book focuses on the need of the Israelites to be faithful to the covenant and includes a renewal of the covenant in chapters 29 and 30.
This section include twelve books in the Protestant Bible, describing a millennium of biblical history from the conquest of Canaan (1400 BC) to the restoration of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity (400 BC). The writers of these historical books weren’t simply describing historical events. They were also attempting to interpret that history theologically, explaining why the events unfolded as they did. Many believe that the historical events described in these twelve books are presented in the framework of Deuteronomy. When the people of Israel are faithful, God responds positively toward them. When they are unfaithful, he punishes them.
Most of the twelve books of history are presented in a narrative format with genealogies and other lists sprinkled in.
Named after the book’s key character, Joshua picks up where Deuteronomy leaves off. (In fact, some Old Testament scholars place Joshua thematically with the books of the Pentateuch. Others place Deuteronomy with the books of history.) The book centers on the Israelite’s conquest of Canaan, transparently describing both its successes and failures. Technically, the book’s authorship is anonymous, since no author is given within the text. Traditionally, Joshua was credited as the author.
The book’s title is a translation of the Hebrew word Shofetim, which means leaders or chieftains. It describes the dominant form of government during this period of Israel’s history. The book tells the story of Israel between Joshua’s death to just before the birth of Samuel. It describes the period in terms of a cycle of Israel’s disobedience, oppression from other nations, repentance, and deliverance through God-appointed judges. Authorship of the book is unknown, although traditionally some have suggested it is Samuel.
One of two short stories about women among the historical books of the Old Testament, the book is named after the story’s heroine. The author is unknown. In the story, which takes place in the time period of the book of Judges, Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, both widows, go to Bethlehem. Ruth, a Moabite, meets Boaz, who eventually marries her. The couple become the grandparents of David.
Originally paired with 2 Samuel as a single book, 1 Samuel tells the story of Israel from the time of its last judge, Samuel, to the death of the first king of the united monarchy, Saul. At first, Saul is an exceptional king, but disobedience causes the Lord to “regret” that he ever made him king. Samuel then anoints David, who spends much of the rest of the book running from an enraged Saul. The title of the book comes because of the prominent place Samuel has in it. No one knows for sure who wrote 1 and 2 Samuel, but tradition suggests the book’s namesake did.
The book picks the story up after Saul’s death and right before the installation of David as Israel’s new king. Second Samuel tells the story of David’s forty-year reign, traditionally seen as a high point of Israel’s history. Despite the generally positive tone of the first ten chapters, the book also records David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and its consequences for his family and the kingdom.
Originally paired with 2 Kings as a single book, it describes the reign of David’s son, Solomon, and the beginning of the divided monarchy period where Israel splits into two competing nations. Picking up on the themes of Deuteronomy, the book highlights how covenantal faithfulness and unfaithfulness impacts the nation of Israel. The author of 1 and 2 Kings is anonymous.
The book tells the story of Judah and Israel’s descent into disaster. Israel’s kings lead them into idolatry. With the exceptions of Hezekiah and Josiah, Judah’s kings did likewise. By the end of the book, both nations were conquered and their inhabitants exiled.
First and Second Chronicles, which were originally a single book, were named Chronicon by Jerome, their Latin translator. The books seems to be written to Jews who had returned from their Babylonian exile. First Chronicles tells the people’s story from Adam to the culmination of David’s reign as king. The first nine chapters are genealogies extending from creation to Saul’s family. The narrative picks up with the death of Saul and his sons in chapter ten. Traditionally, Christian and Jewish scholars have credited Ezra with writing both 1 and 2 Chronicles.
The second book of Chronicles starts with Solomon’s request for wisdom from God and extends to Judah’s Babylonian exile and Cyrus’s decree that the Jews could return to rebuild the temple. It focuses on the monarchy, describing the highs and lows of the last days of the united monarchy and the story of the divided monarchy.
The book picks up Israel’s story where 2 Chronicles ends, Cyrus’s decree. Named after its main character, the book follows Ezra and the second wave of returning exiles as they rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. During the book, Ezra re-establishes Israelite community under Mosaic law. Traditionally, it’s believed that Ezra wrote the book. Originally, the book was included with Nehemiah as a single volume.
Again, the book is named after its main character, Nehemiah. It tells the story of Nehemiah and the third wave of returning exiles who rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem. During the book, Nehemiah overcomes a number of leadership challenges, including criticism from outside the community and conflict from within. The book is often used in Christian communities as a guide to effective leadership. Because Ezra and Nehemiah were originally together, the book has traditionally been credited to Ezra as the author.
Named after the book’s heroine, Esther is the second of the short stories based upon female characters in the Old Testament. It’s the only book in the Old or New Testament that never mentions God, but his presence and guiding hand is obvious throughout. The story, which takes place in fifth-century BC Persia, centers on a young Jewish woman selected by King Xerxes to be his queen. She plays a key role in saving the Jewish community in Persia from destruction by an evil plot by Haman, a Persian official. While officially anonymous, traditionally the book is said to be written by Mordecai, a key character in the book.
This section contains two basic types of books: poetry and wisdom literature. While the Old Testament includes other examples of biblical poetry and wisdom literature, the most complete examples are in this section. The inspired books contained within this section are, of course, unique, but they also share many similarities with poetry and wisdom literature in the ancient Middle East.
Of all the books of the Old Testament, Job has the biggest range of potential dates of writing. Some have suggested it is the oldest biblical book, dating to the period of the patriarchs, maybe 2000 BC. Others believe it dates to the period of the Babylonian exile, about 1500 years later. The familiar story centers on Job, a wealthy man who loses everything (family, possessions, etc.) when Satan suggests that Job will turn away from God if he stops providing for him. Most of the book is a series of monologues from Job and his friends discussing the meaning and Job’s response to his crisis. The author is unknown.
The largest book of the Bible, Psalms (plural unless you’re talking about a single psalm) contains some of the most well-known and most loved poetry in world history. The book contains 150 chapters, organized in five distinct “books.” It likely wasn’t complete until late in the compilation of the Old Testament, probably during the period after the Babylonian exile (although many individual hymns were written long before that time). Jews during this period used it as a hymnbook for public worship and private devotions.
The Psalms have at least six different authors, but seventy-three were attributed to King David. Fifty are anonymous.
A collection of wisdom sayings, the book of Proverbs shares practical advice on areas such as work, interpersonal dynamics, marriage, and more. The book begins by telling readers that Solomon is the author (and his son is the intended audience), but other authors, such as Agur and Lemuel, also appear in the book. The book was likely begun during Solomon’s reign (tenth century BC) and completed at a later date.
The traditional view is that the book’s author, called Qōheleṯ in the book, is Solomon. The author describes himself as both the son of David and the king in Jerusalem. The book is a series of wise sayings that seek to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” If Solomon wrote the book toward the end of his life, it was likely written just before 930 BC.
Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon)
Written by Solomon, identified as “the Preacher” in the text, the book is an ancient love poem. Because the book presents two characters dialoguing back and forth, it can often read like a modern-day dramatic presentation. The poetic book describes the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the love between a bride and a groom. Some throughout church history have suggested the book presents a metaphor for the ways in which God loves his people.
The Prophets are divided into two sections—major and minor. The major ones are longer and tend to be more extensive in scope. The prophets of ancient Israel spoke for God. At times those prophets told of future events. Other times they declared God’s word about current events. Except for Lamentations (and likely Jonah), all the books in this section are named after the prophet who wrote the book (at least according to tradition).
Isaiah wrote the book during a difficult time in the history of Israel. Both the northern and southern kingdoms were being overrun by powerful foreign neighbors. The book has two main themes. Chapters 1–39 focus on God’s judgment on Israel’s sin. Chapters 40–66 center on hope and restoration for Israel.
Next to the Psalms, Jeremiah is the second longest book in the Bible. In the book, the prophet Jeremiah pointed out the sinfulness of Judah and warned they would face consequences for their disobedience. Jeremiah warns the people not to listen to false prophets who were telling the people that God would not punish their sin. Jeremiah’s prophecies came between 626 and 560 BC.
Another book written by Jeremiah, it is different from the other books within the prophets in that it was written after a catastrophe, not before it. Jeremiah expresses his pain after the fall of Jerusalem in 586/587 BC. Despite the book’s profoundly sad outlook, it also includes a striking message of hope throughout: “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” (Lam 3:22–23). This message of hope spread throughout the book has been a source of hope for believers throughout the ages who struggle to see God’s hand throughout a period of darkness in their lives.
Written while the Israelites were exiles in Babylon, Ezekiel’s prophecies use symbolic language to remind God’s people of his sovereignty over their destiny. Likely written in the first third of the sixth century BC, the book was intended to encourage Israel in the midst of a painful period of their history.
The book is among the most unusual in the biblical cannon. The first six chapters are narratives in the third person. These chapters tell the story of the book’s namesake, a young Jewish man deported to Babylon during the sixth century BC. Daniel and his friends show great courage and faith as they survive a fiery furnace. Daniel later survives a night in a lion’s den. The remainder of the book is in apocalyptic form, which describe and interpret a series of visions. Written in both Hebrew and Aramaic, the book has traditionally been attributed to Daniel.
This eighth-century-BC prophet told the story of his marriage to an adulterous wife and the children she bore. The story was an example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to her covenant relationship with God. Through Hosea’s commitment to his wife, Gomer, the book also illustrates God’s great love for his wayward people. A prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, Hosea ministered during the last forty years of the kingdom’s existence as a political entity.
One of the shortest books in the Old Testament, Joel contains only seventy-three verses (within three chapters). The book doesn’t give many clues about when it was written, nor much as far as biographical data about Joel’s life. In the book, Joel described the coming judgement upon Judah and anticipates an opportunity for future restoration.
The prophet Amos wrote this book in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. In the book, Amos told the people of Israel that they were facing judgment because of how they treated the poor—specifically how they denied them justice out of greed. Failure to respond to this message would bring disaster upon the kingdom. Amos’s ministry in Israel came two years before a violent earthquake in 760 BC, though many scholars believe he compiled his prophecies at some later point.
The shortest book of the Old Testament (twenty-one verses in one chapter), Obadiah doesn’t address Israel but its foe, Edom. The book describes the coming judgement of Edom, her sins, and a period of future blessing for Israel.
Named after the its main character, Jonah is one of the most memorable books within the prophetic section of the Old Testament. It tells the story of God calling Jonah to preach to Nineveh, an enemy of Israel. Not wanting the Ninevites to repent and escape God’s judgment, Jonah travels in the opposite direction. God uses a storm and Jonah’s being swallowed by a “great fish” to cause him to repent. He then preaches to the Ninevites, who repent in great numbers and avoid God’s judgment. The story ends with Jonah expressing frustration at the repentance of the land of his enemy. The book doesn’t offer any clue as to who the writer is. Jonah lived in the first half of the eighth century BC. The book could have been written at any time from then to approximately 200 BC.
Although Micah prophesied against both Israel and Judah, most of his message focused on Judah. He prophesied against Judah’s idolatry and injustice, saying the nation must repent or go into exile. He told the people of Judah that God would destroy the kingdom because of their sin, but he also predicted that God would restore a remnant who would obey him.
The prophet Nahum prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh because of its sin and violence. Likely written around 630 BC, Nahum’s prophecies follow up Jonah’s preaching in the city, which had by then returned to its evil ways. The book is written in a poetic form.
The book contains both an oracle (which functions as a dialogue between Habakkuk and God in chs. 1–2) and a prayer (ch. 3). The prophecy took place in the latter part of the seventh century BC, just a few decades before the Babylonian exile. The dialogue of the first two chapters centers on questions about God’s patience with Israel’s wickedness and whether he will use the evil nations around them as a vehicle of his judgment. In his concluding prayer, Habakkuk thanks God for his goodness in the past and expresses confidence in what God will do in the future.
Written during the reign of King Josiah (640–609 BC), Zephaniah preaches about the Day of the Lord, a coming time of judgment and salvation for Judah. The prophet tells Judah that God would preserve a remnant through the coming judgment of God.
Haggai’s ministry (and the background to this book) coincide with the events of Ezra. Judah’s leaders had allowed outside forces to keep them from completing the task of rebuilding the temple destroyed in the Babylonian invasion earlier in the sixth century BC. He encouraged God’s people to continue their work.
Zechariah was a priest as well as a prophet. His prophecies focus heavily on the temple, the priesthood, and the purity of God’s people. One of the most encouraging books among the minor prophets, Zechariah reminds the returning exiles that God loves Jerusalem and its temple. The prophecies were likely written around 520 BC.
Traditionally, this book is considered the last prophetic message from God before the writing of the New Testament (at least in the Protestant Bible). Malachi likely wrote the book around 450–430 BC, after Judah’s exiles had returned to their homeland and were straying from God’s ways. Malachi urges the people to turn away from their sin, trust in God, and live faithfully in their covenant with God.
New Testament books
The New Testament contains twenty-seven books, typically split into four sections: the Gospels, the historical book (Acts), the letters (sometimes divided between those written by Paul and those written by others). Christians believe the New Testament tells the story of a new covenant between God and his people. This message is grounded in the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That story is:
- described in the Gospels
- preached by the early church in the book of Acts
- theologically explained by the Apostle Paul and others in the letters
- culminated in the Second Coming of Jesus in the book of Revelation
The Gospels tell the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from four distinct perspectives. Most historians believe the gospels were written in the last half of the first century.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke share many similarities and are called the “Synoptic Gospels” for that reason. Synoptic literally means “seen together.” The phrase describes how Matthew, Mark, and Luke can be “seen together” as part of the Gospel story. John tells the story of Jesus in a different, yet complementary way.
The titles of the Gospels were not added until the second century AD, but traditionally it is believed the titles represented the names of the original writers.
Written by one of Jesus’s twelve apostles, Matthew the tax collector, the book tells the story of Jesus from a distinctly Jewish perspective. The book cites a number of Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled and was likely written to help convince Jewish readers of Jesus’s messianic identity. Despite its Jewish focus, the book makes the universal nature of Jesus’s message clear, particularly in its famous concluding verses, known as the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
The shortest and most succinct of the Gospel stories, Mark is sometimes described as a Gospel of action. For example, in the Christian Standard Bible (CSV), the word immediately comes up twenty-four times in sixteen chapters, helping to define the fast-moving pace of this Gospel account. Most scholars believe Mark was the first Gospel written, likely between 50 and 70 AD.
The first volume (Acts is the second) of Luke’s two-part story of the life of Jesus and the early church, Luke’s Gospel was written for fellow Gentiles. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry, but he tells readers early on that he wrote the book from first-person accounts of those who experienced Jesus’s ministry firsthand. He tells readers in Luke 1:4 that he is writing so that his readers “may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.” Because of the book’s connection to the book of Acts, it’s tough to date it, but most scholars say it was written between 75 and 85 AD.
Of the four Gospel accounts, John’s version tells the most unique story. Likely the last of the four Gospels, most scholars place it when John was very old, likely in the last decade of the first century AD. John organized his narrative around his theological purpose (rather than chronology). John’s purpose, as he described it, was that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The book of Acts is the only book generally put within the “history” section of the New Testament. Because it’s written in a narrative format, sometimes it’s placed with the Gospels.
Acts of the Apostles
Acts is the second volume of Luke’s two-part narrative on the life of Jesus and the adventures of the early church. Acts 1:8 provides an outline for the book, which follows the early church’s journey from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the known (mostly Roman) world to proclaim the good news about Jesus. The first twelve chapters focus on Peter and others. The last fifteen chapters focus on the missionary travels of Paul. Acts ends with Paul’s preaching while in custody in Rome.
The book’s ending has led many scholars to suggest the book was written before Paul’s death in the mid-60s.
Letters (or Epistles)
The letters contain some of the earliest books in the New Testament. Most were written to specific early church communities. Because Paul wrote so many of these letters, sometimes the books are divided between Pauline and non-Pauline letters.
A few other divisions exist within this large section of books. For example, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are often described as the Pastoral Epistles because of their focus on church organization and ministerial duties.
Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude are called General Letters (or Epistles) because they aren’t written to specific people or churches but were intended for general circulation among the first-century churches.
Arguably the most theologically significant book in the New Testament, Romans played a key role in the conversion of two of the most influential theologians since the early church, St. Augustine and Martin Luther. Written to the church of Rome, the letter focuses on how a person can be right with God through faith in Christ. Ultimately, it declares that salvation cannot be earned but must be a free gift from God through our faith in Jesus. Paul wrote the book while in Corinth, sometime around AD 56/57.
Approximately AD 54/55, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a congregation which he started. He focused on issues of ethics because he had heard they were struggling to live out the Christian life. He urged the church to submit to Jesus and love one another completely.
Written out of pastoral concern for his struggling Corinthian congregation, Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth comes after a missing, seemingly harsh letter followed 1 Corinthians. In the first part of 2 Corinthians, Paul expresses joy that the Corinthians responded so well to that missing letter. He also defends his ministry because he had been maligned by false teachers (see 2 Cor 11:13) and requests support for poor Christians in Jerusalem. It’s likely written in AD 55/56.
Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is one of his most emotional. Paul defends the gospel against false teachers who were telling the church that they must be circumcised before they can be right with God. Alarmed by how quickly Galatian Christians had departed from the gospel, he uses strong language throughout. For example, he calls the church “foolish Galatians” and describes an abrupt confrontation with Peter over his refusal to eat with Gentiles.
The style of Ephesians differs from other letters by Paul. Because it reads more like a sermon than a letter, many believe it was intended for multiple churches throughout Asia Minor (the western half of modern-day Turkey). The book focuses on the unity of Jewish and Gentile Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul likely wrote the book while in prison in the early 60s.
Another book written by Paul in prison, Philippians centers on the joy available to Jesus-followers in the midst of suffering. Despite facing death, Paul expresses excitement in the advancing of the gospel both among the Philippians and in his own life. The letter is written in the early 60s.
Paul wrote this book to the church in the Asian city of Colossae, likely around AD 60/63, to confront a growing heresy. That heresy seems to emphasize a need for believers to have “special knowledge” and to adhere to other regulations. Paul reminds the church that Jesus is Lord of all (Col 1:15–20), and they do not not need to add anything to the gospel.
Many scholars suggest that 1 Thessalonians may be the first of Paul’s letters and the earliest written book in the New Testament. It was likely written around AD 50. Paul wrote the letter as a follow-up to a visit by Timothy. In the letter, he commends the church in Thessalonica for their perseverance through persecution and answers questions Timothy passed on to him from the church. The letter focuses on theological issues like salvation, who Jesus is, and Jesus’s Second Coming.
Paul writes this letter about a year after his first letter to Thessalonica. In the letter, he again encourages persecuted Christians, tries to correct a misconception about the Second Coming, urges believers to remain steadfast, and provides further explanation on what to expect about the return of Jesus.
The first of the Pastoral Epistles, the letter is written from Paul to Timothy, a young pastor he was mentoring. Paul encourages Timothy to confront growing false teaching in the church with sound doctrine. The book centers on church issues, including the roles and qualifications of church officers and advice for pastoral relationships with specific groups within the church (such as older men, older women, widows). As with the other Pastoral Epistles (2 Timothy; Titus), these were likely written in the mid-60s, near the end of Paul’s ministry.
Again, Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him to remain faithful in ministry through the hard times that will come. Written while Paul is in prison at the end of his life, it is likely the last letter Paul wrote that is in the Bible. In it, Paul asks that Timothy come to him during the last days of his life. The letter is a strikingly personal and heartfelt letter from an older minister to a young leader.
Paul’s letter to Titus is similar to 1 Timothy. Both are written to young ministers whom the aging missionary was mentoring. Paul had apparently left Titus in Crete in order to appoint elders for the church, so he gives insights into how to make those decisions. He also connects right doctrine with right practice throughout the letter.
Another of Paul’s letters to an individual in the New Testament, Philemon is the apostle’s correspondence with a slave owner. In this short letter (just twenty-five verses), Paul leverages his relationship with Philemon to urge him to let his slave, Onesimus, go free.
Although usually categorized with the New Testament letters, the book of Hebrews resembles a sermon more than anything else. The authorship of Hebrews is one of the most fervent debates in biblical studies. Paul, Barnabas, Luke, and Clement of Rome have all been suggested as potential authors. Jewish Christians were likely the first readers of the book (or audience of the sermon). The author is writing to encourage readers not to return to Judaism to avoid persecution. The letter describes Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Jewish faith.
While there are five people by the name of James in the New Testament, the most likely author of the book is the half-brother of Jesus. The letter isn’t written to a single church, but it probably was sent to Christians from a Jewish background or to “God-fearers”: Gentiles who were attracted to the Jewish faith. The book is extremely practical, focusing on helping believers to live out their Christian faith. James ties faith and works together, telling us that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26).
Peter’s first letter is to persecuted churches in Asia Minor. Written in the early 60s, the book encourages Christians to persevere through suffering. He also urges readers to imitate Christ by suffering with grace. Above all, God can be trusted to carry our burdens and lift us up in due time as we humble ourselves before him (1 Pet 5:7).
In Peter’s second letter, the apostle warns readers of the destructive nature of false teachers and reminds them that Christ will return. He calls his readers to grow spiritually so they can defend the faith against those leading Christians away from the true gospel. Then, in the last chapter, he grounds this call in the coming “Day of the Lord,” which he says “will come like a thief” (3:10) and a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells will come (3:13).
Traditionally, it’s believed that John wrote this letter in the last decade of the first century AD, potentially while ministering in Ephesus. John says in the letter’s first verse that he is writing to describe what he has seen and heard for himself. John encourages Christians toward spiritual maturity, grounding it in love in action (1 John 3:16–17). He also speaks against false teachers who questioned Jesus’s divine nature.
John’s second letter, which is one chapter long, again warns against false teachers who were trying to gain influence within the church. He commends his readers for “walking in truth” and encourages them to remain vigilant against false teachers who deny Jesus’ divinity. The book was also written in the 90s, not long after the first letter.
Also only a chapter long, the book commends its readers for their acts of love and urges them to do good, rather than imitate the evil of the false teachers among them. Third John was also likely written near the time of John’s first two letters.
This single-chapter book was written by Jude, who was likely another half brother of Jesus. The book was probably written AD between 65 and 80. Jude writes the book to urge his readers to “contend for the faith” against those who had strayed from orthodox teaching.
The book of Revelation is the only apocalyptic book in the New Testament. (Daniel is considered an example of apocalyptic writing in the Old Testament.) Apocalyptic literature is writing that unveils a deeper reality. A common genre in the ancient world, the biblical examples give us a glimpse into how God is at work, particularly related to the culmination of history.
Revelation (or The Revelation of John)
The book (which is singular, not plural) uses vivid imagery to describe the Apostle John’s vision of future events. The book culminates with the Second Coming of Christ, a new heavenly city of Jerusalem, along with a new heaven and a new earth. The book is one of the most popular books of the New Testament because of its description of future events. A variety of interpretations about the timing of those events have divided Christians since it was written in the last decade of the first century AD, as John resided as an exile on the island of Patmos.
Read & study the Bible online
Of course, the descriptions above give just a taste of what’s available to us as we study the books of the Bible. When you make reading the Bible a regular practice, it’ll change your life.
“God wants to communicate with you in the twenty-first century. He wrote His message in a Book,” writes Howard Hendricks in Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible. “He asks you to come and study that Book for three compelling reasons: It’s essential to growth. It’s essential to maturity. It’s essential for equipping you, training you, so that you might be an available, clean, sharp instrument in his hands to accomplish his purposes.”1
For generations, access to the Bible was limited to people who could get their hands on a physical copy of God’s Word.
But today, anyone with internet access can read the Bible online—just go to the free Logos web app. Since there’s also a mobile app, you can download included Bibles for free and read them anywhere, even if you aren’t online. Plus, the free version is loaded with features and resources to help you not just read the Bible but study it.
- Who Wrote the Bible—God, Men, or Both?
- How to Do In-Depth Study of God’s Word (3 Steps)
- 29 Bible Study Tools for Reading the Bible More Effectively
- Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 2017), 25.