Having established the purpose of this work in the previous chapter, our attention now turns to establishing the groundwork upon which future chapters will build. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly identified the foundational principles involved in methodical Bible study. In one instance, He pointed to three distinct divisions calling them “the law of Moses,” “the prophets,” and “the psalms.”
Christ referred to these three divisions within “the scriptures.” It is important to note that His referencing these three divisions helps visualize the fact that God intended for the body of scripture to be divided. Yet, even these three simple divisions do not cover the entirety of the Old Testament. These designations simply illustrate that the scriptures can be (and should be) divided into parts because of the need for methodical Bible study.
Word of Caution
Dividing the scripture into sections can become quite complex with its own unique set of potential pitfalls. For example, the last seventeen books of the Old Testament (Isaiah through Malachi) present a prominent prophetic emphasis. This does not exclude other books from containing prophecy. In fact, prophecy can be traced all the way back to the opening chapters of Genesis ().
Additionally, the Book of Psalms contains an extensive amount of prophecy. These truths are important to note since the Lord Jesus Christ declared that all “scripture” (meaning the entirety of the Old Testament) testified or prophesied of Him. In fact, Jesus frequently spoke of the existing Old Testament scriptures as prophesying of events in His day. Along with the example from Luke chapter 24 mentioned earlier, here is another example:
Unlike the charts from the previous chapter, the next few charts are not intended to illustrate any type of timeline. Instead, these charts serve as a basic overview of the divisions of the books of the Bible as found in the Old and New Testaments. Take note that these are not intended to be hard, fast divisions but reflect the primary emphasis of the specific contents within each division.
Old Testament Book Divisions
Section A—The Pentateuch: Five Books, Genesis through Deuteronomy, primarily covering the 2,500 years from the creation of man to the death of Moses. After detailing God’s creative work, focus almost immediately shifts to God’s dealings with the first couple in the garden of Eden. The Pentateuch time period ends with God focused upon one nation wandering through the wilderness.
Section B—History: Twelve Books, Joshua through Esther, covering nearly a 1,000-year period reflecting an emphasis on Israel’s historical record. This record begins with the initial conquest of Canaan and ends with the Jews scattered (some into captivity, while others remained in the land of promise). This section chronicles the rise of the judges and the establishment of the kings, along with the captivities and the multiple returns of the Jewish people into their promised land.
Section C—Poetry: Five Books, Job through Song of Solomon, grouped more for the type and nature of the content rather than any chronological order. This section is noted for its literary beauty (from the tale of Job’s loss turned to triumph, to the songs of the Old Testament saints, to the great thinker Solomon who wrote about the sheer vanity of all things under the sun).
Section D—Prophecy (Old Testament): Seventeen Books, Isaiah through Malachi, commonly divided into Major Prophets (Isaiah-Daniel) and Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi) with these designations based on the length of their respective messages. (Note: Lamentations is smaller than several of the so-called Minor Prophets, yet it sequentially falls within the Major Prophets and has a direct association with the Major Prophet Jeremiah.)
These seventeen books center around the captivities and restoration of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Much of its content has been fulfilled in part and will find a complete fulfillment when God restores the Jewish people. Sometime following the Rapture of the Church Age saints, God will turn His attention back to the nation of Israel.
New Testament Book Divisions
Section E—The Gospels: Four Books, Matthew through John, covering approximately thirty-three years of events, commencing with the conception of John the Baptist and ending with the final ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ back into Heaven.
Although the specific themes vary in each of the gospel books, they serve the general purpose of presenting the person and overall work of the Lord Jesus Christ amongst the Jews. Among other details, this section chronicles: Christ’s baptism, His ministry, His calling and equipping of twelve disciples (later called apostles), His betrayal, His unjust crucifixion, His triumphant resurrection, and His final ascension back to the Father in Heaven.
Section F—The Acts of the Apostles: One Book, Acts, commencing with the time period immediately preceding Christ’s ascension back into Heaven which aligns with the final event recorded in the previous section. The book of Acts concludes with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.
This book chronicles the acts (or actions) of the apostles similar to how the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles covered “the acts of” the kings. It spans approximately forty years, purposefully majoring upon the historical record.
The nature of this book necessitates its standing alone especially because of its transitional nature (i.e., Peter to Paul, Jew to Gentile, signs to no signs, etc.). Much of the applicable doctrine and practical instructions taught during this period are more extensively covered in the epistles following the book of Acts. However, not everychurch practice found in the book continues throughout the epistles.
Note: Although the purpose of the book of Acts primarily serves as a historical record, remember that “All scripture … is profitable for doctrine” (). As with any application, the reader’s crucial starting point when reading Acts involves considering by whom, to whom, and at what time the doctrine was being conveyed. Most false teachers, religious sects, and cults have ignored this important study feature to the detriment of themselves and those whom they influence.
Section G—The Epistles: Twenty-One Books, Romans through Jude, containing the vast majority of the doctrinal and practical teachings received by the early Church. While it is true that these teachings directly applied to churches and individuals living during the first century, the doctrines and practical instruction were intended to apply to saints for the duration of the Church Age.
It is important to note that the majority of the teachings within this section were specifically given to the apostle Paul for the Church. In fact, by design, his name is the first word in the first thirteen epistles in this section which are combined together to focus the reader on the truths taught therein. Check it out by reading the first word in the book of Romans through Philemon in a King James Bible.
Note: This section of twenty-one epistles has often been further divided and classified into the Epistles and the General Epistles with a single division placed between the books of Philemon and Hebrews. Not only does this division create potential misconceptions, but it is wholly inaccurate. An epistle is a General Epistle when addressed to a general audience—John’s second and third epistles do not match this description.
Unfortunately, any rigid application of this classification creates additional problems. For instance, those who indiscriminately apply this rule to the so-called General Epistles (like Hebrews) sometimes claim that the books of Hebrews through Jude lack much specific application to Christians in the Church Age. This manmade philosophy has unfortunately hindered Christian growth and maturity.
Furthermore, some teachers have formulated these two designations in order to de-emphasize the application for the Church those writings outside the thirteen epistles that begin with Paul’s name (Romans through Philemon). Obviously, this type of error ultimately leads to the teaching that the books following Philemon contain far less significance for believers than God intended.
The entire twenty-one epistles should be classified more by the general or specific audience to whom each epistle is addressed. The point is that a general audience epistle is addressed to a broader audience. Yet, Third John addressed “unto the well beloved Gaius” reveals a more specifically defined audience.
Thus, the more appropriate designation would be a division between the Epistles and the General Epistles as follows. The Epistles include Romans through Hebrews along with Second John and Third John; whereas, the General Epistles include James through First John and Jude.
These twenty-one epistles are where the Church finds its primary doctrine, practice, and purpose. This does not mean that variations in these epistles do not exist based upon the audience receiving the epistle. The next verse could explain why God led Paulto write the book of Hebrews to the Jewish Christians in the early Church and not designate it with his customary style found in all his other thirteen epistles.
According to Paul, he fashioned his behavior according to the audience he was attempting to influence. In the case of his writing the book of Hebrews, it is obvious that his target audience was uniquely Jewish in nature.
Unfortunately, the most extreme dispensational teachings tend to equate Paul’s explicit graciousness as expressed in the previous verse as only applicable during his Acts missionary journeys. This contradicts not only the immediate context but also what Paul had expressed in the previous chapter of First Corinthians. This is a key issue with those who hyper-divide the Bible—too much of it is relegated to the chopping block.
Some of these same hyperdispensationalists discount many other teachings in Paul’s earliest epistles like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yet, Paul offers an enduring commitment to put others first, something lacking far too often amongst those who claim to be the most Bible literate. In Paul’s own words within the same context he said he would use “ALL means to save some.”
Paul could certainly have classified authoring Hebrews as attempting to reach the Jews “BY ALL MEANS.” This is especially true since Hebrews does not contradict any of Paul’s other teachings—including the proclamation of eternal security (). The hyperdispensationalist wants to limit Paul’s gracious behavior to the Jews as only applicable to the Acts period, but God ensured that this type of spiritual infidelity could be easily exposed. For example, Paul was no longer bound by the Law to eat only certain meats. Yet, consider the extent to which Paul said he would go to reach his brethren.
Paul said he would not exercise his rights as long as the “world standeth” if it would offend his weaker brother. The responsibility for souls and charitable living transcended the Acts period and only the selfish and self-centered would want this truth limited to the past. According to this verse, did Paul commit to become “as a Jew” only during the Acts period? Or was Paul willing to abstain from meats that were forbidden under the Law until the Lord’s return? The way a person answers that question reveals the individual as a Bible-believer or a Bible-rejector.
Section H—Prophecy (New Testament): One Book, Revelation, beginning with letters to seven first century literal New Testament churches and culminating at the commencement of eternity future. Although seldom considered by most Bible teachers, Revelation is very much a historical book.
Revelation begins with a historical record of messages delivered to seven churches and then describes the history of John’s reception of the Revelation. Finally, it describes future history as it chronicles end-time events. The focus of Revelation is not so much on instruction of practical truths but more on the past, present, and future unfolding of events.
1 Discussion and explanation of Pauline authorship of Hebrews will be covered at length in later chapters. We know that God designated Paul as a chosen vessel “to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and thechildren of Israel” ().
The next chart of the New Testament shows another basic division of the books of the New Testament. Its layout also closely correlates to that of the Old Testament with the three divisions of historical, practice, and prophetic.
Notice the similarities of the New Testament layout to the Old Testament layout with three divisions of historical, practice, and prophetic.
It is important to recognize the inherent difficulties of placing books of the Bible on a time-line, which by its nature is restrictive. Many of the books of the Bible contain overlapping and transitional features that a finite timeline simply cannot adequately illustrate. As has already been stated, much of the Bible contains prophecy covering periods thousands of years ahead of its initial revelation and recording.
In addition to these complexities, most prophecy finds its fulfillment fragmented. The prophecy has a partial fulfillment in the past with the completed fulfillment yet to come in a future time. There are also many instances of dual fulfillment: past and future.
Thus, a book of the Bible may be placed upon the chart in the Old Testament but have content (especially concerning prophecy) yet to be fulfilled far into the New Testament. In such cases, each book shows up on the timeline in the period giving precedence to when it was revealed rather than when the prophecy will be realized.
2 There are many examples of Bible prophecies which have their complete fulfillment in the long term while exhibiting a short-term partial fulfillment. For example, Moses writes of a prophecy of a nation “from far”which God would send against Israel if they forsook Him (). The fulfillment of this verse takes place with the Assyrians (; ; ), Babylonians (; ), as well as Rome ().
Book Division Timing
Section A—The Pentateuch: (~4000 BC to ~1500 BC) The Old Testament records God’s dealings predominantly with the Jews and through the Jews. The Pentateuch is no exception to that fact. However, the first eleven chapters of Genesis cover a time frame prior to the formation of the Jewish people through the calling out of Abram. Note: Although the authors stand by the previous statement, it should be noted that Abram was called a Hebrew () likely tying him back to his great, great, great, great grandfather, Eber () or Heber ().
The book of Genesis also speaks of the wanderings of the patriarchs (the Jewish fathers) ending with their settling in the land of Egypt. The remainder of this section chronicles Israel’s deliverance from Egypt along with their journey to the land of promise. Specific emphasis in this section is placed upon the provision of laws or commandments to be obeyed by the Jewish nation upon entering the land.
Section B—History: (~1500 BC to ~500 BC) This section begins with one man (Joshua) leading a mostly united nation into the land of promise. It ends with one woman (Esther) risking her life to spare a remnant of that same nation while being held captive within a heathen land. The nation repeatedly ignored God’s laws (mentioned in the previous section), resulting in their ultimate demise. As they rejected the God that brought them into the land, they turned to the idols that had been the root cause for removal of the land’s previous inhabitants.
Just as God warned, their rebellion led Him to give both the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah) kingdoms into the hands of their enemies. This section covers their captivities in detail. Also of notable interest: Section A to Section B has no overlap although the Pentateuch does continue; Section B to Section D overlaps by approximately 300 years. This overlap will be further explored with the details of Section D.
Section D—Prophecy (Old Testament): (~800 BC to ~400 BC) For approximately 500 years, Israel as one united nation dwelt within the Promised Land. Solomon’s collecting of pagan wives and his compromise with idolatry and the worship of false gods caused the kingdom to be divided into two kingdoms following Solomon’s death. It split into the ten northern tribes and the two southern tribes. The southern kingdom (Judah) retained a king from David’s lineage while the northern kingdom (Israel) was not ruled by a descendent of David.
Unfortunately, both kingdoms were forced into captivity because they rebelled against God. Israel suffered the Assyrian captivity, while Judah found itself in the Babylonian captivity.
In advance of their respective captivities, God, in His grace, sent prophets to warn of the impending judgment. These warnings were mostly ignored. For instance, Amos and Hosea were sent to Israel, while Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk were sent to Judah.
During their captivities, God sent Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. These prophets were sent to exhort the people, to warn of immediate judgment, and to promise deliverance. God used Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to minister during and after each return of the Jews to the land to help them to become reestablished.
Many of the prophecies in this section spoke of immediate deliverance taking place at the time of their writings. Their partial fulfillment indicated the deeper prophetic nature of the writings. These writings pointed forward to the work that God’s Son would accomplish in both His first and second coming to earth.
Note: This section contains frequently misapplied promises usurped by those attempting to assimilate the Jewish promises into the New Testament Church. God will fulfill His promises with those to whom He made them—the future believing Israel. A lack of spiritual understanding in this matter has led to confusion, error, and even heresies. Continued ignorance will simply lead to increased confusion, additional error, and further heresies.
Section E—Gospels: (~5 BC to ~AD 29) The four Gospels are the first books of the New Testament. These books follow the thirty-nine “Old Testament” books and the roughly 400 years of silence from God. The books of Matthew through John cover a period of time of approximately thirty-three years overlapping each other in content more so than any other section of scripture. They end with the ascension of Jesus Christ, the same event which kicks off the book of Acts. (Note: “5 BC” has been used to recognize the perceived errors in the calendar dating systems.)
The four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are both logically and theologically grouped together as a unit. For this reason, the four Gospel books should be studied together as a unit. However, it should be noted that there is an obvious division between the Synoptic Gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Gospel of John. Although there are likely many reasons for this distinction, John’s Gospel was written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” ().
Note: John is the only writer that has a book in three of the four New Testament sections with Luke as the only other writer with a book in two of the four sections.
Section F—Acts: (~AD 29 to ~AD 64) The book of Acts follows the Gospel of John. As has been previously discussed, the book of Acts serves primarily as a historical and transitional book. It begins with the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ—the last major event recorded in the Gospels (). The last half focuses upon Paul’s missionary journeys and ends with the apostle Paul in a Roman prison.
As a historical book, Acts sets forth the act(ion)s of the apostles. Every diligent Bible student quickly notices that the book of Acts is not primarily a book of doctrine but predominantly historical in nature. As a transitionalbook, Acts transitions from the Gospels (covering the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter, and the other eleven apostles ministering primarily to the Jews) to Paul and his writings. It is very important to notice that the book of Acts features a definite and defined transition from one primary spokesman (Peter) to another (Paul).
As alluded to in , Peter became the obvious leader of the apostles. The earliest chapters of the book of Acts further demonstrate Peter’s leadership role in the Church’s embryonic stages. Following Acts chapter 12, the complete shift in prominence and focus from Peter to Paul becomes quite pronounced. This point is critical for understanding the Bible!
For instance, Peter’s name appeared a total of 58 times in Acts but only once after Acts chapter 12 (). Even this occurrence in Acts chapter 15 shows Peter supporting the ministry of the apostle Paul. On the other hand, Saul (whose name is changed to Paul) appears 157 times in Acts with 141 of those occurrences after Acts chapter 12.
Section G—The Epistles: (~AD 40 to ~AD 95) The twenty-one epistles were authored by five men with the bulk of the writing being the work of the apostle Paul (obviously via the Holy Ghost) (). Seventeen of these epistles begin with the name of the author. Interestingly, John did not use his name in his epistles or his Gospel. The book of Hebrews uniquely stands apart from the other books in this section (which will be discussed later in this work).
These epistles take the Church from its infancy all the way to the throne in Heaven, providing doctrinal and practical instruction for its purification all along the way (). Many of the epistles begin with doctrinal teaching followed by the practical execution of the doctrines taught. The life of the Church parallels the life of an individual. In infancy, the Church operated with the signs and wonders required by the Jews, but later blossomed into the abiding strengths of “faith, hope, and charity” ().
Section H—Prophecy (New Testament): (~AD 33 to Eternity) This section is divided into three parts on the timeline because it contains relevant content covering three distinct periods: the Church Age (Revelation chapters 1-3 through ); Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Revelation chapters 4-18); and the Second Coming, kingdom, and eternity future (Revelation chapters 19-22).
The first three chapters of Revelation contain letters to seven churches similar to epistles sent by Paul and the other apostles to churches (although the Revelation letters are very short). The fourth chapter sets forth John’s rapture into Heaven to receive additional revelation (also representing a wonderful PICTURE of the Church’s Rapture and its presence in Heaven prior to the onset of any part of Daniel’s Seventieth Week (commonly called the Tribulation Period).
Revelation chapters 5 through 18 expound upon the persecution of the Jews and outpouring of Satan’s wrath. As it was in the days of Job, the Devil and man will only be able to do to the Jews that which God permits. Therefore, the wrath depicted in these chapters is ultimately God’s wrath.
At that time, God’s attention and prophetic plan again focuses upon the Jews—no Replacement Theology here. Revelation chapter 19 chronicles the return of Christ with His armies. At this return, the Jews will be judged. This judgment is described in . At this judgment, the Lord will plead with the Jews face-to-face () and the timing is clear—“I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered” (). Those who are found to be rebels will be purged () and those who have exercised faith in the Lord’s revealed truth will be brought “into the bond of the covenant” () and ushered into the land, so fulfilling the promise that “all Israel shall be saved.”
Romans 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
All this happens in fulfillment of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, some teachers find themselves upon spiritually shaky ground with their incorrect teachings concerning “Israel’s salvation.” They have been taught to believe that “all Israel shall be saved” infers that God indiscriminately considers all those claiming to be Israel are in fact Israel. Yet, God delineates Israel’s constituency and it is not all inclusive.
The Bible says that NOT ALL Israel are “of Israel”! Regrettably, the spiritual misconceptions do not end there. These same Bible teachers apply passages dealing with physical salvation (or deliverance) during Daniel’s Seventieth Week to the soul’s salvation. It is hard to imagine how anyone could apply the next two passages to the soul when the context plainly refers to physical (flesh) being saved (or delivered).
God promised to shorten the days to preserve physical life. If those days during that time are not shortened in some fashion, the Bible says that none of the elect (believing Israel) would be able to physically endure unto the end. The shorter the days, the more that will be saved—spared physically. No flesh during Daniel’s Seventieth Week on its own power will be saved, spared, or preserved! None whatsoever! Interestingly, Jeremiah prophesied extensively concerning the physical salvation of Judah and Israel dwelling safely in the land.
Jeremiah 23:5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Following the Second Advent, the Judgment of the Nations, and the Judgment of the Jews, Revelation chapter 20 describes the kingdom, the Great White Throne, and the Second Death. Finally, the last two chapters of Revelation introduce the New Jerusalem and the beginning of eternity future.