J. Sidlow Baxter’s Explore the Book is one of the most helpful surveys of the whole Bible I’ve read. It was first published in 1960 in five volumes. You can purchase them all in one volume by clicking the image to the left. It is also available on Kindle. I’m sad to say that it is not available on Logos to date.
I believe that it would be good to take your family, Sunday school, or small group through this book. I am preparing lessons that will appear here in the months ahead. They are based upon Baxter, but deviate here and there. This first lesson provides the reader with a succinct overview of the Scripture.
The Bible consists of 66 individual books. There are two major divisions: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is made up of 39 books and the NT consists of 27 books.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament begins with a group of 17 books connected by a group of 5 books to another group of 17 books. The first grouping of 17 begin with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is a five-fold subdivision of the first grouping of 17 books. Moses is the author of these five books. They are historical. Some refer to these books as the Pentateuch (Five Books), the Books of Moses, or the Books of the Law. They are five historical books.
Next we find Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. All of these 12 books are historical in nature. The first 17 books of the OT fall into two subdivisions of five and 12. The 12 books may be further divided into two more sub-divisions of nine and three. The last three (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) are set at a time after Israel is expelled from the land and during the repatriation of the remnant. So there are five pre-Canaan historical books called the Pentateuch, nine in-Canaan historical books, and three post-exile historical books (5-9-3).
There is a bridge of five books connecting the two large blocks of 17. These are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. The 17 books preceding these five are historical in nature. But these five are individual, experiential books. The first 17 were national, and these five are personal. They deal with the individual human heart. The 17 historical books are narrative; these five are poetic. They are five experiential poetic books.
This leaves us with the final grouping of 17. This books are all prophetical books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Just as the historical division could be further sub-divided, even so with the prophetic division. The first five books are called Major Prophets. The remaining 12 are called Minor Prophets.
We call the first five prophetic books major because in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel there are basic features of all OT prophecy. They also contain a more comprehensive scheme of Messianic prediction.
- Isaiah – The Suffering Savior and the Victorious Sovereign
- Jeremiah/Lamentations – The Righteous Branch of David and the Restorer of the Remnant
- Ezekiel – The Perfect Shepherd-King
- Daniel – The Kingdom of God Victorious over the Kingdoms of Man
Finally, these five books are major because they contain more revelation than each of the Minor Prophets. Lamentations is significant because it connects the two pre-exile prophets with the two post-exile prophets. It divides them positionally and historically. It marks the destruction of Jerusalem and the division of the pre- and post-exilic periods. It also marks the cessation of David’s reign and the dispersion of God’s children, Israel.
The 12 Minor Prophets amplify various aspects of prophecy, but do not shape it the way the Major Prophets do. They conform to the framework formed in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. They also subdivide into nine pre-exilic prophets and three post-exilic prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Thus, the last three historical books (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) correspond with the last three prophetic books.
Therefore, the Old Testament consists of 39 books. Two groups of 17 connected by a bridge of 5. The groups of 17 are further sub-divided into three groups of five, nine, and three. The five books dealing with the individual human heart bridges the two five, nine, three subdivisions. Thus, we can remember the books of the Old Testament with the numerical outline: 5-9-3/5/5-9-3.
Over 30 writers contributed to the Old Testament throughout a span of 1,200 years. They wrote in different places, to different audiences, and for different purposes. Their writings were gathered together by God into a cohesive plurality which we call the Old Testament. Therefore, behind the human authors, God the Holy Spirit controlled the divine design of this collection.
The New Testament
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts are the only historical books within the New Testament. They are foundational for everything that follows and stand together. Therefore the New Testament begins even as the Old Testament did.
The next nine letters are all written to Christian churches: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These are nine doctrinal letters.
Four letters are then written to individuals: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. These are four pastoral/personal letters.
Then a group of nine follow the pastoral/personal letters: Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. These nine are not addressed to Christian churches in the way the first nine are. Hebrews, James, and 1 and 2 Peter are written to the dispersed Hebrew Christians. 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation are more general in nature. They might be termed Hebrew letters in the sense that they were written by Jews, but not to Jews. It may be best to designate the first eight as General Epistles and classify Revelation not as a letter, but as prophetic literature.
Here I depart from Baxter. He calls the nine Hebrew Christian Epistles. Thus, he includes Revelation as a letter. I think this is a bit forced to provide symmetry (Nine Christian Church Epistles linked by Four Pastoral and Personal Epistles to Nine Hebrew Christian Epistles). I’m not comfortable with 1, 2, and 3 John being classified as Hebrew Christian Epistles. Revelation is clearly prophetic. While it has the seven letters written to the seven churches, they are not Hebrew churches. Also, this only accounts for Revelation 2-3. Here are the diagrams with the changes I’ve made then: