It is very striking and remarkable that the Bible in our hands is structured in such a way that when we look at the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, or the books of the law, each of the five books have features and characteristics, in which all the other books follow in an amazing order. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the structure is firstly, the first five books of Moses, then the historical and prophetical books, and then the psalms and the writings. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples after His resurrection and expounded to them all things concerning Himself from the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms (Luke 24:44).
The Bible is divided into 5 major parts – the Pentateuch (books of the law), historical books, poetical books, prophetical books, and the New Testament. Each of these sections form a Pentateuch like character, which will be discussed shortly. The number of books in each division are as follows:
- Books of the law – 5 books.
- Historical books – 12 books (it can be argued that the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles form one book each, as the original manuscripts did not have 1 and 2 Samuel, and so on).
- Poetical books – 5 books.
- Prophetical books – major prophets 5 and minor prophets 12.
- The New Testament – 27 books.
There is already a unique order if we look at the setup of the books of the Old Testament in that way, as we have the numbers 5, 12, 5, 5 and 12.
The New Testament can also be divided into five sections, forming a Pentateuch like character in each of the sections.
- The Gospels – 4 books.
- The Acts is one section.
- The epistles of Paul – 14 books, if we agree that Hebrews is one of Paul’s epistles.
- The general epistles (James, Peter, John and Jude) are 7 epistles.
- The Revelation is the fifth section.
We have already seen the number 5 as a common number. This number speaks of man’s responsibility towards man and God.
Let us now take the first five books of the Bible and see the main characteristics of each book. After examining the characteristics of the first five books, this will unlock the rest of the wonderful Bible, the amazing Word of God.
Genesis is the book of beginnings, its characteristics are that of beginnings – the beginning of creation and life on earth, mankind, genealogies, and many others.
Exodus is the book of bondage and redemption from bondage/slavery. We see the children of Israel settling into Egypt, then coming under bondage to Pharaoh, and then God sending Moses to deliver them, and thus forming the nation of Israel. This is all God’s grace in choosing an earthly people.
Leviticus means “attach” or “attached”. This comes from the name Levi, whom Leah bore to Jacob (Gen 29:34). This book brings us into the sanctuary, and God’s presence. God prescribes the way of worship, and how the earthly nation can obtain access to Him. The sacrifices are introduced, all types of the Lord Jesus Christ, priesthood is introduced, as God gave the people instruction on holiness. The feasts of Jehovah (or the appointed times) are also set out in Leviticus, as well as the Day of Atonement. These features all bring us into the presence of a holy God.
Numbers is the fourth book, and the number four speaks of earth. This is a wilderness book, as the children of Israel were in the wilderness, God showed them His mercy and grace, even though they were disobedient and rebellious. Numbers has the characteristics of the wilderness in its testings and trials and brings out God’s goodness and grace despite mankind’s rebellion and wanting to do things their own way.
The last book of the law is Deuteronomy, which is the fifth book, and the number five speaks of man’s responsibilities. The ten commandments are in two sets of five, bringing to us man’s responsibilities towards God and towards mankind. This book is a review of what God has done with the nation and preparing a new generation and a new man (Joshua) to enter the land that God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore, Deuteronomy is not a repetition of the law, but it is God’s review, and about God preparing not a new nation, but people who were born in the wilderness, and were not under the curse that they will die in the wilderness, to enter the land of Canaan.
There we have the first five books of the Bible, which are foundational books (a Genesis like character) and will unlock the rest of the Bible. We have Genesis, the book of beginnings, Exodus, the book of redemption, Leviticus, the book of holiness and worship in God’s presence, Numbers, the book of the wilderness with its testing, trials, failures and God’s grace, and finally Deuteronomy, the book of God’s review.
The next set of books is the historical books, from Joshua to Esther. This shows us the journey of the children of Israel from a beginning under the leadership of Joshua (meaning Jehovah is salvation), to the days of the judges where the nation was continually disobedient and rebellious, God delivering them into the hands of their enemies, to becoming a kingdom under Saul, David and Solomon, to becoming a divided nation (northern and southern kingdoms), to having prophets speak to the hears of the nation, and finally to when Israel and Judah were taken captive and then returned back to Jerusalem.
Joshua is a book of beginnings, which brings before us the beginning of a new generation of the nation of Israel entering the land and engaging in battles. Joshua was the one to lead them after the death of Moses, and Joshua’s name means Jehovah is salvation. It is very similar to the name of Jesus in the New Testament. Joshua is a type of the risen Christ leading His people, and so in Joshua, we see the characteristic of beginnings for the nation, which is a Genesis like character.
Judges, with its appendix Ruth, speaks about the times of the judges. These were dark days in Israel. The last four chapters of Judges is an appendix describing the moral condition of the nation in the times of the judges. People did what was right in their own eyes, and there was no king, and no acknowledgment of God until they found themselves in bondage, then God stepped in and sent judges (faint types of Christ) to deliver them. Therefore, we see a characteristic of bondage and deliverance in the book of Judges and its appendix Ruth, giving us an Exodus like character.
The books of Samuel and kings show us God’s holiness, and brings us into His presence, firstly with Samuel established as a prophet of God, then come the other prophets and men of God who spoke the Word of God to the kings and the nation. We see God instructing the people through His prophets, and there were godly and ungodly kings. We see the presence of God, the temple built, which was God’s dwelling place, and God speaking to His people. The books of Samuel and Kings therefore present a Leviticus like character.
Now we come to the post-captivity books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. These books tell us how God used a gentile king, Cyrus, to issue a decree for the Jews to return to Jerusalem. However, there were very few Jews who returned, and they felt the wilderness journey again, and were under trials and testing while rebuilding the altar, temple, and wall of the city. God was with them and He was good to them and overruled during their trials and lack of energy, sending to them Ezra, Nehemiah, and their counterpart prophets in Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the feeble few who returned to their land (Ezra 5). These books give us a Numbers like character in the wilderness and its trials and tribulations.
The last of the books is the Chronicles. The Chronicles also closes the Hebrew Old Testament and presents a review of the nation of Israel. In our Bible, the Chronicles comes before Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, but the Chronicles present to us God’s review of the kings and their actions. This may seem to be a copy of the books of Kings, but the books of Kings gives us man’s view about the kings of Israel and Judah, while the Chronicles show us God’s view, and therefore it is a review of the actions of the different kings, and God’s protection over the godly kings. The Chronicles then present to us a Deuteronomy like character.
In all the historical books, we see a character/feature in the nation being in bondage, captivity, but we also see God’s deliverance and His work in saving the nation from their enemies. The historical books section presents an Exodus like character – bondage and deliverance.
Now we come to the prophetical books before the psalms, as we take the pattern in Luke 24:44. In the prophetical books, we see God speaking to the nation of Israel, the people of Judah, and the surrounding nations through various prophets. We see the presence of God in this section, and the sanctuary is also in view in this section. Therefore, the section of the prophetical books presents to us a Leviticus like character – God’s holiness, God’s ways in relation to man approaching Him, and the sanctuary/temple of God.
The prophetical books are 17 in total – 5 major and 5 minor prophets. I am not too fond of this division, because all 17 books are just as important to us as they were to the people back then, so there is no major or minor important message from God.
Isaiah is the first of the prophets, bringing before us a beginning of prophecies, thus forming a Genesis like character – beginnings. The book of Isaiah especially is very interesting as it has 66 chapters, the same number of chapters as the number of books in our Bible, and it is also divided into Old Testament (ch 1-39) and New Testament (ch 40-66).
Jeremiah, with the appendix in Lamentations, presents to us God speaking to the people and showing that He had cared for them, delivered them from bondage, yet they wanted to go back into bondage! In fact, Jeremiah ends with Jerusalem destroyed, the people taken captive, but God promising to deliver them and restore them from captivity. We see then in this book an Exodus like character – bondage/captivity and deliverance.
Ezekiel comes next, with his prophecy and ministry in Babylon. He was a priest, so his ministry deals with God’s holiness and His sanctuary (dwelling-place), and priestly holiness. We also see the glory of God in chapter 1. Therefore, the book of Ezekiel has a Leviticus like character – God’s presence, holiness, priesthood and the sanctuary.
Daniel completes the so-called major prophets, which describes the state of the people in captivity in Babylon, yet at the same time shows the faithfulness of the very few who were determined to be faithful to God. Daniel also commences the times of the gentiles, and in view of the people taken captive, they are in the wilderness. Therefore, Daniel presents to us a Numbers like character – the wilderness, the condition of the majority of the people and the faithfulness of a few people to God.
The remaining prophets, the so-called minor prophets, from Hosea to Malachi, presents God’s review and His ways toward a failing, rebellious and unworthy people. In each of these prophecies we see warnings, rebuke, impending judgement, but also God’s promise to restore the nation through the Lord Jesus Christ. We see in this section of 12 books a Deuteronomy like character – review of God’s ways with His people and the restoration of the nation in a future day.
In this third group of the prophetical books section, we are in God’s presence and His sanctuary, for the purpose of the prophets was not only telling the future, but their purpose was always to bring the people into the presence of the Lord, thus forming a Leviticus like character – the presence of the Lord, holiness, and His sanctuary.
Having seen the structure of the Old Testament, we now come to the New Testament. The first 4 books are the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These present the life of One perfect Man, who at the same time is the Son of God. If we notice in Genesis, we have the lives of at least 7 prominent men, but all these died, except for Enoch. They had their own weaknesses and failures, so the Old Testament brings before us Adam, the first man, and then his race, all who were imperfect. In the New Testament, we see the four gospels presenting a perfect Man, who is God at the same time. We have then One Person to focus on in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than looking at the several men found in the book of Genesis. The gospels form a Genesis like character – beginning of the life of the Lord Jesus in His perfect Manhood on earth, and His divinity as God remained unchanged. We see the beginning of the Person, work and teaching of the Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection. For a detailed read on the gospels, please refer to my article on the four gospels The Four Gospels in the Bible
The book of Acts follows which presents the forming of the Church (all true believers in Christ). We see persecutions rising, those who suffer for the name of Christ, but we also see numerous times that the Lord delivers His apostles and through their preaching, many from the Jews and gentiles accept Christ as their Saviour. We see in Acts the theme of suffering, bondage and deliverance, thus presenting an Exodus like character – bondage and the deliverance from God.
Following from Acts, we have the epistles of the apostle Paul, 14 in total when we count Hebrews. This section brings us into the presence of God, describes how believers should live in holiness and reverence to the Lord, and shows how man can approach God based on the perfect, finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Spiritual gifts and offerings are prominent in these epistles, and they are full of daily practical exhortation for the Christian. This section forms a Leviticus like character – God’s presence, the sanctuary, priesthood, and holiness in the life of the believer.
It has been suggested that these 14 epistles are divided into two parts of 7, presenting the believer’s standing before God, and then the believer’s relationships and responsibilities on the earth. We have Hebrews which is a true Leviticus, in that it presents aspects from the priesthood and offerings, and God’s sanctuary, then the apostle Paul applies this and states that Jesus Christ is far greater than all these. After all, the book of Leviticus is full of types of Christ, and Paul takes this up in Hebrews to point out to the Jews who went out of Judaism to follow Christ, and many other Jews also left Judaism but were in danger of returning. Paul points out to this group that Christ is far better and greater than the OLD Testament sacrifices and covenants.
The general epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude also present practical exhortations to the believer but takes a different angle. These epistles are like a ‘wilderness guide’, thus forming a Numbers like character of the wilderness experience, the trials, and responsibilities of the believer’s walk on the earth.
Finally, we come to the book of Revelation, which is the great Deuteronomy of the New Testament and the whole Bible. Here we see God’s review of the past, present and the future, what will happen to Christendom (professing Church), Israel, the true believers, and the rest of the nations. Revelation is the consummation of all things – the heading up of all God’s ways and counsels.
The New Testament itself is also a wonderful Deuteronomy as we look back at the beginning of the gospel, the beginning and history of the Church, and the Lord’s ways with His New Testament people (all Christians who are saved by grace).
This article is adapted from various sources:
- Our Wonderful Bible by Raymond K Campbell
- The Numerical Structure of Scripture by Frederick W Grant – available on www.stempublishing.com
- From Genesis to Revelation by Samuel Ridout – available on www.stempublishing.com
This article is not intended to copy from these sources, but I attempted to form these ideas into a simpler way for all readers to understand.
One thought on “The structure of the Bible”
What a wonder and a marvel the word is. Thank you for this breakdown.