Bible Basics

Lesson 3: The Anatomy of the Bible

Lessons in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Overview Lesson Index

Lesson Workbook (PDF) Click here


1. For students to learn the basic organization of the Bible
2. For students to love the way the Bible has been preserved for them
3. For students to commit to learning more basic facts about the Bible


Guidance, Prophecy, Truth, Word of God

Scripture Memorization

2 Timothy 3:16-17

OPENING PRAYER (5 to 10 minutes)

GROUP BUILDING (10 minutes)

Who thinks they know a lot about music?
I want to see who out of our group knows the most about songs from the last couple of years. I’m going to start a song lyric, and I want you to raise your hand when you think you know what it is. Don’t finish it. Just raise your hand, and when we find out who knows it, we’ll finish the lyric together.

(Select 5 or more current songs that the kids may know, making sure the lyrics are acceptable.)

Who knew all the songs? Who was lost the whole time?

There are some things you guys know a lot better than others. Some of you could play that game all night and rarely ever miss one because you know music. Some of you can list off athletes’ names without missing a beat. Maybe even some of you can recite movie lines from all your favorite movies.

GETTING STARTED (10 minutes)

Now let me ask you 5 more questions. Again, raise your hand when you know the answer. Don’t answer it, just raise your hand if you know it.

1.  What book comes right after Obadiah? (Jonah)
2.  How many books of the Bible did John write? (5—the Gospel, 1-3 John, and Revelation)
3.  How many Minor Prophets are there? (12)
4.  How much time went by between the Old and New Testaments? (about 400 years)
5.  What genre of literature is the book of Job? (Poetry)

• Now, how many of you got all 5 of those right? How many were lost?

Today/Tonight we’re going to start ripping the Bible apart so we can understand it better. We’ll talk about how the Bible is structured as a whole. Over the next 4 weeks, we’re going to break up the Old and New Testaments into even smaller parts. Starting next week, we’re going to do a quiz to start out each week's lesson to see how well everything is sticking. If we see that it’s not, we’ll slow down and go over stuff again.

The goal, of course, is to learn about the Bible. We can rattle off song lyrics and movie lines, but how much do you know about the Bible? Obviously, we can always learn more. So let’s do it!

DIGGING IN (30 minutes)

I’m going to ask a lot of questions tonight. If you know the answer, that’s cool. If you don’t, don’t feel bad. We’re beginning at a lot of different levels, and that’s okay. The goal is to be all on the same page when we get done.

General Questions
1. How many books are in the Bible? (66)

• Can any of you recite them in order? (If they can, let them. Tell them good job when they’re done, and let the group know by the end of this study, they should be able to do the same.)

2. How many testaments, or main parts, are in the Bible? (2) What do we call those testaments? (Old and New.)

Okay, we’ve covered some good stuff already, stuff you should know. The Bible is made up of 66 different books. These come in various forms, which we’ll talk about in a minute. The 66 books are organized in 2 testaments, the Old and New Testament. Why don’t you open up your Bibles to the table of contents.

3. Who knows how many books are in the Old Testament? (39) How many does that leave in the New Testament? (27)

That’s right. Check that out in your table of contents. The Old Testament books, 39 of them, are Genesis through Malachi. The New Testament books, 27 of those, are Matthew through Revelation.

4. A couple weeks ago we talked about it. How many people wrote the Bible? (40)
5. Over how much time was the Bible written? (1,500-2,000-ish years.)
6. And what did we say was the basic difference between the Old and New Testaments? (The OT is before Jesus, the NT is during and after Jesus.)

So we have 66 books in 2 testaments, 39 OT books and 27 NT books. Probably not very many of you know a whole lot beyond that. Today we’re going to explore a few more things. Go ahead and turn to the first book of the Bible. As we walk through different things tonight, feel free to thumb through the pages of your Bible.

The Old Testament

The first book of the Bible is the book of Genesis. What testament is this in? (OT)
Good. Genesis is in the Old Testament. The OT is broken down more, though, in a way that is easy to understand. Everyone repeat after me: “Five, twelve, five, five, twelve…five, twelve, five, five, twelve.”

The Old Testament is divided into 5 parts:
1. 5 books of law
2. 12 books of history
3. 5 books of poetry
4. 5 books of major prophets
5. 12 books of minor prophets

The first five books of the Bible are books of law. Flip through them in your Bible. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Next week, we’ll break down these books more, but let’s talk about them for just a second.

1. Why do you think they are classified as law? (Because they contain the laws of God to His people, including the 10 Commandments, priestly codes, etc.)

These books talk about creation, the flood, Abraham, Moses, the exodus, etc.

The next 12 books are books of history. Flip through those now. They are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

2. Why do you think these are categorized as history? (They tell the history of Israel from the settling of the Promised Land to the return after being in slavery to Jerusalem.)

These books cover the lives of Joshua and Caleb; all the judges such as Sampson, Saul, and David; and the Jewish leaders after they returned from slavery.

The next five books are a bit of a different category: poetry. Turn through those in your Bibles. They are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

3. Why do you think these are classified as poetry? (Because they are written largely in verse, or poetry.)

One unique thing about these books is the placement of Job within them. Much of Job is written in poetry, which is why it is placed here, but it is widely believed that Job lived at the same time as Abraham, which would mean that even though it’s placed almost halfway through the Old Testament, the events it describes occurred in the time of Genesis.

The next 17 books are all prophets, but they come in two categories, 5 major prophets and 12 minor prophets. Flip through them as I read them off. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

4. Why are they called prophetic books? (Because they are filled with prophecy, not only about Christ, but about events in the life of Israel, etc.)
5. What do you think is the difference between major and minor prophets? (Largely it is the length of the books although Daniel, a major prophet, is slightly shorter than Hosea, a minor prophet.)

These books include the old childhood stories of Jonah; Daniel and the lions' den; and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So, in the Old Testament, you can remember the categories, or genres, with the saying, “5-12-5-5-12.”—5 books of law, 12 books of history, 5 books of poetry, 5 major prophets, and 12 minor prophets. Sound good? Let’s move onto the New Testament. Turn in your Bibles to the book of Matthew.

The New Testament

Before we move on to the NT, I want you to know a little bit about the time that passed between the Old and New Testaments. There were about 400 years that went by for which the Bible is silent. There are writings from that period, but they have never been included in our Scriptures.

The Catholic Church includes these books, called the Apocrypha. They are reliable history, and interesting to read, but they are not considered either OT or NT books.

Then, after about 400 years, the events of the New Testament started to unfold, beginning of course with the birth of Jesus.

There’s no rhythmic memory tool for the New Testament like 5-12-5-5-12, but the New Testament books are pretty easy to recall. There are 4 gospels, 1 book of history, 13 letters from Paul, 8 letters from others, and 1 book of prophecy.

The first 4 books in the New Testament are all considered gospels.

• Who knows the 4 gospels? (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)

1. What is the meaning of the word “gospel"? (Good news, truth.)

The gospels are four accounts of the same thing: Jesus' life, teaching, death, and resurrection. Two of the gospels have accounts of Jesus’ birth. Go ahead and flip through the 4 Gospels.

• Which two include that event? (Matthew and Luke)

There’s much more we could say about the Gospels, and we’ll do so when we talk about the New Testament books.

The next book stands alone as a New Testament history book. It is the book of Acts, and it traces the history of the church from the ascension of Christ to the arrival of the apostle Paul in Rome. Flip through Acts.

• Do you know who wrote the book of Acts? (Luke)

Combining the book of Acts with Luke's Gospel, it seams as though Luke wrote over half of the New Testament. 

• Can you name any of the events recorded in the book of Acts? (The Day of Pentecost, the call of Saul/Paul, Ananias and Sapphira, the Philippian jailer is converted, etc.)

The next 13 books are letters that Paul wrote. For that reason, they are called Pauline Epistles, or Pauline Letters. Pauline wasn’t Paul’s sister, that’s just how you say it to show that they belonged to Paul. And "epistle" is another word for "letter." He wrote to churches and individuals, instructing them on how they might live out their faith more completely. Those letters are Romans; 1 and 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; and Philemon. Flip through them and find each one.

The following 8 books are letters from people other than Paul. The authors are James, John, Jude, Peter, and one unknown. The letters are Hebrews; James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude. Turn the pages through these books.

• Which letter does not claim a known author? (Hebrews.)

These letters are written with the same motivation as the Pauline letters, but they were not written by Paul. For that reason, they are often called General Epistles.

The last book of the Bible, at which you have most likely arrived, is the book of Revelation. It is the only book of prophecy in the New Testament.

2. What does the book of Revelation talk about? (The events leading up to the end of the age, and the promise of eternal life, etc.)

• Who wrote Revelation? (John, as told to by Jesus)

That’s a fast trip through the NT, but remember, there are 4 Gospels, 1 history, 21 letters, and 1 prophecy. We’ll break that down more as we go through the study, but that’s a good summary.

General Information

There are a couple of things I want to point out—things you may not know about the structures of the Bible. You already know that it’s divided into testaments, and then books, but there are even smaller division than that—chapters and verses.

1. Do any of you know when those were put in the Bible?

The truth is, the chapter divisions were first invented in 1205 by a guy named Stephen Langton. The verse divisions were adopted by the 1500s. That’s relatively new, even though you’ve never known a Bible without them.

(You might take time here to cover any questions any of them have about what you’ve talked about. Don’t be afraid to admit not knowing an answer. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some really good questions.)

MAKING IT REAL (10 minutes)

Okay, so let’s wrap it all up.

• How many books are in the Bible?
• How many testaments?
• How many books in the OT?
• How many in the NT?
• What are the divisions in the OT?
• What about the NT?

We’re going to take a quiz first thing next week, and I want you to try and remember what we’ve talked about tonight. This is just the beginning! There’s a lot more to learn about God’s Word, and we’re going to learn it together.

CLOSING PRAYER (2 minutes)

(Ask a student to close out the lesson in prayer by asking the following:)
Who will pray for us that God will continue to teach us, and that we will be willing to learn?

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