ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
WHAT IS IN THE BIBLE
The Bible has been described as “the world’s least read, best seller.” This may be because Christians find it hard to follow a path through it. In this paper I have begun to try, book by book, to summarise the main themes and pick out a notable verse. (I would have liked to have included more verses but copyright rules forbid!)
My aim, like that of a good travel guide book, is to tell you what is there, but much more to encourage you to go (to your Bible) and see for yourself.
GENESIS. Having reflected on the creation and the fall of humankind, Genesis recounts the life of Noah, his ark and the flood. It then moves to Abraham, the forefather of the chosen people, who travelled to Canaan under God’s instruction. The story continues through successive generations with Isaac, Jacob (who tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance) and Joseph. Joseph, sold by his brothers as a slave to an Egyptian, rose to become second only to Pharaoh, forgave his brothers and welcomed his father Jacob (whose name was changed by God to Israel) into Egypt.
Verse: 15:6 Abra(ha)m believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.
EXODUS. The plight of the Israelites in Egypt is noted. God chooses Moses to lead the people out and convinces Pharaoh to let them go by a series of plagues culminating in the Passover. The people cross the Red Sea miraculously and are fed in the desert with manna and provided with water from a rock. God gives Moses the Ten Commandments as well as detailed rules for worship, the construction of the Ark of the Covenant and its surrounding tent. The people rebel while Moses is away from them, worshipping a golden calf made by Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesman, and are punished by God.
Verse: 3:14a God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”
LEVITICUS. Laws for various sacrificial offerings are set out. Aaron is consecrated as a priest and is shown the correct ritual for the Day of Atonement. Many other rules and regulations are added.
Verse: 19:18b Love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
NUMBERS. After an initial census, more rules and regulations are set out. The people arrive near Canaan and send ‘spies’ into the land. When the people accept the negative report of most of the spies instead of trusting God, they are sent on a further forty years of wilderness life.
Moses, for once, fails to obey God by striking the rock to bring water and is told he will not enter the promised land.
Verses: 6:24-26 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace.”
DEUTERONOMY. After a long review of the wilderness years and many of the rules and regulations that had been previously given, Joshua is appointed as Moses’ successor. Moses then dies, having seen but not entered Canaan.
Verses: 4:39 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.
JOSHUA. God commissions Joshua as leader and he assumes command. The people cross the river Jordan and conquer Jericho by following God’s plan. Later they capture Ai once Achan’s sin is purged. The conquest continues and the land is divided among the Israelite tribes. Before he dies Joshua challenges the people to serve the Lord.
Verse: 1:6a Be strong and courageous.
JUDGES. The tribes fail to complete the conquest of Canaan. A pattern of unfaithfulness to God, punishment at the hands of neighbouring nations and, when they repent, the appointing of a ‘judge’ to lead the people out of occupation, repeats time after time. The more famous judges include Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.
Verse: 14:14a He (Samson) replied, “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”
RUTH. Naomi and family leave Bethlehem in time of famine. The men folk die and Naomi returns with he daughter-in-law Ruth. Ruth gleans in the fields of Boaz, a kinsman. Ruth and Boaz marry and become ancestors of King David and therefore of Jesus Christ.
Verse: 1:16a But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.
1 SAMUEL. Samuel the son of Hannah, is dedicated to God’s service from an early age and is called by God to become a prophet and the leader of Israel. However the people demand a king and Saul is chosen. Saul has his successes but fails to follow God completely. David is chosen as a future king but first serves Saul as a warrior (killing Goliath), son-in-law and musician. Saul becomes jealous of David, who is saved by his friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, but there is prolonged conflict between Saul and David. Finally Saul dies during a battle with the Philistines.
Verse: 15:22a But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”
2 SAMUEL. After conflict David is confirmed as king and has notable victories including the capture of Jerusalem. However he commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband murdered in battle. Rebuked by Nathan, he repents and is forgiven by God. However conflict and civil war erupt as Absalom, David’s son seeks to take his place. Absalom is killed and David continues as king.
Verses: 12:7a,9a Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!…Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?”
1 KINGS. David draws to the end of his life and chooses Solomon as the next king. After conflict Solomon is established as king and is granted great wealth, wisdom and a long life by God. He builds God’s temple and a palace for himself. Later, having married many foreign wives he turns from God. After his death the nation splits into Israel and Judah, each with its own king. A succession of kings follow, a few godly and many not. Elijah, the prophet, confronts King Ahab of Israel, including a vivid conflict with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.
Verse: 18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
2 KINGS. Elijah is succeeded by Elisha as prophet. The lives of many kings are detailed, most “who did evil in the sight of the Lord,” until Israel was punished by being taken into exile in Assyria. The righteous kings Hezekiah and Josiah prolong the life of the southern kingdom of Judah but it too is exiled, this time to Babylon.
Verse: 22:8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.”
1 CHRONICLES. After much detailed family history the story of David is retold, with blemishes removed, and with much detail about the way he organised his rule. Solomon, David’s son and successor is given the task of building the temple.
Verse: 28:20a David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you…
2 CHRONICLES. The story of Solomon and the building of the temple is retold. This is followed by accounts of many other kings, mainly of Judah, until the nation is exiled to Babylon. The book ends with a hint of the restoration of the kingdom.
Verse: 9:1a When the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions.
EZRA. Ezra, the scribe, tells how the exiles returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and started to rebuild the temple and the city, overcoming local opposition. Ezra himself returns to teach the people and to stop intermarriage with the surrounding nations.
Verse: 7:10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
NEHEMIAH. Nehemiah, appointed as governor of Judah, continues the rebuilding of Jerusalem by repairing the walls, again overcoming opposition. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the people rededicate themselves to God.
Verse: 8:8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
ESTHER. King Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) takes Esther as his queen and under the guidance of her uncle Mordecai, she reveals to the King the plot of Haman to destroy the Jews. Haman is hanged, the Jews are saved and Mordecai is promoted. All this is commemorated in the Jewish feast of Purim.
Verse: 5:2a When he (King Xerxes) saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her…
JOB. Under the testing of Satan, Job looses fortune, family and health, but he refuses to blame God. He has long conversations with three friends but finds no answer to the question, “Why do the innocent suffer?” Nor does a fourth friend, the younger Elihu, help.
Finally God answers Job revealing His majesty. Job bows before His greatness and repents. Then Job’s fortune is restored and he has a new family and lives to a ripe old age.
Verse: 19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.
PSALMS. The Jewish “Hymn-book” which contains many different types of writing; for example, praise to God, requests for God’s help, confession of sin, instruction in God’s ways. Many of the psalms are attributed to King David and reflect his experiences at different stages of his life.
Verse: 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
PROVERBS. A collection of shrewd sayings, many attributed to King Solomon, and extolling wisdom.
Verse: 25:11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
ECCLESIASTES. The Teacher speaks of wisdom and folly and things that are done “under the sun”. He emphasises the pointlessness of life without God.
Verse: 12:13b Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
SONG OF SONGS. (This is sometimes known as the “Song of Solomon”.) A love poem, apparently between Solomon and his bride.
Verse: 8:7a Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
ISAIAH. Spectacularly commissioned by God, Isaiah is sent to speak God’s judgment on the people because of their sin. Mixed in with judgment is a message of hope that God will later show mercy.
Isaiah also tells of the Servant of the Lord in prophecies which were fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Verse: 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
JEREMIAH. Jeremiah is also given a message of judgment to pronounce because of the sin of the people, particularly in worshipping false gods.
He is caught up in the siege and fall of Jerusalem and is imprisoned for his teaching which is rejected by the leaders of the people. He also speaks of a future restoration of Israel.
Verse: 31:33b “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
LAMENTATIONS. An acrostic (each verse of chapters 1,2 and 4 and each set of three verses in chapter 3 begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet) reflecting on the fall of Jerusalem. It is recognised that this is God’s punishment, yet hope breaks through.
Verse; 3:22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.
EZEKIEL. The prophet, while in exile in Babylon, is shown visions of the Sovereign God and of the fall of Jerusalem. He is also instructed to prophesy against the nations surrounding Israel.
Yet again there is a message of hope, as in the vision of the valley of dry bones. Finally Ezekiel is shown a detailed vision of a restored temple.
Verse: 1:28b This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down…
DANIEL. The first half of the book recounts the miraculous adventures of Daniel and friends during captivity in Babylon. The second half is a series of visions set in the future, and maybe looking to a distant future, where God triumphs.
Verses: 7:13,14a In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.
HOSEA. Through an unfaithful wife and the names of his children, Hosea is shown how God regards Israel. Israel (and Judah) will be punished for unfaithfulness, even though God still loves them and longs for them to return to Him.
Verse: 8:7a They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
JOEL. Under the picture of an invasion of locusts, Joel describes the coming day of the Lord in judgment on Jerusalem. Joel also looks to a more distant future.
Verse: 2:28a And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
AMOS. Amos starts by prophesying against the surrounding nations, but then speaks of the sins of Judah and Israel. He speaks of the destruction of Israel before its final restoration.
Verse: 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
OBADIAH. In a short prophesy, Obadiah rebukes the nation of Edom for the way they mistreated the people of Israel and Judah.
Verse: 12a You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune.
JONAH. Instructed to go to Ninevah, Jonah takes passage on a ship going another way. In a storm Jonah acknowledges his guilt, and is thrown overboard at his own command. He then completes his mission of judgment on Ninevah when the city repents and is forgiven. Jonah, displeased by God’s mercy is taught another lesson by God.
Verse: 4:2b I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.
MICAH. A message of judgment, particularly on the leaders of the people, but also of hope and restoration.
Verse: 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…
NAHUM. A prophecy against Ninevah, which at the time was the capital of Assyria, revealing its coming destruction. Nahum also speaks of the restoration of Israel.
Verse: 1:15a Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news…
HABAKKUK. The prophet is told that the Babylonians are coming as agents of God’s justice but that Babylon itself will also be judged.
Verse: 2:20 But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.
ZEPHANIAH. Zephaniah prophesies judgment on Judah and the surrounding nations, however he also looks to the restoration of Israel.
Verse: 3:15a The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.
HAGGAI. The people who have returned from exile are told that their crops are poor because they have failed to restore God’s temple, being too busy repairing their own homes. They respond to the challenge and are promised God’s blessing.
Verse: 2:9b “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.
ZECHARIAH. After a series of visions, Zechariah speaks of judgment on Israel’s enemies and of the restoration of Judah and Israel. he also looks to a more distant future.
Verse: 9:9 Rejoice greatly; O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you…gentle and riding on a donkey…
MALACHI. Malachi rebukes priests and people for their faithlessness but looks to a brighter future.
Verse: 4:5 See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.
MATTHEW. After an account of Jesus’ birth, Matthew, writing for a mainly Jewish readership, tells of Jesus’ baptism by John, His temptation and the start of His ministry. The record of Jesus’ teaching starts with the Sermon on the Mount and continues with accounts of miracles and many parables. As the end of His ministry draws near He makes a triumphant entry into Jerusalem where He continues teaching. He is betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, but rises from the dead to send His disciples out to take His message to all nations.
Verse: 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
MARK. Mark’s gospel, which may well draw on the memories of the disciple Peter, covers much the same ground as Matthew, but starting with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark’s account is much shorter and many believe that Matthew used Mark’s gospel in writing his own.
Verse: 1;17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
LUKE. This gospel is the first of two books written by Luke, the doctor for both Jews and Gentiles [see ACTS]. It contains much the same material as Matthew, but with some significant differences, like the appearance of the angels to the shepherds when Jesus was born and the parable of the prodigal son.
Verse: 24:45 Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
JOHN. The gospel of John is very different from the other three in many ways. After an opening preface which takes us back to the beginning of time and reveals Jesus as God’s only Son, John selects a few incidents from Jesus’ life and analyses them in depth. He includes many sayings of Jesus beginning, “I am…” After Jesus brings the dead Lazarus back to life, we have another account of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
Verse: 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me.”
ACTS. The second part of Luke’s account describes how the young Church grew. Starting with the Ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Luke tells how the disciples performed miracles and taught the people, making many converts. The martyrdom of Stephen leads to the conversion of Saul/Paul. Peter is shown that both Jews and Gentiles are to be members of the Church. Luke then tells of Paul’s three missionary journeys through today’s Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Macedonia. He also reports Paul’s final journey to Rome as a prisoner who had appealed to Caesar for justice.
Verse: 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John….they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
ROMANS. In the first of many letters, Paul writes of the righteous judgment of God on Jew and Gentile alike. He reminds his readers of the need for faith and the rejection of sin. He reaches a climax as he meditates on the love of God. He shows how Gentiles have been grafted into God’s family but sees that there is still a place for the Jews. He calls for a Christ-like life, especially in helping fellow Christians. Paul reminds his readers of his ministry, his desire to visit Rome and ends with personal greetings.
Verse: 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 CORINTHIANS. Paul writes of his initial ministry in Corinth and then tackles many problems – the role of apostles, sexual immorality, lawsuits between Christians, the place of marriage, food laws, idolatry and behaviour during worship. He reminds them of the way Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the value of the variety of gifts within the community, the importance of love and the need for orderly worship. He reflects on the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus and of the future resurrection of Christians. He ends with a variety of personal matters.
Verse: 15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
2 CORINTHIANS. Paul explains his reasons for delaying a visit to Corinth and defends his ministry to them. He reminds them of the truth of the gospel and encourages them to give generously for the support of poor Christians in Jerusalem. Finally he promises to visit them.
Verse: 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
GALATIANS. Paul warns the Christians not to turn away from the gospel which he preached to them. To emphasise this he recounts his relationship with the leaders of the church. He warns them that salvation is by faith, not through the law, and then he reminds them to live by the Spirit, mentioning the fruits of a spirit-filled life.
Verse; 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
EPHESIANS. Paul reminds the Ephesians of the wonders of the gospel and how it has brought Jew and Gentile together. He expects them to show that the gospel has transformed their behaviour and their relationships. Finally he refers to the “armour” God supplies to Christians so that they can stand against the attacks of the devil.
Verse: 6:16 …Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
PHILIPPIANS. Writing from prison where he has continued to proclaim Christ, Paul glories in the example of his Lord. He urges the Philippian Christians to follow his example in serving Christ and he thanks them for a gift they had sent to him.
Verse: 2:10a That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…
COLOSSIANS. Paul prays for the Christians at Colosse, rejoicing in their response to the gospel. He wants to underline the greatness of Jesus and to rule out alternative philosophies with either a Jewish or a pagan flavour. He calls on them to live as befits servants of Christ in a spirit of love.
Verse: 3:17 And whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
1 THESSALONIANS. Paul reminds them of the way he carried out his ministry at Thessalonica and how he longs to return to them. He calls on them to live a life pleasing to God. He also deals with their questions about the return of Jesus.
Verse: 5:16-18a Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…
2 THESSALONIANS. Paul answers more questions about the return of Jesus and speaks of the destruction of a powerful “man of lawlessness”. He calls on the Thessalonians to stand firm under persecution, to pray for Paul and his work and to reject idleness.
Verse; 3:17a I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters.
1 TIMOTHY. Paul writes to the younger man who is one of his closest fellow workers. He reminds him of the gospel and warns him that some will swerve away from the truth. He instructs that prayers should be made for all people. He sets out the qualifications for church leaders, and guidance for the running of the church. Finally he encourages Timothy to hold fast to the truth entrusted to him.
Verse: 6:12a Fight the good fight of faith.
2 TIMOTHY. From his prison cell, Paul writes to encourage Timothy in his faith and in his ministry. He warns him that godless pressures will increase. Paul longs that Timothy may be able to visit him.
Verse: 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
TITUS. Paul writes to Titus, a fellow worker, whom he left in Crete to establish the church there. He guides Titus in the choice of leaders, and urges him to teach only sound doctrine to which he should witness through a godly life.
Verse: 2:13 While we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
PHILEMON. Paul writes a short, but very personal letter to Philemon which he sends at the hand of Onesimus. Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon, but he had run away and met up with Paul and had been very useful to him. Paul wants to sort out this situation and so sends Onesimus back, asking Philemon to receive him, not as a slave but as he would Paul himself.
Verse: 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
HEBREWS. The unknown writer reveals Jesus, the founder of our salvation, as greater than both the angels and Moses. He describes Jesus as a great high priest, greater than the Jewish priests of old. He compares Jesus to Melchizedek, a priest in the time of Abraham. He shows that Christ’s priesthood, using the offering of Himself on the cross, is complete and does not need to be repeated like the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.
He underlines the importance of faith, with many examples, and calls on Christians to live holy lives.
Verse: 12:2a Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…
JAMES. James calls upon Christians to reveal their faith through their works. He rebukes those who would show preference to the rich, those who cannot control their tongues and those who boast of their plans. Instead he commends wisdom, patience and prayer.
Verse: 1:17a Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…
1 PETER. Having reminded those to whom he writes of the gospel, Peter calls upon them to live a holy life, to submit to lawful authority and to be ready to suffer for the sake of righteousness, just as Jesus did. Peter also calls on the leaders to lead with humility.
Verse: 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
2 PETER. Peter calls on his readers to develop their faith by holy living and reminds them that he was an eye-witness of Jesus. He warns them against false teachers and those who say that Jesus will not return.
Verse: 1:21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
1 JOHN. John reassures his “little children” that God is both light and love. While he calls on them not to sin, he reveals Jesus as God’s remedy for sin. He also urges them to love one another and so show that they are God’s children.
Verse: 3:1a How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!
2 JOHN. A very short letter in which John warns against false teachers (who should not be shown hospitality) and calls on his followers to stick to the command to love one another.
Verse: 6a And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.
3 JOHN. Another very short letter in which John commends Gaius who has shown true faith and hospitality, in contrast to Diotrephes who has rejected both John’s authority and his messengers.
Verse: 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
JUDE. Jude warns against false teachers who have crept into the church and calls on his readers to save themselves and others through the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Verse: 25 To the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.
REVELATION. John is given a vision of Jesus and is told to write messages to seven churches. He is then given a vision of heaven, and of a Lamb on the throne. There follows a series of judgments on the earth (in which the number seven plays a significant role), the appearance of strange creatures and signs. This ends in the destruction of the world system and the devil together with his followers.
A new heaven and a new earth are revealed as a home for God and His people.
Verse: 22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.