September 27, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
BIBLE 101: SIXTY-SIX BOOKS
The third in a series of six.
When I was six years old, I got a Christmas present that means more to me now than it did then. Here it is. (See featured image) I should have been more excited when I opened that present. Because I know a lot of love went into it. But I was six.
I’ve used this Bible Story Book a lot over the years. I can’t think of any Christmas present I’ve used more. And it has even greater meaning to me now, as I read what is written inside:
Presented to John Watts
From Mother and Daddy
It’s my mom’s handwriting. She was Mommy back then. But she always like to be called Mother.
Another early memory that won’t get me so choked up is my fifth grade Sunday school class and my teacher, Phyllis Moore. She taught us the books of the Bible. She taught them to us by getting us to memorize them. All 66 of them. I memorized them way back then and I still can say them all. It’s really not that hard, and one thing it did for me was it made me curious about what was in each of those 66 books. Especially the ones with the strange names, which was pretty much all of them.
The Bible is a book of books. The word “Bible” simply means book. You won’t find the word “Bible” in the Bible. Sometimes people get confused with the different names we use. The Bible. Holy Bible. Word of God. Scripture. These are just different names for the same book.
It has about 40 authors. Each one of them inspired by God. It was written over a span of about 1,500 years. It has two sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament. The oldest book in the Old Testament was written about 1,400 BC. The newest book in the New Testament was written about AD 95. You can think of it this way. A book completed in 2020 that was written over that long a span of time would have parts of it written as the dust was just settling on the Fall of the Roman Empire.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. 39 + 27 = 66 That’s a lot of books to remember. But it is much easier when you realize that these 66 books fall into eight groupings. And it’s even easier because the four in the Old Testament are similar to the four in the New Testament.
We’re going to go through these pretty fast. We’ll take a little more time the next two Sundays as I’ll take you through the Old Testament one week and the New Testament the next.
We start with the five books of Moses. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. They begin in the beginning with the Creation and end with the death of Moses.
Then in the New Testament there are the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. These books tell the story of Jesus from four different perspectives. “Gospel” means “good news.” The story of Jesus is very good news.
There is a lot of history in the Old Testament. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings, First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Most of this is actually pretty interesting reading, even if you aren’t much into history.
The New Testament has just one history book. The full name is Acts of the Apostles. There isn’t as much history to cover in the New Testament. But the history is every bit as interesting to read.
The Old Testament has five books classified as “writings,” for lack of a better word. Sometimes they are called “poetry.” Sometimes they are called “wisdom literature.” They are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.
The corresponding grouping in the New Testament is the letters. All 21 of them. 13 are thought to be written by Paul: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon. And 8 are letters written by someone other than Paul: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, First John, Second John, Third John, Jude.
The largest grouping in the Old Testament is the prophets. There are 17 of them. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Quite a few strange names in there, I think you will agree.
The New Testament has one book of prophecy. Revelation. The name is not so strange, but what is in it is stranger than anything else in the entire Bible.
Here’s a little trick I may have learned from Phyllis Moore back in the fifth grade. If you take your Bible and open right in the middle, you will probably land somewhere in Psalms. If you open your Bible halfway between the beginning and the middle – that’s one-fourth of the way in – you will open it around First or Second Samuel. Genesis to First Samuel is nine books. Second Samuel to Job is nine books.
Then – this is the coolest – if you open your Bible halfway between the middle and the end, you will be at the end of the Old Testament which is the beginning of the New Testament. In other words, 75% of the Bible is the Old Testament and 25% of the Bible is the New Testament. Approximately.
So if you know that little trick and if you know the books of the Bible, you can find a Bible passage quickly. You don’t even need the table of contents. For example, today’s scripture is in Jeremiah, which I know is in the Old Testament and is after Psalms, so look at that! I opened right to it! (A bookmark also helps.)
This is a rare passage. It’s the only place where we find a description of the actual process that was used in writing the Bible.
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote upon a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord which he had spoken to him
The prophets spoke for God. God gave them the words, and then God’s prophets spoke those words. The spoken word is powerful. Very powerful. But it has one huge limitation. It is easily forgotten. So writing it down is important. If God’s words were only spoken and never written, can you imagine the confusion there would be? That’s why the Bible is such a treasure. We have many opinions, but we only have one Bible.
Let me just say a little about what is going on in this chapter. Jeremiah has been given a message that is not very popular. Unless his people repent and change their ways, Jerusalem will be destroyed. It’s not a fait accompli yet. Almost but not quite. This is why God’s message to Jeremiah is written on this scroll. So it can be read out loud as a warning. It is read to several groups first, then finally it is read to the king. King Jehoiakim.
A little something about King Jehoiakim. His dad was King Josiah. They say, like father like son. Not in this case. Josiah was one of Judah’s best kings. Jehoiakim was one of the worst. Josiah was the “boy king.” He became king at age 8. During his reign, a Bible scroll was discovered that had been long lost and forgotten. Josiah rejoiced. Based on the Word of God written on that scroll, he led Judah in repentance and reform.
With his son, it was the opposite. Jehoiakim hears the words read from the scroll as he is sitting by his fireplace. After three or four columns are read, he takes out his knife, cuts that section out and throws it in the fire. He keeps doing this until the entire scroll is ashes.
Here’s what happens next. This comes from that Bible Story Book I got for Christmas.
When Jeremiah learned what had happened, he told Baruch, “Take another scroll and write in it all the words that were in the book Jehoiakim destroyed.” There’s a pencil addition in the margin that appears to be my own handwriting: “Baruch hesitated and replied . . . ‘I have forgotten what you told me before . . .’”
That’s not in the Bible. That’s just me trying to be funny. Baruch does remember and does write down every word that Jeremiah had dictated to him before. In addition, he writes down some new words about God’s impending judgment upon Jehoiakim and upon the nation of Judah.
That is one of many great stories in the Bible. But I will warn you. Jeremiah is one of the more difficult books in the Bible to read and to understand. If you are serious about reading the Bible – all 66 books – it’s good to go in with a game plan that will give you a reasonable chance of success. It’s kind of like a teacher trying to get fourth graders interested in reading. You start them off with Charlotte’s Web, not War and Peace.
Speaking of War and Peace, it’s a long book, but not nearly as long as the Bible. Which is why most people never read either one.
Reading the books of the Bible in order, from Genesis to Revelation, might not be the best game plan. Some people do it that way. If you read an hour a day and you are a fast reader, it will take you 130 days to get through the entire Bible. Start today, and you will be done the first of February.
Most people would never get that far, and the top three reasons are Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Genesis makes for some pretty good reading. Lots of great stories. Lots of suspense. And the thrills continue right into Exodus. Then, the going gets rough. Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Real boring. Not that these aren’t important books. They are. It’s just that these aren’t Bible 101 books. These are Bible 401 books. Come back to them later. Don’t let them discourage you and sidetrack you from your goal of reading the whole Bible.
Most books would drive you nuts if you skipped around from chapter to chapter. Most books are meant to be read from beginning to end. But the Bible isn’t most books. The Bible is not arranged chronologically. Even though Genesis begins with the words “in the beginning” and Revelation ends with the end of the world, in between things get mixed up. Things get out of order. So there is no good reason to think you have to read the books of the Bible in order. Here is a game plan you might want to try.
1) Start with one of the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. You can’t go wrong with any of them. And they aren’t that long. It’s good to start your Bible adventure with the story of Jesus.
2) Next Genesis. As I mentioned, it’s a fun book. Parts of it are strange. But most of it reads like an action-packed adventure story.
3) Then back to the New Testament, and I suggest you read the book of Acts. This is the history book. It’s an amazing story. I never get tired of Acts.
4) Read Psalms next. But not all of it at first. It’s kind of long. There are 150 Psalms. Read the first 75 for now.
5) The fifth book I suggest is one of Paul’s letters. It could be any of them. My suggestion is Philippians.
6) Then back to Psalms. Start where you left off and read Psalm 76 though 150.
7) James is a short, simple book that I know you will enjoy.
8) Then another short, simple book, this one in the Old Testament – Ruth.
9) First John is another great one. It won’t take you long to read it.
10) Then back to the Old Testament. Another short one that will be fun to read. Jonah.
You’re on your own after that. You’ve now read 9 of the Bible’s 66 books. So you have a ways to go. But I really think if you start with these, you will want to keep going. And once reading the Bible becomes a habit, you will never want to stop.
Here’s another game plan for getting through the entire Bible. When I was in theological school, a graduation requirement was the four dreaded divisional examinations. One of the four was Bible Content. How did I prepare for my Bible Content exam? I read the Bible Story Book my parents gave me for Christmas when I was six. And I passed.
Two quick things as we wrap up today. People ask what is the best translation of the Bible. This didn’t used to be a question, because there was only one option. The King James Version. Now there are many, many good translations. Bible Gateway is a website that gives you all of them so you can compare and contrast. If you are a serious student of the Bible, you will want something that tracks the original Greek and Hebrew closely, with plenty of footnotes and references and maps. If you just want to read the Bible for the first time without getting lost and confused and giving up, you probably don’t need a serious study Bible. Here’s what I would say: The best translation of the Bible is the one you will read.
One more thing. This is a challenge from me to you. Memorize the books of the Bible. All 66 of them. I know that sounds hard. It probably sounds impossible. But try just a few at a time. Add a few more each day. Before long, you will have all 66. And if you are like me, it will make you curious about what is in each of these books. Especially the ones with the strange names. Which is pretty much all of them.
God, we see you in Jesus. We see you in nature. We see you in each other. And we see you in the Bible. I pray that any fear or intimidation or hesitation we might feel about the Bible will melt away. Whatever is keeping us from opening this book and exploring it and allowing it to make us new and better people – God, whatever it is I pray that you will remove it. Instead, may we be drawn to your Book as we are drawn to food or water or air. May we hear your voice, as St. Augustine heard your voice long ago. “Take and read.” Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.