ribbon bookmark in a Bible

Get to Know the Testaments

What is a testament?

Today, we might use the word contract instead of testament, or covenant. Ancient kings made these agreements with the peoples and countries that they ruled. God is King of all. He lays out the rules for His Kingdom. These rules cover how we relate to God, to each other and Creation. When we open a Bible, we see it is divided into the Old and New Testaments.

Why?

The Old and New Testaments are like an epic movie and its sequel. The plot begins in the first story—the Old Testament—as God makes a covenant (contract) with a man and his descendants. This family, a nation really, will be His chosen people. But God hints that a dramatic twist to this story will come one day. The day arrives with the story’s conclusion—the New Testament—as the ultimate hero is revealed and changes everything. We finally see how God’s covenant is based on grace for all who will accept it.

Old Testament

The Old Testament contains the stories and writings of the people of Israel. Early in the book, God enters into a special relationship with a man named Abraham. God makes a covenant (contract) promising to bless Abraham and his children—they become the nation of Israel—if they obey God. But there are to be consequences if the Israelites disobey God.

The books of the Old Testament record Israel's efforts to keep this contract with God. The stories are spread across 39 books, which are grouped by style. Some are history books, others offer wisdom for living. Some are poetry and others are more like journals.

Why did God pick Israel in the first place?

God wanted to have the people of Israel be an example of how He loved all people and how He is faithful, righteous, merciful and just.

Israel was to be a role model for the other nations, showing how to be loving, just and merciful to each other and those around them.

God also wanted all of the people to know that He is King of All Creation. He is not some idol or just a man.

The Old Testament stories demonstrate that humanity needs God.

Why read the Old Testament?

We can get to know God and learn about God’s character. We learn He is loving, patient, all-powerful and merciful and wants a personal relationship with us.

We learn about God’s faithfulness, righteousness and actions.

We see that God gave laws to guide Israel to freedom, but the people continually disobeyed and lost their way.

God hints at His special solution to man’s inability to keep the covenant.

Old Testament Books

Opening with the Creation, the first 17 books look at the birth of humanity and the nation of Israel, tracing its history over about 800 years. Psalms and four other poetic books offer insights into human character and spiritual challenges. Finally, God uses 17 prophets to speak to Israel and warn about difficulties to come.

The Books of Moses

The first five books tell about God setting up this special covenant with Abraham and his heirs, the nation of Israel.
• Genesis
• Exodus
• Leviticus
• Numbers
• Deuteronomy

History of Israel

The history books tell how God was faithful to Israel, even though they rarely kept their side of the agreement.
• Joshua
• Judges
• Ruth
• 1 Samuel
• 2 Samuel
• 1 Kings
• 2 Kings
• 1 Chronicles
• 2 Chronicles
• Ezra
• Nehemiah
• Esther

Wisdom & Poetry

The wisdom and poetry books are like journals. They give advice about life, celebrate all God has give us and use elegant language to sing His praises.
• Job
• Psalms
• Proverbs
• Ecclesiastes
• Song of Solomon

Prophets

The prophets were God’s spokesmen. God sent them to remind Israel about their covenant with God and the consequences of breaking the contract.
• Isaiah
• Jeremiah
• Lamentations
• Ezekiel
• Daniel
• Hosea
• Joel
• Amos
• Obadiah
• Jonah
• Micah
• Nahum
• Habakkuk
• Zephaniah
• Haggai
• Zechariah
• Malachi

New Testament

Here God reveals His special solution, Jesus Christ. God offers a new covenant, a covenant of grace, with all the people of the Earth. The contract has one key clause: Believe and trust in Jesus Christ and you will be saved. But God knows we cannot do this without His help. He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish this one clause.

The New Testament, or New Covenant, is all about this new offer from God. Many mistakenly believe that the covenant is all about getting to heaven. It is, but there’s more. We can have all the benefits of His Kingdom right now in our present lives.

Why read the New Testament?

If we don’t read it, we won’t learn the amazing things God gives to us and promises us.

We will discover how God’s love towards us is profound and astounding.

God offers us a unique position—to be daughters and sons of the Living God that rules all.

God reveals His special gift of salvation through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

God has also given us the Holy Spirit, who will help us while we are on Earth.

New Testament Books

The New Testament is the story of Jesus, as told by at least eight different authors. After the first four biographical books, The Acts of the Apostles gives a glimpse of the first 30 years of the Church. The rest of the books are a series of letters from Jesus’ apostles about the Lord’s message and how Christians should live in this world with an eye on the next.

Story of Jesus

The first four books in the New Testament record Jesus telling the Israelites and others about God’s solution. Through His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus becomes God’s solution for all peoples’ inability to obey God.
• Matthew
• Mark
• Luke
• John

The Early Church & Letters of Paul

The next group of books records the actions of Jesus’ early followers and closely examines Jesus’ teachings and what they mean for all, believers or not.
• Acts
• Romans
• 1 Corinthians
• 2 Corinthians
• Galatians
• Ephesians
• Philippians
• Colossians
• 1 Thessalonians
• 2 Thessalonians
• 1 Timothy
• 2 Timothy
• Titus
• Philemon

General Letters Love God, Love People

The last group of books are letters from the other apostles to early churches. Revelation, the last book, declares that Jesus will return for those who believe.
• Hebrews
• James
• 1 Peter
• 2 Peter
• 1 John
• 2 John
• 3 John
• Jude
• Revelation

The Plan

New to the Bible? Begin in the New Testament, reading in the following order.

• The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark. These two books look at the mission of Jesus.

• The Book of Acts. The amazing tale of the early Church. Continue on through Romans, a good introduction to the Apostle Paul’s letters.

• The Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke, or perhaps both. You will discover that Jesus often quotes the Old Testament.

• The Book of Genesis. Go back to the Old Testament to witness the creation of the world and how God promises to bless all nations.

• Read a couple of NT books, then one or two in the OT. When done with the NT, start over in it. You’ll understand much more the second time around. Once through the entire Bible, celebrate and continue rereading it.

Tips for Easy Reading

The Bible is God’s Word. He uses it to tell us who He is and who we are. It’s an owner’s manual. He’s been under our hood, so God knows what makes us tick and knows what we need.

The longer you read this Good Book, the deeper you will appreciate the wisdom, teachings and insights within its pages.

After a time, you will begin to see that it is a mirror. Look into it, and you will see yourself in all your good and bad—made whole by His grace.

As you read, keep these things in mind.

New to the Bible? Begin in the New Testament, reading in the following order.

• The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark. These two books look at the mission of Jesus.

• The Book of Acts. The amazing tale of the early Church. Continue on through Romans, a good introduction to the Apostle Paul’s letters.

• The Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke, or perhaps both. You will discover that Jesus often quotes the Old Testament.

• The Book of Genesis. Go back to the Old Testament to witness the creation of the world and how God promises to bless all nations.

• Read a couple of NT books, then one or two in the OT. When done with the NT, start over in it. You’ll understand much more the second time around. Once through the entire Bible, celebrate and continue rereading it.

Tips for Easy Reading

The Bible is God’s Word. He uses it to tell us who He is and who we are. It’s an owner’s manual. He’s been under our hood, so God knows what makes us tick and knows what we need.

The longer you read this Good Book, the deeper you will appreciate the wisdom, teachings and insights within its pages.

After a time, you will begin to see that it is a mirror. Look into it, and you will see yourself in all your good and bad—made whole by His grace.

As you read, keep these things in mind.

No deadlines. This isn’t a 12-month sprint; set a more flexible goal. Make a commitment to read the Bible all the way through. Then do it. If you happen to complete the entire book in a year, good for you!

Not a school assignment. There will be no pop quizzes. Your life is the test.

A two-way conversation. God will speak to you through His Word. The Holy Spirit may grab your attention with a story, verse or phrase. Stop and dig into the text. Consider how it applies to your life.

Break the ice. Before starting each book, read a short introduction so you know who wrote the book, why it was written and what the heart of the message is.

Background check. Get a study Bible, such as a Life Application Bible or The Daily Walk Bible, produced by Walk Thru the Bible. These include brief introductions to each book.

God’s detours. You may be sailing along in the New Testament when a story from Genesis is mentioned. You don’t know why, but feel compelled to know about it. Take a day or two off from your regular reading and check out that OT story. God may be drawing you there.

Hidden treasures. There are insights in the most unexpected places. There are long family trees, for instance. These can be boring for new readers. But the day may come when you will find treasures hidden in these lists.

Online Bibles. Go to www.biblegateway.com to read a variety of Bible translations and more. Another helpful site is www.blueletterbible.com.

Bible Translations

A Bible translation called the King James Version reigned in the English-speaking world for 400 years. But no more. In the last few decades, the Bible has been translated into 1,700 languages, and there are more than a dozen modern English versions. Translation is an art and there is more than one way to approach it. In English translations, some scholars stay as close as possible to the meanings of ancient Bible words and some reword the text to appeal to contemporary audiences. Both approaches have a place in reading and study. At one end of the spectrum, translators try for a word-for-word translation. Other translators offer an easy-reading thought-for-thought rendering that appeals to modern readers. The most reader-friendly Bibles are paraphrases in today’s language. Here are some modern choices with the types of translation noted.

English Standard Version: word for word

First published in 2001. Translated from original texts by a team of 95 evangelical Bible scholars and teachers from 12 countries, representing 20 denominations. Reviewed every 5 years.

New International Version: thought for thought

First published in 1978 and updated in 2011. A new translation from original texts made by over 100 scholars from five English-speaking countries and many denominations.

New King James Version: word for word

Commissioned in 1975, 130 scholars, church leaders and lay Christians worked for seven years to create a modern translation that stayed true to the beauty of the original King James Version.

New Living Translation: thought for thought

Originally published in 1996 and revised in 2007, this translation is the work of 40 Bible scholars using everyday English.

The Voice: thought for thought

Published in 2012, this translation is the work of Biblical scholars, writers, musicians and poets. While staying true to original texts, it is written in story form.

The Message: paraphrase

Published in 2002, this translation from the original Greek is written in contemporary language. It was produced by Presbyterian pastor Eugene Paterson over several years.