A close-up photo of a neatly arranged stack of Bibles, showcasing the various sections like Old Testament, New Testament, books, chapters, and verses, highlighting the organization of the holy book.

How Is The Bible Organized?

The Bible is one of the most influential books in human history, serving as the foundational text for Judaism and Christianity. With 66 books written by over 40 authors over 1500 years, the Bible can seem daunting and confusing to navigate for many readers.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible is organized into the Old Testament and New Testament, with the Old Testament containing 39 books divided into the Pentateuch, historical books, poetic books, and prophetic books.

The New Testament contains 27 books divided into the Gospels, history, Pauline epistles, general epistles, and prophecy.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the structure and organization of the Bible in detail to help you better understand this profoundly influential text.

The Two Main Divisions: Old Testament and New Testament

The 39 Books of the Old Testament

The Old Testament contains 39 books written between approximately 1400 BC and 400 BC. These books are grouped into 5 main sections: the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Poetic and Wisdom Books, the Major Prophets, and the Minor Prophets.

The Pentateuch contains the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books were written by Moses and describe God’s creation of the world, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai.

The Historical Books include 12 books from Joshua to Esther. These books cover the Israelites entering and conquering the Promised Land, the time of the Judges, the rise and fall of Israel’s monarchy, and the exile to Babylon.

The Poetic and Wisdom Books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. These books contain poetry, songs, wise sayings, and reflections on the meaning of life.

The 5 Major Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel – contain visions, prophecies, and messages calling God’s people to faithfulness. The 12 Minor Prophets also communicate God’s word through prophecy.

The 27 Books of the New Testament

The New Testament contains 27 books written between approximately AD 45 and 95. The books fall into 5 categories:

  • The 4 Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – which recount Jesus’s birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection
  • Acts – an account of the early church after Jesus’s ascension
  • The Epistles – letters written by church leaders like Paul, James, and Peter to provide teaching and encouragement to early Christians
  • Revelation – an apocalyptic vision of the end times received by the apostle John

While the Old Testament lays the foundation of God’s plan in history, the New Testament fulfills Old Testament prophecy through Jesus Christ and the establishment of the church. Together, these 66 books comprise the complete Word of God.

Old Testament Organization

The Pentateuch (First 5 Books)

The Pentateuch, also known as the Torah or the Five Books of Moses, consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books establish the foundations of the Bible by revealing God’s creation of the universe, His calling of the people of Israel, and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Some key events include Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, Abraham’s journey of faith, Joseph in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus, and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

The Historical Books

The historical books pick up the story after the Pentateuch and cover the history of Israel from their entrance into Canaan under Joshua to the end of the Old Testament period. These 12 books – Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther – reveal God’s hand at work in preserving and disciplining His chosen people.

From the conquest of Canaan to the fall of Jerusalem, they demonstrate how obedience leads to blessing while disobedience leads to judgment.

The Poetic Books

The poetic books express the spiritual wisdom and emotions of Israel through various literary styles. These include Job, which wrestles with deep suffering; Psalms, a collection of songs and poems; Proverbs, filled with wise sayings; Ecclesiastes, on the vanity of life without God; and the Song of Songs, a beautiful poetic song of marital love.

Though different in form, they all teach essential truths about God, humanity, and living a godly life.

The Prophetic Books

The prophetic books are collections of messages from prophets inspired by God to call His people to repentance and faithfulness. They both warn of judgment for sin and promise hope for the future. Major prophets, which are longer books, include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

The minor prophets, which are shorter, include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Though varied, these books point ahead to the coming of the Messiah.

New Testament Organization

The Gospels

The New Testament begins with the four Gospels, which provide historical narratives of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present Jesus’ teachings and ministry from four distinct perspectives, yet together paint a full portrait of the Savior.

While each Gospel has unique elements and themes, all four affirm Jesus as the divine Son of God and long-awaited Messiah.

The History

The book of Acts comes next, recounting the early spread of Christianity after Christ’s ascension. Authored by the same Luke who penned the third Gospel, Acts chronicles the apostles’ proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem, then to surrounding regions, and ultimately to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Key figures include Peter, John, Stephen, and the converted Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul. This thrilling history demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit to grow Christ’s church.

Paul’s Epistles

Paul wrote letters to various churches and individuals to provide teaching, correction, and encouragement. His epistles make up the next portion of the New Testament, from Romans to Philemon. These rich texts unpack deep truths about salvation, sanctification, the church, ethics, and the believer’s life in Christ.

Beloved passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Philippians 4:8 highlight Paul’s pastoral heart for fledgling churches.

The General Epistles

Following Paul’s writings are the General Epistles, including Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. These letters address early Christian congregations and individuals with teachings on maturity, conduct, sound doctrine, and perseverance through trials.

Topics range from true saving faith (James 2) to genuine love (1 John 4) to standing firm amidst deception (2 Peter 2). Together they apply Jesus’ teachings to practical Christian living.


The New Testament closes with the prophetic book of Revelation. Written by the apostle John while exiled on Patmos, Revelation contains apocalyptic visions of God’s final triumph over evil and the glorious culmination of all things in Christ.

Though featuring fantastical imagery of beasts, angels, and plagues, the book issues a clear call to faithfulness for Christ’s persecuted church (overview at BibleStudyTools.com). Ultimately, Revelation assures believers of their indestructible hope in Jesus.

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha refers to a collection of books written in the time between the Old and New Testaments. These books are considered canonical by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but are viewed as non-canonical by Protestants.

The Apocryphal books include additions to the books of Esther and Daniel as well as books such as Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. In total there are 15 Apocryphal books that are considered part of the Bible by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

History of the Apocrypha

The Apocryphal books were included in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) around 200-150 BC but were not included in the Hebrew Bible. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the late 4th century AD, he questioned the canonicity of the Apocrypha and placed the books in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments.

This set the stage for debate about these books. At the Council of Trent in 1546, the Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha to be part of the canon. Protestants, however, rejected the Apocrypha as they believed the Bible was closed with the prophetic voice ending after the time of Ezra around 400 BC.

Key Differences in the Apocrypha

There are some key differences between the Apocryphal books and the rest of the Bible that caused Protestants to reject them as scripture:

  • The Apocrypha was never part of the Hebrew Bible and there are no Hebrew manuscripts of the Apocrypha – the books were all written in Greek.
  • None of the apocryphal writers claim divine inspiration and some contain known historical inaccuracies.
  • Many of the apocryphal books promote doctrines like prayer for the dead which evangelical Protestants reject.

So while Catholics and Orthodox accept the Apocrypha as carrying the same authority as the rest of scripture, Protestants view these books as helpful historical writings that were not on par with God’s inspired word.

Key Apocryphal Books

Some of the key Apocryphal books include:

  • 1 and 2 Maccabees – Gives the story of the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes and the cleansing of the temple.
  • Tobit – A fascinating short story about Tobias and the angel Raphael.
  • Judith – Tells the story of a daring and beautiful widow who uses trickery to defeat an invading general named Holofernes.
  • Wisdom of Solomon – Expresses Solomonic wisdom and is a beautiful piece of religious poetry.
  • Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) – Similar to Proverbs, this book contains many wise sayings and observations.

While Protestants do not accept these books as scripture, many find them valuable for gaining insight into Jewish thinking and history in the intertestamental period.

Principles of Organization


The Bible is organized chronologically in several ways. The Old Testament books are generally arranged in the order the events occurred. Genesis starts with the creation story, and the books proceed through the early history of the Israelite people.

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles provide a narrative history of Israel’s monarchy. The Major and Minor Prophets are also roughly chronological.

The New Testament Gospels begin with Jesus’s birth and ministry before proceeding to his crucifixion and resurrection. The book of Acts records the early history of the church after Jesus’s ascension. The Epistles or letters are not strictly chronological, but many of Paul’s letters can be sequenced based on the events described in Acts.

Literary Genres

The Bible contains different literary genres that also shaped its organization. The first five books of the Old Testament are considered the Law (Torah in Hebrew) and contain the legal foundations of the Israelite religion.

Major genres in the Old Testament include history, prophecy, poetry, and wisdom literature.

The New Testament features the four Gospel biographies of Jesus, the narrative history of Acts, the instructive letters, and apocalyptic prophecy in Revelation. This variety of literary styles contributes to the richness and complexity of the biblical texts.


Authorship is another principle that structured the order of the biblical books. The five books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) are grouped together. The books of history and prophecy bearing Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel’s names are grouped under their assumed authorship.

In the New Testament, the four Gospels are grouped together, followed by Acts, written by Luke. Next come the letters of Paul, grouped by length from longest to shortest. The other New Testament letters are grouped based on assumed authorship (Peter, John, James, Jude) or recipients.

While scholars debate the authorship of some biblical books, the organizing structure indicates how these texts were compiled and handed down through history. The principles of chronology, literary genre, and authorship all shaped the Bible into the form we know today.


The Bible is an intricate collection of books written by diverse authors in different contexts over 15 centuries. Getting a handle on its organization into the Old Testament and New Testament, and the various genres within those divisions, is crucial for understanding Scripture.

While the Apocrypha is considered authoritative by some traditions, most Protestant Christians accept only the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as canonical. By studying the Bible’s structure and organization, readers can better grasp the messages within this sacred text.

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