The books in your bible.

The bible’s an anthology, a collection of books and letters about God. (We tend to call ’em “books” either way.) There are two major divisions: The Old Testament, and the New Testament.

The Old Testament is the book collection assembled by the ancient Hebrews. For the most part they were written in two variants of ancient Hebrew: Early Biblical Hebrew, which is what the “books of Moses” and the Deuteronomistic history and the Prophets was written in; and Late Biblical Hebrew, which much of the rest was written in. Late Biblical Hebrew has some heavy influences from Aramaic, the language which had replaced Hebrew by 500BC, which was around the time the last of the OT was written.

The apocrypha isn’t actually one of those major divisions. They’re the books which were added to the OT when it was translated into Greek in the 400s BC. These Greek bibles, which get called the Septuagint, were considered the bible by the early Christians, so the additional books were part of their Old Testament till the 1400s. Still are, in Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches.

And the New Testament is the collection put together by the ancient Christians. They’re written in Koine ki'ni, commonly 'kɔɪ.neɪ, a first-century form of “common” Greek spoken outside Greece.

Christians should know the books of our bible. Partly so we don’t get confused when people bring ’em up; partly so we can find them in a print bible (or “analog bible,” as I like to call ’em). Unfortunately the book order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. The Old Testament was bunched in order of when they were written, and still is in Jewish bibles, but the Septuagint re-sorted them into genres (law, history, poetry, prophets) and that’s the order Christians still follow. The New Testament is likewise sorted into genres (gospels; apostles, sorted by book length; apocalypse). So you’re just gonna have to memorize the order. Sorry.

GENREBOOKS
Law Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
History Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
Poetry Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs
Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts
Apostles Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude
Apocalypse Revelation

Note: German bibles put Hebrews and James after 3 John.

Bible tabs.

Until you get the book order memorized (and even afterwards) it’s really good idea to get a bible with tabs. You know, like one of those big ol’ unabridged school dictionaries. This way you can flip directly to any book… and find a passage faster than those people who are still trying to type “Deuteronomy” with their thumbs.

If you already have a print bible with no tabs, big deal: Go to any office supply store and buy tabs. Tack ’em onto your bible. Just make sure you reinforce those pages as much as you can: Bibles are printed on very thin paper, which tears easily. (They have to be. You’re carrying around a thousand-page library! If you printed a bible on regular paper, you’d have to carry volumes—and old bibles frequently were printed in volumes.) You can also buy pre-printed bible tabs, which cost a bit more, and range from elegant to tasteless, but hey, it’s up to you.

Some Christians object to tabs: They think tabs make every bible look tasteless. Less like a regal volume of God’s inspired words, and more like a workbook. Well, get over it: Bibles are workbooks. Fancy bibles are for hypocritically showing off, not study, and we need to study the thing. Otherwise the words in it are as dead as the calf whose skin it’s bound in.

Other book orders? Gotcha.

Messianic Jews tend to use Christian bibles, but every so often they get an edition of the bible which uses the original Hebrew book order. As I said, it’s the order in which they were written. And the bigger books aren’t split into two parts.

GENREBOOKS
LawGenesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
ProphetsJoshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
WritingsPsalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

For TXAB’s Orthodox and Roman Catholic readers, who occasionally ask me to please include their extra books, I got you covered. Here’s the Old Testament plus.

GENREBOOKS
LawGenesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
HistoryJoshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 3 Kings, 4 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees
PoetryJob, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Sirach
ProphetsIsaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

In Protestant bibles which tuck apocrypha into a separate section, the additional chapters of Esther and Daniel are called Additions to Esther, the Azariah (or Song of Three Holy Children), Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.

And just when you thought you were done: Different Orthodox churches have even more books. There’s the Prayer of Manasseh, the 151st psalm, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees. The Ethiopian church dismisses 1–2 Maccabees but includes Enoch, Jubilees, 1 Meqabyan, 2 Meqabyan, 3 Meqabyan, and a bonus chapter of Baruch—plus a “broader canon” concept which considers certain books to be important like scripture, but not necessarily scripture.

I know: Certain paranoid Christians read about extra books of the bible and freak out, and think they’re devilish tricks meant to corrupt the scriptures. I should point out some of these very same Christians treat the notes in their favorite study bibles as if they’re inspired, extra additions to the bible. I’d be far more concerned about Christian romance novels or those godawful Left Behind novels than apocrypha.

More likely what you’ll find about apocrypha is they’re uplifting. They’re about God of course, and Christians kept ’em around for centuries for good reason. Martin Luther called them good and profitable to read. And indeed they are.

Lastly: Sword drills!

This is something you’ll find in a lot of children’s church services: A little something the teachers call a “sword drill.” No, it’s not done with actual swords. It’s called that because the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, Ep 6.17 and it sounds badass. But basically it’s a race to see who can look up a verse the quickest with a print bible. One without tabs.

You’d think anybody with a bible app would have these kids beat. You’d be totally wrong. I can still look up verses faster in a print bible than you can on your phone. I was well trained. Most kids who grew up in church were.

Yeah it’s a kid activity. So what? Do it with your kids. Race ’em. Or volunteer in your children’s church, and race those kids. Don’t worry about them beating you to the passage; kids love defeating adults. You’ll boost their self-esteem, and meanwhile you get better at it. Helping them helps you.

Biblical literacy.