Overview of the Bible – Step #5

The Literary Divisions of the Bible


Welcome to Step #5 in your Overview of the Bible Course.

Thus far you should have mastered the following steps:

  1. Step #1 — You learned that the Bible tells one continuous and unified narrative.
  2. Step #2 — You memorized the “central message” of the Bible and are able to explain the different terms and phrases.
  3. Step #3 — You memorized the chapter headings of the Bible story
  4. Step #4 – You memorized the Bible story and are able to recount it to someone else.

Your next task is to organize the books of the Bible into their major literary categories.

By literary categories we mean that the Bible consists of different types of literature: law, history, prophecy, etc.

Each book of the Bible can be placed into one of these categories, further reducing the confusion around so many books.

The Old and New Testaments

The first major division in the Bible is between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are a total of 66 books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.

If you had to quickly summarize each testament it would go something like this:

The Old Testament — is primarily about the nation of Israel, God’s covenant community, and the way in which God interacted with them throughout their history. The first 9 chapters of the Bible story take place in the Old Testament.

The New Testament — is primarily about Jesus Christ, the Christian church and the way in which the gospel of Jesus Christ was practically lived out within various faith communities. The last three chapters of the Bible story take place in the New Testament.

Categorizing the Books of the Old Testament

The books of the Old Testament can be divided into four literary categories using the following numerical code:

5/12 5 5/12

As you can see, this pattern corresponds to the number and order of books in a specific category of literature within the Old Testament.

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These four basic categories are:

  • 5 Books – Law — Genesis to Deuteronomy
  • 12 books – History — Joshua to Nehemiah
  • 5 books – Poetry/Wisdom — Job to Song of Solomon
  • 17 books – Prophecy — Split between major and minor prophets

Categorizing the books of the Old Testament in this way is a huge help in reducing some of the confusion that surrounds the Bible.

Make sure that you memorize the numerical code and the types of literature that corresponds to each number.

Categorizing the Books of the New Testament

Compared to the Old Testament, categorizing the books of the New Testament will appear simpler in some ways.

This is because there are fewer books overall, but also because our knowledge of the New Testament tends to be much greater than the Old Testament.

In terms of categorizing the books of the New Testament, there is no simple secret formula to guide us so you’ll just have to remember the order and number of the books in this way:


Again, as part of this overview of the Bible course, it is important that you fix each of these categories in your mind, as well as the number of books in each category.

The 4 Gospels, 1 History (Acts) and 1 Apocalyptic (Revelation) are fairly easy to remember.

The majority of the New Testament is composed of epistles (21 books).

Here it is helpful to distinguish between Paul’s epistles (13 books) and General epistles (8 books).

Furthermore, it is also helpful to divide Paul’s epistles to the churches (9) from those to individuals (4).