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.

Mark 3:35"For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."
Acts 21:14 "And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, 'The will of the Lord be done!'”
Rom. 1:9, 10
"...How unceasingly I make mention of you in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last, by the will of God, I may succeed in coming to you."
Rom. 8:27 and aHe who searches the hearts knows what bthe mind of the Spirit is, because He cintercedes for the 1saints according to the will of God.
Rom. 12:2And do not abe conformed to bthis 1world, but be transformed by the crenewing of your mind, so that you may 2dprove what the will of God is, that which is good and 3acceptable and perfect.
Rom. 15:32 so that aI may come to you in joy by bthe will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.
1Cor. 1:1    Paul, acalled as an apostle of Jesus Christ 1by bthe will of God, and cSosthenes our dbrother,
2Cor. 1:1    Paul, aan apostle of bChrist Jesus cby the will of God, and dTimothy our brother,

To ethe church of God which is at fCorinth with all the 1saints who are throughout gAchaia:
2Cor. 7:9
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything 1through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a arepentance 1without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
2Cor. 8:5 and this, not as we had 1expected, but they first agave themselves to the Lord and to us by bthe will of God.
Eph. 1:1    Paul, aan apostle of bChrist Jesus 1cby the will of God, To the 2dsaints who are 3at eEphesus and fwho are faithful in bChrist Jesus:
1Th. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you aabstain from 1sexual immorality;
1Th. 5:18 in everything agive thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
2Tim. 1:1    Paul, aan apostle of bChrist Jesus 1cby the will of God, according to the promise of dlife in Christ Jesus,
Heb. 10:36For you have need of aendurance, so that when you have bdone the will of God, you may creceive 1what was promised.
Eph. 5:17 So then do not be foolish, but aunderstand what the will of the Lord is.

Eph. 6:6 anot 1by way of eyeservice, as bmen-pleasers, but as cslaves of Christ, ddoing the will of God from the 2heart.

Col. 1:1    aPaul, ban apostle of Jesus Christ 1cby the will of God, and dTimothy 2our brother,

Col. 4:12 aEpaphras, bwho is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always claboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may 1stand 2dperfect and 3fully assured in all the will of God.

1Pet. 2:15 For 1asuch is the will of God that by doing right you may bsilence the ignorance of foolish men.
1Pet. 4:2 aso as to live bthe rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the cwill of God.
1Pet. 4:6 For athe gospel has for this purpose been 1preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
1Pet. 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to athe will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
1Pet. 5:2 shepherd athe flock of God among you, exercising oversight bnot under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and cnot for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
1 John 2:17 aThe world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who bdoes the will of God lives forever.

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).