Let us take the centuries before Christ, and arrange them in groups of five, putting our dividing lines at 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000 BC. Those dates will do, sufficiently accurate for our present purpose, to mark out for us the divisions of Bible history, and with each of them we can associate a name, thus:
2000 BC – Abraham
1500 BC – Moses
1000 BC – David
500 BC – Ezra
The first three of these will be well known, and if the fourth is less familiar, it is easily remembered. The junction of BC and AD is remembered, of course, by the One whose very existence separates for us between ‘before Christ’ and ‘the year of our Lord’, and we are interested only in another century after His birth for the completion of the Bible story.
The bulk of the Bible’s history, then, occurs before Christ. We have not assigned even an approximate date to the events before Abraham, and we shall not, for they occupy only 11 chapters of the first book of the Bible; and although their actual contents are of critical importance, their dates are not.
It is not surprising then, to find that the Old Testament which deals with this ‘BC’ history, is much longer than the New, which covers scarcely a century of the ‘AD’ period. It is actually over three times as long.
The Old Testament
The Books of Moses:Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
God created the world,and the man whom He made became a sinner. The whole world eventually became so wicked that God determined to destroy it by a great flood, saving only the family of Noah from destruction. The world was then re-peopled by Noah’s descendants, who were scattered abroad by the confusion of their language at Babel. From them was chosen one man, Abraham, who left his native city and wandered to Canaan (Palestine). There he died and was buried, and his son Isaac also. Isaac’s son, Jacob, was the patriarch of the nation of Israel, and Genesis closes with the young nation, seventy odd souls strong, going down to live in Egypt in a time of famine.
Exodus opens with the nation, grown large now, suffering great persecution at the hands of the Egyptians, but the hand of God is seen at work through Moses, who takes the nation out from Egypt to the Wilderness of Sinai. In the remainder of the book, and the following one – Leviticus – they are given the Law of Moses from God’s hand, and – Numbers – instructions for building of a seat of national worship, the Tabernacle.
After many wanderings, due largely to their own perversity, they arrive at the borders of their Promised Land, and – Deuteronomy – Moses, after reviewing their history and God’s dealings with them, dies, leaving them in the charge of their new leader, Joshua.
The people are led into Palestine by Joshua, and settle in their land. During a long troubled period they are ruled by Judges, the last of whom is Samuel.
At this point the people ask for a hereditary Kingdom, and their first king, Saul is appointed. After his death, the Kingdom passes to David, whose line rules until the Kingdom comes to an end.
After the death of his son, Solomon, the Kingdom is divided into two parts, of which the southern only is ruled over by the house of David. Both parts are ultimately taken into captivity. About fifty years after the last king has been dethroned, an opportunity is given for the people to go back, in which enterprise they are led by Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. Those who remain in exile have a narrow escape from extermination, but are delivered.
Poetical and Prophetical:Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
The remaining books (Poetical and Prophetical) are almost all to be found within the period covered by the Historical books. Of the Poetical books, Job deals with a very early event which is perhaps not much more recent than Abraham, but the Psalms are largely from the time of David, while the rest of the Poetical books bear the name of David’s son Solomon. Of the Prophetical books, most were written during the period of the kings, particularly towards the end of the period, but some (Ezekiel, Daniel, and the last chapters of Jeremiah) concern the time of the exile, and the three (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) were addressed to the people who came back into Palestine in the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra.
The New Testament
Some four hundred years elapse between the events of the Book of Nehemiah and those of the New Testament. During that time, the Jews who have returned ride through many troubles at the hands of the Greek kingdoms left behind by the disintegration of the Empire of Alexander the Great, gain a brief independence, and are ultimately found under the rule of an Idumean king, Herod the Great, whose power derived from Rome.
The Four Gospels:Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
These tell the story of the earthly life and work of Jesus. His birth of the virgin Mary is recorded in Matthew and Luke, and with but little of his childhood recorded in Luke only, and a discussion of His relation to the eternal purpose of God in John, all three join forces with Mark to record His adult preaching, miracles and journeyings during the three years of his ministry.
Although the events of the Crucifixion and Resurrection occupy only a few days, with some weeks appearances after the latter, the space allotted to them in the Gospels is out of all proportion to the time they filled. The records close with the risen Lord.
The beginning of Christianity:Acts
The book of Acts takes up the story with the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and going on to describe the preaching of the Apostles, more particularly of Peter and Paul.
These are set in the historical framework provided by the Acts, or, in the case of Timothy and Titus, somewhat after that book has closed. They are letters written to the churches (or to their leaders), containing guidance in their personal and organizational problems, and profound statements of Christian truth. The ‘church epistles’ written by Paul are to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Thessalonians; and there are in addition the personal letter to Philemon and the general epistle to the Hebrews. The ascription of the last to Paul is disputed, but that problem need not concern us here.
The other epistles bear the names of those who wrote them, not of those to whom they were written, and consist of one by James, two by Peter, three by John, and one by Jude.
The New Testament and the Bible close with the book of Revelation, in which Jesus reveals to the exiled apostle John the further progress of world events, leading up to the final triumph of the purpose of God over evil, and the establishment in the world of His glory. The information is conveyed in a series of symbolic events.
Excerpt from Understanding the Bible by A.D. Norris
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