The Whole Counsel
Introductions to the Books of the Bible
Introduction to the Holy Scriptures
Several years ago, while celebrating a holiday at a friend’s house, I recall having a conversation with him about creeds, confessions, and catechisms. My friend had once claimed to be Calvinistic, but he no longer affirmed many of the tenets of historic Reformed theology. He told me that he used to use the confessions and catechisms in training his kids in the faith. However, he said he was no longer convinced of their benefit and now only uses the Bible.
I have often stopped to think about the assertions embedded in that argument. First, it assumes the confession and catechism are not designed to teach the Bible, or at least to summarize the core, essential teachings of the Bible. Second, it assumes one cannot both teach the confessions and catechisms and teach the Bible. Having spent a great deal of time studying The Baptist Catechism, and having come to a logical stopping point, I have decided to take the opportunity to teach a series of general introductions for each of the books of the Bible.
“Q.3: How may we know there is a God?
A. The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners” (William Collins, The Baptist Catechism of 1693).
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (The Second London Baptist Confession, 1.1).
The starting point for all true Christians in confessing our faith is the Holy Scripture. It is the central point of all Christian believe and all Christian action. It is central to all we believe and do precisely because it is the very revelation of God to us. In the Bible, we learn “what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man,” (The Baptist Catechism, Q.6). The primary way that God’s people demonstrate the centrality of the Holy Scriptures is by making them central to our corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, especially through the preaching of the word.
Our usual approach to Scripture from the pulpit is to examine it book-by-book and verse-by-verse. As we examine each event, doctrine, or precept, as it arises in the text, we incrementally receive “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27; NKJV). This reception of God’s whole counsel is incremental in that it cannot happen in one sitting. As we regularly attend to God’s worship on the Lord’s Day, we receive more and more of His word and, through the accumulation over time of all of the minor details, we develop a much larger picture of what we ought to believe and what duty God requires of us.
This new series is meant to take us out of the weeds, lift us high up into the air, and give us a bird’s eye-view of the Bible. Over the next few years, as we go back and forth between our study of The Baptist Catechism and this study, I hope to help the church have a more succinct understanding of the general structure of the Bible as a whole. As we learn from The Baptist Catechism what is principally taught in Scripture, we will be learning in this study where to find those teachings, as well as important people and events, in Scripture.
The Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Scriptures
The Hebrew Scriptures are what we commonly call the Old Testament, and the Greek Scriptures are what we commonly call the New Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures account for us the general creation and fall of man as well as the choosing and the failure of Israel. Both of these major themes are also used to point us to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would redeem God’s chosen people from our sins. We understand God’s accomplishment of redemption in history through the several covenants He made with His people.
The Greek Scriptures provide us with the account of Christ’s work of redemption and its application to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Where Adam fell, Christ rose. Where Israel failed, Christ succeeded. We understand Christ’s accomplishment and the Spirit’s application of of redemption through the New Covenant in His blood. The fullness of the revelation of the great mystery of the New Covenant is proclaimed to us in the Greek Scriptures.
The Books of the Holy Scriptures
There are sixty-six books in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures: thirty-nine books in the Hebrew Scriptures and twenty-seven in the Greek Scriptures. According to The Baptist Confession:
“Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation
All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life” (1.2).
For the benefit of our study, there are a few ways theologians and Bible scholars have decided to subcategorize the 66 books of the Bible. The first of these subcategories we’ve already mentioned: the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament), and the Greek Scriptures (or the New Testament). Within the Hebrew Scriptures, there are four more subcategories:
The Pentateuch (The Torah; The Law)
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
The Writings (Poetry; Wisdom)
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Solomon
The Major Prophets
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel
The Minor Prophets
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
Within the Greek Scriptures, there are three more subcategories:
The Gospels and Acts
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts
The Pauline Epistles
Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
The General Epistles
Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude
The Characteristics of the Holy Scriptures
God does not use a cookie-cutter approach to writing the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are not cookies; they are God-breathed revelation from the Most High. The Bible was written by “Holy men who were taught by the Holy Spirit,” (A Catechism for Boys and Girls, Q.15). Like a teacher might use several different pens for several different purposes when grading papers, God used the Bible’s human authors’ personalities, occupations, cultures, life experiences, and education to pen every word He foreordained should be penned.
These several books were written over the span of several centuries. They were written by authors of various ethnicities, occupations, original languages, cultures, income levels, personalities, etc. The Bible is also comprised of several genres of literature: history, poetry / wisdom literature, prophecy, didactic literature, and apocalyptic literature. As such, understanding the Bible more fully and accurately requires that we understand the author, the historical context, the occasion of the writing, the audience, and the purpose of the book.
Furthermore, we need to know things like the primary and supporting arguments that are made and the connection of events recorded to the major themes of the Bible in general and the central argument(s) of the book in specific. For teachers and preachers of the word, it is also important to understand the original languages for the purpose of understanding the common usage of specific words, how grammatical structures help us understand the focal point of certain arguments, and how to structure sermons according to the grammatical structure of the text.
In the weeks to come, narrow our focus to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Pentateuch, and eventually the specific books of the Pentateuch, we will have a more firm grasp of some of these themes. The goal of this study will be to help us have a better overall understanding of the Holy Scriptures, “the whole counsel of God.” We will understand not only the things we ought to believe concerning God and what duties He requires of us from The Baptist Catechism. We will also understand better the word of God in which we find these truths.