The Expository Files

Handling Accurately the Word of Truth

Sometimes people unfamiliar with the Bible and how it came to be are confused when they pick it up and begin to read. In many ways it is like any other book. It uses words and sentences to convey thought. But in other ways, it is quite different.

Its information is not in alphabetical order so you cannot use it like a dictionary, looking under, say, "R" if you want to study "repentance." It's information is not strictly chronological so you cannot use it like a history book. Some portions of it are written chronologically; the book of Genesis and the book of Acts, for examples, but the Bible as a whole is not written chronologically. The epistles are not in the order in which they were written. Neither is the Bible written like a text book where the simplest facts come first and proceed to become increasingly difficult as you read deeper into the book. There is a mixture of simple and complex ideas throughout Bible.

The Bible tells us to be "diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15). The Bible is a tool to understanding God's will for us. We need to be sure we are using the tool correctly. Just as a carpenter should know which end of the hammer to hold and which end to hit the nail with, we need to be familiar with the Bible in order to use it correctly.

But if the Bible is not in any particular order, then how does one find what he needs to find? Well, first, it is in an order; just not in alphabetical, chronological or simple to complex order. The Bible books are ordered according to type.

The main division is Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, the first five books, sometimes called the Pentateuch, are the books of the Law, or the books of Moses. The following twelve books, from Joshua through Esther, are the books of history. Following these, we have five books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Finally, there the prophets. These can be further divided into the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the twelve minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

The New Testament books are divided into history, the epistles and prophecy. The history part consists of five books. The first four are biographical histories of the life of Christ and sometimes referred to as the gospels. The final historical book, called the Acts of the Apostles, traces the early history of the church. The epistles consist first of Paul's writings. Many fail to note that there is an order to these epistles even though they are not chronologically or alphabetically arranged. First, there are Paul's letters to churches (Romans through Thessalonians). After these, Paul's letters to individuals (Timothy, Titus, Philemon). After Paul's epistles come the epistle to the Hebrews, which some also think Paul wrote, but unlike the others it does not bear his name in the text. Then come the minor epistles (James. Peter, John and Jude). And finally, the book of prophecy; the book of Revelation.

It should be noted that while God inspired the writing of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16,17) that the order by which they are arranged was determined by man. Originally, these were 66 different writings which came to be bound under one cover only after book bindings with pages was introduced and replaced the scroll. Although these writings have always been Scripture, the convenience of having them all so easy to access in one volume to expedite our study is a blessing unknown to those who lived during Biblical times.

One can gain valuable general knowledge of the Bible by reading it "cover to cover" but that is not a good way to study a particular topic. That would be like looking up the word "Mechanic" in a dictionary by starting with the "A's" and reading definitions until you came to the word "mechanic." Better to make the use of study aids such as concordances, Bible dictionaries, and/or topical indexes to quickly locate all the information on a given subject throughout the Bible. These are alphabetically arranged and really speed up information gathering from the Bible.

It is important not only to handle the word of truth, but to handle it accurately.


By Jon W. Quinn
The Final Page
From Expository Files 7.7; July 2000