Bible Study


The Bible is composed of two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is similar (but not identical) to the Jewish Torah, and essentially describes the basic tenets of the Jewish faith and mythology. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus (several times, from several viewpoints) and then moves on to discuss Paul's interpretation of Jesus' life and recommendations for how all people should live. It finishes with a bizarre series of predictions about the end of the world.

Each "testament" is further subdivided into individual "books". This article is intended to briefly describe and summarize the various books of the Old and New Testament, for those who have not read them.

Old Testament | New Testament

Old Testament

Theologists divide the Old Testament into 4 major sections:

  1. Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). These are the five books which were supposedly written by Moses, thus implying that their entire contents rest on Moses' authority as an emissary of God. Basically, this section dictates Jewish religious law against the backdrop of creation myth and Egyptian exodus myth. Note that current archaeological research (not to mention a lack of factual corroboration from Egyptian records) strongly suggests that they lived in that land since well before the time of Moses, and that the exodus never took place.
  2. Historical (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther). Basically, this section is just Israeli war propaganda about their gloriously brutal conquest of the Promised Land and subsequent tribulations as they kept disobeying God and God kept punishing them by having neighbouring armies overrun them.
  3. Poetic (Jobs, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). These books are supposed to contain Biblical poetry and symbolism (an amusing distinction in light of the fact that the entire Pentateuch is obviously symbolic as well, but I digress).
  4. Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zecharia, Malachi). This is the part of the Old Testament where they prophesy the fall of Israel, the subsequent exile of the Jews, the coming of the Messiah, and Israel's eventual triumph over its enemies. The books of the prophets seem to be designed to uplift the spirits of the Jews and promise good things for them in future if they continue to observe the faith (and give generously to the church).

Generally speaking, Biblical stories are a bit like Aesop's Fables; they appear to be designed as allegory, in order to teach children certain values and beliefs (although it should be noted that fundamentalists regard them as absolutely, literally factual stories instead of allegory; this is the chief point of distinction between fundamentalists and Christian moderates). Like Aesop's Fables, they feature obviously made-for-children absurdities such as talking animals, and many of the books are supposedly authored by people who could not have possibly written them (for example, Moses supposedly wrote Deuteronomy, which describes his own death and burial in chapter 34, verse 5!)

In any case, each book of the Old Testament seems designed to convey a message of sorts. Brief summaries follow:

Section Book Description and Summary
Pentateuch Genesis Primeval backstory. This book describes all of the ancient events necessary to set up the rest of the Bible, including the Creation, Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, Abraham, and enslavement in Egypt.

Message of the book: "God is very powerful, so do whatever he says or he'll kill you". Actually, that's the message of the entire Old Testament, but I digress.
Exodus Osama Bin Laden Moses uses terrorism to win his peoples' freedom. We also hear the Ten Commandments, just before Moses massacres 3000 of his own people for worshipping a golden calf. Most movies about the Old Testament are set exclusively in the Book of Exodus (although they always skip the part about Moses killing 3000 of his own) because this is the only book where God helps the Israelites against a powerful nation, rather than helping them ruthlessly butcher small villages and fiefdoms for their land (or "punishing" them for disobedience).

Message of this book: "God fights for the Israelites (as long as they obey him)". Secondary message: "terrorism is OK as long as we're not on the receiving end."
Leviticus Endless recitations and repetitions of bizarre, often hateful rules (not to mention chapter after chapter of animal-sacrifice instructions). The book of Leviticus is essentially a founding legal document, the Israelites' equivalent to a modern national Constitution.

Message of this book: "Memorize and follow these hundreds of rules or God will kill you".
Numbers The Jews make a false idol again, and get punished again. Then they start their 40-year trek through the desert. They complain, so God kills a lot of them in order to shut them up. They also run into interesting people on their journeys, so of course, they kill them.

Message of this book: "It's OK for Israelites to kill non-Israelites for being in their way." Secondary message: "You'd better not complain about your lot in life or God will kill you."
Deuteronomy Continuation of Numbers, with the same basic themes (follow God, don't complain, take land by killing everybody in it). It also lists some more rules and laws (think of Deuteronomy as a combination of Numbers and Leviticus).

Message of this book: "What is best in life? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women. You'd better agree, or God will kill you. And you'd better not complain ... or God will kill you."
Historical Joshua The Israelites finally arrive in the Promised Land (led by Joshua now, since Moses died on the journey), but there's a complication: somebody's already living there. What's the solution? Kill 'em all, of course.

Message of this book: "If you think God promised you some property, it's OK to kill the current owner to take it."
Judges The Israelites try to set up a government on their newly won land. However, they keep disobeying God, so God keeps punishing them by having their neighbours attack and overrun them. We meet Samson in this book, and watch his "heroic" exploits as he kills huge numbers of people while imbued with the power of God. Naturally, he too is eventually punished, because the book of Judges is all about a repetitive cycle of reward and punishment.

Message of this book: "Just because God helped you kill your enemies, don't think he won't turn on you at the first sign of disloyalty."
Ruth This is one of the shortest books in the Bible. It tells the story of Ruth, who tries to attract a man by "lying at his feet", doing chores for him without being asked, and otherwise demonstrating her subservience until he decides to "purchase" her and make her his wife. Her grandson will be King David.

Message of this book (for women): "Learn to be subservient."
Message of this book (for men): "Good women are subservient."
1 Samuel Samuel carries the Israelite government from the Judges to King Saul. The Israelites fight with the Philistines. We meet David and Goliath in this book.

Message of this book: "You can win wars if God is on your side."
2 Samuel Continuation of 1 Samuel. David is now king. Life is good, except for the occasional angry-God tantrum. King David rapes Bath-Sheba and has her husband killed in this book, but he apologizes afterwards so it's OK (not like the poor SOB who was caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath day; no mercy for him).

Message of this book: "King David is a wonderful guy."
1 Kings David's son Solomon is now king, and he's supposedly a wonderful guy too.

After his death, Israel is divided up into 12 tribes, each with its own king. The general pattern is that each lesser king is killed by a successor after failing to worship God, and then the successor is killed in turn after (you guessed it) failing to worship God.

Message of this book: "King Solomon is a great guy, but all of those guys after him were no-good disloyal infidels who deserved and received horrible deaths."
2 Kings Israel's fractured tribes keep displeasing God, so they end up being conquered, their leaders driven into exile.

Message of this book: "When the king pisses off God, the peasants must suffer."
1 Chronicles This book is incredibly dull (to give you an idea of just how dull, it starts with 9 full chapters listing family trees!). It goes on to recount the previous books, as if you needed to hear it all again. For these reasons, it has been called "the most boring book in all of literature".

Message of this book: none (it's just lists and repetition).
2 Chronicles See above.
Ezra More boring lists, followed by the story of Ezra and his hatred for interracial marriage after most of the Jews were allowed to return to Israel.

Message of this book: "Jews should only marry Jews, or God (and their mothers) will be really upset".
Nehemiah More boring lists, followed by the story of Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem's walls and echoing Ezra's rant against "marrying strange wives".

Message of this book: "It is really important for Jews to only marry Jews, hence the need to discuss this in two consecutive books. So pay attention!"
Esther Queen Vashti is cast out because she won't dance naked for the amusement of the King and his guests. She is replaced by Esther, who knows how to be obedient. This book is a virtual ode to misogyny

Message of this book: "God loves subservient women".
Poetic Job Satan bets God that Job will no longer worship him if he makes his life miserable. God says "you're on!" and kills off Job's wife, children, and workers in order to win the bet. When Job seems to waver, God shows up and berates him for being a wuss. When he hangs on and God wins the bet, Job gets a new wife, new kids, new workers, and lots of money.

Message of this book: "Always praise God even if your life has gone to shit."
Psalms Fear God, love God, worship God, etc. The Book of Psalms is a book of "devotionals", in which the Israelites basically sing the praises of God over and over. Naturally, it's a huge book.

Message of this book: "Fear God, love God, worship God, etc."
Proverbs Solomon plays Rush Limbaugh and tells you about his opinions on everything.

Message of this book: "Fear God, love God, worship God, etc ... because King Solomon says so".
Ecclesiastes Biblical-era poetry. Some of it is very nice. Interestingly enough, it has been noted that death is described as final in Ecclesiastes (3:9, 9:5, 9:10), ie- there is no afterlife.

Message of this book: "Fear God, love God, worship God, etc."
Song of Solomon The last in a 5-book series of devotionals, parables, prayers, songs, poems, etc. This one seems to be a love song of some sort. Obviously, the people who selected material for inclusion in the Bible were big fans of Solomon's poetry.

Message of this book: "Even the Bible can pander to celebrities".
Major Prophets Isaiah Isaiah prophesies that Israel's failure to please God will lead to terrible suffering, defeat by Babylon, etc. Then, he predicts that Israel will rediscover its faith in God, at which point God will strike down its enemies, raise Israel to be a light unto other nations, yadda yadda yadda.

Message of this book: "The South Israel will rise again!"
Jeremiah The King of Babylon has come to enslave Israel.

Message of this book: "Israel brought its fate down upon itself. Submit peacefully or it will be rough."
Lamentations Woe is us. The King of Babylon kicked our butts.

Message of this book: "You didn't listen to me before, and now you're paying the price, stupid bastards."
Ezekiel The Jews are in captivity in Babylon. But they will unite and eventually return to power by believing in God. Then, he will send the Messiah to lead the world's people to Paradise (after ruthlessly butchering all of the unbelievers, of course).

Message of this book: "The South Israel will rise again!"
Daniel Babylon will eventually fall to Persia, but someday Israel will rise again, the Messiah will come, there will be a terrible Judgement Day, Israel's enemies will be ruthlessly butchered, etc. Basically, this book is a two-parter: part 1 describes Persian ascendance and part 2 describes Judgement Day, the Messiah, etc. This book can be thought of as a precursor to the Book of Revelations in the New Testament,which contains many of the same themes (albeit with more detail).

Message of this book: "The South Israel will rise again!"

Note: the Book of Daniel was supposedly written 6th century BC and miraculously prophesies the Persian conquest, but modern scholars generally place it around 2nd century BC (after the conquest), citing the use of Greek and Persian words which would not have been used earlier, not to mention the obvious contrast between the vague prophesies of events to come and the very specific "prophesies" of Persian conquest (not that this keeps fundamentalists from using it as "proof" of supernatural precognition, of course).
Minor Prophets Hosea Israel has sinned, and a terrible fate awaits it at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylon, etc.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."

Note: in case you're wondering, the books of minor prophets are not arranged in any sort of chronological order, and seem to be included almost as a grab-bag of miscellaneous addenda. The Bible could really use some editing to clean up the repetition, fix the chronological ordering, and resolve some of its internal inconsistencies. Many of these books take place many centuries before Daniel was supposedly written.
Joel God will send plagues and other tragedies to strike Israel, but if Israel praises God and repent her sins, then God will relent and bring paradise to Israel, and then (take a guess) ruthlessly exterminate its enemies.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."
Amos Israel has sinned, and a terrible fate awaits it at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylon, etc. (yes, I know, it's becoming very repetitive ... and you wonder why almost nobody ever reads the entire Old Testament).

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."
Obadiah Edom, which is warring with Israel, will someday pay the price.

Message of this book: "Those Edomites really piss me off, and God is gonna make them pay."
Jonah This is the guy who was supposedly swallowed by a whale after being thrown overboard as a sacrifice to God, only to survive after living in its belly for three days and then being "vomited out" onto dry land because he begged forgiveness while he was in there (yes, that story is no joke; it really is in the Bible, and the fundamentalists expect you to take it literally). I have no idea why this is considered a book of prophesy, since it describes a story in past tense.

Message of this book: "If you piss off God he'll kill you, but if you're quick enough to beg forgiveness before the end, you might get a reprieve".
Micah Israel is full of sinners and will pay the price, but will eventually return to glory, convert the nations of the world to worship God, crush its enemies, etc. This is becoming an old story, I know.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."
Nahum Assyria, which has repeatedly invaded and humiliated Israel, will someday pay the price.

Message of this book: "Those Assyrians really piss me off, and God is gonna make them pay."
Habakkuk Israel is full of sinners and will pay the price, but will eventually return to glory, convert the nations of the world to worship God, crush its enemies, etc.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."
Zephaniah Israel is full of sinners and will pay the price, but will eventually return to glory, convert the nations of the world to worship God, crush its enemies, etc. I know the repetition grows tiresome, but we're almost at the end.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."
Haggai Haggai exhorts the people to rebuild the Temple and promises wonderful things if they did so. Like Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker, the Bible promises rewards for giving your money to exorbitant church construction projects.

Message of this book: "Get cracking and build that temple, goddammit!"
Zecharia Israel has displeased God in the past, but God will return to live among the Jews, bring them glory, mercilessly crush their enemies, etc.

Message of this book: "The South Israel will rise again."
Malachi God talks to the people (through an intermediate, of course), asks them to start behaving, and then resorts to the usual threats of horrendous suffering if they don't shape up. As usual, there are promises that the faithful few will be rewarded.

Message of this book: "You're all sinners, and you're all going to pay, but eventually, the South Israel will rise again."

And there you have it: the Old Testament. Quite frankly, irrespective of any religious concerns, it is a very poorly organized and arranged collection of articles, thrown together as a mishmash with little or no regard for consistency or literary quality. It is not surprising, therefore, that the vast majority of Christians have never actually read it. It is simply a terrible reading experience, and while most can make it through Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus usually puts people off any further reading. Those who survive the Pentateuch to read the historical sections rarely make it all the way through, and people who are familiar with, say, the minor prophets are exceedingly rare.

New Testament

Theologists divide the New Testament into 3 sections:

  1. History (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts; note that the first four are also referred to as "The Gospels"). It is noteworthy that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and all written records of the Gospels around 70 AD, so they had to be reconstructed afterwards. Try to imagine "firsthand accounts" of the Normany landings on D-Day that were written 50 years after the fact, from recollection of the lost writings of a handful of like-minded participants! In any case, these books exist to tell the story of Jesus from the perspective of 4 different apostles (Luke wrote both his own book and the book of Acts). It is a somewhat Rashomon-like exercise in multiple perspectives of a single series of events, although all of the competing authors are kindred spirits so you don't get the benefit of comparing and contrasting opposing viewpoints.
  2. Letters (aka Epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude). These are collected writings of Paul, whose teachings are held in such high regard by many Christians (particularly the fundamentalists) that they seem to make little distinction between him and Jesus himself in terms of authority to speak on behalf of God. In fact, a considerable portion of Christian doctrine comes directly from Paul, even though he contrasts himself with Jesus on many issues, particularly on the treatment of women (Paul was openly misogynistic while Jesus never spoke against women in any way, and even defended prostitutes) as well as the importance of worldly acts (most of Jesus' parables involve reward for righteous actions, while Paul regards actions as insignificant compared to "divine grace"; a convenient rationalization for a reformed murderer).
  3. Prophecy (Revelations). This is the part of the New Testament that few read, but which has gained increasing exposure in recent years with the resurgence of fundamentalism. There is a growing and vocal segment of Christianity which takes the Book of Revelations seriously. Like some sort of B-movie supervillain death cult, they are literally attempting to bring about the end of the world by fulfilling its prophecies. They eagerly look forward to "The Rapture", the coming of Christ, the coming of the AntiChrist, the Tribulations (in which billions die), etc., and they've even made best-selling movies about this event, such as the "Left Behind" series of movies and books (or as one person put it, 900 pages of God's devastating vengeance against the heathens followed by the statement "God is love"). The unabashed joy with which they view the prospect of Earth being plunged into an unprecedented orgy of death and destruction is the single most disturbing aspect of Christian fundamentalism.

Generally speaking, the New Testament tells the story of Jesus 4 times in a row, with each retelling being aimed at a different audience (some of the differences in style, tone, message, and even factual details between the 4 re-tellings are undoubtedly due to this targeting). These books are followed by 22 books of Paul and his associates telling people what he thinks about life, death, God, and pretty much everything else, which are in turn followed by a hallucinatory acid-trip through the Book of Revelations. Brief summaries follow:

Section Book Description and Summary
Historical Matthew Matthew refers to Jesus as King of the Jews. He attempts to show that Jesus is the Messiah and King of the Jews by establishing that he is descended from David and has fulfilled the prophecies. In this version of the story, Jesus cries out "Why have you forsaken me" on the cross (27:46).

This is the most militaristic of the Gospels, where Jesus says that every word of OT Law will apply "till heaven and earth disappear" (5:18, although he contradicts himself by repudiating "an eye for an eye" in 5:38), and that he comes "not to bring peace, but a sword" (10:34). He also denigrates pagans (equating them to tax collectors in 18:17) and he even curses whole cities (11:21), ranting that they will suffer a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgement Day (interestingly enough, they no longer exist and Judgement Day hasn't come yet). And finally, he explicitly condemns his enemies to "eternal punishment" (25:41) near the end.

The marketing target demographic of this book appears to be the ancient Jews, since it is primarily concerned with proving to them that Jesus was their Messiah. He quotes the Old Testament heavily (more than 130 times) and refers to Jesus as the "King of Heaven" (more than 30 times), thus appealing strongly to Jewish sensibilities of the era. The passage where Jesus tells his 12 disciples to use their newfound healing powers to minister to the "lost tribes of Israel" but not the Gentiles or Samaritans (10:5) quite blatantly panders to an Israeli audience, and Jesus' more intolerant tone is in keeping with Old Testament tradition.
Mark Mark refers to Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. He emphasizes Jesus' service and sacrifice, omitting items such as the royal bloodline, Jesus' birth story, the Sermon on the Mount, and his bickering with the Pharisees. In this version of the story, Jesus cries out "Why have you forsaken me" on the cross (33:34), as he did in the previous book.

This is the most humanistic of the Gospels. Jesus says "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (2:27), and while he sent out the 12 disciples with instructions to minister only to the Jews in the Book of Matthew, he sends them out with no such racist instructions in the Book of Mark (6:7). The book is weighted heavily toward stories of Jesus helping and healing people, with none of the exhortations to intolerance and threats of divine retribution that fill the Book of Matthew.

The marketing target demographic of this book appears to be unbelievers, since it dismisses the Jewish-targeted marketing techniques of Matthew and concentrates on those aspects of the story with more universal appeal: service and sacrifice to mankind, and miracles to prove his divinity to skeptics.
Luke Luke does not even claim to be an eyewitness, and so he should not be in the Gospels at all. Of the 4 Gospels, his is the only one written by a Gentile, and his is the only one which does not claim any direct observation of the events in question. He emphasises Jesus' perfection, as the perfect "Son of Man". In this version of the story, Jesus calls out "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" on the cross (23:46).

Interestingly enough, though he is the only gospel writer who never witnessed the events in question, he describes them in the greatest detail. One must wonder whether this indicates extensive research or mere embellishment, particularly in light of the passage of time and lack of modern information sharing and transmission techniques. His "improved" version of Jesus' death (in which his "why have you forsaken me" plea has been replaced with something which sounds more like things are going as planned) tends to suggest the latter interpretation.

The marketing target demographic of this book appears to be the Hellenics (Greco-Romans), for whom the imagery of man/god hybrids was already well-entrenched via their own religion, and for whom human perfection was a common philosophical ideal.
John John focuses on Jesus' various individual ministries to individuals, skipping most of the story (he discards the birth, geneaology, baptism, casting out of demons, parables, final supper, rising from the grave, etc). He also expends a great deal of effort trying to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. In this version of the story, Jesus says "it is finished" on the cross (19:30). Like Luke, John's version of the story seems designed to be more awe-inspiring (read: exaggerated) than Matthew and Mark, which were written earlier.

Given some of the "heretical" teachings floating around at the time this book was written, its approach is not surprising. Cerinthus of Alexandria was teaching that Jesus was naturally born to Joseph and Mary and that the Holy Spirit entered his body at birth and departed just before his death. Others taught that Jesus was an angel, and not a human being at all. When you read the Book of John, you can almost see John trying to refute these people.

The marketing target demographic of this book seems to be the church itself, in the sense that it seems to be an attempt to preach to the choir and silence an uncomfortable diversity of opinion. It emphasizes its claims of miracles but it also makes a point of shaming people who ask for evidence of those claims: "Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed". It does not appeal to external sources such as geneaology, Old Testament prophecy, or humanist ideals in order to win support, and instead relies on self-referential proofs: prove claim A with claim B. It's an approach which would have little effect on unbelievers.
Acts This book mostly describes the birth of the Christian church and the activities of its leaders, particularly Peter and Paul. It has been described as a "bridge" between the "historical" portion of the New Testament and Paul's epistles because it describes both Jesus' life and Paul's doctrines, but of course, it is actually nothing of the sort since it is written by someone who did not actually witness Jesus' life (by his own admission) and so is really just a follower of Paul. It is a "bridge" which is only attached on one side.

This book starts after the other Gospels end. It describes the apostles moving about and healing people, performing miracles, etc., and then moves onto Saul's story, as he persecutes the church before "the scales fall from his eyes" and he becomes Paul (he gains healing powers himself after this conversion; a feat which many other Christians have claimed ever since, up to and including the present day). He is repeatedly persecuted by the Jews but he is saved by the fact that he is a Roman citizen, and hence entitled to special treatment.
Epistles Romans If you want a quick summary of organized Christanity's doctrines, look here. It's all there: original sin, salvation through grace (regardless of what crimes you've committed), exemption from OT law, not taking revenge because that's God's job, obeying the authorities, Judgement Day is just around the corner, self-denial, etc.
1 Corinthians This book is most notable for its egregious display of misogyny. Most of Paul's famous lines about the inferiority and low status of women can be found here, along with several proclamations of his celibacy and disdain for sex.
2 Corinthians Apart from a rant against interfaith marriages, this book is only notable for Paul's repetitive entreaties for more money from his followers and his bragging about his own trials and tribulations.
Galatians Small-talk and repetition. Honestly, the Epistles basically end, for all practical intents and purposes, at the end of Corinthians. The rest of them tend to be filled with exhortations to stay the course, work hard, sacrifice for God, be wary of false prophets, pay attention to the doctrines already outlined in Romans and Corinthians, etc.
Ephesians Small-talk and repetition. Particular focus on the importance of unity in the church.
Philippians Small-talk and repetition.
Colossians Small-talk and repetition. Chapter 2 contains a long diatribe against the rules and regulations of the world, and Paul lays down his "family values" platform for Christian households starting at 3:18 (it's got rules like "wives, submit to your husbands" and "slaves, obey your earthly masters").
1 Thessalonians Small-talk and repetition.
2 Thessalonians Small-talk and repetition.
1 Timothy Small-talk and repetition. Chapter 2 contains yet another splendid demonstration of Paul's deep and abiding misogyny. Apparently, no woman should ever teach or have any authority over a man under any circumstances, nor should she even wear nice clothes or braid her hair. They are apparently inferior and "can only be saved through childbearing" (2:15), thus demonstrating that Paul obviously subscribed to the "barefoot and pregnant" doctrine.
2 Timothy Small-talk and repetition.
Titus Small-talk and repetition.
Philemon Small-talk and repetition.
Hebrews The author of this one does not declare his identity, and there is some debate as to whether this one was actually written by Paul, but it essentially restates all of his arguments and positions, so it makes little difference. As you might guess from its name, this book is almost entirely concerned with reconciling Christianity with Judaism, and trying to convert Jews.
James Small-talk and repetition. This one is written by James, not Paul, but it echoes his doctrines anyway.
1 Peter The two Peter epistles were supposedly written by the apostle Peter, but they echo Paul's sentiments almost exactly (for example, compare 1 Peter 3:1 to Colossians 3:18).
2 Peter Small-talk and repetition.
1 John The author of the 3 John epistles never actually identifies himself, but scholars felt that he was the apostle John. Once again, it matters little, since he does not demonstrate any important doctrinal incompatibilities with Paul.
2 John Small-talk and repetition.
3 John Small-talk and repetition.
Jude Small-talk and repetition.
Prophecy Revelations The goofiest book of the Bible (it was supposedly written by John, but there appears to be some debate about that). It starts with signs of the apocalypse and moves onto a "death decree" where people must make their final decision between God and Satan (apparently, Buddha, Brahma, and all of the others aren't allowed into the bidding process). At this point, God goes into full-bore blood-boiling Old Testament butcher mode, and starts exterminating all those who failed to choose him. Jesus supposedly comes down to defeat the kingdoms of the world which are arrayed against him, at which point we get a thousand years of holy war and unmitigated death and destruction (oh goody!).

Finally, the dead are brought before God to be "judged according to their works" (20:5), which is rather odd considering how we just slogged through 21 epistles repeatedly telling us that we are saved by grace, not works. God takes all the people he doesn't like and throws them into the "lake of fire", and then opens up the new and improved Earth Version 2.0, which is populated exclusively by Christians and is naturally a Paradise. Presumably, he'll get things right this time.

And there you have it: the New Testament. As with the Old Testament, it gets steadily worse as you move toward the end, and few have read all of it. I would say that most Christians have read at least the first 5 books, but after that it gets somewhat spotty, and few but the most hardcore fundamentalists have actually slogged all the way through the Book of Revelations. Paul's epistles are rarely read, and seem to serve more as ammunition for preachers in search of a weekly message.

It should be noted that at time of collation, church fathers decided what would be in and what would be out. Given the divergent nature of the Gospels which are already included in the Bible, it should come as no surprise that other Gospels existed which would cause even more problems in terms of continuity. However, followers of Biblical doctrine don't seem to have a problem with the fact that inclusion in the Bible was basically decided by a council of men who lived long after Jesus did.


Last updated: June 19, 2003

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