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An Introduction to the Bible

Old Testament

Old Testament Themes
The Law
Historical Books
Poetry and Writings
Women in the Old Testament


Walk through the Old Testament

A brief overview of the Old Testament

 What is the Bible?

The word Bible comes from the Greek, it is a plural noun, ‘ta biblia’ and means ‘the books’. When the word was taken over into Latin, it became singular, ‘the bible’.

The Bible is more than a book. It is a library, and in it you will find a number of very different works collected together in two large groupings, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word ‘Testament’ in Hebrew means ‘a covenant’. 

What is its purpose?

So the Bible is a collection of books which tells of Gods covenant or agreement with Israel through Moses (the Old Covenant) and which God fulfilled through Jesus (the New Covenant).

The Old Testament is regarded as preparing the way for Jesus. 

Old Testament Themes

There are many themes which run through the Bible, too many to mention here but here are a few:-

  • Journeying (Historical books),
  • Creation of the world and Law (Pentateuch),
  • Prophecy (Prophets)
  • Exile (Pentateuch and historical books)
  • Obedience (throughout the Old Testament),
  • Love and Suffering (Poetry and writings)

Many of the themes are linked to people, places and actions. Reading the Old Testament stories and books helps us understand God’s love for us.


Methods of Biblical analysis

There are many ways to read the Scriptures.

  • Historical criticism is concerned with the historical aspect of the book, whether it actually happened, who wrote the book, what archaeological findings are there, and researching the background. This is obviously restricted to experts, however it is exciting to uncover findings for yourself for the first time! 
  • Source criticismis the study of books in the bible to discover what sources if any the author used.
  • Form Criticismis not primarily concerned with documents. It is concerned with the community that produced them, their myths, their songs , their needs and the ‘rhythm of life’ of the people concerned. 
  • Textual criticism is a very painstaking way of exploring the bible; where are the overlapping stories?, why were they re-written, and re-written again?; what are the differences?. ( e.g the different accounts on the gospels of Jesus’ death? )
The Old Testament as a ‘tool box.’

When reading or listening to a Biblical text, ask yourself these questions

  • What strikes you?
  • What do you like or dislike?
  • What amazes you?
  • What raises questions for you?
  • Who is talking and who is listening? 

The Law

What is the structure of the Old Testament?

The Old Testament has 39 books, some short and some long, but can be broken down into 4 broad categories.

The 5 books of the LAW or the Pentateuch 






It is not clear when the Pentateuch was written, but these five books contain the essentials laws/ codes, which define Israel’s history. The books contain stories of how the world was created, and how God called specific people to take Israel on a journey. It contains the Ten Commandments, and three key personalities are introduced, Abraham, Jacob and Moses. In the Jewish faith, these five books are called the Torah.

Historical Books



1 and 2 Samuel



1and 2 Kings



1and 2 Chronicles


 These 12 books portrays the rise and fall of the Jewish nation. It describes their journey through to the land of Canaan, and how the region of Canaan was divided into two parts the north (ISRAEL) and south (JUDAH). It tells the story of the establishment of a monarchy  and the reigns of great Kings.   It tells stories of Prophets, Kings, people and key events in Israel’s history. The key personalities in the Historical books are Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha , Saul and Solomon .

Poetry and Writings

The 5 Books of POETRY or WRITINGS





Song of Solomon

These books deal with the questions of ‘how wisdom can be found’. Job is probably the oldest booking the Bible and focuses on the questions why does God allow suffering? The Psalms are poems addressing God in times of persecution and suffering, love and praise. These writings also give a moral code and guidance of how to love each other and how God relates to the world, through love and action.


The 16 PROPHETS – 4 Major and 12 Minor


















The use of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ does not imply any judgement about the importance of the prophets. It refers simply to the length of the books in question. God is speaking through specific people, to bring about reason, hope and warnings to the people of Israel. Prophets were seen as ‘God’s mouth piece’, and when they spoke, people listened. Some were reluctant prophets (Jonah), but others knew God was with them from an early age (Jeremiah). Lamentations was probably written by the prophet Jeremiah.  Studying and reading the prophets can give us indications of how God speak to us today.


The Apocrypha

The following works are regarded as Deutero -canonical Books. The 39 books are found in the Hebrew Bible, whilst these 7 books are found in the Latin and Greek Bibles. Nowadays, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has the Apocrypha included.





1 Maccabees



2 Maccabees


Women in the Old Testament

Why are there so few women in the Old Testament? 

Men were the scribes, and wrote the books of the Bible. They used different names for God - Lord, Yahweh, and Eloheim. The Jewish Law decreed that, women were unclean in many ways, and many were also illiterate. Certain women have voices, (Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, Miriam, Esther, Deborah) however many are unnamed and were seen by men as ‘property’, and were treated as servants. 

Read about the New Testament

Rev Ruth Dillon

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