Major Divisions of the Bible

Redemptive history

The Bible is divided into two major sections called the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT).  They have a total of 66 books (39 OT and 27 NT).

Hundreds of years ago, scholars divided each book into chapters and verses to make it easy to find verses in God’s Word.

It would be very hard to find a specific verse if the books were all one long paragraph without numbers.

The word “testament” means “covenant.” A covenant is a legal agreement between at least two people or groups. We see two kinds of covenant in the Old Testament.

In a royal grant, a king gave land or something else to a faithful servant as an unconditional gift. It passed to his heirs only if they showed the same loyalty their father had. Royal grants put the duty on the person with the most power.

The Old Testament records royal grants with humanity through Noah (Gen 9:8–11), Abraham (Gen 15:9–18), Phineas (Num 25:10–13), and David (2 Sam 7:9–16).

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God made the promise of a new covenant (Jer 31:31–34) which he did through his Son, Jesus Christ.

In suzerain-vassal covenants a great king made an agreement with a someone under his power. This was often another king.

The greater king made conditions and curses if the other person failed. He demanded full loyalty and promised to protect the lower king only if he stayed faithful and did what the stronger king commanded. The duty was on the person with less power.

God made suzerain-vassal covenants with Adam (Gen 2:16–17; Hos 6:7), Abraham (Gen 17:1–2, 9–11), and with Israel through Moses (Exod 19:1–6).

Not keeping this kind of covenant brought punishment.

God’s covenants with Moses and through Jesus both brought sinful people into right relationships with himself.

He made a law that sin can be forgiven only with blood.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

Under God’s agreement in the Old Testament, priests made blood sacrifices of animals for people so God would forgive their sins.

This pointed to the blood sacrifice Jesus Christ would make under the new agreement with God.

Through Jesus’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and return to heaven, he made a final sacrifice for sin:

“But Christ has appeared as the high priest of the good things that have happened. He passed through the greater and more perfect meeting tent, which isn’t made by human hands (that is, it’s not a part of this world). He entered the holy of holies once for all by his own blood, not by the blood of goats or calves, securing our deliverance for all time.

“If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of cows made spiritually contaminated people holy and clean, how much more will the blood of Jesus wash our consciences clean from dead works in order to serve the living God? He offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice without any flaw.

“This is why he’s the mediator of a new covenant (which is a will): so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance on the basis of his death. His death occurred to set them free from the offenses committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:11‒15).

We use the terms “Old” and “New” Testaments to tell the difference between God’s agreement with humanity before and after the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Both testaments are the Word of God and we must study both to understand the Lord’s message. We do not avoid the Old Testament simply because it is called “Old.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons This fifteenth century painting shows Adam and Eve’s sin bringing death, but Jesus’s sacrifice bringing life.


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