Here are quick summaries of the 66 books of the Bible:
Genesis — God creates the universe and fashions humans in His own image and places them in a perfect environment. The humans rebel against God and lose their paradise. The rebellion gets so bad that God wipes out humanity with a flood, but He graciously preserves Noah and his family. Later, God chooses and blesses the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or Israel) and promises them a land for their many descendants. Through this family God plans to bring a Savior to reconcile the sinful world to Himself.
Exodus — The children of Israel, now living in Egypt, are forced into slavery. God prepares an Israelite named Moses to lead the people to freedom. The king is loath to let the slaves go, so God sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians. Moses leads the Israelites through the Red Sea, which God miraculously parts for them, and to Mt. Sinai. Camped at Sinai, the Israelites receive the Law of God, including the Ten Commandments. The Law is the basis of a covenant between God and people He has rescued, with promised blessings for obedience. The people promise to uphold the covenant.
Leviticus — In the Law, God establishes a sacrificial system to atone for sins and a series of festivals for Israel to observe as days of worship. God gives Moses plans for a tabernacle, a tent where the sacrifices can be offered and God will meet with His people. God specifies that the rituals and ceremonies of the tabernacle are to be overseen by the family of Aaron, Moses’ brother.
Numbers — The Israelites arrive at the border of Canaan, the land God had earlier promised to Abraham. But the people following Moses refuse to enter the land, due to their lack of faith and their fear of Canaan’s inhabitants. As a judgment, God consigns the Israelites to wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, until the unbelieving generation passes away and a new generation takes their place. God sustains His rebellious people with miraculous provisions throughout their time in the wilderness.
Deuteronomy — The new generation of Israelites is now ready to take possession of the Promised Land. Moses gives a series of final speeches, in which he reiterates the Law of God and promises that one day God will send another Prophet reminiscent of the power and mission of Moses. Moses dies in Moab.
Joshua — Moses’ successor, Joshua, leads the children of Israel across the Jordan River (parted miraculously by God) and into Canaan. God overthrows the city of Jericho by knocking its walls down. Joshua leads the people in a successful campaign to conquer the whole of Canaan. With a few exceptions, the Israelites remain faithful to their promise to keep their covenant with God, and God blesses them with military victories. After the land is subdued, the Israelites divide Canaan into separate territories, giving each of the tribes of Israel a lasting inheritance.
Judges — Joshua dies, and, almost immediately, the people begin to turn away from the God who had blessed them. Rather than driving out all the land’s inhabitants, they allow some of the Canaanites to survive, and the Israelites begin to worship the gods of the Canaanites. True to the terms of the covenant, God sends enemies to oppress His people. The suffering they endure causes them to repent, and God responds by sending leaders to rally the people and defeat the enemies, bringing peace to the land again. This cycle is repeated several times over a span of about 300 years.
Ruth — During the time of the judges, a famine strikes the land, and a man of Bethlehem takes his family out of Israel to live in Moab. There, he and his two sons die. His widow, Naomi, returns to Israel along with one of her daughters-in-law, a Moabitess named Ruth. Back in Bethlehem, the two women face hardship, and Ruth gathers what food she can by gleaning in a barley field owned by a man named Boaz. Ruth is noticed by Boaz, and he gives her extra help. Since Boaz is related to Naomi’s late husband, he has the legal opportunity to redeem the family property and raise up an heir in the name of the deceased. Ruth asks Boaz to do just that, and Boaz agrees. He marries Ruth and purchases the property that had belonged to Naomi. Boaz and Ruth become the great-grandparents of Israel’s greatest king, David.
1 Samuel — In answer to prayer, Samuel is born to a barren woman, who then dedicates her young son to the tabernacle. Samuel is raised by the judge and high priest, Eli. Early on, Samuel begins to receive messages from God and becomes known as a prophet. After Eli’s death, Samuel becomes Israel’s final judge. The people demand a king to make them more like other nations. Samuel advises against it, but the Lord directs Samuel to grant their request. Samuel anoints Saul as the first king. Saul starts out well, but he soon begins to act in pride and ignore God’s commands. God rejects Saul as king and instructs Samuel to anoint another person to take Saul’s place: that person is David, chosen while still a youth. David becomes famous in Israel for slaying the Philistine warrior Goliath, and Saul grows jealous to the point of madness. The king begins to pursue David, whose life is in constant danger as he takes refuge in the wilderness. Men loyal to David gather to him. Samuel dies, and, later, Saul and his sons are killed in a battle with the Philistines.
2 Samuel — David is crowned king by his tribesmen in Judah, and they make the city of Hebron the capital of Judah. After a brief civil war, all the tribes of Israel unite under the leadership of David, God’s choice. The capital is moved to Jerusalem. God makes a promise to David that a son of his will rule on the throne forever. David seeks to follow God’s will, and God blesses David with victories over foreign enemies. Sadly, David falls into the sin of adultery and tries to cover his sin by having the woman’s husband killed. God pronounces judgment on David’s house, and trouble begins. David’s daughter is raped by her half-brother, who is then killed by Absalom, another of David’s sons, in revenge. Absalom then plots to overthrow David and take the throne. He gains a following, and David and those loyal to him are forced to flee Jerusalem. Absalom is eventually killed in battle, and David returns home in sorrow. Near the end of his life, David disobeys God and takes a census of the people, a sin for which God sends judgment on the nation.
1 Kings — King David dies. His son Solomon takes the throne, but his brother Adonijah challenges him for it. After repeated attempts to usurp authority from his brother, Adonijah is executed. King Solomon is blessed by God with great wisdom, riches, and honor. He oversees the building of the temple in Jerusalem and dedicates it to the Lord in a grand ceremony. Later in life, Solomon forsakes the path of righteousness and serves other gods. After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam takes the throne, but his foolish choices lead to a civil war, and the nation is fractured in two. Rehoboam remains king of the southern kingdom, and a man named Jeroboam is crowned king of the ten tribes to the north. Both kings practice idolatry. Through the years, David’s dynasty in the southern kingdom occasionally produces a godly king; most of the kings are wicked, however. The northern kingdom is led by an unbroken series of wicked rulers, including the idolatrous Ahab and his wife Jezebel, during whose reign God sends a drought to punish Israel, along with a mighty prophet, Elijah, to point the people back to God.
2 Kings — Elijah is translated to heaven, and Elisha takes his place as God’s prophet in Israel. Jehu becomes Israel’s king and wipes out the wicked family line of Ahab. In Judah, Ahab’s daughter becomes queen and attempts to kill all of David’s heirs, but she fails. Wicked kings rule in both nations, with the exception, in Judah, of a few reformers such as Hezekiah and Josiah. Israel’s persistent idolatry finally exhausts God’s patience, and He brings the Assyrians against them to conquer the people of Israel. Later, God brings the Babylonians against Judah as a judgment, and Jerusalem is destroyed.
1 Chronicles — A genealogy traces God’s people from Adam to the kingdom years, with a focus on David’s family. The rest of the book covers much of the same material as 1 and 2 Samuel, with an emphasis on the life of David.
2 Chronicles — This book covers much the same material as 1 and 2 Kings, with an emphasis on David’s dynasty in Judah. The book begins with the construction of the temple under Solomon, and it ends with the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians, with a proclamation, in the last few verses, that the temple would be rebuilt.
Ezra — After 70 years of captivity in a foreign land, the people of Judah are allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild. A descendant of David named Zerubbabel, together with some priests, begins to rebuild the temple. Political opposition to the rebuilding forces a halt in construction for about 15 years. But then the work continues, encouraged by two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. About 57 years after the temple is completed, Ezra the scribe arrives in Jerusalem, bringing with him about 2,000 people, including priests and Levites to serve in the temple. Ezra finds that the people living in Judah have lapsed into sin, and he calls the people to repentance and a return to the law of God.
Nehemiah — About 14 years after Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer in Persia, learns that the walls of Jerusalem are in a state of disrepair. Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem and oversees the construction of the city walls. He is opposed by enemies of the Jews, who try to thwart the work with various tactics, but the wall is finished with God’s blessings in time to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Ezra reads the book of the law publicly, and the people of Judah rededicate themselves to following it. The book of Nehemiah begins with sadness and ends with singing and celebration.
Esther — Some exiled Jews have opted not to return to Jerusalem and have stayed in Persia instead. Xerxes, the king of Persia, chooses as his new queen a young woman named Esther. Esther is a Jewess, but she keeps her ethnicity secret at the behest of her cousin Mordecai, who has raised her. A high-ranking official in the kingdom, a man named Haman, plots a genocide against all the Jews in the kingdom, and he receives the king’s permission to carry out his plan—neither he nor the king knowing that the queen is Jewish. Through a series of divinely directed, perfectly timed events, Haman is killed, Mordecai is honored, and the Jews are spared, with Queen Esther being instrumental in it all.
Job — A righteous man named Job suffers a series of terrible tragedies that take away his wealth, his family, and his health. Even after losing everything, Job does not curse God. Three friends come to commiserate with Job, but they eventually speak their minds about the situation, advancing the notion that God is punishing Job for some secret sin. Job denies any sinfulness on his part, yet in his pain he cries out to God for answers—he trusts God, but he also wants God to explain Himself. In the end, God shows up and overwhelms Job with His majesty, wisdom, and power. God restores Job’s fortune, health, and family, but the answer to why Job had suffered God never answers.
Psalms — This collection of songs includes praise to the Lord, cries of the needy, worshipful adoration, laments, thanksgiving, prophecy, and the full spectrum of human emotion. Some of the songs were written for specific occasions, such as traveling to the temple or crowning a new king.
Proverbs — A collection of moral teachings and general observances about life, this book is directed to those in search of wisdom. Subjects include love, sex, marriage, money, work, children, anger, strife, thoughts, and words.
Ecclesiastes — A wise older man who calls himself the Preacher philosophizes about life, looking back over what he has learned from his experiences. The Preacher, having lived apart from God, recounts the futility of various dead-end paths. Nothing in this world satisfies: riches, pleasure, knowledge, or work. Without God in the equation, all is vanity.
Song of Solomon — A king and a humble maiden express love and devotion to each other through their courtship, leading to a joyous and affirming consummation of the marriage on the wedding night. The song continues to depict some of the difficulties faced by the bridegroom and his bride in their married life, always coming back to the yearning the lovers have for each other and the undying strength of love.
Isaiah — Isaiah is called as a prophet in Judah and brings God’s messages to several kings. God proclaims judgment against Judah for their religious hypocrisy. The prophet then delivers messages of warning to other nations, including Assyria, Babylon, Moab, Syria, and Ethiopia. For all of God’s anger against His people in Judah, He miraculously saves Jerusalem from an attack by the Assyrians. Isaiah predicts the fall of Judah at the hands of Babylon, but he also promises a restoration to their land. Isaiah looks even farther ahead to the promised Messiah, who will be born of a virgin, be rejected by His people, and be killed in the process of bearing their iniquities—yet the Messiah, God’s righteous Servant, will also rule the world from Jerusalem in a kingdom of peace and prosperity.
Jeremiah — Jeremiah, living during the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah, prophesies Babylon’s victory over Judah, a message that brings him much grief from the proud kings and false prophets in Jerusalem. Continually calling God’s people to repent, Jeremiah is regularly ignored and even persecuted. Through Jeremiah, God promises that He will one day establish a new covenant with Israel. The prophet lives to see the fall of Jerusalem and predicts that the people’s captivity in Babylon will last 70 years.
Lamentations — In a long acrostic poem, Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of the land of Judah. The reproach and shame of God’s people is overwhelming, and all seems lost. Yet God is just in His discipline, and He is merciful in not destroying the rebellious nation completely; God’s people will yet see God’s compassion.
Ezekiel — This is a book of prophecies written in Babylon by Ezekiel, a priest-turned-prophet. Ezekiel deals with the cause of God’s judgment against Judah, which is idolatry and the dishonor Judah had brought upon God’s name. Ezekiel also writes of judgment against other nations, such as Edom, Ammon, Egypt, and Philistia, and against the city of Tyre. Ezekiel then promises a miraculous restoration of God’s people to their land, the reconstruction of the temple, and God’s rule over all the nations of the earth.
Daniel — As a young man, Daniel is taken captive to Babylon, but he and three friends remain steadfast to the Lord’s commands, and God blesses them with honor and high rank in the Babylonian Empire. They have enemies, though: Daniel’s three friends are thrown into a fiery furnace, and Daniel into a den of lions, but God preserves their lives in each case and bestows even more honor upon them. Daniel survives the overthrow of Babylon and continues prophesying into the time of the Persian Empire. Daniel’s prophecies are far-reaching, accurately predicting the rise and fall of many nations and the coming rule of God’s chosen king, the Messiah.
Hosea — Hosea’s mission is to call Israel to repentance, as God is poised to judge them for their corruption and idolatry. At God’s command, Hosea marries a wife who is unfaithful to him, and then he must redeem her from prostitution. This sordid experience is an illustration of Israel’s spiritual adultery and the fact that a loving God is still pursuing them to redeem them and restore them to their proper place.
Joel — Joel ministers in Judah during a time of drought and a locust plague, events that are signs of God’s judgment on the nation. Joel uses the current judgment to point the people to the future, worldwide judgment of the Day of the Lord, and he calls on everyone to repent. Joel’s final promise is that the Lord will dwell with His people in Zion and bring great blessing to the restored land.
Amos — Amos begins with pronouncing judgment against Damascus, Tyre, Edom, and Gaza, among other places. The prophet travels north from Judah to Israel to warn that nation of God’s judgment. He lists their sins and extends God’s invitation to repent and be forgiven. After the destruction of Israel, God promises, there will be a time of restoration.
Obadiah — From their seemingly secure, rock-bound homes, the Edomites had rejoiced at Judah’s fall, but Obadiah brings God’s sobering message: Edom, too, will be conquered, and that without remedy. God’s people will be the ultimate victors.
Jonah — Jonah, a prophet in Israel, is instructed by God to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh to prophesy against it. Jonah disobeys, attempting to travel away from Nineveh, but God intercepts him at sea. Jonah is thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. In the belly of the fish, Jonah repents, and the fish spits him back on dry ground. When Jonah prophesies in Nineveh, the Assyrians humble themselves before God and repent, and God does not bring judgment upon them. Jonah is angry that God has forgiven the people he hates, and God reasons with his obstinate prophet.
Micah — In a series of three messages, Micah calls on both Judah and Israel to hear the word of God. He prophesies of coming judgment on both kingdoms and foresees the blessed kingdom of God, ruled by a king who would be born in Bethlehem. Micah ends his book with a promise that God’s anger will turn and that God’s people will be restored.
Nahum — Nahum’s prophecy concerns the destruction of Nineveh. Nahum gives the reasons for it and promises God’s judgment on this nation that had once terrorized the rest of the world. Unlike God’s judgment against Israel, the judgment against Nineveh will have no respite, and the destruction will not be followed by restoration.
Habakkuk — The prophet questions God about something he cannot understand: namely, how God can use the wicked Babylonians to punish God’s own people, Judah. The Lord answers by reminding Habakkuk of His sovereignty and faithfulness and that, in this world, the just will live by faith.
Zephaniah — Zephaniah warns of the coming Day of the Lord, a prophecy fulfilled, in part, by the invasion of Babylon and, more remotely, at the end of time. Other nations besides Judah are also warned of coming judgment, including Philistia, Moab, Cush, and Assyria. Jerusalem is called to repent, and the book ends with a promise from God to restore His people to favor and glory.
Haggai — Haggai lives and preaches during the time of Zerubbabel and Zechariah. The reconstruction of the temple had begun, but opposition from the Jews’ enemies has halted the work for about 15 years. Haggai preaches a series of four sermons to spur the people back to work so that the temple can be completed.
Zechariah — A contemporary of Haggai and Zerubbabel, Zechariah encourages the people of Jerusalem to finish the reconstruction of the temple, a work that has languished for about 15 years. Eight visions relate God’s continuing plan for His people. Judgment on Israel’s enemies is promised, along with God’s blessings on His chosen people. Several messianic prophecies are included, predicting the Messiah’s coming, His suffering, and His eventual conquering glory.
Malachi — Ministering to post-exilic Israel, Malachi calls God’s people to repentance. The prophet condemns the sins of divorce, bringing impure sacrifices, withholding tithes, and profaning God’s name. The book, and the Old Testament, ends with a description of the Day of the Lord and the promise that Elijah will come before that dreadful day.
Matthew — The ministry of Jesus Christ is presented from the point of view that Jesus is the Son of David and thus the rightful king to rule from Israel’s throne. Jesus offers the kingdom to His people, but Israel rejects Him as their king and crucifies Him. Jesus rises again and sends His disciples into all the world to proclaim His teaching.
Mark — The ministry of Jesus Christ is presented from the point of view that Jesus is the Righteous Servant of God. Jesus obeys the Father’s will and accomplishes all He had been sent to do, including dying for sinners and rising again from the dead.
Luke — The ministry of Jesus Christ is presented from the point of view that Jesus is the Son of Man who came to save the whole world. Jesus shows the love of God to all classes of people, regardless of race or gender. He is unjustly betrayed, arrested, and murdered, but He rises again.
John — The ministry of Jesus Christ is presented from the point of view that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus speaks at length of His nature and work and the necessity of faith, and He proves that He is the Son of God through a series of public miracles. He is crucified and rises again.
Acts — This sequel to the life of Christ follows the ministry of the apostles following Jesus’ ascension. The Holy Spirit arrives to fill and empower Jesus’ followers, who begin to preach the gospel in the midst of mounting persecution. Paul, a former enemy of the Christians, is converted and called by Christ as an apostle. The church begins in Jerusalem, expands to Samaria, and spreads to the Roman world.
Romans — This theological treatise, written by Paul on one of his missionary journeys, examines the righteousness of God and how God can declare guilty sinners to be righteous based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Having been justified by faith, believers live in holiness before the world.
1 Corinthians — The church in Corinth is riddled with problems, and the apostle Paul writes to give them God’s instructions on how to deal with various issues, including sin and division in the church, marriage, idolatry, spiritual gifts, the future resurrection, and the conduct of public worship.
2 Corinthians — The problems in the church in Corinth have for the most part been worked through, and Paul writes this letter to encourage them, to explain the love gift he is collecting for Judean Christians, and to defend his apostleship against critics who are speaking out against him.
Galatians — False teachers have infiltrated the churches in Galatia, falsely suggesting that works of the law (specifically circumcision) must be added to faith in Christ in order for salvation to be real. In no uncertain terms, Paul condemns the mixture of law and grace, showing that salvation and sanctification are all of grace. Christ’s salvation has set us free. We rely on the Spirit’s work, not our own.
Ephesians — Salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ, and not by our own works. The life Jesus gives, to Jew and Gentile alike, results in a new heart and a new walk in this world. The church is the Body of Christ, and marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. God has provided spiritual armor to wage spiritual battle.
Philippians — Writing this letter from a Roman prison, Paul thanks the church in Philippi for the love gift they had sent him. The gospel of Christ is advancing in the world, despite hardship, and Christians can rejoice in that. We are urged to humble ourselves as Christ did, be unified, and press toward the goal of pleasing the Lord in all things.
Colossians — Despite what false teachers might claim, Jesus Christ is the Savior, Lord, and Creator of all things. In Him, all believers are made alive and complete; they need not submit themselves to manmade regulations or the mandates of the Old Testament law. The new life we have in Christ will affect our relationships with spouses, parents, children, masters, and servants.
1 Thessalonians — Paul reviews the start of the church in Thessalonica, and he commends them for their steadfast faith. Believers are encouraged to live pure lives and to maintain the hope that Jesus will return. When Christ comes again, He will resurrect believers who have died and will rapture those still living to be with Him forever. The Day of the Lord is coming, which will result in the judgment of this world.
2 Thessalonians — The church of Thessalonica is enduring persecution, and some believers wonder if the Day of the Lord had already arrived. Paul assures them that what they are experiencing is not God’s judgment. Before that terrible day comes, there must be a worldwide rebellion, a removal of the Restrainer, and the rise to power of the man of lawlessness. But God will protect His children. Until the time that Christ returns, keep doing what is right.
1 Timothy — Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus, is the recipient of this letter from Paul. A pastor must be qualified spiritually, be on guard against false doctrine, pray, care for those in the church, train other leaders, and above all faithfully preach the truth.
2 Timothy — In this very personal letter at the end of his life, Paul encourages Timothy to hold fast to the faith, focus on what is truly important, persevere in dangerous times, and preach the Word of God.
Titus — Titus, an overseer of churches on the island of Crete, has the job of appointing elders in the churches there, making sure the men are qualified spiritually. He must beware of false teachers, avoid distractions, model the Christian life, and enjoin all believers to practice good works.
Philemon — In this short letter to Philemon, a believer in Colossae, the apostle Paul urges him to show the love of Christ and be reconciled to a runaway, thieving slave. Under Roman law, the slave could face severe punishment, but Paul urges grace for the sake of Christ. Philemon should welcome his slave back into the household, not as a slave now but as a beloved brother in Christ.
Hebrews — There are Jewish members of the church who are tempted to return to the Jewish law. The author of this epistle urges them not to look back but to move on to full spiritual maturity, by faith. Jesus Christ is better than angels and better than Moses, and He has provided a better sacrifice, a better priesthood, and a better covenant than anything in the Old Testament. Having left Egypt, we must enter the Promised Land, not continue to wander aimlessly in the wilderness.
James — In this very practical book, James shows what faith lived out looks like. True, saving faith will affect our prayer life, our words, our response to trials, and our treatment of others.
1 Peter — The apostle Peter writes to believers under persecution in Asia Minor, addressing them as “God’s elect, exiles scattered” (1 Peter 1:1). He reminds them of the grace of God, assures them of their heavenly home, teaches them to exhibit holiness, instructs them on marital relations, and encourages them as they face suffering.
2 Peter — With his death impending, Peter writes the churches, exhorting them to follow the Word of God, identify and avoid false teachers, and live in holiness as they await the second coming of Christ.
1 John — God is light, love, and truth. Those who truly belong to Christ will seek fellowship with His redeemed; walk in the light, not in darkness; confess sin; obey God’s Word; love God; experience a decreasing pattern of sin in their lives; demonstrate love for other Christians; and experience victory in their Christian walk.
2 John — The Christian life is a balance of truth and love. We cannot forsake truth in the name of love; neither can we cease loving because of a misdirected notion of upholding the truth.
3 John — Two men are contrasted: Gaius, who shows his commitment to truth and love through hospitality; and Diotrephes, who shows his malice and pride through a lack of hospitality.
Jude — The message of the gospel will not change. But there are men who attempt to pervert the message and teach false doctrines to benefit themselves and lead people astray. These men must be resisted in the truth.
Revelation — Jesus is the Lord of the church, and He knows the condition of each local body of believers. The end times will be marked by an increase in wickedness, the rise of the Antichrist’s one-world government, and the fury of Satan against God’s people on earth. God pours out His wrath on a rebellious and unrepentant world in a series of judgments that steadily increase in severity. Finally, the Lamb of God returns to earth with the armies of heaven, defeating the forces of evil arrayed against Him and setting up His kingdom of peace. Satan, the Antichrist, and the wicked of every age are thrown into the lake of fire, while the followers of Christ inherit a new heaven and new earth.