Tuesday, June 29

Categorizing the Books of the Bible

From Genesis to Revelation, there are a myriad of different styles of writing, and each book can be classified in different categories. The sections may divided as: Law, History, Poetry and Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels, Acts Literature, the Epistles of St. Paul, General (also called "Catholic") Letters, and Apocalyptic Literature. Now, it is important to note that there were a number of other important early Jewish writings and Christian writings that are not a part of the canon or listed here. For example, within the literature known as the Pseudipigrapha we find 1st, 2nd and 3rd Enoch - books which are helpful in giving the reader a clearer picture of what Jews were thinking and writing about during that time period. The Jewish work of Jubilees, another example, was essentially an expanded version of Genesis which added commentary and interpretations. Early Christian writings such as the Didache, 1st and 2nd Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas or the Shepherd of Hermas are helpful in providing us with a better understanding of the ideas and concepts of early Christians in the late 1st-early 2nd centuries. These are not considered part of the Bible, but these are also important writings worth exploring in order to better grasp how ancient Jewish and Christian interpreters viewed Scripture in their respective eras.

It is also worth noting that listed below are six books which are not included in Protestant Bibles, but are found in Catholic Bibles. These include the books of Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. There are also additions to the books of Daniel and Esther in the Catholic canon. Early in the Church's history, there was a debate about a variety of books in the accepted canon. In the earliest version - the Muratorian Canon (late 2nd century), we read for example that some books were seen as good to read, but not necessarily viewed as Scriptuure, "Moreover, the Epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church], and [the book of] Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honor. We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church. But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the prophets, whose number is complete, or among the apostles, for it is after [their] time."

Later on, in the early AD 300s, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea wrote concerning these "other" books, "Among those that are spurious are to be placed the Acts of Paul and the book called the Shepherd, the Apocalypse of Peter, the surviving Epistle of Barnabas, and the book called Teachings [the Didache] of the Apostles, and, as I have said, the Apocalypse of John, if that seems right—a book that some reject but others judge to belong to the acknowledged books." We see here and elsewhere that the Apocalypse of John (also known as Revelation) was under dispute, but ultimately accepted (we believe by God's guidance) into the Scriptural corpus. But these other writings are important because they help scholars to understand the range and genre of some of the books we find in Scripture. An example of this is the Acts of the Apostles. Following the time of the New Testament, similar works were circulated such as the Acts of Peter, Acts of Thomas, Acts of Paul and Thecla, and the Acts of John. These works contained traditions and other (sometimes fanciful) stories about what happened to these followers of Jesus after the events of the Acts of the Apostles. But it is precisely this kind of Acts literature, episodic narratives, that help us better interpret what we read in the New Testament book of Acts.

Bearing this in mind, within the final and accepted canon, there are 66 books in Protestant Bibles and 73 in Catholic Bibles. These were divided up into the aforementioned categories. The Jews referred to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the Pentateuch (meaning "five scrolls"), and later divisions found in both the New Testament and the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus divide the Hebrew Bible into three categories: the Law, Wisdom, and the Prophets. The modern categories can be viewed below (or see the "Bible Bookcase" image.):

-1st/2nd Samuel
-1st/2nd Kings
-1st/2nd Chronicles

- Judith
- 1st/2nd Maccabees

Poetry and Wisdom
-Song of Solomon (Also called Song of Songs)
-Wisdom of Solomon
-Ben Sira (Also called Ecclesiasticus)

Major Prophets


Minor Prophets


Acts Literature
-Acts of the Apostles

Epistles of St. Paul
-1st/2nd Corinthians
-1st/2nd Thessalonians

-1st/2nd Timothy

General (Catholic) Letters
-1st/2nd Peter
-1st/2nd/3rd John

Apocalyptic Literature
-Revelation (Also General Letters in Chapters 1-3)

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are important for a number of reasons. They have relevancy to many disciplines, including archaeology, history, psychology, anthropology, religious studies, theology, and so forth. For example, if someone is studying John Milton's Paradise Lost, it is helpful to have an idea of where some of the Biblical concepts are derived from in order to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the writer was utilizing and interpreting these concepts. We hope you have found this a helpful guide in some way, and wish you well on your reading.

Peace and all good,
Troy Hillman


  1. Thank you so much for providing this in a straight forward, simple manner. The poster is wonderful. My 8-year-old needed it for her Bible lessons the past couple of days. Your kindness has provided her hope and me much needed peace.

  2. It warms my heart to hear that, I am glad to have been of help. May God bless you both!

    -Troy Hillman-

  3. why thank you amazing baby boy

  4. Helped my homework :)

  5. Helped my homework assignment

  6. thnx! really helped me prepare for my upcoming quiz! :)

  7. This is a topic which is near to my heart... Cheers! Where are your contact details