I taught 3/4 grade for 10 years. During that time our world went from most kids not having a cell phone to a cell phone becoming somewhat common. Once I had the first kid in my class with a cell phone, I started getting the pushback, “Why should I learn the books of the Bible when I can just look it up on my phone?” At first, I didn’t have a good answer. I would show them how much faster I could look up the Bible verse than her, but I didn’t have a good answer for that question. Now I do.
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I don’t think you have to memorize the books of the Bible
In all honesty, I don’t have the Old Testament memorized. I get the order of the minor prophets messed up. I can get through Psalms, get a little muddy in the major prophets, and then lose the order in the minor prophets.
By contrast, I have the books of the New Testament down cold. As a young kid, my church had a group called Girls Club, it was a combination of AWANAs and Girl Scouts, but it only existed at my church. Somewhere in a closet upstairs I still have all of the badges I earned while attending that church. At least twice a month we sang a song reciting the books of the New Testament.
I never found a song to memorize the books of the Old Testament, or I never sang one frequently enough I memorized them. That video I linked above is so flashy, I can’t use it because of migraine triggers, but maybe you can…
(This version is less flashy, but it’s not going to be as catchy for lots of kids, so make your choice)
But, if you were to ask me if a certain prophet had a book, I could tell you yes or no.
I’m very familiar with all of the books now, just a little muddy on the order.
The real reason you should learn the books of the Bible
There are two big reasons:
- It helps you know approximately where you are in the narrative of the Bible’s story.
- It tells you what to expect from the book.
And one lesser reason to know:
3. (it won’t auto-number this one) So you don’t look like a fool when someone tells you look up the book of 2 Ezekiel or Elijah.
Not that I’ve ever seen that happen, or any random politicians refer to their favorite Bible verse in a book that didn’t exist.
Nope, never seen that happen.
You also won’t fall prey to sarcastic youth pastors who will quote themselves and say, “Well, it says in the book of 2 Sean, Thou shalt not GLUTTONY!” That last part needs to be in all caps because that’s how my brother delivered it.
It helps you know about where you are in the narrative of the Bible
The books of the Bible are arranged in mostly chronological order.
I know, take a moment to let that sink in. I hadn’t realized that until I was watching a video recently.
The Old Testament books are organized first in the order they occur, and then in order of when written. For example, the books of 1 and 2 Kings covers similar events to the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. However, according to current scholarship/church tradition, 1 and 2 Kings were written first (and in Jewish tradition are considered one book). so it’s first in our Bibles.
The same thing happens in the New Testament. The Gospels all cover the same events written from different points of view. Matthew, Mark, and Luke cover mostly the same material with different emphasis. Go down to the bottom for rabbit trail, but John is written towards the end of the first century and is definitely the last one written. Acts obviously happens after the Gospels.
Then we get the letters which are organized by first the size of the book/who the book was to. First are the books written to cities, then books written to specific people, and finally books written by specific people all organized by size and order in which they were written.
Okay, that was a lot to cover, and I’m strongly considering putting that down in a footnote at the bottom. Let’s get to why this all matters.
If I’m reading in 2 Kings, I know the events of the book are happening after a whole lot of historical events. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Judges, David, Solomon, split of the kingdom, and possibly even the fall of the Northern Kingdom.
It gives the context of the events happening, as my kids have quoted back to me, “Context is King!”
Knowing the Books of the Bible helps you know what to expect from the book
Did you know you are not supposed to take every part of the Bible literally?
Or, and this is a big one, just because it’s written down in the Bible, does not mean you should do it?
Let’s take that first one, not everything in the Bible is literal.
God does not literally have wings to gather us into his side (Deuteronomy 32:11)
Solomon’s wife did not have sheep teeth (Song of Solomon 6:6)
Camels did not literally go through an eye of the needle (Matthew 19:24)
Different books of the Bible are different literary styles.
- The Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)- history and law books
- Histories (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)- history
- Wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverb, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)- Poetry and advice
- Prophets, major (longer: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel) and minor (shorter: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)- prophecy written in poetry
- Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)- life of Jesus
- History (Acts)– history
- Letters (Roman, 1 and 2 Corinthian, Galatains, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude)- letters written to cities and people
- Prophecy (Revelation)- prophecy written in narrative format
What does all of that mean?
Let me ask you a question, when you read a history book do you automatically say, “I’m going to go do what he did?”
Of course not! You look at what they did and learn from their mistakes and what they did right. Those are descriptive passages, God is giving you the events that lead up to Jesus, and the history of the Jewish people.
When you read poetry do you think, “Wow, my love is a summer day?”
No! You think that’s a great comparison. It’s the same way with poetry in the Bible, it’s giving us an image to help us understand what God means.
Prophecy, that’s a sticky widget right there. Prophecy is full of imagery that we don’t understand. We’ve all seen or read books/movies with prophecy that wasn’t understood until after the events happened. That happens all the time. This is a whole blog post right here, but short answer: look for the historical context it was written in, and look at the bigger context of the Bible.
Letters are advice and ideas written to specific people or cities. They’re also written with the author’s voice. That means, sometimes sarcasm or exaggeration is used. Sometimes they are giving specific advice to specific events. So look first at who the advice was written to and then from there extrapolate out to what that means to us.
Okay Ticia, that’s a lot of words, how do I teach this?
Teaching books of the Bible to preschoolers and kindergarten
Sing songs, play silly games where they go and stand on a picture associated with the book
Teaching books of the Bible to elementary school
Okay, this is the nuts and bolts right here. Some of this can scale up to middle school and older, and some older kids will find stupid and silly.
- Join my newsletter (over on the sidebar) and get books of the Bible cards free with a coupon code, you can practice finding books and find out about each book of the Bible with those cards. The whole long idea on how to use books of the Bible cards.
- Play some games, like the Books of the Bible card game, or any of the whole bunch I’ve got on my 10 ideas to learn the books of the Bible.
I’m about to be putting a bunch of great ideas on the blog as I finish up some games, but here is what I have so far:
- Books of the Bible Cup Game
- 10 Ways to Memorize Books of the Bible
- Books of the Bible Go Fish
- Sword Drill!
- How did we get the Bible?
Longer Explanation about the Gospels
At one point it was thought Mark was written first. That’s certainly what I was taught in college in the late 90s.
Further scholarship thinks Matthew was written first, then Mark, and finally Luke. The big deal thing, they all have specific audiences. Matthew was written to the Jews so they would learn Jesus was the Messiah and fulfilled prophecies. Matthew is big on quoting prophecy. Mark is written to the gentiles, specifically Romans, it’s the busy book, Jesus is always going and acting. Luke is the history book, Luke wants to prove this whole Jesus thing was a real historical event, so he is always referring to the historical figures and specific places.
John is the odd duck, his gospel was written near the end of the first century in response to a specific heresy saying “Jesus was just a spirit,” and he wanted to show Jesus was a real human being. This is where we get the touchy-feely emotional Jesus.