February 22, 2023
David and Karen Mains share the quite amazing overall structure of the Bible and how learning this structure makes reading the Bible more understandable.
A simple understanding of the overall structure of the Bible makes it much more comprehensible. I don’t know why we don’t spend the time just kind of sharing with people like that. I don’t know. But we’ve tried it here and, in some ways, we’ve been quite successful. And in other ways, we’d say this is a thing you have to kind of go over in your mind.
David: A simple understanding of the overall structure of the Bible makes it much more comprehensible. That’s what we’re saying in this podcast. Karen, I said I don’t want to rehearse anything with you. I don’t want you to have any idea of what’s going on. I just want you to sit there and respond as you normally would. And we’re kind of flying without a net this time, right?
Karen: Well, I have seen you do this with other people, and it’s an extraordinarily helpful exercise. So, I’m sitting here, willing, and eager to learn again.
David: Okay, I actually have a little of a confession to make, but I’m going to wait until the very end and make that confession.
Karen: Okay, that’s a cliffhanger here, eh?
David: Yeah, right.
Intro: Welcome to the Before We Go podcast, featuring Dr. David Mains and his wife, noted author Karen Mains. Here’s David and Karen Mains.
David: I think the easiest way to explain Karen is to just go through a series of words and then you tell me what they mean. Okay, very simple history.
Karen: What’s perspective on time and place in the past?
David: Okay, that’s easy enough. Letters.
Karen: Those are things that we write to one another to stay in touch, or sometimes people write them to themselves by holding yourself accountable.
David: Do younger people know what letters are. I know a lot of young people, including some of my grandchildren, never received a letter in their whole lives.
Karen: Emails, etc. at this point in time.
David: Here’s one that’s a little bit harder, prophecy.
Karen: Generally, we think of that in terms of foretelling.
David: Spell it.
Karen: F-O-R-E-T-E-L-L-I-N-G would sort of be stating what we see in some extraordinary way, either through our own intuitive grasp or intelligence or a gift of God. We see what’s going to happen in the future.
David: Okay, scripturally, which we’re going to go to, it means many times. In fact, most of the time it’s not foretelling as much as forth telling in the sense of saying, this is a word from the Lord.
David: But it has that sense of, and a lot of the prophets do forecast what is going to happen. It doesn’t have to be that way. This last word is a little bit tricky, okay? Poetry.
Karen: Well, it would be language that would be used in an uncommon way. And it’s not contrived, but it’s manipulated. And I don’t mean then in a bad way, to have the most impact with words. So generally, we think of it as rhyming, but it’s not just that.
David: It could be that.
Karen: But it also is just a heightened way of expressing concepts with using words in an unusual fashion.
David: Okay, I have one more and this is a little bit different than the others. It’s a part of history. Do you know what the exile was in terms of?
Karen: In Scripture?
Karen: Well, it was when the Israelites were removed from the land that God had provided for them and promised to them. The land that was given to them doing another word at the Exodus from Egypt. Or what we call the promised land. And the land was overcome by an enemy force, and they were taken out of the Babylonians, and we call that the exile.
David: There were thousands and thousands of people who were taken to what would be near present day Baghdad and to Babylon. The capital was lost in the nation no longer existed as a political entity. That was 587 BC. The conqueror was Nebuchadnezzar. That’s all that has to be known, but the exile was when the vast number of the leaders and the upper class of the people were deported all the way to what present day Iraq. Okay, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to begin to put some numbers on the board.
The Bible has, do you know how many books are in the Bible?
Karen: 66, I believe it is.
David: Yeah, you got it right. How did you remember that?
Karen: I heard you say it a lot.
David: Okay, 66 books in the Bible. I can tell you how I remember. There was a long, long time ago. There used to be gasoline, maybe still is, Philip 66. You remember that? There was a, I would say he was English. His name was JB Phillips, who paraphrased the scriptures. He was one of the early paraphrasers. And he did the New Testament. And they said he planned to do the Old Testament. And when it was all over, they would call it, because his name was JB Phillips, Philip 66.
Karen: Very cute.
David: It’s no good anymore because nobody remembers that much demand for the gasoline.
Karen: At the time it was very current.
David: But that’s how I remember. The Bible has 66 books. Now, 66 books is kind of a strange thing because some of the books of the Bible are like a third of a page and some of them are quite long. For example, the Psalms and the Old Testament, there are many, many of the pages of the Bible that are occupied that way, but there are these 66 divisions. The Bible is divided into two basic groups. What would those be?
Karen: Old Testament and the New Testament.
David: Okay, the Old Testament refers to the dealings of God with Abraham and his offspring, the nation Israel. The New Testament basically refers to what?
Karen: What would be the coming of the promised Messiah, his birth, his life, his teachings, his death, and his resurrection?
David: Okay, that’s very fair. How many books are in the Old Testament and how many books in the New Testament?
Karen: Okay, you lost me there. You’ll have to fill that in.
David: Okay, there are 39 in the Old Testament and 3 and 9 multiplied, or 27, 3 times 9, 27, in the New Testament.
Karen: So that’s a memory technique.
David: That’s what that is, yeah.
Karen: So how many in the Old Testament?
David: You tell me.
Karen: And then you memorize 3 times 9 and that’s what you get for the New Testament.
David: Yes. So, 66 in the whole of the Bible, 39 and 27. Now the Old Testament divides into three sections. Okay. The first section is history. The second section is poetry. And the third section is prophecy.
David: Okay. Those divisions are 17, 5 and 17.
Karen: So, 17 books, 5 books and 17.
David: Yeah, let’s look at the 5. Those are books of poetry. The Psalms, that’s obviously poetry. Psalms would be like prayers or songs. A lot of the Psalms are from David and he’s writing them to music. We don’t have the music anymore, but that’s there. Proverbs.
Karen: Sayings that are wisdom.
David: Yeah, so they’re not history. Motifs, yeah. They’re not prophecy. Those are from Solomon. You can only read so many of them at a time.
Karen: But they’re very powerful.
David: They are. Especially you take one and say I’m going to live by that one today.
Karen: I did a study of the Proverbs just writing out all the verses that dealt with how you use your tongue. And then when I have tongue trouble, I’ll go back and read that whole compilation of Proverbs. There’s quite a few of them and it was very powerful.
David: Okay. So, this section of poetry, this is not history. It’s not the prophet speaking forth. Another example would be the song of Solomon, which is what? It’s a romantic type of thing. Ecclesiastes is kind of the rumblings of the mind of Solomon who’s disappointed with a lot of his life. It’s all meaningless, he says. And then there’s the first book, which is Job.
Karen: Well, let’s get the five of the poetry. Sorry, let’s just review that.
David: Okay, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. I haven’t said anything about Job. I see Job as almost drama. It’s almost like a play.
Karen: Oh, interesting.
David: We don’t know. Job could have been a real person.
Karen: In an oral tradition, there was a lot of dramatic presentation, I think, before you had popular writing, or you had people who were literate. So, I think that might be a good guess, Dave.
David: So those are the middle books of the Old Testament. How many are there?
Karen: They’re five.
David: Okay, you understand. They’re not history. They’re not prophecy. They’re kind of on their own. Okay, so there are 39 in the Old Testament. You take those five out of the middle. That leaves 34. And that divides between history and prophecy into 17 and 17. That’s pretty easy, remember? You still have it all in your head.
Karen: So, history is the first part. There are 17 books of history, is that what you’re saying? Then the five in the middle and then 17 more books. Those would be books of prophecy.
David: That’s correct.
Karen: This is the Old Testament.
David: Yeah, now the 17 break down into five and 12, both for history and prophecy. In the history section, it’s the books of Moses. They’re Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They’re called the books of Moses because he is the one who supposedly wrote those books. So, they’re major. They have the beginnings of the creation. They have the beginnings, the call to Abraham, the Jewish people, and so on. I’ll leave it rather than go into any detail. But those are five books of the history books that are set apart because they’re all by Moses.
If you go into the prophecy section, those five set apart as different. They’re all prophets, but those five have the major prophets and then there are the minor prophets. So, in that division, you have five and 12 and five and 12.
Karen: So, let’s run it through that last section again in the Old Testament.
David: The Old Testament is the prophetic section. There are 17 books, but the first five are different from the second 12. And the first five are the major prophets. If you name them, it’s Isaiah, Jeremiah. The next book is the Lamentations of Jeremiah and then Ezekiel and Daniel. So those are the major prophets. They’re the big ones. And then you have 12 who are called the…
Karen: … minor.
David: So, we have a division, 17 and 17. This is again Old Testament. The history and the prophecy sections. And those 17 divides into five and 12 and five and 12.
Karen: Oh, that’s really fascinating, isn’t it? How orderly this is.
David: It’s incredible. And then when you get into the 12, whether they’re history or prophecy, they break down each time. into nine and three.
Karen: So, the first part?
David: There’s the five books of Moses and then there are 12 books of history and the 12 break down to nine and three.
David: In the prophecy there are the five major prophets and then the 12 books and those 12 books break into nine and three again. We’re going back to the exile.
David: The nine are written, they’re pre-exile and the last three are after the exile. Whether it’s the history books or whether it’s the prophetic book. Let’s start with the history section. Okay. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those are the five of Moses. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, first and second Samuel, first and second Kings, first and second Chronicles. Those are the next books. They’re all pre-exile. And then you have Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Okay. Those are the last three and Ezra, that’s after the exile. He’s coming back to Jerusalem. Remember Nehemiah coming back, building the wall. And then you got Esther. And Esther is still in Susa of the capital which is the people in the exile.
David: So those are all after the nation has been destroyed. So historically, you can kind of put them in mind. The same is true when you come to the prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. Those are the major prophets. Then Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nehemiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. Those are all pre-exile. Zachariah, Haggai and Malachi. Those are post-exile. Okay.
Karen: There is this extraordinary order to scripture.
David: Yes, that’s it.
Karen: To the Old Testament. This extraordinary order to the Old Testament. It’s not just half-hazard.
David: So, if we have a new convert and we say here’s a new Bible, it’ll help you to read the Bible every day. We’re actually asking them to jump through.
Karen: Wait into something yet.
David: It’s too high.
Karen: It’s really hard. Yeah.
David: So, somehow now that’s just the Old Testament we’ve looked at. Okay. The New Testament has how many books? 39 in the Old. How many in the New?
David: Good for you. Okay. Now the 27 break down into how many parts?
Karen: Three parts.
David: Okay. They are history. The big one in the middle is?
David: Good for you. And then?
David: Okay. There’s only one prophecy book. There’s prophecy in some of the other books in the letter.
Karen: But it’s major emphasis.
David: That’s right. What is that?
Karen: That’s revelation.
David: That’s the revelation of St. John. Okay. John the Apostle, not John the Baptist. Okay. How about the history books? There are five of those. Okay. So, it’s five history, one prophecy, and then the letters are in the middle.
Karen: So, there are five history. And then what?
David: The letters.
Karen: The letters.
Karen: Uh-huh. And then the book of prophecy.
David: Yeah, that’s revelation.
Karen: That’s revelation. Okay, this is understandable. Very comprehensive.
David: Now the 21 is going to be really neat.
Karen: The New Testament, we’ll just keep it in the back here.
David: They’re all letters. Okay.
David: They break into 13 and 8. So there are 13 books that come together and then there are 8 books. I’m going to help you because you probably wouldn’t get this, but there are 13 books. They’re all by Paul and then they’re 8 by other authors. Hebrews, James, 1st, 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, John, and Jude. First 13 are all by again Paul. Of the 13 of Paul’s, they break down into 9 and 4. And you probably wouldn’t get this. It’s just, unless somebody understands it ahead of time, the 9 are to churches.
Karen: Let me get it. 4 are to individuals. Did I get right?
David: You got it.
Karen: Oh, I was so proud of myself. Some things are off on me.
David: Well, it does mean at least you’re listening, which is helpful. So, what does all this say to you?
Karen: You know, I have read the Bible a little bit. So ok.
David: But in all the reading of it, maybe you never understood what I’m saying.
Karen: Well, I don’t think most people do understand that there is this extraordinary organization to it all. It’s very helpful, David.
David: Let’s see what we can do with our memory. How many books in the Bible?
Karen: Okay, 66.
David: Old Testament, how many books?
David: Good for you. New Testament?
David: You got it. How many divisions in the Old Testament?
David: How many divisions in the New Testament?
David: What are the 3 in the New Testament? Because by that time, our minds were beginning to spin.
Karen: History, letters, and prophecy.
David: Perfect. You got it on right on the nose. In terms of the history book in the Old Testament, the first five are special. And in terms of the prophetic section, the first five are special. What are the first five in the history section?
Karen: Genesis, Exodus.
David: Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Their history and they’re the books of…
David: Moses. Okay. So, they’re the five books of Moses. In the prophetic section of the Old Testament, the first five books are what prophets? The little prophets are the…
David: The major prophets. There we go.
David: So, you got the major and the minor. In the history section and the prophecy section, those both break down into nine and three. And that depends on when they were written. If they were written before the…
David: Then they’re in the first nine. And if they were written after the…
David: After the exile.
Karen: Yeah, this is not my forte.
David: You’re doing very well. Basically, because you’re getting in your mind the overview and you’re having to do it with just memory. That is very difficult.
Karen: But it’s familiar territory. This is not, I’m not a novice.
David: So, give me the three sections of the New Testament.
Karen: You have history. You have the letters that were written and then you have prophecy, the one book in the end.
David: Yes, okay. And of the letters, the early sections are written by…
David: And then you have other writers. And of Paul’s letters, they break down first our letters to…
David: And then they’re for the individuals. And again, that you are keeping them in your head, it’s doing very well. I need to make a confession now.
David: I rehearsed this ahead of time with someone.
Karen: With whom?
David: Our 13-year-old granddaughter. Eliana.
Karen: Eliana, how’d she do?
David: Well, I’ll tell you. I said, Eliana, Papa needs a favor. We’re going to get in the car. We’re going to drive to various places like the post office. We’re going to pick up some cats.
Karen: Errands with grandpa.
David: I’m going to give you some tough information and see how well you do. So, I started the same way.
Karen: How did she do?
David: I said, “You know what history is?” She explained that and we went through the poetry thing. She had a little hard time with. She did very well. Then we started with no paper, no blackboard, nothing. And we just went through. Well, I’ll sum it up. I said, “What do you think?” She said, “That’s neat, Papa.”
Karen: Oh, she did.
David: It was really helpful. And we eventually chose a book that she would want to read to start to get into scripture. I mean, she’s 13 years old. We eventually chose Esther because it’s a narrative. It’s a neat story. It’s about a woman, young woman. It was just fun. It was actually fun. And I thought if Eliana could do it, by cracking, Karen could do it. Karen and I, her grandmother, ought to be able to. And Dan? Karen could do it. Anybody could do it.
Karen: And just an explanation, you didn’t have a captive audience necessarily. She had indicated some real interest in the Bible. And so, you say, “Well, let Papa teach you how it’s organized” because that way, if you can remember that, then that will help you understand what you’re reading, where it fits in the scripture and how to find things that you’re looking for. So, it was also, it was tagging on to an interest that she had already indicated. We thought, you know, you always want to do that with children. You want to grab them in the teaching moment with things that they’re already grooving on. So, she was grooving in the Bible.
David: Which is really neat. So, I’m going to go back to that original sentence that I gave. If I’ve accomplished wetting people’s appetite, that’s great. And they can do review, simple understanding of the overall structure of the Bible, makes it much more comprehensible. A simple understanding of the overall structure of the Bible makes it much more comprehensible. I don’t know why we don’t spend the time just kind of sharing with people like that. I don’t know. But we’ve tried it here and, in some ways, we’ve been quite successful. And in other ways, we’d say this is a thing you have to kind of go over in your mind.
Karen: You have to work at it and review it from time to time. I think it would be good for listeners to take some time in the next day or two or the next week and open up to the index that gives…
David: Where all the books are listed.
Karen: That lays out all the books of the Bible. And then review. And maybe even make little notes such putting a card in the index part of their scriptures of their Bible. Their study Bible as a methodology to say, because they will inevitably say, now what did Mains say this thing about this was organized? So do it now when your memory is fresh and then just keep it there because I think it would be very helpful to people.
David: The session has finished. Are you sweaty?
Karen: Nobody thinks you are.
David: I am. I am. Will I ever do this again next time? I’m going to tell you and we’ll start thinking like we normally… This is what we are going to talk about.
Karen: Just to emphasize there has been no pre-work on this for Karen. It was all done with David because I was sort of the test tube, right?
David: I just think we will end with your laugh, alright?
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