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Bible First: Learning the Books of the Bible

Some things in life are foundational. That is, if we don't learn these foundational things, we will have difficulty and struggle with incorporating other building blocks of knowledge or skills into our lives. Sometimes foundational knowledge can seem too mundane and even pointless. Most foundational things have to be learned by rote, which is very uninspiring—so much so, that it may seem to be slowing you down, keeping you from doing or learning what's really important. Well, that just might be a trick of the enemy to keep us handicapped all our lives!

Here are a few examples of uninspiring foundational things: addition-subtraction, multiplication-division facts; grammar—parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation rules; phonics and spelling principles; etc., etc. The area of Bible knowledge also has a foundational, uninspiring set of facts to learn: The books of the Bible. Without a firm, thoroughly memorized grip on the books of the Bible, we handicap our children in the knowledge of God's Word.

"When I was a kid" (my older children love to say that to the younger two!), we had "sword drills" in Sunday school. First we sang some songs; then we'd have a brief sword drill before going to our separate classes. We would hold up our Bibles, the leader would call out a Bible reference, and we would all plop our Bibles in our laps and flip through the pages, scrambling to see who could find the verse first. Whoever found it first jumped up and read the verse. Usually that person would get a prize of some sort or extra points toward a summer camp scholarship. If you didn't know the books of the Bible, you were in real trouble!

When our oldest three were just starting out in school, I had a burden, not just to teach them the books of the Bible, but to help them understand a broad overview of the Bible. I'd known the books of the Bible since those early Sunday school days, but it wasn't till I was older, when I started to study on my own and wanted to teach my own children, that I really began to understand how the Bible was all put together. Not even a year at Bible college had done that for me. I really like visuals, so I created, on large poster boards, a set of illustrated books of the Bible charts. Eventually, we turned that early homemade set into 8 printed posters for other families to use. (Coming to store soon.)

Of course, you don't need a set of Bible charts to teach your children the books of the Bible, but it is foundational to help your children memorize the books of the Bible and to give them an overview of how all those books fit together. Here are some tips on how to help them (and maybe even yourself!) memorize all 66 books and understand the broad picture.

· The Old Testament has 39 books (a multiple of 3: 3 x13, which ends with 3 —I give you these equations simply as memory hooks)

1. The 1st 5 books are commonly called "The Books of the Law" or the "Pentateuch" ("Penta" = 5, "teuch" = Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

2. The next 12 books are the "History of Israel." These books can be learned in sets of 3:

  • Joshua, Judges, Ruth: before the time of the kings

  • 3 sets of 2: I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles: during the time of the kings

  • Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther: after the time of the kings (during the exile of Israel and returning to the land)

3. 5 books of "Poetry": Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

4. 17 books of "Prophecy," all written during the times of the kings and the time of the exile/return (the last 2 sets of 3 in the history books)

  • The 1st 5 are called "Major Prophets" (or the more "long-winded" prophets! Lamentations being the only prophecy book not called by the name of the prophet, it was written by Jeremiah who was lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem): Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel

  • The last 12 are called "Minor Prophets": Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (My husband was taught these 12 minor prophets by taking just the 1st two letters of each name. He taught it to me, and I use it all the time for remembering my way around in the minor prophets!: Ho-Jo-Am-Ob-Jo-Mi-Na-Ha-Ze-Ha-Ze-Ma—I like to think of the last 5 as a question a little child might eagerly be asking his mother about the coming of the Messiah: i.e. Has Messiah come yet? "Has He, has He, Ma?")

Here's a summation of the Old Testament:

1. 5 Books of the Law

2. 12 History of Israel (3, 3-2s, 3)

3. 5 Poetry

4. 5 Major Prophets

5. 12 Minor Prophets

Easy, right? Learn them section by section.

The New Testament has 27 books (also a multiple of 3: 3 9s, which is also a multiple of 3: 3 x 3 x 3)

1. The 4 Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

2. 1 History book: Acts

3. 13 Letters by Paul: Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon

  • The 1st 9 were written to churches

  • The last 6 were written to individuals

  • The 1st 3 (Romans, I & II Corinthians) are the long letters

  • The order of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians can be remembered by using the acronym GEPC and the mneumonic "General Electric Power Company" because they teach us power for living.

  • The last 6 (I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon) can be remembered as 3 Ts and a P.

4. 8 Letters written by people other than Paul: Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I, II, & III John, Jude (H-J-P-J-J)

5. 1 Prophecy Book: Revelation

Here's a summation of the New Testament:

1. 4 Gospels of Christ's 1st Coming

2. 1 History of Christ's Life in the Church through the Spirit

3. 13 Pauline Letters

4. 8 Other Letters

5. 1 Prophecy of Christ's 2nd Coming

As you teach the books of the Bible to your children, memorizing them section by section, do sword drills with them, just as I described above from my Sunday school days. Use verses out of the section you are currently memorizing so they learn to find their way around in that section. The sword drills don't have to be long, just 2-4 verses a day. If you know of verses that are significant ones in the text, use those references so your children read them and hear them out loud (i.e. Genesis 1:3, 3:15, 12:2-3, 15:1, 17:1, 18:19, 50:20, etc.). Make sure you call out verses that are really there! In other words, don't just make up a chapter and verse, such as Numbers 38:12, when Numbers only has 36 chapters.

By teaching the books of the Bible to your children, you are giving them a familiarity with the Book that will help them to be comfortable with it. Foundational learning brings a working understanding, an ease with the subject, that lends itself to the enjoyment and pursuit of further knowledge. It takes away the fear that comes from ignorance and the unknown. It will also help you to become more comfortable with the Bible, leading to greater love and appreciation for this marvelous, miraculous, life-transforming Book. It's foundational.

Foundational knowledge -> comfortable familiarity -> further pursuit and enjoyment

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