Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This means all sixty-six books of the Bible are inspired. If they are inspired, we must read them and follow them. Inspiration sets the stakes high. If we do not listen to the Word of God we will be condemned.
Paul said all Scripture is inspired, but he did not say all Scripture is the same. Thirty-nine of the books of the Bible comprise the Old Testament. These books, according to Scripture, were fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 5:18-19; Rom. 10:4). They are no longer authoritative (Rom. 7:6-7; Heb. 8:6-13), but because they are inspired, they should still be studied “for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4).
The New Testament is the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:2). It reveals all that we need to know about God’s will for his people today (2 Pet. 1:3).
After you grasp the two major divisions of the Bible, you must get acquainted with the different forms of literature found in these divisions. You see, the Bible is not a homogenous work, but a collection of books written by no less than forty authors over a 1,600 year time period.
Some of the books are legal documents written to reveal the commandments of God. These, for the most part, are written in plain, literal language.
Some of the books of the Bible are historical. They tell the stories of God’s people and explain why we are where we are. In the books of history you can observe what happens when people obey God’s laws and what happens when they don’t.
The New Testament contains twenty-one letters, correspondence from apostles to churches and individual Christians. Because they come from men moved by the Holy Spirit, they are authoritative, but they are written in more casual language than the books of law, containing personal information about the authors and greetings and concerns for the recipients.
The Old Testament contains five or six books of poetry, depending on how you categorize them. These books are very valuable because they recount individual experiences within the history of God’s people. Because they are written in figurative language, they make an emotional impact that the more literal books of the Bible do not attain.
The books of prophecy are also figurative. They contain symbols and predictions and powerful exhortations to repent and follow the will of God.
A good goal for every Christian when it comes to Bible study is to be approved by God, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Before you can reach that goal, you must understand something of the forms used by God to communicate with his people.