How is the Old Testament organized?

In modern English ot-librarytranslations of the Old Testament, the 39 books fall into five main divisions: Books of Moses, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. The number of books in each division turns out to be rather easy to remember: 5-12-5-5-12:

  • Books of Moses
    Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • History – Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
  • Poetry – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
  • Major Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
  • Minor Prophets – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Memorize the books in each division, because it will greatly aid you when you are trying to look up a reference. (See resource available below under “Want to go deeper?”)

Want to go a little deeper? The Jews count 24 books, not 39, for they combine the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra/Nehemiah and the Minor Prophets into one book each. The Jews call the Hebrew Scriptures the “TaNaKh,” an acrostic of the initial letters of terms designating its three parts: Torah (the Law of Moses), Nebi’im (the Prophets), and Khethubim (the Writings). The first two of these correspond to what Jesus calls “The Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) or “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31; 24:27). On at least one occasion, in referring to “The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), Jesus may have lumped all of the writings in the third category under “Psalms,” the Writings’ largest book.

The Jewish division of books is as follows:

  • The Law (of Moses) – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • The Prophets
    • The Former Prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings
    • The Latter Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets
  • The Writings – Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles

Want to go deeper? – The following are recommended to help you learn the books of the Bible and know the content of each

Online resources:

Intro. to each book of the Bible (from The NIV Study Bible)

Learn the order of OT books by singing