Front Page
Series Contents
Series Theme: Apologetics
Abbreviated Contents:













1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap














































































1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap




































1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap


































1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap
























1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap























1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap






































1. History covered

2. History or myth

3, Taken Literally

4. Narrative History

5. Law or Teaching

6. Prophecy

7. Additional rules

8. Recap

Title:   24. Questions about the CONTENT of the Old Testament

                            (Why & how you can read it)


A series that helps consider the foundations for faith

Contents for Overview:



Introductory Comments

•  The scope of the page   

1. What is the History Covered by the Old Testament?

•  The events covered.

2. Was this Genuine History of was it Made-Up Myth?

•  Reasons we can be sure of its history.

3. Is the Old Testament to be Taken Literally?

•  What this means and doesn't mean.

4. How does this happen in the case of Narrative History?

•  Guidance for reading the O.T. as history.

5. How does this apply to Law or Teaching?

•  Guidance for reading.

6. Should Prophecy be considered Literally?

•  Guidelines for reading.

7. What Additional Rules are there to help with Prophecy?

•  Guidelines for understanding.

8. Can you recap what is in the Old Testament?

•  An overview and more detailed panorama.


Introductory Comments


On this page we now come to look to see

•    what is in the Old Testament and
•   how we may read it.
We will consider
•   whether we can trust it as history and
•   whether we should take it literally.




1. What is the History covered by the Old Testament?




In order to understand the Old Testament, it is useful for the student to get an overview of the events covered within it.

A Summary of the Chronology of the Old Testament as seen in the Historical Books is as below.


a) Summary Overview




Creation to Abram


Genesis 1-11

Abram to Joseph

Gen 12-50



Moses & the Exodus


Moses' Law

Lev, Num, Deut



Taking the Promised Land


Period of the judges

Judges & 1 Samuel



Early Kings – Saul, David, Solomon

1 & 2 Samuel & 1 Kings (+ 1 Chron)



Divided Kingdom to the Exile

1 & 2 Kings (+ 2 Chron)

(Destruction of the northern kingdom

2 Kings

(Destruction of southern kingdom

2 Kings (+2 Chron)



Return from Exile to rebuild Temple


Return from Exile to rebuild Walls





b) Detailed Breakdown

NB. Some dates are simply approx. or rounded up – indicated by *.

All are taken from the New Bible Dictionary








Early days & the Patriarchs





Gen 1 & 2

The Fall


Gen 3

Early years


Gen 4-11

Abraham – the first man called to have a living relationship with God


Gen 11:27 - 25:11

Isaac – Abraham's son


Gen 21:1 - 28:5, 35:27-29

Jacob – Isaac's younger son, twin of Esau, became Israel , father of the 12 tribes


Gen 25:26-34, 27:1 - 35:26, 45:25 – 49:33

Joseph – Israel 's eleventh son, sold into slavery, & made Prime Minister of Egypt

*1750- 1650

37:1 - 50:26




Exodus, Journey to Sinai & the Law



Moses & the Exodus


Ex 1-12

Journey to Sinai


Ex 12-19

At Sinai - Law given, Tabernacle Built


Ex 20-40




Laws of worship & the priesthood



Law of the Offerings given


Lev 1-7

Priests, Rules & Regulations


Lev 8-27




Mixture of law & narrative in wilderness



The census


Num 1-4

Rules & regulations


Num 5-9

Journeying from Sinai to Kadesh


Num 10-12

At Kadesh – the rebellion


Num 13-20

Journey from Kadesh to Plains of Moab


Num 20-22

On the Plains of Moab


Num 23-32

Misc. Matters


Num 33-36




Moses recaps the past & the Law



Historical Prologue – given by Moses


Deut 1-4

Stipulations of the Covenant reiterated


Deut 4 -26

Curses & Blessings


Deut 27 – 30

Ongoing Leadership


Deut 31 - 34




Taking the Land and early years



Entrance to the Land


Josh 1-5

Conquest of the Land


Josh 5-12

Distribution of the Land


Josh 13-21

Unity & Loyalty


Josh 22-24




Rises & falls of Israel in the Land



Incomplete conquest & apostasy


Judg 1-3

Oppression & Deliverance


Judg 3-16

Religious & Moral Disorder


Judg 17-21




How Ruth became part of the Messianic family tree






Samuel & Saul's reign



Samuel – last of the judges, a prophet


1 Sam 1-7

Setting Saul as king


1 Sam 8-12

Saul's failures


1 Sam 13-15

David anointed as king


1 Sam 16

David with Saul


1 Sam 16-19

David on the run


1 Sam 20-30

Saul's death


1 Sam 31




Ups & downs of David's reign



David as king over Judah


2 Sam 1-4

David as king of all Israel


2 Sam 5-10

David's failure


2 Sam 11,12

Absalom's rebellion, David on the run


2 Sam 13-18

David's latter years as king


2 Sam 19-24




Solomon's reign, fall & divided land



David establishes Solomon to be king


1 Kings 1,2

Solomon's reign


1 Kings 3-11

The divided kingdom


1 Kings 12-22




The divided kingdoms until Exile


2 Kings

NB. Northern Kingdom destroyed


2 Kings 17

NB. Southern kingdom exiled


2 Kings 25




An Historic recap





1 Chron 1-9

David's reign


1 Chron 10-29

An Historic recap



Solomon's reign


2 Chron 1-9

Divided kingdom to Exile


2 Chron 10-36




Exilic Return to Rebuild the Temple



First exiles return & rebuilding of Temple


Ezra 1-6

Ezra's return & reforms


Ezra 7-10




Exilic Return to Rebuild the Walls



Nehemiah's return to Jerusalem


Neh 1,2

Rebuilding the Walls


Neh 3-6

The exiles who returned


Neh 7

Ezra's preaching & revival


Neh 8-10

New residents


Neh 11

Priests & dedicating the walls


Neh 12




How Esther was made Queen during the Exile & saved the Jews






The trials of Job



Job's testing


Job 1,2

Job's discussions with 3 friends


Job 3-31

Elihu speaks


Job 32-37

God speaks


Job 38-41

Job restored


Job 42


The Major Prophets


Isaiah – from 740BC (also Amos, Hosea & Micah about his time) – prophesied against apostasy of Israel and Judah .

Jeremiah – from 626BC (also Zephaniah & Habakkuk about his time) – prophesied from Jerusalem about its impending fall.

Ezekiel – exiled to Babylon in 597BC where he prophesied among the exiles about Jerusalem 's fall and of surrounding nations, then of hope for the future.

Daniel – exiled to Babylon in 605BC where he prophesied in the court through several reigns, largely using word of knowledge, but later prophecies about the end times.




2. Was this Genuine History or was it Made-Up Myth?




a) Uniformity


The first thing to note is the uniform approach and flow of the Old Testament.


Each book follows on from previous ones and treats what it is saying as factual history, i.e. actually what took place in time-space history.


As has been noted on previous pages, subsequent writers clearly understood prior characters as literal figures who appeared in their history.


Indeed we can go further and say that their certain belief in these figures helped form and sustain their belief in God and their calling as His people.



b) Conforming to Known Secular Facts


The danger in this heading is that we separate out the Old Testament writings and put them on a different footing than other historical written evidence – this should not be.


The difficulty of identifying times in history from within the Old Testament itself, is that the references don't tend to be in specific dates, but rather specific incidents or specific rulers, e.g., :


“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty year s.” 2 Kings 12:1




“And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus . ”   


What Biblical historians try to due is marry up Biblical statements with known historical data.


One major historical source is the Canon of Ptolemy, otherwise known as the Canon of the Kings, used by astronomers and preserved by the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek living in Roman Egypt in the second century AD.    


It originated from Babylonian sources, then Persian kings, after which it was taken up by Greek astronomers covering a period from about 700BC through to 160AD and although it only deals in whole years (and thus omits kings who reigned for lees than a year) it is generally considered by historians and archaeologists to be very accurate.


Good dates from about 1400BC onwards are based on Mesopotamian data


Good dates from about 1200BC back to about 2100BC can be obtained from Egyptian sources.



c) Example of Dating the Patriarchs


References to Abram, Isaac etc. are checked against historical data using:


•  mention of external events during their time,


•  statements about elapsed time between them and later events in history,


•  evidence of social conditions in their time.


In respect of external events, the New Bible Dictionary states that “The only two striking external events recorded are the raid of the four kings against the five (Gen 14) and the destruction of the cities of the plain (Gen 19)”


In respect of elapsed time periods, the primary statements linking Abraham's period with later events are within the following verses:


"Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure  (Gen 15:13-16)


In respect of social conditions, the New Bible Dictionary states that “the social customs of adoption and inheritance in Genesis 15,16 & 21 etc. show close affinity with those observable in cuneiform documents from Ur and Nuzi, ranging in date from the 18th to 15th centuries BC.”


Similar processes can be used for other parts of the Old Testament.    




3. Is the Old Testament to be Taken Literally?




A better question is, ‘Is it true?' – and the answer is yes.


To ask, is it to be taken literally, is an indication that the questioner has little knowledge of the Old Testament.


To start at the simple level, there are a number of different sorts of writing and even some of the sorts are mixed, and there are a variety of issues to be considered in each case.




4. How does this happen in the case of Narrative History?




a) General Principles


Consider the following example:


 Gen 3:1-5 “ Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil . ”


Here there is no indication that this is to be taken as anything other that straight forward, historical narrative.

  i.e. at a particular time and place in history you would have been witness to this actually happening.

Now it certainly raises questions – how does a snake ‘talk' to humans? - but our difficulty in understanding that should not be the reason for denying it.


As a general principle, we should not write off some historical event simply because we do not understand it.


Now we may certainly assume it was literally true as an event, because there are no signs to the contrary.


  We call also deduce a number of principles from this -

e.g.1. Satan (for that is who subsequent Scriptures indicate the serpent was – in disguise?) seeks to bring down men and women and get them to disobey God (confirmed elsewhere in Scripture).


e.g.2. He used doubt as a tool to make us vulnerable to the temptation.


Yet as much as we may deduce principles from it, we must not detract from the fact that it is conveyed as factual, historical narrative, which God requires us to believe if we are wise.


b) The Need for Interpretation


There are some situations where we are forced to suggest that the writing we have needs a measure of interpretation. Probably the greatest illustration of this is the Creation story in Genesis 1.


There we find reference to God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh.


Science has a problem with this because current scientific knowledge suggests that the world is millions of years old and mankind was only in the very last bit of history. Until either science adjusts its dating system, or we get to heaven and perhaps God would show us otherwise(!), we must assume that the seven ‘days' are to mean

•    either seven periods, or 
•    seven days that God took to reveal it to Moses years later.


Similarly, in respect of the flood, although there are indications of a flood in many parts of the world, without denying in any way that this was a literal flood and Noah built a literal ark, we may speculate (knowing the tendency of writers of that time to not be so specific as they might be today) that the ‘whole earth' referred to, may mean all the earth of the Middle East.


Neither of these historical references need in any way challenge our faith, but they may need to be understood in a different way, after interpretation, but of course we will only know this for fact after we leave this earth!



5. How does this apply to Law or Teaching?




“Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” (Gen 9:3)


Now there is no indication whatsoever that straight forward instruction is to be considered in any way other than a literal instruction to be obeyed.


The difficulty that arises is to know to whom the instruction applies. For instance in the Torah it is clear that the social laws were for the physical nation, Israel , a nation under God. If a nation does not acknowledge God in the way Israel did, it is unlikely that it is going to accept that law.


Similarly, in the case of ceremonial law, it is no longer applicable because:


a) The temple no longer exists, the one place where sacrifices could be made, and


b) Jesus has become THE sacrifice that covers all other sacrifices (see Hebrews).




6. Should Prophecy be considered Literally?




a) General Rules:


 Where possible assume it was meant literally.


 Watch for figurative language where is obviously isn't.


 If it is clearly poetry, or in verse form, watch for a lot of figurative language


b) Specific uses of Figurative Language


  Perhaps some of the most common uses of figurative language are:


•   Simile – “like” or “as” – a direct comparison to show similarity with something else, e.g.
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them (Isa 40:6,7)
•   Metaphor – an implied comparison, a word that is applied to something which it is not, to suggest a similarity.
e.g. continuing the above quote: “Surely the people are grass
•    Personification – inanimate object are referred to as if they had life, as if they were people


  e.g. Psa 98:8,9 “Let the rivers clap their hands , let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.”




7. What Additional Rules are there to help with Prophecy?




a) Fulfilment may be in instalments, over a period of time


Look for a fulfilment first of all for the people to whom it was spoken, or at least soon afterwards


e.g. Isa 7:14-17  The Immanuel sign - to be fulfilled very soon


Yet such prophecies can often have a secondary (and even more important) fulfilment


e.g. Mt 1:22,23   Matthew applies this prophecy to Jesus' coming


b) Sometimes the prophecy can have a figurative rather than literal fulfilment


•   e.g. Malachi 4:5  Promise of Elijah to come


then Mt 11:13,14   Jesus says John was the “Elijah”


also Mt 17:3  Yet Elijah came and met Jesus on the mountain


 and Mt 17:12 ,13 Yet Jesus still identifies John with Elijah


 also Lk 1:17 The angel Gabriel declares John to be the fulfilment



c) Sometimes an apparently non-prophecy in the O.T. can be seen by N.T. writers as prophetic


•    e.g. Hos 11:1  A simple reference to Israel coming out of Egypt

then Mt 2:15  Matthew applies that to Jesus coming from Egypt



d) Sometimes a prophecy will only be partially fulfilled in one generation, to be completely fulfilled in a later one


It is like the prophet looking into the future and seeing several ranges of hills that seem one from where he is.


e.g.1   Joel 2:28 -32  Promise of the pouring out of the Spirit


then Acts 2:15 -21 Peter says this is Joel fulfilled - yet there were not wonders in the sky which will be fulfilled in the last of the last days (Mt 24:29)


e.g.2   Isa 61:1,2  The Spirit of the Lord on the Messiah
then Lk 17-21 Jesus declaring the Isaiah prophecy being fulfilled yet without the “day of vengeance” which comes at the end.



8. Can you recap what is in the Old Testament?




Here is an overview:  











History & Law








Law & history




History & Law





Song of Song










1 Samuel




2 Samuel




1 Kings




2 Kings




1 Chronicles




2 Chronicles









































        Here is more detail:

GENESIS is the book of beginnings – the beginning of the world (ch. 1 & 2), the beginning of Sin in the world (our propensity to ignore or rebel against God – ch.3), the beginning of a relationship between God and Abraham (ch.12 on), the beginning of the family of Jacob ( Israel – ch.26 on).

It is purely narrative/history and from chapter 12 on follows the lives of Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob ( Israel ) and his son Joseph, and ends with Israel 's family settled in Egypt .


EXODUS is all about how God used Moses to deliver Israel out of slavery in Egypt (ch.1-12) and how the now-nation of Israel met God at Mount Sinai (ch.19-) and became a nation in relationship with Him. Mostly history but Law in the last third.


LEVIVITUCUS, NUMBERS & DUETERONOMY are most the Law given to Israel at Sinai with some history of how Israel were told by God to go and take the land of Canaan to be their new land, but refused and so wandered in the desert for forty years.


JOSHUA , named after Moses' understudy, is about how Joshua led Israel into Canaan and took possession of it. All history/narrative.


JUDGES is an account of the early years of Israel in Canaan where God set up judges to rule them and guide them. As long as they kept with God they were blessed and prosperous, but as soon as they turned away from God, they got into trouble with their neighbours and were oppressed by them, needing God to raise up a new judge to deliver them. All history.


RUTH is a story of a non-Israelite who became part of the Jews and became part of the family tree of Jesus. All history .


1 SAMUEL – named after the last of the judges, Samuel, who was also a prophet (prophet = a person who heard from God and conveyed God's word to the people). When Samuel got old the people demanded they have a king and so Saul became first king of Israel . He messed up and so God chose Dave to eventually replace him. At the end of the book Saul dies in battle. All history.

2 SAMUEL is all about David's reign as king over Israel . All history.


1 KINGS is the reign of Solomon, David's Son (up to ch.11) and then how the kingdom was split into a small southern kingdom based on Jerusalem (referred to as Judah) and a bigger northern kingdom, based on Samaria (referred to is Israel). The remainder of this and 2 KINGS follows the reigns of the various kings of the two kingdoms until Jerusalem is destroyed and Israel goes into exile in Babylon for 70 years. All history.


1 & 2 CHRONICLES – recapping these reigns of these kings. All history.


EZRA & NEHEMIAH – the return of the people and rebuilding of the Temple and then the city of Jerusalem . All history.


ESTHER – history of a Jewish Queen in Babylon – history.


JOB – discussions of 3 friends with Job about why he is suffering – historical discourse.


PSALMS – songs about God – poetry.


PROVERBS – proverbs about life.


ECCLESIASTES – teaching about how futile life is without God.


SONG OF SONGS – allegorical love song – poetry.


ALL THE FOLLOWING BOOKS - prophecies from different periods of Israel 's history – what God said through His prophets – prophecy.


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