The Bible is really special and unique. Not just in that it's God's inspired holy word (profitable for teaching and reproof, the highest authority, infallible, holding no error whatsoever within it), but in how it's composed as well. It's a book that was written over the course of 1600 years by 40 different authors (whom God spoke through), some of who were historians, others were kings, then there are philosophers, scholars, poets, fishermen, church planters, prophets, a doctor... and more. As *Protestant Christians, we hold to the the view that the Bible is composed of *66 books in total (39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New).
You think there might be some difference between Job and Philippians? You bet. Every book belongs to a different genre, written to a unique audience, has a history, culture, context, purpose, and even grammar of it's own. Nuances abound for each book. Anytime we come to study a different book in the Bible we should ask the 5 'W' questions: Who, What, Where, When, and Why? (Something I'll get into a bit later) And yet for all the wonderful differences, together, they tell God's grand, living, breathing story.
The first 5 books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch. They're law books, but they're also historical narratives, as are the following books in the OT (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings, First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. These give us the history of Israel from the very beginning (Creation of Earth) up through the prophet Malachi. However, how they're situated in our Bibles is not in perfect chronological order.
These narratives also contain the bigger story shown throughout all of scripture known as the meta-narrative: Creation, fall, and the plan of redemption and reconciliation to God fulfilled in the coming messiah, Jesus Christ. They're true, real stories. Events and happenings are described, but we have to be careful, because they're not always prescribed for us to do ourselves. (A popular example being polygamy (marriage to more than one woman). Whilst described it is not prescribed (i.e. God's not actually OK with that practice).) In How to read the Bible for All It's Worth, the authors give these 10 principles to keep in mind when reading and studying the OT narratives:
- Old Testament narratives do not usually teach doctrine directly, but rather...
- An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates doctrine taught elsewhere in the Bible.
- Narratives record what happened, not what should have happened, therefore not every story has a single identifiable moral application.
- What people do in narratives is not always a good example to us—often it is the opposite.
- Most characters in the narratives are FAR from perfect—as are their actions.
- We are not always told whether the actions in the narratives are good or bad—we are expected to judge based on what God has taught us elsewhere in Scripture.
- The Old Testament narratives are selective and the inspired authors did not give us every last detail to each story, so don’t impose a meaning if you can’t see one.
- They were not written to answer all of our theological questions—they have specific, limited purposes.
- Narratives may teach explicitly or implicitly. When we are looking at what is implicit especially, we should rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit to help us understand based on the narrative instead of imposing our own ideas onto it.
- God is the protagonist—the main character and hero, of all biblical narratives.
*Catholic Bibles contain an additional set of books referred to as the Apocrypha. In the early days Christians tended to have two different approaches towards them: The first one was held by Christians living in the eastern half of the Roman Empire: They held onto the Jewish stance that while thought useful, they were not considered cannon. The western half considered them as canon (mostly due to the influence of St. Augustine). When the reformation occurred with the Protestants breaking from the Catholic church they continued to hold to the view of the early Eastern Christians, thus not including it in the cannon of scripture, noting that Jesus, his apostles, and disciples never quoted the Apocrypha books either.