Basic Christianity, Part Six: The Bible
What Is The Bible?
The Bible is, at the most obvious level, a book. Admittedly that does not sound like anything remarkable. The word Bible is simply the Greek word for "book," and is the same root from which we derive the words "bibliography" or "bibliophile." Yet the Bible is exceptional among books as it came into existence in a unique way.
The Bible is a book that contains within in sixty six other books. These books were written by more than forty authors over the course of 1600 years, the first being written in approximately 1500 B.C. and the last shortly before the end of the first century A.D. Some books are named after their author, while others are named after an event or are named based on the content of the book. There are books of vastly different styles - some are poetic while others are prose; some relate history while others relate prophecy; some were written as letters to a person or group while others were written after many years of being conveyed orally through the generations. Yet through the variety of authors, styles and chronology, there is a unity of theme and purpose.
In order to facilitate study, the books of the Bible have been divided into chapters and verses. It is customary to reference the Bible by giving the name of the book followed by the chapter number, then a colon and then the verse number. So Genesis 1:1 refers to the book of Genesis, chapter one, verse one. Matthew 2:5-10 refers to the book of Matthew, chapter 2 and verses 5 through 10.
The Bible is divided into two main sections. The first is known as the Old Testament. It covers the span of history from creation to about 400 years before the birth of Jesus. The second section is known as the New Testament and covers the span of history from shortly before Jesus' birth to approximately 60 years after his death.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament begins with the account of creation and closes roughly 400 years before the birth of Christ. This story is told through 39 separate books. A rough chronological outline of the Old Testament goes something like this:
- Man's fall into sin
- The flood
- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - fathers of the Israelites
- History of the nation of Israel (which spans about 1500 years of history)
The books of the Old Testament can be divided as follows:
- The Law - The five books written by Moses (Genesis - Deuteronomy)
- History - Twelve books (Joshua - Esther)
- Wisdom - Five books (Job - Song of Solomon)
- Major Prophets - Five books (Isaiah - Daniel)
- Minor Prophets - Twelve books (Hosea - Malachi)
The New Testament
The New Testament begins with the events immediately prior to Jesus' birth and ends with God's Revelation about the end of the world. The first books of the Old Testament were written in approximately 49 A.D. and the last sometime before 100 A.D. The New Testament themes can be summarized as follows:
- The Gospels - Four books relating Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection (Matthew - John)
- Acts - One book detailing the beginning of the Church as well as the lives and deeds of the first Christians (Acts)
- The Epistles - Twenty one books (actually letters) explaining who Jesus was and what He did (Romans - Jude)
- Revelation - One book which pictures Jesus' return and the end of the world (Revelation)
What Do Christians Believe About the Bible?
Christians believe that The Bible contains God's revelation to people. It is inspired by God, is without error and is the effective, supreme and final authority on matters of life and faith.
We will examine each of these claims in some detail.
The Bible is inspired. The Bible was written by humans under the direct inspiration of God. To understand inspiration it is good to examine what this does not mean. First, it does not mean that it was written in a clever way or by a brilliant person. We may say that Dickens' A Christmas Carol is an inspired story, but this is not what we mean when speak of the Bible being inspired. Second, this does not mean that God gave people thoughts and ideas that they then expanded upon and wrote down. Third, this does not mean the words are the words of men and only become God's words as we read them and as He helps us understand them. Fourth, it does not mean that the people acted like robots are wrote down God's words without thought or feeling. If that had been the case we would not be able to explain the different styles and personalities that are evident in the various authors.
So what does it mean that God inspired men to write the Bible? To understand this, we must understand (as we spoke about in a previous day) that God is eternal and all powerful. God arranged and formed the lives of the people who wrote the Bible so that he was in control of their backgrounds and their personalities. It means that God used people; their thoughts, experiences, backgrounds and personalities, to write His words. If they spoke in simple words it was because God had dictated that they would not be highly educated. If they spoke in complex words and argued their points with great clarity, it was because God had dictated that they would be highly educated. The words they chose were the words God had determined from eternity that they would use. The author's words were their own, yet at the same time, because God had so directed their lives, they were His words too.
The Bible is without error. There are two words and concepts relevant to this. The first is that the Bible is infallible. This means that the Bible is not misleading. It is a safe, reliable and trustworthy revelation. The second is that the Bible is inerrant. This means that the Bible is free from any sort of falsehood or mistake.
The Bible is effective. The Bible is effective, which means that it will do whatever it has said it will do. The Bible says it has the power to change lives so we can believe that it can do that.
The Bible is authoritative. If the Bible is the only book that is infallible and inerrant, it logically follows that it must be the highest authority. When it comes to the Christian life and matters of faith, the Bible is absolutely authoritative. It is an absolute standard of morality.
The Bible is clear. The Bible is a revelation written by humans, for humans and is, therefore, able to be understood by humans.
The Bible is sufficient. The Bible is the final and sufficient authority on matters of life and faith. We do not need any other revelations from God to complete the Christian faith. By saying it is the final authority, we acknowledge that other forms of Special Revelation have ceased. We no longer expect to receive God's revelation by dreams, visions or by hearing His voice directly. The Bible is complete and perfect, meaning that no more books can be added to it or taken from it.
By acknowledging that the Bible is the final authority on life and faith, we are saying that the Bible is not meant to be used for every purpose. For example, the Bible is not the final authority on science and mathematics. If there is a conflict between Science and The Bible (as in the case of Creation versus Evolution) we must defer to the Bible, but generally the Bible applies to matters of life and faith.
We have learned much of what Christians believe the Bible is. You may ask how we know these things about the Bible. In a sense the answer is "because the Bible says so." We know that the Bible is inspired because it says so in the Bible and we know that the Bible is the final authority on life and faith because that is what the Bible says. It is true that this seems to be a circular argument. In reality, though, it is not. The belief that these statements are true is dependant on the belief that the Bible is what it says it is. So now the question arises of "how can we know that the Bible is what it is says it is?"
Proof That The Bible Is What It Says It Is
There are several ways we can know that the Bible is true and that it is what is claims to be.
Science. Though we have learned that the Bible is not a science book, we see that the science written about in the Bible is accurate. Many things the Bible says about the earth and astronomy were not "discovered" by humans until thousands of years after the Bible was written. Some of these are the fact that earth is suspended in space and is not supported by any type of structure, descriptions of the earth's hydrological cycle and the spherical shape of the earth.
Archaeology. There has never been an archaeological discovery that his disproved a Biblical reference. Time and again we have seen new discoveries uncovering historical truths in the Bible.
Fulfilled prophecy. The Bible contains literally hundreds of prophecies that, after being written, came to pass. Some examples are the destruction of the city of Tyre which was prophesied over 250 years before Alexander the Great destroyed the city. Of even great significance are over 300 prophecies which related to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. All of these prophecies were fulfilled.
Experience. Experience is a powerful proof. I personally can believe that the Bible is true because I have seen evidence in my life that it is true. I see that it was correct in what it said about my nature and my need for forgiveness. I have seen the benefits the Bible promises after receiving forgiveness. I have seen my life and the lives of many other people changed by believing what the Bible teaches.
Ultimately, though, believing in the Bible is a matter of faith. It is God who must convince us that the Bible is true. No amount of proof or arguing will convince someone who does not have faith that the Bible is God's word, and that it is without error and the ultimate authority. No human can convince another human of this matter - it is God who must do the convicting.
So on the deepest level we can say that the Bible does not prove that the Bible is true. Rather, it is God who proves to us that the Bible is true.
The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Needless to say, for most people to read and understand the Bible it was necessary to translate it into different languages. Those who speak English have a wide variety of translations and paraphrases to choose from. A translation is an attempt to provide a word-for-word or thought-for-thought interpretation of the original languages while paraphrases seek to be a sort of running commentary on the meaning of the Bible. Because the Bible is God's word, it is important to use an accurate translation when reading the Bible. The New International Version is a good compromise between accuracy and readability. The New American Standard Bible is a very literal translation that is considered the most accurate translation, but it is moderately difficult to read in parts.
That concludes our introduction to the Bible. In our next article we will examine some of the Bible's content, beginning with the account of Creation.