The word “Bible” is much like many words we easily use but rarely try to define. Does “Bible” mean the same to each of us? Can you agree with what is declared in the next three paragraphs of this essay?
Christians believe the Bible is the authentic story of God’s introduction and explanation of himself to humans. Its two sections are named the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The first section, the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) tells how “I AM” created “man” (both male and female). His direct contact with his people is the introduction of personal faith. God given personal faith was experienced on an individual basis by Adam and Eve and early Patriarchs.
Having established personal faith for selected individuals, God began to expand this personal faith in the world. For that purpose, God later took Jews, as a group, out of Egyptian paganism and slavery to make them into a personal faith nation of monotheistic believers. In this work, God continually had to monitor their faithfulness. To protect and nurture this work, he needed to “build a wall” around these people he chose to carry his personal faith message. To prevent their regression back into paganism, God established them into a nation.
After some 1,300 years of group faith training from Moses to Jesus, (or about 1,800 years if you begin counting from Abraham), God offered Jews new liberty through free grace. He offered them a New Covenant.
To accomplish this, God the Father gave them Jesus for companionship. God sent Jesus to teach, demonstrate, and accomplish his will - the New Covenant – liberty under freely offered grace. The New Testament, the Christian’s Bible, records that story.
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A few years ago we had the occasion to inventory the Bibles in our home. The count was twenty-eight versions including Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and Greek texts. In addition, we had numerous atlases, commentaries, Bible histories, Bible dictionaries, and encyclopedias.
Even with all our versions and aids, we had to remember the Bible, in whole or in part, has been translated and printed in over 1,000 different languages. Various numbers of books were included in different editions. Some included the Apocrypha and Revelation and others did not.
Compounding this confusing collection was the fact that everyone I know has different opinions on the same Scriptures. Opinion differences are not limited to our family. In Church and Sunday school great, regular, and lively debates confirmed there are as many different opinions about the Bible and its’ meaning as there are people.
Further, major denominations are continually in danger of splitting over differences of both Bible interpretation and definitions of its nature.
A major problem is the debate to determine if the Bible contains the literal and verbatim words of God, or is it is simply “inspired by God.” Fueling this debate is the fact that conflicting statements appear within the Bible.
Another great problem is that all denominations insist their doctrinal statements are based on Scripture, but all have different beliefs.
Many idolize the Bible as divine, being the exact words God “dictated” to its writers through the Holy Spirit. Thus, many consider the Bible to be “Holy” even while asserting only God is holy.
To venerate the Bible, some denominations practice kissing the altar Bible during worship services. Still others believe Bibles have magical qualities and will ward off evil when tucked under bed pillows. It has been claimed Bibles carried in shirt pockets will stop bullets and protect soldiers and law officers from injury.
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So what can we believe about the Bible? How can we bring some order and agreement from this chaos? How can Christians join each other in enjoying the treasures of the Bible while avoiding rancor and debate?
The first step in this is to find common ground on which we can agree. It is necessary in our descriptions of the Bible to avoid debate by “keeping it simple.” To do this we need to free our minds of “hear say” information we have collected and appropriated without really “thinking it through.” It is time for a fresh start to make our own opinions – opinions we can defend because they are ours, and not borrowed from others.
A good starting point is to understand the Old Testament covers religious history before Jesus was born. That period of time by tradition is known as B. C. – Before Christ. This is about God’s works with humans with special attention to the times of “The Law,” the Torah. Through the Torah, God taught the Jews about himself and protected them from regressing back into paganism.
(Being written over hundreds of years, by many different writers, causes the Bible to have some conflicts. That is expected.)
For Jews and Judaism, the Old Testament is considered sacred and the New Testament is denigrated as spurious – the story of a false prophet and a heretic (Jesus).
The Jewish system of worship (Judaism) had a double ending. Its spiritual end was caused by Jesus’ final atonement on the cross at Calvary. Its temporal ending came in 70 AD when the Roman Army under its General Titus destroyed the Temple and made it impossible for Jews to fulfill the Torah.
So, for Christians the Old Testament is a record of Jewish religious history that was closed 2,000 years ago. It is the “genealogy” of Christianity.
The next minimum point of agreement is the New Testament records the advent of Jesus including his words, works, and ways. So this era is called A. D., the abbreviation for Anno Domini – the year of (our) Lord.
The historical witness to Christian faith begins with Jesus and starts with Matthew 1:1 of the New Testament.
Because Christians classify Jesus as their Savior and Teacher, we must strive to learn about him before any other Bible character. To serious Christians, the words (the Red Letters), works, and ways of Jesus are the most important parts of the entire Bible.
Christian Bible study must begin with Jesus or it is “built on sand” and fails to have an orderly and firm foundation (Matthew 7:24-27).
Most of us read books in the order the writer intended. We start at the first page and, sooner or later, finish by reading the last sentence. How strange it is that most read secular books in such an orderly fashion, but jump and skip around when reading the Bible.
If we agree the Bible is God’s inspired writing, then we must accept the fact it is in his inspired order. That being the case, the Bible’s intended meaning is perverted when we disorder it. We should read it in the order in which it is given to us.
To read the New Testament in an orderly fashion, we start at Matthew 1:1 and continue to its end. By doing this, we receive our spiritual education as God programmed it for us. It is just as if we attend God’s seminary. God will be our Teacher as we read because we are promised the Holy Spirit will teach us all things (John 14:26).
God’s “Bible 101” course for us (http://www.bible-101.org/) begins with the “Gospels” of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Some complain the content of these books differ causing confusion and doubt. It is easy to overcome that criticism by noting these are four different writers. Each is writing from different places and different times with different concerns. It is also noted the writers have a common goal and the same theme. The goal is to present Jesus from their four individual experiences and perspectives.
Their constant theme is that Jesus brought the good news (Gospel) and all of can enter into God’s house, the Kingdom of Heaven, in this life and for eternity.
After reading these four Gospels in their preserved order, we should continue reading the remaining books.
Acts tells of the Apostles’ early ministries and the Christianity’s earliest events. Paul’s letters follow Acts.
Paul was Christianity’s first trained theologian. He was supernaturally called by Jesus to be the Jesus’ spokesman to the Roman and Greek world. Paul’s letters give us practical understanding of Jesus’ way and how it is God’s replacement of Moses’ Torah and Judaism.
Then comes Hebrews to explain the “inexplicable” exchange of the Old Covenant of the Jews into the New Covenant of Jesus. Next come letters of John, Peter, James and Jude. First John and First Peter are two important letters.
The final book of the New Testament is “Revelation.” Controversy has always swirled around it because there is no common agreement on its meaning. Its theology and style contradict the prior twenty-six books of the New Testament.
Many Christians ignore Revelation because it is confusing, contradictory, and conflicts with most of the Bible. It can be ignored without harm. The preceding twenty-six books of the New Testament present the full Gospel message. More information about this is at http://www.revelation-101.org
The purpose of Bible reading is to invite God to speak to us through it. Debating and disputing about the Bible’s meaning defeats God's purpose. Slowly and orderly read through it. God will reward you with the message he has just for you – your special message that was written before you were born.