The Bible is the most influential—yet misunderstood—book of all time. Last week I examined What The Bible Isn’t covering several common misconceptions. If you try to read the Bible through one of those lenses, you’ll miss the whole point!
So what is the Bible? Let’s get a little nerdy here first. This helps us understand the context of this book (if you start to nod off, just skip to The Story of God below):
What is the Bible?
I say the Bible is a book, but it’s actually a collection of 66 books written over a period of about 1,500 years by 40+ authors. The books contain different literary genres including history, poetry, law, wisdom, letters, and more—which is very important! You don’t read poetry the same way as history, right?
The Bible was written in 3 different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Old Testament (approx. the first 2/3 of the Bible) was written initially in mostly Hebrew with a little Aramaic, the common language of Israel around the time of Jesus. The New Testament (the final 1/3 of the Bible) was written in Greek, the universal language of the Roman Empire at the time. The Old Testament is BC; it covers everything before Jesus. The New Testament is AD; it includes the coming of Jesus and everything after.
We have lists from the late 4th century AD recording the complete Old and New Testament canon (the Council of Carthage), although earlier documents show how little dispute there was over the majority of the New Testament books (the Muratorian Fragment, ca. 170 AD). Other books and writings such as the Apocrypha were considered by the church to be helpful or instructive, but not canonical. And there are many writings like that today, books/blogs that are helpful but are not Scripture.
The most popular current Bible translations (NIV, ESV, NKJV, etc.) are English translations of the ancient written copies. There are many thousands of whole or partial manuscripts—far more than any other ancient book. And more scholarship has gone into the study of the Bible than anything else in human history. Therefore, the English translations we have today are very accurate and can be trusted to be very close to the original writings.
Ok. So what difference does all that make? You’re welcome to study further if you’d like (see links below) but without the message of the Bible, none of the other details would matter.
The Story of God
So what’s the message of the Bible? I said last week that the Bible is first and most importantly, God’s Story. There is one grand narrative, One Story, that spans the whole collection of books. Isn’t that incredible!?! Across many generations, places, and languages, there’s one storyline running straight through it all. And it’s about who God is, what he has done, and what he’s doing in the world today through his son, Jesus Christ. Sure, we find incredible meaning, purpose, wisdom, and direction for our lives, but it doesn’t start or end with us. We see that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Without Jesus, the Bible makes absolutely no sense.
Without Jesus, the Bible makes absolutely no sense.
God’s Story follows the pattern of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The Bible begins with creation stories, where God the Father creates a good and perfect world, a world teeming with life and beauty and filled with his Spirit. But the Story goes on to describe the corruption and brokenness caused by the fall to sin and death. You see, the people that God had made in his image tragically reject him and rebel against him bringing a curse on all creation. In time, though, we learn of the wonderfully unexpected rescue plan of God: to send Jesus Christ, God’s only son, into the world to die to provide redemption for sinful people, simply because of his great and unstoppable love for them. Salvation would come by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus. The Story ends with a hopeful vision of a new creation, a new heaven and earth, in which justice is done, sin and death are destroyed, and goodness, beauty, life, and relationship with God are experienced in full for all eternity.
Jesus describes this story as “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1) and taught that all of Scripture was about him (Luke 24:44-47). The Old Testament reveals who God is, his will for his creation, our sin, and our need for a savior. The New Testament reveals who that savior was (Jesus!), what he accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection from the dead, his invitation to salvation, and what his promises are for our future. And through this Story, Jesus calls all people to follow him in repentance and faith. In this way, our individual stories, our lives, can be drawn up and into a far greater Story—the Story of God!
The Bible is deep enough in beauty and application to spend countless lifetimes plumbing its depths. But at the same time, its essential message has a simplicity that even a child can understand and respond to in faith. There are many other things that could be said about the Bible. Hopefully, this was a helpful overview!
May we look to the Bible and see the Story of who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing today. May we look to the Bible and see a loving Father who offers life and love and peace. May we look to the Bible and see Jesus. God, fill us with your Spirit so that we might understand and live by your word! Change us by your Story and help us to share your Story with all people.
If you’d like help in understanding the Bible, make sure you’re connected to a local church that teaches from the Bible. Also, I would recommend reading a Study Bible or check out How To Read The Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. Both of those help you understand the context of what you’re reading. For the nerds or skeptics, check out The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce or Thy Word Is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today by Peter A. Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin.