An Introduction to the Bible – The Basics7 min read
Before the beginning of time, God existed – completely invisible and sufficient in and of Himself. Then He created, and heaven and earth came into existence. Then He spoke, and light brought visibility to God’s creation. For the first time, God manifested something of Himself by physical means. It was this action which began a process of revelation which is marked by a series of climaxes. One is the calling of Abram of Ur: out of this man God formed a nation which represented Him before all other nations. To this nation, God entrusted written revelation, which we know today as the Old Testament or the Tanakh. Having spoken to this family/nation in many different ways over the period of 2,000 years, God Himself stepped into human history in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the fullest personal expression of God, for He is the God-man. After the coming of Christ, all of God’s hidden secrets suddenly met their Key, giving necessity to further written revelation – what we call the New Testament. This is the record of Christ – previously anticipated by shadows and prophecies, but presently understood by explicit teaching. Hence, as of approximately A.D. 100, the written revelation of God was completed, yielding what we know today as the Bible.
Basic Facts About the Bible
The word “Bible” simply means “book.” This term became normative in ancient Christianity. By attaching the definite article “the” to the word, “the Bible” is classified in a category unique to itself. It is the book. The terms that the Bible gives to itself are “Word of God” and “Scripture.” When beginning a discussion on this book, it would be helpful to start with a definition. Scripture is the written communication of God – definitively “God-breathed” in nature and in quality, produced as “men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” so that man shall live “by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
In this definition, two authorships are implied: the divine and the human. It is described this way: “Men, borne along by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, the Bible is thoroughly and primarily from God. This is its distinctive character. Nevertheless, man was used to bring this about, so that the text genuinely reflects the mind of the human author, while it perfectly communicates the mind of God. So great is God’s sovereignty that He is able to bring about His purposes, not by overriding the human will, but by using it and guiding it. Such is the case with Scripture. More will be said on this dual-authorship when the subject of inspiration is discussed.
As to the writing of Scripture’s contents, at least 40 human authors were used. From the first writings to the last, a period of at least 1,500 years was covered. In total, 66 books make up its composition. These books are divided into two categories: the Old Testament, written primarily in Hebrew (containing the first 39 books) and the New Testament, written in Greek (containing the last 27 books).
The Old Testament is marked by certain sections, which are rendered differently by different groups. The Jewish division is threefold:
- The Law (To Jews, the Torah)
- The Prophets (To Jews, the Nevi’im)
- The Writings (To Jews, the Ketuvim)
There are five modern divisions:
- The Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy). This contains the foundation of the nation of Israel. It contains their origin, their journey to Canaan, as well as their Law.
- The Historical Books (Joshua – Esther). This records the history of the nation of Israel in their land, with the exception of Esther.
- Poetry/Wisdom (Job – Song of Solomon). In general, this section presents the timeless heart-throbs of worshippers of God, whether those be made in grief, in contemplation, or in praise.
- Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel). These are called “major” for their size; they record the messages of various prophets to Israel.
- Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi). These are called “minor” for their size; they record the messages of various prophets to Israel.
The New Testament, on the other hand, records Israel’s rejection of their Deliverer and God’s formation of a new entity called “the Church.” It has four main sections:
- History (Matthew – Acts). The Gospels record the ministry and death of Christ, while Acts record the conception and growth of the early Christian community, based upon the preaching of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Pauline Epistles (Romans – Philemon). Paul, being “the apostle to the Gentiles” wrote heavily on subjects such as the Church, the local assembly, the Christian’s rule of life, etc.
- General Epistles (Hebrews – Jude). These are called “general,” because they were not written to one specific assembly or person. Various subjects are taken up in these letters.
- The Apocalypse (Revelation). This is the prophetic section of the New Testament, and it deals with the future of Israel and the ultimate end of time according to God’s purposes.
Throughout Scripture, though it is a singular work by the hand of God, there are various literary types used. A major portion of it is narrative, which is used to portray events as they happened; narrative sections record God’s practical dealings with His people. Often they provide lessons for Christian living or illustrations of teaching in another part of Scripture. Another major style is poetry; primarily in Job through Song of Solomon, this style brings out the deep feelings of the heart, whether in grief to call out to God, in praise to marvel at His works, or in teaching to convey a lesson. As well, there are sections devoted to plain teaching and direct communication of truth: these are called didactic sections. Finally, there are prophetic sections in Scripture, which speak events which were future at the time of writing. Some prophecies have been fulfilled, while some remain our expectation. Some prophecies are explicit statements that cannot be mistaken. Some prophecies are highly symbolic in language. Prophetic passages of Scripture serve to establish the promises of God as reliable and enliven our hope in the glorious future which God has prepared.
The Claims of the Bible
If Scripture is to be understood correctly, one must understand the purpose for which God gave it. If it will be appreciated, it must be viewed as unique. Thus the question arises: what makes Scripture what it is?
A Book of Exclusive Revelation. This is at the very heart of the Bible: Scripture manifests God by His very own words. It is a book about God, written by God. From the beginning, God has used words to unveil Himself and communicate His nature: “…the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 3:21). Similarly, when Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord descended in visible glory and made a proclamation of His nature (Exodus 34). So then, as God speaks in the Bible with words, He is unveiling Himself. This is exclusive to the Bible.
A Book of Singular Doctrine. Scripture not only manifests a God to be known, but it embodies a faith to be believed. In Jude 3, this “faith” is described as “once for all time delivered unto the saints.” It is a single entity, established in time, never to be modified.
A Book of Authoritative Instruction. Since the Bible is God’s Word and the embodiment of Christian belief, it follows that this book holds full authority in the life of the Christian. Not only that, but it empowers a life to be lived. It reveals to us the character of God; thus we are called to be like Him. It reveals to us the commands of God; thus we are called to obey. It reveals to us the calling of believers; thus we are called to be consistent with who we were made to be. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” This book is life to the Christian. “Therefore, you shall observe to do as the LORD your God has commanded you: you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 5:32)
Thus, as a whole, Scripture manifests God’s Being, truth, and will. Without these things, we would not know Who to worship, what to believe, or how to behave. Scripture is truly the Christian’s greatest possession.