What is the Bible?
‘I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy
word’ (Psalm 119.16).
THE BIBLE IS regarded as the ‘Holy Book’ of the Christian
Religion, just as the Koran is thought of as the basis of Islam. In this issue
of ‘Light’ we are publishing the first two articles in a series which is planned
to look at the Bible as a book. The series will consider where it came from, how
we got it in its present form and to think about the influence it should have,
its authority and whether it has a message for us today.
Most Christian homes have a Bible. It is still the world’s best
seller in English, but sadly, it seems to be less and less read. We hope this
series of articles will encourage our readers to study what is not only an
important book, but also one that should have a real influence on our thinking
LOOK AT THE BOOK
Find your Bible and look at it – as if you had not seen it
before. On the spine there are probably the words, ‘HOLY BIBLE’. Both are words
which we use almost without thinking what they mean.
The word ‘Bible’ is related to the Greek word ‘biblios’ and we
find the first part of the word in our word ‘bibliography’ which means a book
list – usually a list of books related to a particular subject. The word ‘Bible’
means ‘books; collection of books; library’.
The word ‘Holy,’ means ‘consecrated, sacred; morally and
spiritually perfect; belonging to, commissioned by or devoted to God’ (Concise
Oxford Dictionary). This word is also used (because of its derivation) to mean
‘special’ or ‘set apart for a special purpose’.
So the title of the book we are looking at really means that it
is a special library or a collection of books – commissioned by God, set apart
for a particular purpose. One of the purposes of this series of articles is to
try to understand why the Bible is special and what makes it special. It is
certainly not just one book, but a collection of books.
Open the Bible and look at the index at the front. You will see
the titles of all the separate booklets, which make up the whole Bible. They are
divided into two groups: 39 in the section called the Old Testament and 27 in
the part called the New Testament. The books of the Old Testament were all
written before the time of Christ and the New Testament books after the time of
Christ in the first century AD. Practically the whole of the Old Testament was
originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. So the
whole of the Bible has had to be translated so that we can read it in English,
French, Telugu, Ewe, Russian, or in whatever language we speak.
‘Car Dieu a tellement
aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils unique, afin que tout homme qui croit
en lui ne meure pas mais qu’il ait la vie éternelle’
In the box above we read John chapter 3 verse 16 in French (EFC
Version), not only spoken in France but also in various African countries and in
other parts of the world.
If we now turn the pages of the Bible we will find the books are
of different length and many of them have strange names – Genesis, Deuteronomy,
Habakkuk and Malachi for example in the Old Testament and Thessalonians,
Philemon and Revelation in the New Testament. Some of these words are the
opening Hebrew words of the books:
Genesis means the beginning and the opening words of the book
are ‘In the beginning…’ Exodus is linked to our word ‘Exit’ and means the ‘way
out’. The book tells about the way in which the Hebrew people were brought out
of Egypt and what happened afterwards.
Other titles of books are the names of teachers or leaders or
others who wrote the books. Malachi and Habakkuk are the names of prophets
(teachers) as are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. You can usually tell why the
book is so called by looking at the opening verses of the book.
In the New Testament, most of us know the names of the first
four books. They are the names of the writers who recorded the four accounts of
the life and work and teaching of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of
the other booklets are letters named after the writers – like Peter or James.
Some are named after the groups of Christians to whom they were
written. For example, Ephesians is a letter written to Christians at Ephesus by
the Apostle Paul. Philippians is the name of the letter by the same writer to
Christians at Philippi.
The Book of Revelation is different. It is an account of the
visions that were given to the Apostle John at the end of his life when he was
in exile on the Island of Patmos. It begins: ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it
known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he
saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ’ (Revelation
ALREADY SOMETHING SPECIAL
If we study the various books of the Bible carefully we find
that about 40 different people were involved as writers. They wrote while living
in various countries – Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Italy and, of course, Israel.
The books were also written over a long period of time – about 1,500 years. The
Bible, then, in a very real sense is not just one book, but a library. It is
because this collection is bound together for convenience, that it is often
printed on very thin paper, to make the book manageable. The fact that we do
have all these separate writings bound together in one volume is certainly one
thing that makes it different and rather special.
THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE BOOKS
For ease of reference we usually group the books of the Bible as
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
These first five books are sometimes called ‘The
Pentateuch’, a word which means the ‘five’ books which are also called
‘The Books of Moses’. In the Hebrew Scripture these books are called the
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, I
and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.
These books describe the history of Israel from the death
of Moses to the establishment of the kingdom under Saul, David and
Solomon; then the division of the Kingdom into the northern Israel and the
southern Judah. Both kingdoms were eventually conquered and the people
taken into exile. Only Judah was allowed to return from captivity. The
return is described in the books called by the names of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
The Psalms are, in fact, divided into five ‘mini books’.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,
Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai,
Zechariah and Malachi
The opening verses of these books will usually say at
which period of history the prophets preached.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Gospel writers tell us about the birth of Jesus, his
ministry and teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection.
The full name is ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ and the book
describes the spread of Christianity and the missionary journeys of Paul.
Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians,
Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians.
These were written by Paul to the new churches.
1and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon
These were written by Paul to individuals
Written to the Jewish Christians particularly
James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John and Jude
Other letters by the writers by whose name they are called
Visions seen by John exiled on the Island of Patmos