It is important, as we strive to share the Word of God, that we ensure we are speaking the same language as the people to whom we are sharing. We live in a day of postmodernism, in which there is a general belief that truth is relative and terms get construed in different lights and “deeper meanings”. Let us, therefore, take a few moments to get back to what we mean when we talk about the Bible, God, Jesus, sin, and other terms that you see used often in these articles.
This post is the first in a mini-series dedicated to doing this very thing. When I write about the Bible, that is, the Word of the Living God, I want you to understand the truth about this book. Below are a few questions that I believe get many answers, but let’s look at what the Bible says about itself in regard to these questions. If we are to be People of His Word, we must have a right view of this miraculous Book.
What is the Bible? Is it one book or many books?
The Bible is a collection of 66 books. Contrary to what many people may think, these books are not organized chronologically. They are rather organized by genre, size, and occasionally by author (such as Paul’s epistles in the New Testament). The Bible is generally split into the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament could be described as God’s interaction with the world prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is divided into four large sections. Some people may choose to divide this into more sections or by different names. The Pentateuch (or the Books of the Law) consists of Genesis through Deuteronomy. The Old Testament Historical Books are Joshua through Esther. The Books of Wisdom (Poetry) are made up of Job through the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). The last major division of the Old Testament is the books of the Major and Minor Prophets or just the Prophetic Books. Major or Minor does not signify importance, but rather length of the written work or works of the prophet.
The New Testament could be described as God’s interaction with the world after the birth of Jesus. It can also be divided into four major subdivisions. The Gospels consist of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The single New Testament Historical Book is Acts. The Epistles start with Romans and end with the book of Jude. The final book of the biblical cannon, Revelation, is classified by many as it’s own New Testament section, Prophetic/Apocalyptic Literature.
Who wrote the Bible?
When people refer to the Bible as “God’s Word”, I don’t think there are very many of them who believe that God actually physically wrote the Bible with His very own hand. The Bible was written by many men over history. Men like Moses, who wrote books like Genesis through Deuteronomy; David, who wrote many of Psalms, and Paul who wrote a vast section of the New Testament. There are many more men, of course, whom God used to physically write down the Scriptures that are included in our biblical cannon today.
So why do we call it God’s Word? If all these men wrote down the books that we recognize as the Bible, why do we place “Godly” importance and attribute Godly holiness to it? This is a valid question. The simple answer is this: God did indeed create this work we call the Bible. Look at what Peter (one of the men God used to write the Scriptures) says about this in his second epistle:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophesy of the Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.II Peter 1:19-21 ESV
So, even though men were used to physically pen the words that make up God’s Word, God is the One who wrote the story. The Bible itself makes it clear that men who worshiped and served the LORD were moved by the Holy Spirit of God to write down the things that they wrote. I believe, personally, that God did use the creative style and skills that He created those men to have. I believe, for example, that this is why the Psalms are poetry and not prose. God gave David skill in music and a love of poetry. Therefore, God used this to allow David to write the Psalms that he did in the literary style that worked best to present the message.
The fact that there is one God, with one purpose Who wrote this book through the men that He chose, explains why the Bible is so coherent as one piece of literature. More about that in a second.
What is the Bible’s Principal Message?
And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.John 5:37-40 ESV
The passage above is Jesus Himself telling the Jews the meaning and purpose of the Scriptures. They are written about HIM! The Bible from beginning to end is the story salvation through Jesus. The books of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, while separate in time and writing, are all cohesive and all carry the same message. God gave His Son, Jesus, to the world to save us (all humanity) from our sins!
This is the reason that we don’t typically talk about the Bible as if it’s just a collection of literature. It’s so much more! It is one, coherent, cohesive book written by God Himself! If we think about this like the literary elements of a plot, you could say that Genesis is the exposition of story; it sets up the story for us, telling us about the beginning of life and the cause of life’s problems. The rest of the Old Testament is the rising action, showing this constant struggle of man and his sin against God and His holiness. The climax is Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the grave to save us from our sins. The curtain in the temple is rent and finally man and God can be reconciled. The majority of the New Testament is the falling action, showing in great detail how the singular event of Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it possible for salvation. Revelation is the resolution. The story of life is wrapped up with Christ’s return and judgement of the world. We go to heaven to live happily ever after with Him if we have been saved; and those who have not chosen Him suffer an eternal punishment in hell and the lake of fire.
One of the things that I struggled with in Bible college was the fact that I studied the Bible as my job. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but as a student, I studied the marvelous Word of God like one might study a textbook. If you’re not careful, you begin to look at it as just that: a literary textbook. Sometimes, I found myself studying the great truths of God, but being more worried about the test over those truths than I was about letting them impact my life. Don’t fall into that trap! This book is so much more! The Bible is the roadmap to life eternal! It is the means by which the very Creator of the universe chooses to communicate with you! Don’t let yourself be blind to the greatness of the words right in front of your face.
Why are there so many different “versions”?
I’m sure that this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but English didn’t even exist, and certainly was not trade language of the world 3000 years ago. The Hebrews (Jews) were the people by which God chose to bless the world through His Son. These are also the people who He chose to give His Word. For this reason, the majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Parts of the Old Testament are written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the trade language of the time. That being said, most of us are not Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic scholars. For a long time, the Bible was only available to people in Latin, the language which it was translated into around the third to fourth century A.D. Shortly prior to the Reformation, there were certain men who understood that the Bible needed to be in the vernacular (the spoken language) of the people. Hence, the beginning of the art of Bible translation.
Maybe a more appropriate term than Bible versions is Bible translations. After all, that is what they are. Each different version of the Bible that you see on the shelves at the store or available to you online, or in many people’s bookcases is a different translation of the Bible from its original language into the language you’re reading it in. Most of you will be more familiar with English translations, as I am. When we see different translations of the Bible, this doesn’t mean that the meaning of the text has changed. Bible translations have come because there were groups of people that had such a love for God’s Word that they took on the task of translating it into their language.
Most people who speak English and read the Bible are familiar with the King James Version of the Bible. This is a translation of the Bible that was first made available in the year 1611. There were English translations prior to the King James Version. You may have heard of newer versions that have come since then, and might even use them. Newer versions have come over time as more original texts have been discovered and have become available with which to critique the currently used English translations. A common misconception is that when people work on a new translation of the Bible, they are trying to change the Bible. This is generally false. People want the translation of the Bible they depend on to be as accurate as possible. As more original texts become available and as the language we currently speak changes over time, more Bible translations will continue to be written.
What does this mean for me?
You may be saying, “Ok, Matt, thanks for the history lesson, but what does this mean for me?” It can seem like we’re getting into weeds when we go over all these facts and history. If we’re not careful, we can get so obsessed with these things that we miss the point: the Bible was written by God for us, so that we can know Him and come to know His plan for salvation through Jesus Christ.
When we have a proper view of God’s Word, we can have a proper view of God. Through the rest of this series, and in every article that is written at People of His Word, we will look at God’s Word and, by God’s Grace, will strive to correctly interpret it as we learn together with you.
Next week, we will look at what the Bible says about God Himself. God spoke through His Word so that we could learn about Him and have a relationship with Him. Maybe you’ve never read the Bible before, or maybe you have and realize you don’t have a relationship with its true Author. Do you have questions? Send us a message from the Contact page. We would be happy to show you what God’s Word says about how you can become God’s child through Jesus Christ! May God richly bless you as you seek Him through His Word, friend!