The word of the Lord
The Holy Bible is God’s divine revelation of His plan and purpose for mankind. It provides the truth in the Old and New Testament about why He created human beings and their ultimate glorious destiny. Furthermore, it gives us hope for the future in a world beset by problems that humans are finding more and more difficult to resolve. The Holy Bible can give definitive answers because its ultimate author is the greatest expert of all. Our Creator God knows exactly what makes us tick and what causes us to suffer and what makes us thrive.
The Bible is an amazing book, recorded by around 40 men over about 1,500 years. God inspired men from diverse backgrounds and generations to record His message for mankind. God inspired prophets, judges, farmers, shepherds, fishermen, doctors and kings to record His thoughts, in which all of them received divine inspiration from God, who is really the One who wrote the Bible.
The apostle Peter wrote, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2nd Peter 1:20-21).
The Bible is an entire library, with stories, songs, poetry, letters and history, as well as literature. The Holy Bible has two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament is the original Hebrew Bible, the sacred scriptures of the Jewish faith, written at different times between about 1200 and 165 BC. The Old Testament was arranged in three sections.
The first five books, Genesis to Deuteronomy. They are not 'law' in a modern Western sense: Genesis is a book of stories, with nothing remotely like rules and regulations, and though the other four do contain community laws they also have many narratives. The Hebrew word for Law ('Torah') means 'guidance' or 'instruction', and that could include stories offering everyday examples of how people were meant to live as well as legal requirements. These books were later called the 'Pentateuch', and were written by Moses.
The Prophets is the largest section of the Old Testament, and has two parts ('former prophets' and 'latter prophets').
The books of 'latter prophets' preserve sayings and stories of religious and political activists ('prophets') who served as the spiritual conscience of the nation throughout its history, reminding people of the social values that would reflect the character of God. Some books are substantial (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), others are much shorter (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Sometimes, the prophets could be mime artists and dramatists, accompanying their actions by short spoken messages, often delivered in poetic form. These were the sound bites of their day, which made it easy for others to remember them and then write them down.
The 'former prophets' consist of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings. They are history books, but what makes them also 'prophets' is that they not only record information, they interpret it, explaining its significance in relation to other events in the history of Israel, and of the wider world of their day.
These include Psalms (songs, prayers and liturgies for worship), Proverbs (sayings of homespun wisdom), Job (a drama that explores the nature of suffering), plus the 'five scrolls' ('Megiloth') which were grouped together because each had associations with a particular religious festival: Ruth (the Jewish Feast of Weeks, also called Shavuot), Song of Solomon (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), Lamentations (Destruction of Jerusalem), and Esther (Purim). This section also includes the last books of the Old Testament to be written: Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles.
The New Testament has 27 books, written between about 50 and 100 AD, and falling naturally into two sections: the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); and the Letters (or epistles) - written by various Christian leaders to provide guidance for the earliest church communities.
The Gospels were written to present the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in ways that would be appropriate to different readerships, and for that reason are not all the same. They were not intended to be biographies of Jesus, but selective accounts that would demonstrate his significance for different cultures.
The first three are effectively different editions of the same materials, and for that reason are known as the 'synoptic gospels'. The writer of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of how Christianity spread from being a small group of Jewish believers in the time of Jesus to becoming a worldwide faith in less than a generation.
Letters were the natural way for itinerant church leaders to communicate with their converts, and the earliest ones were written before the Gospels. With some exceptions (Romans, Hebrews), they were not meant to be formal presentations of Christian belief, but offered advice to people who were working out how to express their commitment to Jesus in ways that would be relevant to the many different cultural contexts in which they found themselves throughout the Roman empire.
Reading them can be like listening to one half of a conversation, as the writers give answers to questions sent to them either verbally or in writing. Paul was the most prolific writer of such letters, though he was not the only one.
The New Testament concludes with the book of Revelation, which begins with a series of letters to seven churches, but then offers a visionary presentation of the meaning of all things, from creation to the end of the world.
Now is the time to read and study the complete Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, that God has given us out of His great love for us. As Paul told Timothy, the Holy Scriptures “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17).