Consider Christianity Online Library

The Bible

By Elgin L. Hushbeck Jr.

If any man hopes to do a deed without God’s knowledge, he errs (Pindar 518 - 438 B. C.).

In 640 B.C., Josiah became the sixteenth king of Judah. It was a time of great change in the world. During his rule the Neo-Babylonian Empire came into existence and defeated the Assyrian Empire, which had dominated the area, and threatened Judah for 200 years.

Judah was under a judgment of God. Josiah’s grandfather, (King Manasseh) and Josiah’s father (King Amon) had been the two worst kings of Judah. Both had rejected God. Both had led the nation into idolatry. Because of this, God had promised to "wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down" (2 Kings 21:13). Into this atmosphere of political changes in the world, idolatry at home, and a coming judgment of God, Josiah became king of Judah at the age of 8.

Josiah did not follow the examples of his father and grandfather. At the age of 16, he "began to seek the God of his father David" (2 Chronicles 34:2). When he was 20, Josiah, seeing the problems of idolatry throughout the land, began to remove the altars of the false gods. At 26, he undertook to restore the temple of the Lord. This was the temple that Solomon had built over 300 years before, but that "the kings of Judah had allowed to fall into ruin" (2 Chronicles 34:11).

During the reconstruction, Hilkiah the high priest, "found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses" (2 Chronicles 34:27). While it is not completely clear whether Hilkiah found all five of the books of Moses, or just the Book of Deuteronomy, it is clear that the word of God had not held much importance in Judah for a long time.

The Book of the Law of the LORD was given to Shaphan, who was the King’s secretary. Shaphan evidently did not understand what it was that he had been given. When he gave his next progress report on the repair of the temple, at the end he simply mentioned that "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." Josiah had Shaphan read this "book" out loud, and when he "heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes" (2 Kings 22:11). Josiah knew that Judah had strayed from God. They had not followed the laws written in the book, and the book was clear concerning the judgment that God would bring if his people strayed from him.

Josiah inquired of the Lord through Huldah, a prophetess of God, and his worst fears were confirmed. God was going to bring judgment on Judah. But God had taken notice of Josiah’s sincere love for the Lord.

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did -- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:25)

Because of his devotion to the Lord, the reign of Josiah was relatively peaceful. After his death, his sons once again turned away from God. Four years later Judah was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian empire and some of its people were carried off into captivity.

Christianity is a book religion. It is a religion that the apostle Paul described as being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:22). The apostles and prophets not only helped found the church, but they continue to guide us today through the writings they left behind.

These writings are not just their own personal opinions. The apostles and prophets were not some ancient version of social commentators. These were men who where called and led by the Holy Spirit to speak and write what they did. The apostle Paul, writing to his friend and helper Timothy, said:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The apostle Peter wrote that:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21)

In a very real sense, the words of the apostles and prophets that we read in the Bible are the words of God. The messages that they wrote are messages from God to us.

The nation of Judah ignored God’s word, so much so that they lost at least some, if not all, of the books that had been written by Moses. Is it any wonder then that if they ignored the word of God, in effect ignoring what God had told them, that before long they began to ignore God himself? Is it any wonder that they began to seek after other gods?

If we are to follow God, to do what he wants, we must know what he wants. How can we ever expect to do God’s will unless we know what it is? It is sort of like getting a job as a deliver driver. On your first day at work your boss gives you a list of instructions and a map, and then sends you on your way. Would you even consider setting out without first reading over the list of instructions and examining the map?

After we become Christians, we start on our journey to become disciples of the Lord. In this journey, the Bible is our list of instructions and our "map from the boss." And yet it is amazing how many Christians set out on this journey without consulting God’s word. Only about half of those who regularly attend church also regularly read the Bible. Few ever read the entire Bible cover to cover.

God, speaking, through the apostle Paul, said, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). God does not expect all Christians to become great theologians. He does not even expect us to become experts on the Bible. What he does expect is that we become familiar enough with the Bible so that we know what it teaches.

As Christians, we will meet people who challenge what we believe. Atheist will try to claim the Bible is false and members of non-Christian religions will try to lead us astray. In fact, many of those who join cults are Christians who were not well grounded in the teachings of the Bible. The apostle John cautioned us, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The apostle Paul, praised the Christians in the city of Berea because they did not just accept everything he had told them, but they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).

We need to understand the Bible well enough so that we can test for ourselves what people say. Today Christianity is a mixture of biblical teachings and the historical traditions of the church, modified by the culture around us. Now there is nothing wrong with this – as long as we know where the biblical teachings end, and the traditions and the culture begin. For example, the style of music used in church services is not specified in the Bible. It is a matter of culture and tradition. Sometimes, however, we accept tradition as biblical simply because it is what the church has done for a long time, and because we are not familiar with what the Bible teaches.

Some Christians are always caught up in the latest theological fad, or the latest book on prophecy. But the apostle Paul said that we should strive to be well grounded in the faith so that, "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching" (Ephesians 4:14).

In short, the goal of Bible study is to become familiar enough with the word of God so that you will know what God says and how to put it into practice in your life. In this respect, it must be remembered that the word is not dead, for God continues to speak through the Bible. Bible study is not like studying math or history, a subject to be learned and then mastered. It is a never ending process and a life long commitment.

So what is the Bible? Normally we think of the Bible as a single book, but it is in reality a collection 66 books written by over 40 people during a period that spanned approximately 1500 years. The text of the Bible is thoroughly reliable and can be trusted. When we read a passage in the Bible we do not really have to worry about whether or not it is what God really said.

The form of our Bibles, however, differs somewhat from when it was originally written. The most obvious example of a change in format is the fact that, unless you happen to read ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, you will be reading a translation of the Bible.

Over the years, the Bible has been arranged and organized to make it easier to understand and study. The most obvious division is between the Old and New Testaments. Actually, the word "testament" is a poor translation of the Greek word diatheke, which means covenant. A better way to think of these two sections is as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Testament (Covenant) is a record of God's dealing with the Jewish people. In fact, what we call the Old Testament, Jews would simply call the Bible.

The Old Testament covers a period of time from the creation of the universe up to about 400 B.C. The vast majority of the Old Testament, all but the book of Genesis, cover a period from about 1500 B.C. to 400 B.C., or a little over a 1000 years.

One thing to keep in mind as you read the Old Testament is that the order of the books is not strictly chronological. The Christian Old Testament is divided into four sections: Law, History, Poetry, and Prophets, with the Prophets being divided into Major Prophets and Minor Prophets. Within each section the books do follow a somewhat chronological order.

The Law consists of the five books of Moses and forms the foundation for the nation of Israel. The History consists of Gods dealing with the Jewish people, the Poetry contains the Psalms, and Wisdom Literature of the period, while the Prophets contain the written records of some of the Prophets that God sent to the Jewish people.

The New Testament (Covenant) follows this same four-fold division, consisting of the Gospels, History, Epistles (Letters), and Prophecy. The Gospels describe the life of Christ and provide the foundation for Christianity. The History consists of Gods dealing with the early Church (mostly the work of the apostle Paul). The Epistles contain some of the letters the apostles wrote to churches and Christians, while Prophecy tells us of the ultimate destiny of our world and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The books of the Bible are still further divided into chapter and verses. It is important to remember that these also were added to make it easier to study, and as such were not part of the original text. While there were earlier attempts to divide the books of the Bible into chapters, the modern system of chapter division was created by Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris sometime around A.D. 1227. The verse divisions were added a little over 300 years later by a Parisian printer, Robert Stephanus.

While there is only one Word of God, there are many Bibles. Gone are the days when most English speaking Christians used the same Bible - The King James Version (KJV). The King James Version is the most famous English version of the Bible and the one most often quoted. It is extremely beautiful in its rendering of passages and its sixteenth century English, with its "thee"s and "thou"s, gives it an almost "heavenly" character. The only real problem with the KJV is that we no longer speak King James English. As such, many new Christians find the KJV difficult to read and understand. An attempt to make the King James Version more readable without losing its beauty is the New King James Version.

Today there are so many Bibles to choose from that it can really be confusing when you go to buy one. The first question you need to answer is: Which kind of translation do you want? There are basically two types of translations: Literal and Idiomatic. When translating a given passage the differences, in grammar and sentence structure between languages makes a straight word for word translation impractical in most cases. For example, a straight word for word translation of 1 John 5:20 would read:

We know and that the son of the god is come and has given to us an understanding in order that we might know the true and we are in the true in the son of him Jesus Christ this is the true god and life eternal.

While it is possible to understand what the apostle John is saying, it is a little difficult to read, and can be confusing. In fact, because of the differences in grammar and word order, a word for word translation could even be misleading. A straight word for word translation also loses the character of the original language. The Bible is not only the word of God, it is great literature.

A literal translation tries to stay as close to a word for word translation as possible and yet retain its readability. A good example of a literal translation would be the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The NASB translates 1 John 5:20 as :

We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding in order that we might know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

The King James Version, also a literal translation, translates 1 John 5:20 as:

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

An idiomatic translation, on the other hand, while striving for accuracy, tries also to preserve the overall flow and beauty of the text. An example, of an idiomatic translation would be the New International Version (NIV). The NIV translates 1 John 5:20 as:

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true -- even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

A third type of "translation" is a paraphrase. In reality, a paraphrase is not a translation at all, but rather an attempt to convey the meaning of a text with little or no regard for the actual words used by the writers of the Bible. An example of a paraphrase would be the Living Bible, which renders 1 John 5:20 as:

And we know that Christ, God’s son, has come to help us understand and find the true God. And now we are in God because we are in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the only true God; and He is eternal life.

A paraphrase should be used with caution. While they can be very easy to read and understand, they are much more prone to distortion than a translation. As long as you have a good paraphrase, there is nothing wrong with using it for reading, but you should always remember that it is a paraphrase and not a translation. Also, a paraphrase should never be used for Bible study, for you would not be studying what God says, but what somebody thinks God is saying.

As you can see, both the Idiomatic and Literal translations are faithful to the original text of the Bible. Some people like literal translations because they want to be as close to the original text as possible without having to learn Greek and Hebrew. (Then again, some do learn Greek and Hebrew.) Others prefer idiomatic translations because they are easier to read and understand. If you can afford it, get and use both types – both have their strengths and weaknesses. Among the major Bible versions, there really are no bad translations. When choosing a Bible, a major consideration should be: Is this a Bible that you will read and study? Purchasing a Bible is a waste of money unless you read it and study it.

One word of caution at this point. There are many good books written to help you study the Bible. In fact, there are so many, that it is very easy to spend all your time reading and studying books about the Bible, without ever studying the Bible itself. You must be careful to allow God’s Word to speak to you directly. Your first source for understanding the Bible should be the Bible, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, prayer must accompany Bible reading and study.

Bible reading and Bible study are matters requiring a life long commitment. Nobody ever knows enough about what the Bible says because, as the Word of God, it never ceases to speak. God can and does speak to our hearts through the Bible. Sometimes He speaks as we are reading. Sometimes He speaks only after we have really studied and struggled with a particular passage. The word of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit. He uses it to mold us, change us, and conform us to his will. As the writer of Hebrews wrote:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

We cannot spend a long time reading and studying the Bible without coming face to face with our own failings, our own sinfulness. But as our sinfulness is revealed, so is the solution.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalms 1:1-2).