The Bible is the core book on which Real Christianity is based. For a real Christian, the Bible provides the foundation of a real understanding of God; almost everything we know about God comes from the Bible. To understand God one must study the Bible, and that means one must have some idea what it is and where it came from.
One can describe the Bible as the record of the significant interactions between God and his creation. While God frequently answers prayer, the results of this are usually personal to the person who has been praying; the significant interactions of God with mankind are public interventions which might include miracles but also the revelation of God’s message to mankind. God’s more significant revelations are fairly rare, but we have a record of them in the Bible, preserved for all mankind. This means that the Bible is a book of great importance which bears a message of great value and importance to all of humanity.
And this, in turn, means that it is a book which is well worth studying.
Introduction to the Bible
The Bible is a book which is made up of books. There are 66 separate books which together form the Bible. Each of these is a separate work in its own right and is independent of the other books. The books are named, sometimes by their writer and sometimes by their recipient.
The prophecy of Amos, for example, is a complete book written by a prophet called Amos. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a complete letter sent to the congregation in Rome to encourage them and help them to solve the problems that had arisen in Rome. Each book was written by a writer who intended that book to stand on its own, but at the same time there are themes which run throughout the Bible and reappear in many books.
The books were divided up into chapters in the Middle Ages (the division was carried out by Stephen Langton in 1227); the chapters were divided up into verses in Renaissance times by a publisher (Robert Etienne) who introduced verses to the New Testament in 1551 and to the rest of the Bible in 1555. This means that the book divisions are a feature of the original Bible, but the chapter and verse divisions are the work of human scholars. Nevertheless, they are of great convenience in identifying a particular section of the text which is being referred to in study and they are unchanged in all the different editions and translations of the Bible.
References are written Book (Chapter):(verse). Thus John 3:16 refers to the book of John, chapter 3 and verse 16, a passage which reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The Bible divides naturally into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Each of these sections contains many books.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament comprises 39 books written considerably before the time of Jesus. Of the books that are easy to date, the oldest comes from about 1400 BC, shortly after the Exodus when the Israelites cast off their slavery in Egypt. The book of Job may be older than this.
The most recent books in the Old Testament are Nehemiah, Malachi and 2 Chronicles, all of which were written in about 420 BC after a small part of the Jewish people had returned from exile in Babylon to settle around Jerusalem.
The Old Testament was mainly written in the Hebrew language, although some portions of it were written in the related language of Aramaic.
In Christian Bibles the Old Testament books are grouped into four sections:
The Law of Moses (The first five books of the Bible),
The historical books (which cover the history of Israel from the entry into the land of Canaan in about 1400 BC to the middle of the Persian period shortly after 400 BC),
The Writings, which contain poetry and philosophy,
The Prophets, which are books written by individual prophets and each contain an important message of universal importance; the prophets section is often divided into two further sections, the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the minor prophets (all the other prophets).
Jewish editions of the Old Testament list the books in a different order, but the books included in both Jewish and Christian Old Testaments are exactly the same.
The real value of the Old Testament is that it introduces themes which are taken up and explained further in the New Testament. The New Testament thus provides a commentary on the Old Testament.
The New Testament
The New Testament was written shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It contains 27 books which were written in Greek (there are a few words of Aramaic, mainly in the Gospels). The New Testament has four sections, two of which are single books. The sections are:-
The Gospels: These are accounts of the work and teaching of Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion and resurrection; two of the Gospels also contain brief accounts of the birth of Jesus.
The Acts of the Apostles: This is a book which gives a partial account of the deeds and teaching of the followers of Jesus from his resurrection in 33 AD to the spring of 62 AD.
The Letters: These are letters from various Apostles to various congregations and individuals. The earliest of these was written in 48 AD and the last before 67 AD. The New Testament contains letters from the Apostles Paul, James (one of Jesus’ brothers), Peter, John and Judas (another brother of Jesus). The letters are often referred to by the old fashioned word for letters: 'Epistles'.
The Revelation: This is a book which contains a prediction of the sweep of history from the time of the Apostles to the Day of Judgement and beyond, written in a symbolic code similar to that used in the Old Testament book of Daniel.
There are 27 books in the New Testament, mostly written over a very short period of no more than 20 years. The first book was written shortly after the first major spread of the news and teaching of Jesus Christ to non-Jewish areas of the ancient world (48 AD) and the last book was written as the persecution of Christianity built into a major threat throughout the Roman Empire and just before the war with Rome which brought the destruction of Jerusalem (The Revelation was possibly written later than this).
The important point about the New Testament is that it contains a complete picture of the teaching of Jesus and is thus the bedrock document of Christianity. Of course, it is impossible to gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament without an understanding of the Old Testament.