God has replaced the Law (Old Testament) with his Spirit (New Testament).

OLD WAY OF LIVING WAS BY EFFORT TO OBEY THE LAW

In the Old Testament, God gave laws to his people for governing their relationships with him and with each other. These laws – generally referred to as ‘the law’ – included the Ten Commandments and hundreds of supplementary ethical and ceremonial rules covering nearly every aspect of daily life.

But it was impossible for anyone to fully comply with the law. No one could be that good, not even Moses. The purpose of the law was to define sin and to demonstrate that everyone – even the best of us – is a sinner. When a person sinned, he had to offer a sacrifice to God in order to obtain forgiveness (see Topic 33), and then he would start all over again trying to be good.

Fortunately, obeying the law is no longer the key factor in our relationship with God. Now faith in Jesus Christ is the key factor.

JESUS CHRIST HAS TOTALLY FULFILLED THE LAW FOR US

Referring to the Old Testament laws, Jesus said, ‘I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.’

The New Testament explains that Jesus Christ is available as our substitute (if we personally claim him as substitute), in which case God looks at Jesus’ life (perfect!) and imputes his righteousness to us. Thus, Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for us because God is willing to judge us on the merits of the substitute righteousness rather than on the demerits of our own sin.

The big difference between the Old Testament (old way) and the New Testament (new way) is that formerly people had to work at being good by following the law, but now we’re declared good because Jesus Christ (if we ask him) is our perfect substitute. His life is exchanged for our life (see Topic 54).

If we personally (by individual decision) accept Jesus Christ as our savior, God accepts the perfect life of Jesus as though it were our own life, so that when we stand in judgement before God we’re without sin! It’s as if we had never broken a single one of God’s laws in our life!

As with most things in God’s world, this is profoundly simple but also profoundly complex. That’s why we need the Old Testament explanations of sin and substitution to adequately understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ did by fulfilling the law for us.

NEW WAY OF LIVING IS BY POWER FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT

Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to help us with our daily living. (The Holy Spirit is part of God, without a body, who relates to us individually – see Topics 7, 8, 39, 41 and 44.) At the time Jesus said this, his disciples couldn’t even comprehend the concept of it, but now we understand and experience the reality of it.

The Old Testament law is still valid because it tells us the kind of thoughts, words and actions which are pleasing to God. We shouldn’t ignore the law today on the grounds that Jesus has fulfilled it or that it only applied to the Israelites. We still look to the great moral principles that lie behind the law.

But now these principles are worked out in daily living by the Holy Spirit, who literally resides within each Christian. It’s no longer a matter of self-effort but rather a matter of letting the Holy Spirit take control, and good living comes quite naturally.

It’s no wonder that the core message of the New Testament is called the ‘gospel,’ a Greek word meaning ‘good news’ (see Topic 52). The good news is that we don’t have to struggle in trying to obey the law in order to be acceptable to God.

Instead, we can take Jesus Christ as our personal substitute (savior) and receive the Holy Spirit to change our desires and empower us for good and dynamic living.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Deuteronomy 4:1-26:19
Detailed Old Testament law

Romans 7:7
The law defines sin

Matthew 5:17
Jesus says he has fulfilled the law for us

Galatians 3:23-25
We are no longer under the law

Ephesians 2:8-10
We are saved by faith, but we do good works

Galatians 5:16-25
Description of new nature controlled by Holy Spirit

Hebrews 11:5
Impossible to please God without faith

For help, see Topic 29.

Now there’s a better way!

A NEW NATURE!!

The Ten Commandments and the other laws of the Old Testament are good – but they’re so hard to keep. In fact, they’re impossible to keep! And that’s the point. No matter how hard we try, we’re still sinful by nature. We all have a sin problem that separates us from God.

The good news of the New Testament is that God has done two things to overcome this problem for us (provided we accept these benefits by personal faith):

God gives us a general pardon for all violations of his laws. The penalty for all our sins – past, present and future – was satisfied in full by Jesus’ death on the cross.

God gives us a new nature with better desires, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our new nature still isn’t perfect, because we still have temptations and free will, but it's far better than our old nature without the Holy Spirit. A wholesome life results from this new nature

(just as a wholesome life could result from following the laws), but now the results come naturally rather than from difficult self-effort.

Without God’s forgiveness and a new nature, we would always be living in failure, weariness and futility because we could never succeed in obeying all the laws. But now, by God’s new and better way – faith in Jesus Christ – we can live a good and happy life because all our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit is within us.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

God gave these Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:3-17). As an expansion and application of these principles, God later gave hundreds of detailed ethical and ceremonial laws, all recorded in the Old Testament.

God now accepts us for our faith, not for what we do or don’t do.

Jesus Christ is the central figure of the Bible and of history.

SEPARATE JESUS CHRIST FROM CHRISTIANITY

The words Christian and Christianity are not Bible terms. (‘Christian’ is used a few times in the original Greek text but only to reference the name society had given to the followers of Jesus Christ.)

The usual Bible term for a person who has personally accepted God’s offer (received new life) is the phrase ‘in Christ.’ Examples: ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’... ‘brothers in Christ’... ‘they were in Christ before I was’... ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first.’ The Bible expresses concepts but doesn’t put labels on people.

Today the words Christian and Christianity are so entrenched in our language and culture that we can’t shed them, but they’re too corrupted to describe and illustrate the real message of the Bible.

Therefore, to understand what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, we need to separate him from Christianity and try to forget about religious systems and about the people who distort his words and wrongly use his name. We need to see him as the Bible presents him, not as our contemporary American culture portrays him.

ONE LIFE

He was born in a stable,
In an obscure village.
From there he traveled
Less than 200 miles.

He never won an election,
He never went to college,
He never owned a home,
He never had much money.

He became a nomadic preacher,
Popular opinion turned against Him,
He was betrayed by a close friend,
And His other friends ran away.

He was unjustly condemned to death,
Crucified on a cross among thieves
On a hill overlooking the town dump,
And when dead, laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone,
Empires have risen and fallen,
Mighty armies have marched,
And powerful rulers have reigned.

Yet no one effected men as much as He.
He is the central figure of the human race.
He is the Messiah, the Son of God,
JESUS CHRIST.

– Author unknown

NO ONE HAS EFFECTED THE WORLD LIKE JESUS CHRIST

Muhammad, Buddha and founders of other major religions never claimed to be God. They claimed to be prophets of God. Jesus Christ alone claimed to be God.

There’s no confusion between the claims of Christ and the claims of anyone else. He stands alone as the only one who could be God in human body.

More words have been spoken and written about him than anyone else who has ever lived. More people have been willing to die for him than for any other cause. More lives have been changed by him than by any other power or philosophy.

Jesus Christ has effected human history more than any person who has ever lived. As historical fact, Jesus Christ is the most important person we’ll ever encounter.

Even time is measured from the birth of Jesus Christ:

  • BC = Before Christ
  • AD = After Divinity

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, I Peter 4:16
Word ‘Christian’ used in the Bible (original Greek text)

Matthew 1:20-25
Jesus is the Messiah the Old Testament said would come

Luke 22:66-71
Under questioning, with his life at stake, Jesus said he’s God

For help, see Topic 29.

 

WHO IS JESUS CHRIST?

(there are only four possibilities)

  • He’s a crazy man
  • He’s a liar
  • He’s a moral teacher
  • He’s God

Everyone must make a decision about Jesus Christ, and the decision will fall into one of these four categories.

A wrong choice is fatal!

Anyone who says that Jesus Christ is a crazy man, liar or merely a moral teacher has committed the ultimate sin against God (see Discovery 6).

Choosing to postpone a personal decision about Jesus Christ is, in effect, also a conclusion that he’s not God. Anyone who truly believes that he’s God – or even that he might be God – certainly wouldn’t ignore him. The Bible says that anyone who ignores God, and thus rejects the gift of new life he offers, will end up in hell (eternal separation from God – see Discoveries 50 and 51).

Therefore, making a decision about Jesus Christ is no small matter. Everyone’s eternal destiny is determined by this one decision.

‘Jesus had to be crazy to say heʼs God.ʼ

If Jesus were crazy, then it follows that a crazy man has effected the world for good more than any sane person in all of human history. That’s not a reasonable argument. Reasonable people might say Jesus was cunning, or unorthodox, or even deceptive, but they must acknowledge that he has more followers than any person who has ever lived, and the very fact of his enormous success precludes him from being crazy.

ʻJesus was lying when he claimed to be God.ʼ

Concluding that Jesus is a liar is flawed thinking:

At his trial, Jesus was asked: ‘Are you the Son of God?’ Jesus knew that a lie would get him released and the truth would get him crucified. Jesus could have lied and saved his life, but he told the truth and was crucified on a cross. If Jesus were a liar, he would have lied.

Hundreds of millions of Christians testify that the things Jesus said would happen in their lives in response to their faith in him have in fact happened. A person who has never experienced a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is in no position to contravene the massive testimony of those who have experienced this relationship, and thus a person’s charge that Jesus is a liar comes only from his own ignorance.

Saying he’s a liar doesn’t explain away Jesus’ spectacular deeds.

ʻJesus was just a great moral teacher.ʼ

It’s nonsense to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not divine. That would reduce him to a lying, deceiving impostor – perpetrator of the world’s greatest hoax – and such a person can’t by any stretch of the imagination be a great moral teacher.

ʻJesus is who he said he is.ʼ

All things considered, the most reasonable conclusion is that Jesus Christ was God in human body, just as the Bible says. This conclusion is supported by Discoveries 39-46 and 54-55.

Even time is measured from the birth of Jesus Christ:

BC =

Before Christ

AD =

After Divinity

ONE LIFE

He was born in a stable,
In an obscure village.
From there he traveled
Less than 200 miles.

He never won an election,
He never went to college,
He never owned a home,
He never had much money.

He became a nomadic preacher,
Popular opinion turned against Him,
He was betrayed by a close friend,
And His other friends ran away.

He was unjustly condemned to death,
Crucified on a cross among thieves
On a hill overlooking the town dump,
And when dead, laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone,
Empires have risen and fallen,
Mighty armies have marched,
And powerful rulers have reigned.

Yet no one effected men as much as He.
He is the central figure of the human race.
He is the Messiah, the Son of God,
JESUS CHRIST.

– Author unknown

The New Testament spells out God’s new agreement with us.

NEW TESTAMENT IS ‘OFFER’ UNTIL ACCEPTED

‘Testament’ is a legal word which means covenant, pact, contract or deal. In plain language, the Old Testament is God’s old deal with mankind. The New Testament is his new deal. As with any deal, there’s no value or benefit to a person unless he accepts it. A deal is consummated only upon offer and acceptance.

Therefore, to the person who understands and accepts God’s offer, the New Testament is God’s testament which states specifically what God has promised to do for him.

But to the person who has not accepted God’s offer, the New Testament is not a testament (yet) but is an offer which, if and when accepted, will become a testament (see Topics 56 and 57).

The New Testament is a collection of 27 individual books (see Topic 29), organized as follows:

  • Life of Jesus Christ (first four books)
  • History of the early church (fifth book)
  • Instructions to Christians (21 books)
  • Glimpse into the future (last book)

Each book has a part in spelling out God’s offer, and each book provides explanations of the new life available to anyone who accepts the offer. When read together, these 27 books give an exciting picture of God’s grand plan for us.

The plan is not so complex that it takes 27 books (about 350 pages in total) to explain it. On the contrary, the plan is very simple and can be stated briefly (see Topics 53-62). Much of the New Testament is repetitive – the same principles seen from different perspectives – and this serves to make the key points very clear to us.

HOW WE GOT THE NEW TESTAMENT

The central theme (the offer) of the New Testament is commonly called the ‘gospel’ (Greek word meaning ‘good news.’). The gospel, stated in its simplest terms, is that by personal faith in Jesus Christ we can have:

  • Complete forgiveness of sin
  • God (Holy Spirit) living in and through us
  • Eternity in heaven

All of this is offered to us by God, in love, as a free gift. The only condition (an easy one!) is that each person must personally accept the gift. A person’s relationship with God no longer depends upon ‘measuring up’ to the law and making sacrifices for sin as was required by the Old Testament.

God brought this good news to mankind in a very unique way. Approximately 2,000 years ago, he came to earth in the body of a man – Jesus Christ – to announce this new stage of his grand plan (see Topic 32) and to make the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins (see Topics 54 and 55). This seems like a long time ago from our perspective, but it’s quite recent from God’s perspective.

Jesus didn’t write any book himself. He spoke and modeled the message for three years in many towns and villages to audiences large and small, and particularly to twelve disciples.

At first the message spread entirely by word of mouth, but as time passed and the message was carried to distant areas, there was a practical need for written materials.

No one set out to produce a ‘new’ testament to replace the ‘old’ one. The New Testament developed as apostles (those who were close eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life and teaching), under authority and inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see Topic 19), put in writing exactly what Jesus said and did.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

  1. ANNOUNCEMENT – An angel tells Mary and her fiance (Joseph) that she will be mother of the Messiah.
    BIRTH OF JESUS – Jesus enters the world by being born in Bethlehem (near Jerusalem) to Mary, a Thus Jesus is literally the God-man (divine father, human mother). His arrival was without fanfare, to an ordinary family under humble circumstances. The Bible says very little about him between birth and age 30, when he began his public ministry.
  2. JOHN THE BAPTIST – John the Baptist preaches that everyone should repent and be baptized to get ready for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah (Savior). Jesus comes to John, who baptizes him and proclaims him Savior of the world.
  3. PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS – For three years, Jesus was an itinerant teacher. He spoke to huge enthusiastic crowds, but as he moved from town to town, mostly he spoke to small groups and particularly to 12 disciples who traveled with He never traveled more than 50 miles from Nazareth, his home town. He also performed miracles – particularly healing sick people – to demonstrate his divinity. He told people everything necessary to know about spiritual life.
  4. DEATH OF JESUS – The religious leaders in Jerusalem were furious because Jesus claimed to be God and because people were believing him. They brought him to the Roman governor, who hastily sentenced him to death, in order to prevent a riot. He was beaten and nailed to a cross, where he died in public humiliation. In this way, Jesus gave his life as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world, eliminating the need for further sacrifices.
  5. RESURRECTION OF JESUS – His dead body was placed in a sealed tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers because authorities feared his disciples might steal the body to prove his statement that he would rise again. Three days later, he miraculously came to life in a supernatural body and left the tomb.
  6. ASCENSION OF JESUS – He spent the next forty days teaching his disciples. During that time he was seen by more than 500 people. Concluding his teaching, he rose into the clouds and disappeared from sight. Two angels immediately appeared to the disciples and said that he will return from heaven in the same way they saw him leave.
  7. HOLY SPIRIT – Seven weeks later, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the inner power of God that Jesus had promised. God’s physical presence was replaced with a spiritual presence not limited by time and space. The disciples excitedly told everyone what had happened. Thousands became believers.
  8. FIRST CHURCH – The disciples established the first church – a loving, caring and growing Christian community meeting in homes in Jerusalem – but they were severely persecuted by religious leaders of the Temple, causing many of them to disperse to other areas, thus spreading the gospel even further.
  9. PAUL’S MISSIONARY TRIPS – Paul, a powerful antagonist who led the persecution, became converted through a personal encounter with Christ. He became a very influential missionary and established churches throughout a wide area along the Mediterranean Sea, including the imperial city of Rome.
  10. INSTRUCTIONS TO CHURCHES – As new churches were established, Paul and others visited them and also wrote letters to explain how this new life is to be lived.
  11. THE FUTURE – God gave the Apostle John a symbolic vision of the major spiritual events and sequences which will occur in future stages of his grand plan.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

John 3:13-21
Jesus Christ is God’s way of communicating to us and saving us

Romans 3:20-26
New way is through faith in Jesus Christ, not through good works

For help, see Topic 29.

Essentially all of these events occurred in the country we know today as Israel, primarily in the 75 miles between Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee.

See Topic 33 for summary of the Old Testament.

God had power and reason to perform the miracles of the Bible.

THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT MIRACLES

The Bible is an extraordinary collection of books, and as one would expect, it records some extraordinary events. Some of these events surpass conventional experience and explanation, and we call them miracles.

In deciding whether or not to believe the miracles recorded in the Bible, a thoughtful person should work his way through the answers to these three questions:

  • COULD God perform miracles?
  • WOULD God perform miracles?
  • DID God perform miracles?

The answer to each question is explored below.

QUESTION 1: COULD GOD PERFORM MIRACLES?

For something to start from nothing defies the laws of science and thus is a miracle. If God is powerful enough to create the universe (see Topic 3), he’s powerful enough to perform the smaller miracles recorded in the Bible.

God designed the laws of nature, but he’s not bound by them. He has power greater than the laws he designed. Therefore he can override those laws at any time for any special purpose.

No one can say he’s never seen a miracle. Life itself is a miracle, transcending human comprehension, and most people ascribe life to a supernatural cause.

Logic says that if a large miracle can happen, then smaller ones can happen, too.

QUESTION 2: WOULD GOD PERFORM MIRACLES?

There are many miracles recorded in the Bible, but they are not commonplace. In fact, they are unusual events clustered mostly around three relatively brief periods of time:

  • Moses and Joshua (1490-1440 BC, escape from Egypt and desert experience)
  • Elijah and Elisha (910-830 BC, establishing authority of the prophets)
  • Jesus Christ and the apostles (30-70 AD, introduction of Jesus to the world)

In each of these periods, God gave a major new revelation of himself and, to enhance believability, he accompanied each new revelation with miraculous visible signs.

For example, it was by walking on water, turning water into wine and healing sick people that Jesus received attention and credibility. If he had simply appeared on the scene and said he was God, no one would have believed him. The Bible specifically names 35 miracles which Jesus performed (listed in right margin), all during the last three years of his life. It was his demonstration of power that made believers out of scoffers.

When we understand why he would do these things, we find it easier to believe that he actually did them.

QUESTION 3: DID GOD PERFORM MIRACLES?

If God could perform miracles, and if he would have special reason to perform them, the only remaining question is whether or not he actually did perform them.

None of us is a personal observer of everything God has done through the ages. Just because something isn’t occurring in our presence today doesn’t mean that it’s never occurred in the past.

Even though nearly all secular historical documents from antiquity have decayed or been lost (see Topic 20), we still have outside corroborating evidence for the miracles.

For example, the most profound and important miracle recorded in the Bible is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Bible says he was crucified on a cross and placed in a sealed tomb guarded by Roman soldiers, but three days later he came back to life and vanished from the tomb. Over the next 40 days, he was seen by over 500 witnesses. During that time, he taught his disciples about the gospel (‘good news’) and told them to tell the whole world. Then he ascended out of sight into the clouds. Even apart from the Bible record, there’s strong logical and historical evidence supporting this miracle:

  • The tomb had to be empty, otherwise the disciples could not have successfully proclaimed the resurrection in the very city where Christ’s dead body was being guarded by soldiers, and there would not have been such a great number of believers.
  • If the tomb were still occupied when word of the resurrection spread throughout Jerusalem – which caused embarrassment for the authorities and fueled the very kind of belief they were trying to eradicate – they would no doubt have publicly displayed the body to quell this electrifying story if the body were still there.
  • Secular history shows clearly that the early church completely disregarded the tomb, illustrating that they worshiped the risen Christ. They changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, in commemoration of the resurrection. The sacraments of baptism and communion were practiced by the church and would have been meaningless apart from the resurrection.
  • Secular history reports how the disciples gave their lives – many were martyred (see Topic 22) – in telling this story, and it’s highly unlikely that they would be willing to die for something they knew was a hoax.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IS BEST PROOF OF A MIRACLE

The miracles recorded in the Bible are extraneous to our personal experience. We know about them only from what we read, and they can no longer be corroborated by living testimony.

However, the Bible speaks of another kind of miracle – called the ‘new birth’ (see Topic 62) – which is personally experiential and also verifiable by testimony of others. People who have experienced this personal miracle in their lives, and/or talked to others who have experienced it, have less difficulty believing the historical miracles of the Bible than do people who don’t know anything about the personal miracles.

Anyone who is skeptical of miracles can make a private experiment to prove or disprove personally whether or not a miracle (supernatural happening) is really possible. The result will be his own personal miracle. The Bible provides all the necessary information for this experiment, as summarized in Topics 53-62.

DICTIONARY DEFINITION

MIRACLE: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

John 2:11
People believed in Jesus because of his miracles

Acts 2:22
God publicly endorsed Jesus by miracles

Matthew 4:23-25
Jesus performed more miracles than those specifically named in the Bible

Acts 5:12-16
Apostles also had power to perform miracles, drawing crowds and making believers

For help, see Topic 29.

JESUS’ MIRACLES:

Healed diseased woman Healed paralyzed man Raised girl from dead Healed Peter’s mother-in-law Restored withered hand Freed boy from demon Walked on water

Restored sight to blind man Freed girl from demon Healed deaf/mute man Freed man from demon Gave sight to two blind men Healed mute man

Put coin in fish’s mouth Gave sight to blind man (1) Gave sight to blind man (2) Raised boy from dead

Healed handicapped woman Turned water into wine Raised man from dead

Filled fish nets (1) Filled fish nets (2) Healed a leper Fed 4,000 people

Fed 5,000 people Quieted storm Expelled demons Withered fig tree Healed servant Healed sick man Restored man’s ear Cured ten lepers Cured lame man Healed crazy man Healed boy

The Old Testament needs to be seen in its historical setting.

COMMON OBJECTIONS TO THE OLD TESTAMENT

People often have difficulty accepting what they read in the Old Testament, particularly:

  • GOD’S CHARACTER – God seems harsh rather than loving.
  • BLOODSHED – The Israelites kill large numbers of seemingly innocent people in the cities they conquer. Murder is common. The sacrificial system of offering lambs, goats and birds is gory.
  • IMPLAUSIBLE STORIES – Many of the narratives seem preposterous and difficult to believe because they are far beyond the realm of con- temporary experience.

Each of these objections is explored below.

OBJECTION 1: GOD’S CHARACTER

God seems stern and judgmental in the Old Testament. This is because only one part of his trinity (Father) was understood. At that time the world didn’t know about Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament describes the era when God first began to reveal himself to mankind. A fuller revelation did not come until the New Testament, where we see his great love (through Jesus Christ) and his personal relationships (through the Holy Spirit).

The Old Testament focuses on God’s holiness and justice. The New Testament expands the picture to show his forgiveness and mercy.

The Old Testament shows life by law. The New Testament shows life by love.

In reading the Old Testament, it’s important to place it in its historical setting as the introduction to the New Testament. The Old Testament is the longest part, but the New Testament is the main story.

OBJECTION 2: VIOLENCE AND BLOODSHED

Many people have difficulty accepting the Old Testament as part of God's book because it portrays so much bloodshed, in addition to slavery, idolatry, deceit, theft, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. It's all there, often in sordid detail.

The Old Testament doesn’t present life as God ideally wants it, but rather as it really is. People then, as now, had free will and often chose to ignore God, displaying behavior – even recorded in a holy book – that offends our Christian conscience.

Life was much different in the pre-Christian era than it is today. Christian concepts had not yet taken root in society. Life was crude, like it still is in parts of the world where Christianity has not yet penetrated.

Many times in the Old Testament, God directed the Israelites to wage war against their enemies. People now ask how a good God – who gave the Ten Commandments, saying not to kill – could condone warfare and sometimes even give instructions for killing apparently innocent people.

It's the same issue we face in society today when our nation is threatened by attack or subversion from another power. God would not be ‘good’ if he allowed his people to be ravished, and his benevolent purpose thwarted, by surrender to evil forces.

God usually required that the armies of Israel first offer the enemy an opportunity to surrender without bloodshed. Women and children were to be spared and given care. Only in the case of degenerate and depraved cities was there to be total destruction to prevent undermining of the moral and spiritual standards of Israelite society.

OBJECTION 3: IMPLAUSIBLE STORIES

There are many narratives in the Old Testament which seem too preposterous to be true... such as when God caused the Red Sea to part so that the Israelites could walk across on dry land... when the walls of a city (Jericho) collapsed as the Israelites marched and made a loud noise according to God’s specific instructions... when a large fish swallowed a preacher (Jonah) thrown from a ship and then disgorged him intact on shore...

Perhaps the narrative that seems most preposterous of all is an account in the Old Testament commonly referred to as the story of Noah and the Ark. God was angered by rampant sin throughout the human race, and he instructed Noah to build a huge three-story wooden vessel (450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high).

After 120 years of construction, Noah put on board a male and female of every major animal, reptile and bird species, along with his wife, three sons and three daughters-in-law, plus large provisions of food. A colossal flood resulted from a 40-day torrential rain and from gushing subterranean fissures, killing all other living creatures. When the waters subsided after 150 days, the vessel came to rest on a mountainside, and the passengers re-populated the earth.

This account of Noah – and some other incredible stories recorded in the Old Testament – cause embarrassment to some Christians because they don’t really believe the stories themselves. (Fortunately, being a Christian requires only personal faith in Jesus Christ, not faith in every story in the Old Testament.) But the Bible reports these events as actual occurrences, and there’s supporting evidence.

For example, in dozens of cultures throughout the world, the earliest stories of mankind refer back to a great flood. Written accounts of the flood are universal, even among people who could not have had any contact with the Israelites.

Even though Noah built his vessel long before the advent of large ships, the precise engineering design for it as recorded in the Bible is seaworthy for its cargo and remarkably in accord with modern shipbuilding principles.

The flood explains some of the mysteries of modern science, such as the wide-spread veneer of alluvium on the continents... the layer of Pleistocene animal bones discovered in numerous parts of the world in a violently separated state (obviously once underwater because of calcite cementing)... and the marine sediments found thousands of feet up on mountain slopes.

Some people can accept the possibility that there may have been a colossal flood sent by God as punishment for rampant sin and that a remnant of life may have been saved on a special floating vessel, but they have difficulty believing that any human being could live to be nearly a thousand years old. (Noah died at age 950. Adam, the first man, died at 930. Methuselah, the oldest person on record, died at 969.)

The Bible says that early generations multiplied rapidly with long life, but eventually people ignored God and became terribly depraved. As part of God’s judgment with the flood, he declared:

‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’

Therefore, human life span declined after the flood, and God has imposed a new limit of 120 years. (This is exactly what modern medical science is saying today, thousands of years later.)

While some people have trouble believing human ages reported in the Bible, others have no trouble at all believing that God, the Creator, could shorten man’s life span any time at will and that he may have done things in the past – and will do things in the future – that he’s not doing now.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Exodus 14:21
God parted the Red Sea so Israelites could cross on dry land

Joshua 6:2-20
Walls of Jericho collapsed at trumpet blast and loud shout

Jonah 1:1-2:10
Jonah swallowed by large fish and vomited onto dry land

Genesis 6:9-9:28
Story of Noah and the ark

Genesis 6:3
God shortens man’s maximum life span to 120 years

Matthew 24:37-38
Jesus acknowledges the flood

For help, see Topic 29.

The Old Testament sets the stage for the New Testament.

WHY WE SHOULD STILL READ THE OLD TESTAMENT

The word ‘testament’ means covenant, pact, contract or deal. In plain language, the Old Testament is God’s old deal with mankind. The New Testament is his new deal.

That raises questions: Is the Old Testament outdated and irrelevant? Should we now read just the New Testament?

Answer: The New Testament contains everything essential for us to know today. However, we can understand the New Testament much better when we have the background information contained in the Old Testament. For best comprehension of God’s plan, the two should be read together.

GOD CHOSE JEWISH RACE FOR SPECIAL ROLE

Although Jewish people account for less than half of one percent of the world’s population, they have had the leading role in God’s revelation of himself to mankind. The Old Testament is essentially the story of what God taught the Jews before the birth of Jesus Christ.

He chose them as a special race to convey to the world the following basic spiritual principles:

  • THERE’S ONLY ONE GOD. This view was contrary to the religious notions of other people at that time who believed in thousands of deities arising out of pre-existent matter of unknown origin.
  • GOD DEFINES GOOD AND EVIL. God gave the Jews moral and religious laws (like the ten commandments) so they would know the difference between good and evil. The laws defined and revealed sin.
  • EVERYONE SINS. The laws showed that it’s impossible for anyone to live a life acceptable to God without God’s special help. Everyone sins, and sin is man’s biggest problem.
  • GOD REQUIRES A BLOOD SACRIFICE. God understands our sin nature and will forgive all our sins, but his forgiveness is not automatic. God has decreed that forgiveness can be obtained only when a blood sacrifice is made to prove that the sinner recognizes the gravity of his sin and is truly sorry for it. (Blood is the essence of life, the highest price.)

In the Old Testament, people received forgiveness for their sins by sacrificing a lamb on an altar. Knowing this, we see the significance in the New Testament of Christ’s death on the cross, which was the once-and-for-all sacrifice for everyone who believes and personally appropriates it.

Many statements in the New Testament which would otherwise seem strange now have potent meaning, as when John the Baptist first saw Jesus and exclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

OLD TESTAMENT SAID A SAVIOR WOULD COME

A key concept running throughout the Old Testament is that in due time God would send a ‘messiah’ (someone who would save people from their sins.) It wasn’t clear when or how he would come, or what he would do, but it was clear that he would be the great savior and that quality of life after his coming would be much better.

Now, with the New Testament and with our personal experience, we know that the messiah (savior) is Jesus Christ. When he came to earth, how he came, what he said and what he did – as recorded in the New Testament – now makes perfect sense to us because of all the background information recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is the central theme of the entire Bible.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

  1. CREATION – God created the world, with man and woman as his crowning
  2. FIRST SIN – Man disobeyed Sin became man's biggest problem.
  3. FLOOD – The earth became so wicked that God destroyed everyone in a gigantic flood except Noah and his family. They escaped by building a huge 3-story raft, following God's detailed instructions. The eight survivors, plus animals brought on board, re-populated the earth.
  4. DISPERSION – People became very wicked again. They tried to build a tower to reach the heavens but God thwarted the project by causing them to speak in many different languages. They could no longer communicate with each other, and they dispersed by linguistic group into other parts of the world.
  5. CHOSEN PEOPLE – God called Abraham to become father of a special race of people to teach the world important spiritual concepts (like one God, not many gods). Abraham settled in Palestine.
  6. EGYPT – Abraham's grandson, Jacob (renamed Israel) and his family moved to Egypt, where they multiplied rapidly. But the Egyptians used them as slaves, and they were very oppressed.
  7. ESCAPE – With miraculous power from God to inflict plagues on the Egyptians, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Numbering about two million people, they headed back toward Palestine as free people.
  8. WANDERING – Because of their ingratitude and disobedience, God punished them by making them stay in the desert for 40 years. It was a harsh life, but God gave them special care and protection. Under his direction, they moved from time to time, camping ever closer to Palestine.
  9. LEARNING – During that desert experience, God taught them about himself. He also gave them many laws, including the Ten Commandments.Through a system of animal sacrifices, he showed them that sin can be forgiven only when life (blood) is given.
  10. CONQUEST – After 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the desert, God allowed the Israelites to return to Palestine. City by city, they conquered territory in bitter battles.
  11. DIVISION – Because of dissension, the Israelites split into two nations: Israel (northern) and Judah (southern). In the ensuing three centuries, Israel is ruled by 19 kings, some good, some bad.
  12. GOLDEN AGE – The Israelites subdued all their enemies and established themselves as supreme in the region. Under King David and King Solomon, the Israelites became powerful, affluent and Jerusalem become the holy city, with a magnificent temple and professional priests.
  13. CAPTIVITY – Both Israel and Judah were conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem was destroyed. God used prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah – to teach the people about God.
  14. RETURN – The Persians overthrew the Babylonians, and the Israelites were allowed to re-build Jerusalem as their religious center. The Romans conquered Palestine, and it became a Roman province.
  15. EXPECTATION – For over 1,000 years, the Israelites had been anticipating the Messiah (Savior) who God repeatedly promised to send at an appropriate time. (But they thought he would be for Jews only.) The grand theme of the Old Testament is that a Savior will come.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Isaiah 40:3
Old Testament prophesy that a Savior will come

Hebrews 9:22
There is no forgiveness of sin without shedding of blood

John 1:29
Jesus is lamb of God

Luke 24:27, 44-49
Jesus explained how statements in the Old Testament by Moses and the prophets were references to himself

For help, see Topic 29.

All of these events occurred in the countries we know today as Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and (primarily) Israel.

See Topic 36 for summary of the New Testament.

WHY WE SHOULD STILL READ THE OLD TESTAMENT

The word ‘testament’ means covenant, pact, contract or deal. In plain language, the Old Testament is God’s old deal with mankind. The New Testament is his new deal.

That raises questions: Is the Old Testament outdated and irrelevant? Should we now read just the New Testament?

Answer: The New Testament contains everything essential for us to know today. However, we can understand the New Testament much better when we have the background information contained in the Old Testament. For best comprehension of God’s plan, the two should be read together.

GOD CHOSE JEWISH RACE FOR SPECIAL ROLE

Although Jewish people account for less than half of one percent of the world’s population, they have had the leading role in God’s revelation of himself to mankind. The Old Testament is essentially the story of what God taught the Jews before the birth of Jesus Christ.

He chose them as a special race to convey to the world the following basic spiritual principles:

THERE’S ONLY ONE GOD. This view was contrary to the religious notions of other people at that time who believed in thousands of deities arising out of pre-existent matter of unknown origin.

GOD DEFINES GOOD AND EVIL. God gave the Jews moral and religious laws (like the ten commandments) so they would know the difference between good and evil. The laws defined and revealed sin.

EVERYONE SINS. The laws showed that it’s impossible for anyone to live a life acceptable to God without God’s special help. Everyone sins, and sin is man’s biggest problem.

GOD REQUIRES A BLOOD SACRIFICE. God understands our sin nature and will forgive all our sins, but his forgiveness is not automatic. God has decreed that forgiveness can be obtained only when a blood sacrifice is made to prove that the sinner recognizes the gravity of his sin and is truly sorry for it. (Blood is the essence of life, the highest price. )

In the Old Testament, people received forgive- ness for their sins by sacrificing a lamb on an altar. Knowing this, we see the significance in the New Testament of Christ’s death on the cross, which was the once-and-for-all sacrifice for everyone who believes and personally appropriates it.

Many statements in the New Testament which would otherwise seem strange now have potent meaning, as when John the Baptist first saw Jesus and exclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

OLD TESTAMENT SAID A SAVIOR WOULD COME

A key concept running throughout the Old Testament is that in due time God would send a ‘messiah’ (someone who would save people from their sins.) It wasn’t clear when or how he would come, or what he would do, but it was clear that he would be the great savior and that quality of life after his coming would be much better.

Now, with the New Testament and with our personal experience, we know that the messiah (savior) is Jesus Christ. When he came to earth, how he came, what he said and what he did – as recorded in the New Testament – now makes perfect sense to us because of all the background information recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is the central theme of the entire Bible.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

  • CREATION. God created the world, with man and woman as his crowning
  • FIRST SIN. Man disobeyed Sin became man's biggest problem.
  • The earth became so wicked that God destroyed everyone in a gigantic flood except Noah and his family. They escaped by building a huge 3-story raft, following God's detailed instructions. The eight survivors, plus animals brought on board, re-populated the earth.
  • People became very wicked again. They tried to build a tower to reach the heavens but God thwarted the project by causing them to speak in many different languages. They could no longer communicate with each other, and they dispersed by linguistic group into other parts of the world.
  • CHOSEN God called Abraham to become father of a special race of people to teach the world important spiritual concepts (like one God, not many gods). Abraham settled in Palestine.
  • Abraham's grandson, Jacob (renamed Israel) and his family moved to Egypt, where they multiplied rapidly. But the Egyptians used them as slaves, and they were very oppressed.
  • With miraculous power from God to inflict plagues on the Egyptians, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Numbering about two million people, they headed back toward Palestine as free people.
  • Because of their ingratitude and disobedience, God punished them by making them stay in the desert for 40 years. It was a harsh life, but God gave them special care and protection. Under his direction, they moved from time to time, camping ever closer to Palestine.
  • During that desert experience, God taught them about himself. He also gave them many laws, including the Ten Commandments.Through a system of animal sacrifices, he showed them that sin can be forgiven only when life (blood) is given.
  • After 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the desert, God allowed the Israelites to return to Palestine. City by city, they conquered territory in bitter battles.
  • Because of dissension, the Israelites split into two nations: Israel (northern) and Judah (southern). In the ensuing three centuries, Israel is ruled by 19 kings, some good, some bad.
  • GOLDEN AGE. The Israelites subdued all their enemies and established themselves as supreme in the region. Under King David and King Solomon, the Israelites became powerful, affluent and Jerusalem become the holy city, with a magnificent temple and professional priests.
  • Both Israel and Judah were conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem was destroyed. God used prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah – to teach the people about God.
  • The Persians overthrew the Babylonians, and the Israelites were allowed to re-build Jerusalem as their religious center. The Romans conquered Palestine, and it became a Roman province.
  • For over 1,000 years, the Israelites had been anticipating the Messiah (Savior) who God repeatedly promised to send at an appropriate time. (But they thought he would be for Jews only.) The grand theme of the Old Testament is that a Savior will come.

All of these events occurred in the countries we know today as Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and (primarily) Israel.

See Topic 36 for summary of the New Testament.

The Bible outlines an exciting panorama of events to set our life in perspective.

BIBLE GIVES BASIC PATTERN OF GOD’S PLAN

The first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, are foundation chapters because they show the broad pattern of what God is doing. God’s work so far, as pertains to us, is outlined in these chapters as seven stages (or ‘days,’ see Topic 3):

  1. Creation of light (all spectrums and sources)
  2. Creation of a life-sustaining atmosphere (air between moisture suspended as cloud cover and moisture condensed as water on the earth’s surface)
  3. Formation of land mass protruding through the water, with vegetation emerging by process of photosynthesis
  4. Parting of cloud cover to allow direct sunlight to fall on the earth and to allow for observation of the movements of the sun, moon and stars
  5. Creation of marine life, reptiles, birds and insects
  6. Creation of animal life and man
  7. God ‘rests’ (stops his creative work for an interlude to allow man to respond to him)

We’re still in the 7th stage, but other stages will follow. The next stage will be ‘the day of the Lord,’ when Jesus Christ will come to earth again. But death will have sealed the eternal destiny of all people who have died before that time.

GOD’S PERSPECTIVE OF TIME IS LONG-TERM

Our minds rarely plan beyond ten years, and certainly not beyond a hundred years. A thousand years into the future is almost inconceivable to us.

The Bible says God has a different concept of time:

‘With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

From our short-term perspective, it seems like God is inactive because we don’t see him doing anything new. But from God’s perspective, everything is right on schedule (it’s still the 7th day). The problem is that our minds can’t comprehend complex time concepts, like long ages and eternity, and because our short life span makes us impatient.

To understand what God is doing, we need to see his plan set in his time frame, as revealed to us in the Bible. Briefly stated, the plan is this:

God made the universe. Man is his crowning creation, made ‘in the image of God’ (literally, a little less than God), the only creature with body, soul and spirit, and possessing an eternal nature (continuing after death). God desires to have a personal love relationship with every human being.

Love can exist only when there’s free will. Thus God allows man to sin (make choices that are contrary to his character and his instructions). In old days, sins could be forgiven, and the relationship restored, when the sinner confessed and offered a sacrifice (preferably an animal blood sacrifice). When he sinned again, he would have to sacrifice again, over and over.

Then God offered a new plan. Jesus Christ (part of God in a human body) came to earth and died as the once-and-for-all sacrifice. Today all a person has to do is ‘believe’ (appreciate and personally accept what Jesus did), and this gives him an intimate and permanent relationship which entitles him to spend the rest of eternity with God (heaven). If a person knows about this plan but doesn’t appreciate and personally accept it, he will spend the rest of eternity separated from God (hell).

Everything is building toward the wonderful (or horrible) life after death, which we are individually determining now by the way we respond to God.

THE BIG PICTURE:

It’s not often that we take time to look at the really BIG picture. Some people never look at it. But seeing the whole panorama helps us understand how and why our personal response to God now determines our eternal destiny in life after death. This isn’t just speculation, it’s what God says in the Bible.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

II Thessalonians 2:1-3
Next stage in God’s plan is called ‘the day of the Lord,’ when Jesus Christ will return

II Peter 2:8-9
For God, a thousand years is like a day

For help, see Topic 29.

The Bible is not as difficult to understand as most people think it is.

MODERN TRANSLATIONS ARE EASY TO READ

The Bible was written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). All Bibles today are translations from those two languages.

There are now more than a dozen major English translations, and all of them are adequately accurate for conveying the meanings contained in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. We don’t need to worry about whether or not a particular Bible is a ‘true’ Bible because excellent translation has gone into all of them.

Ideally, to capture depth of meaning, each paragraph from the Bible should be read concurrently in several different translations.

BIBLE IS ITS OWN BEST INTERPRETER

Many people ignore the Bible with the excuse that it can be interpreted to say anything anyone wants it to say.

That often happens when words are pulled out of context by persons wanting to use a Bible quotation to defend a particular pre-determined view. But, as with any document, intelligent understanding requires that words be read in context and interpreted by the other words and concepts in the same document. Read in its entirety, the Bible is its own best interpreter, and it’s consistent.

The Bible uses metaphors, similes, parables and other figures of speech, like we use them in expressions today. The rule for interpretation is that if the literal words make sense, read it literally. A figurative meaning should be accepted only if the literal meaning doesn’t fit the context or doesn’t fit other portions clearly addressing the subject.

The Bible should be read simply for what it says, no more and no less.

When reading the Bible, it’s helpful to always remember that the Old Testament is background for the New Testament, and that the New Testament is good news about God’s offer of new life for us and about how this life should be lived out.

HOLY SPIRIT WILL GIVE READER UNDERSTANDING

Because the Bible is a spiritual book, it helps to have spiritual assistance. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible writers to write it now helps readers to understand it (see Topic 19). This is why the Bible is such a profound book. A professor can spend a lifetime studying the Bible and still not exhaust it, and yet an uneducated person can read from it (or listen to it) the first time and understand what’s needed for him at that moment.

We don’t have to rely upon a priest, pastor or churchman to tell us what God is saying. We can learn from God directly by reading the Bible.

‘BIBLE STUDY’ IS COMMON CHRISTIAN EXPRESSION

The term Bible study is a frequently used Christian expression. People say they’re doing a Bible study, in a Bible study, going to a Bible study, etc.

This refers to the way many Christians, alone or in groups, carefully investigate the exact words of the Bible, often with the assistance of other books and commentaries. They probe, cross-reference, challenge and share understanding.

Intensive study of the Bible, with an open spirit, provides great understanding of God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

BIBLE READING REQUIRES A PERSONAL RESPONSE

Like food and exercise, a ‘little and often’ is the best approach to Bible study. We need to take time to digest what we’ve just read.

The real test of our sincerity is not how much we’ve read, or how often we’ve read it, but how much we’ve understood and obeyed, and how we’re applying it to our life. Bible study always requires a personal response.

We should never use the Bible as a lucky dip or horoscope by just opening it at random and expecting some magic word or thought. It’s the word of God, and we must study it seriously, carefully and methodically.

NOTE: The inset seen here is a portion of a page from the NASB Interlinear Greek­English New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House. Other translations have comparable interlinear versions.

How to read the Bible with precision without learning Greek ...

Except for clergymen and scholars, very few people can read Greek. However, scholars have created what’s known as Greek/English inter­ linear Bibles, which show the actual Greek words on one line and the closest English equivalents directly below on the next line. Because an interlinear Bible has not been smoothed for differences in language structure, it’s more difficult to read than a translation, but it’s excellent for capturing meaning. It’s not necessary for an ordinary person to read from the original Greek text, or even from a Greek/English interlinear, but it’s an option for anyone who wants to study the Bible in depth.

This is an example of scripture direct from the Greek manuscript.

Greek cannot be translated word­for­word into English.

Some smoothing, and some judgment, is necessary in rendering a translation.

The judgment factor can be removed by reading from a Greek/English interlinear (like this) or by reading several translations simultaneously.

Virtually all Christians agree on the content of the Bible.

THERE’S ONLY ONE BIBLE, NOT DIFFERENT BIBLES

Some people think there are different Bibles – like a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible, or an Old Bible and a Modern Bible – and that this largely explains why there are so many different beliefs among people who call themselves Christians.

That’s a misconception. There’s only ONE Bible (except that Roman Catholics include 15 minor books in the Old Testament, with no conflicting doctrine, which Protestants don’t think should be included – see note in Topic 29.) All Christians universally accept all of the books of the New Testament.

Differing views within Christianity don’t arise from disagreement over what writings God gave to us, but rather over how we should interpret the meaning and application of those writings to our daily lives.

BIBLE WAS AFFIRMED, NOT COMMISSIONED

During the first four centuries A.D., there were numerous church councils called in different parts of the Christian world to formally select the books to include in the Bible. These councils didn’t commission the writing of any of the books, neither did they change any of them. They were examination councils to attest to the authenticity of the writings.

When the church decided which books to include, it wasn’t a matter of giving them some new authority. Rather, it was a matter of formally recognizing the inherent authority and acceptance they already possessed and recognizing what was already evident in faith and practice in the church.

It’s absolutely amazing – and strong evidence of God’s direct involvement – that throughout history there’s been essential agreement on the exact content of the Bible

MODERN TRANSLATIONS MAKE READING EASY

With the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century – at which time there were 33 different hand-written translations of the Bible – it became feasible to translate the Bible into many languages and to give it wide-spread distribution. By 1800, there were 71 translations.

Today, the Bible has been translated, in whole or substantial part, into over 2,000 languages, and many languages have multiple translations. For example, there are now more than a dozen excellent translations of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into English, including modern versions which, with accuracy, read as easily as the daily newspaper.

NO PROBLEM WITH CONTENT, ONLY WITH INTERPRETATION

Virtually all Christians agree on what the Bible is, but not all agree on what the Bible says.

Because people tend to read the Bible through their own pre-conceptions, it’s the interpretation of the material – not the material itself – that causes theological divisions. Fortunately, the text itself (in original Hebrew and Greek) is universally known and accepted, and we can read it ourselves (see Topic 31).

In a desire to shed light on the Bible, theologians and others have written tens of thousands of books to help explain it. The smallest little nuances have been given exhaustive interpretations.

There’s danger when prominent interpreters – because of their church positions or popular writings – are given an authority that, in practice, equals or overshadows the Bible itself. There’s double danger when interpreters, with human tendency to find something ‘new,’ or to gain attention of peers, or to defend tradition, put clever twists on Bible passages to bolster their views.

Over the centuries, because of illiteracy and scarcity of copies, most people have had no choice but to rely on what others told them about the Bible. But now we can read and understand the Bible ourselves. God’s message can now come directly to us without being filtered through someone else. The same Holy Spirit who supernaturally inspired each Bible writer also supernaturally enlightens each Bible reader (see Topic 19).

There’s a heritage of nearly two thousand years of scholarly Bible interpretation, and everyone can benefit by learning from the commentators in addition to direct study, but the commentators should never be allowed to become the authority.

DISTINGUISH BIBLE MESSAGE FROM CHURCH TRADITION

During the first two centuries of Christianity, the church met only in homes and put emphasis on salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ and on helping one another. In the third century, permanent church buildings and professional clergy began appearing, and Christianity started to become institutionalized. The church grew rapidly, with impetus from rulers who decreed that their subjects must be ‘Christian.’ By the sixth century, approximately 20% of the world’s population had become Christian, at least in name. In the eighth century, the Holy Roman Empire began evolving, with kings and popes sharing power. In the tenth century, the church split into the Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches.

Over the next five centuries, large sections of the church became corrupted by entanglements with politics and economics. The Protestant reformation began in 1517, and the Western Catholic branch subsequently split into Roman Catholic, Protestant and Anglican parts.

Over the ensuing four and a half centuries, these four major Christian blocks – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Anglican – have proliferated into hundreds of subgroups, each with its own cherished traditions.

Most of the traditions are neither specifically commanded nor prohibited by Jesus or the Bible. They have their value, but they should not be confused with God’s message to mankind and instruction to the church as directly stated in the Bible.

BIBLE IS OUR PRIMARY SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY

If it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t know for sure what God is saying to us. People would voice opinions (‘I think...’) and perceptions (‘God told me...’), but words from different people would inevitably conflict with each other, and we’d be left in a state of confusion, never knowing for sure what the real truth is.

God was both gracious and practical to give us the Bible because in it we have ultimate truth from him, without any drifting or changing over time or culture. The Bible is our primary authority in spiritual matters, and it’s the foundation for what Christians know and believe.

God speaks to us through our spirit, too, but what he says through our spirit will never be in conflict with what he says in the Bible. Thus, the Bible also serves as a filter and interpreter for what we hear in our spirit and hear from others.

Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject. 

Mark 13:31
Bible’s truths never change

II Peter 19-21
Bible is truth from God, not opinions of men

John 14:26
Holy Spirit reminds us of what we read in Bible

Acts 17:11
Use Bible as test for discerning truth in what we hear

For help, see Topic 29.

The Bible is like a miniature library.

BIBLE IS COLLECTION OF 66 SEPARATE BOOKS

Actually, the Bible isn’t one book but rather a collection of 66 separate books, usually bound together for convenience into a single volume. The Bible is a miniature library consisting of all the primary source books which contain factual information about God. The word ‘Bible’ is derived from the Latin biblia and the Greek biblia, words which mean ‘books.’ The word is capitalized to denote God’s books.

The books of the Bible are listed on the next page, shown in the order they appear in printed volumes. The order is sequential, starting with God’s creation, then tracing God’s revelation of himself to people he chose to be his communicators, then eye- witness accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, followed by a history of the early church and letters of instruction to Christians, and finally a shadowy glimpse of the future. For each book, the table also shows the name of the writer (see Topics 19 and 24).

Some of the books are named for their contents, such as Genesis (beginnings), Exodus (Israelites leaving Egypt), Kings (record of the Kings of Israel), Proverbs (wise sayings), Acts (what the early church did), Revelation (what the future will be), etc. Other books are named after the writer, such as Joshua, Isaiah, Micah, Matthew, John, Peter, etc. Still other books are named after the church to which it was addressed, such as Romans (to the Christians who live in Rome), Galatians (to the Christians who live in Galatia), II Thessalonians (second letter to the Christians who live in Thessalonica), etc.

Names of the books and chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text but have been added by translators to to make reading and referencing easier for us.

The Bible is divided into two basic parts: The Old Testament (see Topic 33) and the New Testament (see Topic 36). The word ‘testament’ means covenant, agreement or deal. In other words, the Bible consists of the old deal (for background) and the new deal (for current action). In the New Testament, God makes an incredible offer to us (see Topics 54-59) which we individually must either accept or reject. As with any offer, no response is the same as rejection. The Old Testament shows how and why the offer developed, and the New Testament presents it for our response.

Depending upon page size and type size, the full Bible is typically about 1,000 pages, of which three-fourths is Old Testament and one-fourth is New Testament. Compared to the sacred writings of the major religions (see Topics 13 and 14), the Bible is very compact and easy to read.

BIBLE BOOKS HAVE WIDE DIVERSITY OF STYLE

Each book of the Bible has its own unique literary style, reflecting its time and purpose as well as the personality of the writer. In addition to straight-forward history and moral teaching, various books contain poetry, maxims, allegories and illustrations – all of which were widely and meaningfully used in the ancient world, and are still used in our modern world as creative writing and drama.

Rather than giving bare historical facts, most Biblical narratives make use of literary techniques to interest and involve the reader. History is simplified, interpreted and punctuated with human emotion so that it can more easily be understood and remembered.

NOTE: There are 15 other books – called the Apocrapypha – which Roman Catholics regard as part of the Old Testament but which are rejected as holy Scripture by Jews and Protest­ ants. They’re minor books and don’t conflict with any of the universal books, so acceptance or rejection doesn’t alter the message of the Bible. These books are I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasseh, I Maccabees and II Maccabees.

ORIGINS AND LAW:

JEWISH HISTORY:

POETRY:

PREACHING AND PROPHECY:

 

Genesis           Moses

Exodus            Moses

Leviticus          Moses

Numbers         Moses Deuteronomy  Moses

Joshua             Probably Joshua

Judges             Unknown

Ruth                Unknown

I Samuel          Unknown

II Samuel         Unknown

I Kings             Unknown

II Kings            Unknown

I Chronicles     Unknown

II Chronicles    Unknown Ezra Probably Ezra

Nehemiah       Unknown

Esther              Unknown

Job                  Unknown

Psalms             David and others

Proverbs         Solomon Ecclesiastes  Probably Solomon Song of Solomon  Solomon

Isaiah              Isaiah

Jeremiah         Jeremiah Lamentations Jeremiah Ezekiel      Ezekiel

Hosea              Hosea

Joel                  Joel

Amos               Amos

Obadiah          Unknown

Jonah              Jonah

Micah              Micah

Nahum            Unknown

Habakkuk        Unknown

Zephaniah       Zephaniah

Haggai             Haggai

Zechariah        Zechariah

Malachi           Malachi

 

LIFE OF CHRIST:

START OF CHURCH:

LETTERS TO CHURCHES:

GENERAL LETTERS:

FUTURE:

 

Matthew         Matthew

Mark                Mark

Luke                 Luke

John                 John

Acts                 Luke

Romans           Paul

I Corinthians    Paul

II Corinthians   Paul Galatians Paul

Ephesians        Probably Paul

Philippians       Paul

Colossians       Paul

I Thessalonians  Paul

II Thessalonians Paul

I Timothy         Paul

II Timothy        Paul

Titus                Paul

Philemon         Paul

Hebrews          Unknown

James              Probably James

I Peter              Peter

II Peter            Peter

I John               John

II John              John

III John             John

Jude                 Unknown

Revelation       John