"All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living;" 2 Timothy 3:16

The Bible

The Shrine of the Book, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

The Shrine of the Book, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

The shape represents the lid of one of the pots in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

This is a rather ambitious title, but this page is only aiming to give an overview, especially for those who might be new to reading the Bible, or not have thought about it too deeply before.

The Bible is as an essential part of God's purpose of bringing forgiveness / salvation to the world and deal with the problem of sin. Its purpose is to explain to us what God has done and what he requires us to do. Fortunately, Christians have the Holy Spirit to give understanding of what we are reading. He will bring things to your attention - not necessarily the thing you saw last time you read the same passage. (for this reason, I do not underline in my Bible; to leave the Holy Spirit free to illuminate whatever is timely for me)

The Bible (the Christian Bible) contains the Jewish/Hebrew Bible, plus the New Covenant (New Testament) that tells how Jesus / Yeshua from Nazareth came to bring the earlier covenants to completion and to bring the Gentiles in to God's family / Kingdom.

This Bible is, in effect, a library containing sixty, six books.

The Hebrew Bible is known as the Tanakh - an acronym standing for the names of the three sections.

Torah - (means teaching or instruction) - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Often referred to as the five books of Moses (Moshe).

Navaim - the Prophets

Ketuvim - the writings

The Tanakh order of books differs slightly from the order of the books in the Christian Bible, in that a few books that are differently allocated between Prophets and Writings.

The Tanakh is written in Hebrew, apart from a few passages written in Aramaic, a related language spoken in neighbouring lands.

The New Covenant (Brit Hadashah) is written in Greek (at least in the surviving manuscripts) but it was written by Jews who thought in Hebrew. (Luke is a possible exception) Thus, even in Greek manuscripts, the story follows Hebrew (Jewish) patterns of thought and speech. There is even a manuscript of Matthew in Hebrew that strongly suggests that Matthew originally wrote in Hebrew. (Translating some of the Greek New Testament books into Hebrew reveals Hebrew word-plays that had no meaning in Greek.)

Unfortunately, there have been many scholars who have used Greek thinking as the spectacles through which to read the Bible. See Greek or Hebrew.

God's plan revealed

See also Family - Kingdom

In Genesis 12 we read how God chose a man of great faith (Abram) and promised

Now Adonai said to Avram, "Get yourself out of your country, away from your kinsmen and away from your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, and I will make your name great; and you are to be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

God confirmed his promise with a covenant. (Genesis 15:9) This was God's first step towards world redemption.

This was followed by the Covenant God made with the twelve tribes of Israel (Abram-Abraham's grandson) an event recorded in the book of Exodus. In this covenant, God gave instruction that these people that he had chosen were to follow and a commission to be God's light to the nations. This is sometimes referred to as the Mosaic covenant.

God made a covenant with David, that a descendant of his would sit on the throne of Israel - a prophecy of the coming Messiah . The prophets spoke for God to his people, denouncing sin and rebellion, but also giving glimpses of the completion of God's salvation plan through the promised Messiah. (Messiah / Moshiach means anointed one, and "Christ" comes to us from the Greek "Christos")

The New Covenant that Jesus brought to us thus built upon the previous covenants; not replacing them - but modifying the instructions of the Mosaic Covenant.

The New Covenant tells us, in the four Gospel accounts, of the life and ministry of Jesus, told from slightly different perspectives.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles takes the story onwards as Jesus' / Yeshua's message bursts out into the Jewish world after Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and then out into the whole Gentile world.

There is then a collection of letters written to various congregations of the Church, addressing various problems that were arising, and making the previously entirely Jewish writings accessible to non Jews who were being joined into the body of faithful people that God was building.

The joining of Gentiles into this body was a major part of Paul's / Sha'ul's concern in his letter to the church in Rome.

With the last book, Revelation, we are back to prophecy. In this book, Jesus / Yeshua is revealing what is yet to come as the present age comes to a close. He has words for seven churches that are topical and specific, but which provide warnings down the ages of ways in which fellowships can miss the mark (sin). Revelation does not contain specific references to Tanakh prophecies, but it contains many allusions to the Tanakh - such that threads of continuity can be seen right through the Bible.

 

Reading your Bible

Nobody says it will be easy, but it is very worthwhile.

It is a big book - the word, Bible means something more like Library, as it is a collection of sixty six books. Even when you have read the whole Bible once, there is plenty more to find by reading it again and again.

Thinking about reading and understanding reminded me of the "magic" painting books of my childhood. You start with a blank page, and as you brush over it with water, a picture appears. One little patch will not reveal much of the picture, but the picture will emerge as you go on.

The Bible is obviously a much bigger picture, and your memory will not hold on to every bit that you read, but as you keep reading and studying daily, and hearing good teaching, you should start to see bigger pictures and patterns emerge.

In the Bible, you should start to notice threads that run right through it

Help

There are Bible reading plans available, that will schedule passages to read every day, so that you will have read the whole book in a year (or some other time)

There is a Bible that is split up into collections of passages to read every day for a year.

There are daily Bible reading notes.

You might like notes containing helpful comments, or you may feel you would rather listen to the words of God direct; and not somebody's opinions. I have heard good advice that it is not good to have a Bible that has built in commentary - You might remember something you read, but not know whether it was the word of God or a man's opinion.

Not all commentators are equally helpful.

David Pawson's book, "Unlocking the Bible" gives a very helpful overview of each book, its author and its purpose.

 

Possible problems with Bible teaching

There are some things you might like to bear in mind as you read.

There have been teachers who said that all the scriptures are allegorical; not literally true, but conveying a spiritual message. Beware of this.

The Bible, being a library, contains various kinds of literature, conveying God's word to mankind in different styles. There is poetry and prose - distinguishable in some translations by the page layout. Poetry tends to convey God's heart, while prose speaks more to your head.

Unless you can read the Bible in Hebrew, you are reading it in somebody's interpretation and various Hebrew thought patterns, poetic devices and idioms are not available to you. Beware of getting hung up on a particular meaning of an English word; check its context, other translations and a Bible dictionary, for the source word(s).

What we need to do is to take literally what is literal and allegorically what is a picture or a parable. This is not too difficult for the person of simple faith, but intellectuals without a simple faith can miss (or avoid) many truths by spiritualising things inappropriately.

Jesus often taught in parables and we need to be careful in assigning roles to people. Some have leapt to assume that Jesus' parable of the vineyard supports their contention that God has rejected Israel. However, a couple of verses down, it is made clear that Israel is the vineyard; not the wicked tenants. The wicked tenants are the religious leaders.

Bible teaching (particularly Jesus') often uses hyperbole, exaggeration for effect. This needs to be understood within the literal message.

"Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus" by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard Jnr is really helpful with some of these problems. More on Greek or Hebrew

Scripture contains Hebrew word-plays that are meaningless in another language. The fact that some of these are invisible in Greek but re-emerge when translated into Hebrew reveals New Testament scriptures that were written in Hebrew, although the oldest surviving manuscripts are in Greek

Jeremiah 1:11 The word of Adonai came to me, asking, "Yirmeyahu, what do you see?" I answered, "I see a branch from an almond tree [Hebrew: shaked].
Then Adonai said to me, "You have seen well, because I am watching [Hebrew: shoked] to fulfill my word."

Hebrew idioms, when translated, do not make much sense. When God says (Zecharaiah 2:8)

For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: "for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye"
he is not talking about apples, but about the pupil of his eye; the most sensitive part of the body. The apple of the eye is a Hebrew idiom - based on what you see if you look down on the top of an apple, or on an apple cut through its equator. If anything touches, or threatens, your iris, your eyelid slams down at astonishing speed to protect it. This is how God is with threats to Israel.

A Hebrew device called val chomer is frequently used - if X is true, how much more is Y.

You will notice that Jesus rarely answers a question directly, often using another question to draw the answer out of the questioner. Questions are a very Jewish way of debating and learning. At other times Jesus jumped straight from the question he had been asked, to the real issue that lay behind the question.

Some people place too much significance on the blank pages between Old and New Testament, and view them as separate and largely unrelated parts. One such teacher was Marcion, who asserted that the Old and New Testaments were about two different Gods; one angry and vengeful and one gentle and loving. This is not borne out when you read in the book of Revelation, of God's wrath being poured out. Marcion's view has survived and is known as the heresy of Marcionism. This is one of several Bad Theologies)

Another problem is Replacement Theology - that views the separation in terms that the New Testament created the Church (Gentile) and the Old Testament and the Jews have ceased to have much relevance, since God rejected the Jews because they rejected Jesus.

Possible problems with the edition of the Bible that you have in your hand.

The chapter numbering is not part of the original word of God, but was added by an Archbishop of Canterbury, presumably to divide up the Bible into suitable sized chunks for liturgy. Right at the beginning, there is an unwarranted chapter division between day six and day seven of God's creation. Was this to disguise the perversity of changing the seventh day Shabbat (day of rest) to the first day?

The verse numbering system came later and is even more spurious - however useful we find it. In Jesus' time people knew the scriptures better and would recognize a reference by text. You will notice many verses even split sentences. This tends to encourage us to take verses out of context and throw them at each other.

You probably know John 3:16, but do you know John 3:14 & 15? In John 3:16, the "so" refers to the preceding verses to give the way in which God so loved... John 3:16 is not a stand-alone idea that God SOOOO much loved the world.

Unless you are able to read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, you are at the mercy of somebody else who has translated it for you. Hebrew to English translation is not merely a matter of substituting the equivalent words; the whole pattern is different, words can have several different equivalents and there are idioms and word plays that belong in Hebrew. The translator(s) must to read and correctly understand what the writer was saying and then express it as closely as possible in the target language. There is a large range of translations and paraphrases, each trying to achieve this, often for audiences with different requirements of readability or accuracy.

This process leaves translation subject to preconceived ideas or doctrines. The N.I.V., which is a team translation, appears to be subject to preconceptions from a church tradition of Replacement Theology, that makes several translations detrimental to Israel and God's plans for Israel. See also Bible Against Israel

Reading the Bible to connect with God

The Bible is the living word of God, and God is able to communicate with us because he has given the Holy Spirit to all who belong to him in order to reveal things to us. (also to those in whose hearts he is working but who have not yet come to faith in him) This must be why non-Christian academics have so much difficulty seeing the simple truths of the Bible.

Choose the translation you use carefully - to match your needs.

Avoid trendy translations and translations pushing a particular agenda.

Consider a translation made by a Jewish believer who will be able to discern and communicate the subtle meaning of the Hebrew (and the Greek written by Hebrew writers). Wildolive recommends the Complete Jewish Bible, but the One New Man Bible is reckoned to be similar.

Compare passages in different translations.

Finding things in the Bible - Concordances

A concordance will allow you to choose a key word and find the places where it appears.

A computer based Bible system like E-Sword, will function as a concordance to search for you, but it will do more than that. It will allow you to look up meanings of words in the original language, in Strong's Dictionary. You can also open different versions and compare passages.

E-Sword is free and it may be installed with the KJV and KJV+Strong's dictionary, Old Testament in Hebrew+Strongs and New Testament Greek. Translations still under copyright must purchased, but the prices are very reasonable .

There are plenty of smartphone and tablet apps for the Bible.

If you get into Hebrew and Greek you might be interested in an Interlinear Bible that prints verses in English and the original side by side and allows you to see the original word/thought sequence. This can be used with a Bible dictionary.

This is getting way beyond my expertise for me to comment further. I purchased an interlinear Bible but found the Hebrew text to be too small for my novice eye to distinguish between some of the similar characters. You might like to look before you buy.

Posted 15/03/15 - completed on 29/03/16

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