The Holy Bible
Many general questions get asked concerning the Bible. "Who wrote it?" "What's so special about it?" "Is it really God's words?" To answer such questions we need to have a broad understanding of the Bible and so be able to answer questions on authorship, inspiration, literature types, interpretation....
The Bible is the source book for the Christian faith, and so, although it may be a library of books written by different people at different points in history, it is for believers God's revealed Word.
What is the Bible about?
The Bible is the story of a Kingdom lost and a Kingdom gained. It tells of the creation of a people made in the image of God, a creation of wonder and splendor, but of a creation spoiled by rebellion. It speaks of God's plan of restoration of broken humanity. Through the family of Abraham, right through to the coming of God's very presence to the world in the person of Jesus, and in the life of the early church, it is the story of God's creation of a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible concludes with John's vision of the dawning of that new age.
The Bible documents the acts and words of God as he sets about realizing his Kingdom. It records factual history - acts of God in the life of the family of Abraham and finally his descendant Jesus. It records the words of God - sometimes direct words, more often words conveyed and interpreted by mere human writers.
A library of books
There is not just one writer. In fact the Bible is not just one book. It is a library of books. If we were living in the first century, we would go down to our local church and in a room we would find a wall with brick-sized holes, and in each hole a scroll representing each book of the Bible. Some of the longer books were even divided up into a number of scrolls. So depending on the wealth of the church, they could have some or all of the books of the Bible. Actually few would have all, and there would be some churches with just one scroll, that is, they would have only one book of the Bible. A normal book of the Bible, such as the gospel of Luke, cost a year's wage for a laborer. Expensive to say the least. It was only centuries later that they began to produce the Bible in book form. These were usually produced on vellum and were worth a fortune - hand written, hand illustrated and hand bound. It was only with the introduction of modern printing technology that the Bible became affordable for the average person.
So the Bible is made up of lots of different books written by lots of different authors. And even more confusing, each author writes at a different point in history. None-the-less, within this diversity there is great unity. Each writer builds on what has gone before. The truths contained in the Bible develop and deepen as each author further expounds the revealed mind of God.
Types of literature
The authors of the Bible books employed different forms of literature. One of the greatest mistakes we make with the Bible is to treat all the books of the Bible as if they were scientific or history text books, written by the same bloke at the same time. It's just not that simple.
Take the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. Who wrote it and when was it written? The Bible simply does not say, but there are those who will call you a heretic if you don't believe it was written by Moses. It could have been written as late as 700 BC, which of course is long after the events it records. So where did the writer get his information? Most likely it all goes back to oral tradition. In those times people told and retold stories rather than write them down. It was a different age. And what type of literature is the book of Genesis? Did the writer set out to record the history of the human race? Not so, it is a book of faith. It gives us insights into who we are and who God is. History is there in the book, but there is also editorial license and poetic imagery. History and myth intertwined with meaning. The book is an ancient theological treatise, to treat it otherwise is to destroy it.
So the Bible authors employ a large range of literary forms. There is historical narrative, theological/interpretative narrative, myth (parable, allegory), poetry, wisdom (Proverbs), apocalyptic (the Book of Revelation and parts of Daniel), prayer, prophecies both oral and written, ethics both oral and written, gospel and letters (some of which really become theological treatises). So it is no easy matter to properly understand the scriptures, given the range of literature contained in the Bible. Yet to properly understand we do have to identify what form of literature the author is employing.
The Bible is made up of a selection of religious books from the Jewish faith and the early Christian church, which have been accepted over the years as authoritative for both belief and practice. This selection is called the "canon", ie "rule or measure". From these books we test our belief to see whether it is truly Christian. Of course, the question is who selected the books? In simple terms, it has been God's people over the years who have made the decision as to which book was in and which book was out. We can do little but accept their judgment. The people of Israel first accepted the books of the Law (Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible), then the Prophets and finally the Writings. They gave weight to these scriptures in the above order, although Jesus and the early Christians tended to treat them equally as the Word of God. The Apocrypha was never quite accepted as part of the Old Testament Canon, although it was accepted as worthy of study. The early Christians used the Apocrypha because it was included in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament). With the New Testament, books seemed to be accepted on the basis of their apostolic links. Did is originate from an apostle? This seemed to be the first test. Did it represent the apostolic faith? This tended to be the second test. The book of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelation were doubted and only just snuck in. Many others were left out of the Canon. It is therefore possible to give different books of the Bible a greater weight of authority. For example, Luther felt that the book of James should not have been included in the Canon. It needs to be said that such an approach is dangerous, given our devious natures. Better to accept the Bible as wholly the Word when rightly interpreted.
The view of the Bible itself is that it is the Word of God to us, 2Tim.3:16 (referring to the Old Testament). We hold, as a matter of faith, that the words, properly understood, reveal the mind of God. Such a view is, in the end, a matter of faith. To believe that God has seen to it that his truth is properly represented in the scriptures, is a "faith" belief rather than one based on literary evidence. Mind you, it is possible to show quite a remarkable core of truth which is integral to the scriptures, truth which is constant (although developing) and certainly not contradictory. This is only to be expected as faith is always confirmed by experience. So what Jesus says about God aligns with what the writer of the book of Genesis says says about God. So given the integrity of its truths, we hold that the Bible, as a whole, should be regarded as the Word of God to us. That is why we take the words of Jesus and the words of Paul equally as the Word of God.
The issue of human participation in the process of revelation is a very interesting one. There are two dangers:
i] Problems develop when we take the view that revelation has been affected by human fallibility. If we busy ourselves trying to find genuine revelation in fallible human thought, then we introduce our own fallible choice into what is, and what is not, the Word of God.
ii] Problems develop when we take the view that there is no human effect upon revelation. If we ignore the personality of the writer, their literary style, in what age they were writing, to whom, etc., then we are going to fail to properly understand God's Word to us. The Bible is not just bare history, but history interpreted.
How then can we trust the authors of the Bible books? Did they get it right? At this point humanity divides. There are those who say that the truths contained in the Bible are truths, not of human devising, but from the Creator himself - ie. the book is inspired. There are those who say the book is a selection of ancient texts of some interest in the study of antiquity. In the end Biblical inspiration is a matter of faith.
The steps in interpreting the scriptures are by no means easy. There is a fallacy widely accepted today that interpreting and applying the Word of God is something accessible to all ("a believer and his Bible"). To hold this view it is of course necessary to deny the teaching of the Bible itself. The scriptures fully detail the ministries of the Word, and leave us with no doubt that there are speciality ministries empowered by the Spirit of God which are to be recognized and submitted to by the people of God. Christian bookshops are full of material written by people with little or no theological expertise. It is quite foolish to submit ourselves to the opinions of lay men and women. We would never think of doing such when it comes to our health, legal matters, investment matters, etc., but when it comes to the Bible, and matters which concern our Eternal standing in the sight of God, the opinion of every Christian on issues of Biblical interpretation is of equal value. A dangerous view indeed.
The proper steps in interpretation are as follows:
Determine the exact text (an understanding of the original language would be helpful here).
Determine the size of the unit and its place in the book (context).
Assess the relevance of background.
Assess the idiom of the passage and its literary type.
Assess the structure of the passage and its possible literary development.
Identify the place of the passage/incident within the Biblical theology of the Kingdom of God.
Resolve the propositional truth. • Apply.
The Bible is a unique book which consists of sixty-six smaller books written by many different writers over a period of at least 1,000 years. It deals with one single theme - God's great plan for his created universe. Although Christians believe that ordinary people wrote the books using their own style, expressing the truth in different ways, we also believe that God's Spirit was working through the authors such that they wrote a message which ultimately came from God.
Index of studies. Resource file.
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons