Whether you are a Christian or not, sometimes it's difficult to understand some of the concepts the Bible teaches. Like all important and complex things, Christianity takes time and effort to understand fully!
We have come together to help you understand some of the most difficult questions you may have yourself, or might be asked by friends who have not yet decided to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
+ WHY DO WE NEED THE BIBLE?
In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it very clear that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV)
If we are all aware of God’s existence and power through creation, why do we need His word to us in the Bible?
While we can glean some knowledge from creation concerning God and His attributes, there is not sufficient information about sin, salvation, or the person of Jesus. In order to be saved from our sin and enter into relationship with God, we need a direct revelation.
This revelation, while often taught orally, is best preserved in written form. Consider how often Jesus referred to the Old Testament “as it is written,” quoting prophesies about Himself and interpreting Mosaic law. Jesus gave Himself greater credibility by referring to written scripture, which was available in synagogues to be verified.
Writing is the most reliable way of recording information, providing enduring stability and accuracy. It is thanks to comparison of ancient manuscripts to modern copies of the Bible that we can be assured the scriptures we learn from today are true and accurate.
While we can gain a partial understanding of God through nature, we need a direct revelation from God to gain an understanding of His plan for salvation. Maintaining this revelation in written form allows for the greatest accuracy, and protects us against false teachings as we are always able to refer back to the Bible.
+ DOES THE BIBLE HAVE AUTHORITY?
To question the Bible’s authority, we need to understand where the words of the Bible come from, and whether this source is reliable. The Bible comprises of 66 separate books, written by over forty human authors. However, 2 Timothy 3:16 makes it very clear that “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness.” (NIV)
Of course one can argue that a book cannot be self-accrediting. However, consider the account of creation found in Genesis. No one was present for the creation of the wold except the creator Himself, therefore He is the best and most reliable source of knowledge. Modern science, journalism, and many other areas of life make use of “revelation,” or the use of information passed down from the original author or source. Without making use of the knowledge of others, human society would be considerably less developed!
Some may question if the Bible has been reproduced accurately and is true to the original manuscripts. Compared to many other ancient texts, the Bible has vastly more copies of the original manuscripts still in existence today. Despite this, the lack of variation in these texts is quite astounding. We widely accept the existence of historical figures such as Julius Caesar, however the writings about his life are far less reliably documented and accurately reproduced than the books which make up the Bible.
The Bible is indeed a revelation from God, who created the universe and all of humanity. While He does not reveal everything to us, He has given us considerable knowledge through the Bible, which we should treat as true and authoritative.
+ THE BIBLE: GOD’S BIG STORY
The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written over a period of over 1500 years. Despite the many different languages and time periods the books are written in, together they come together to form one cohesive, non-contradictory volume containing the Christian view of the world. The books of the Bible are grouped into the Old Testament and New Testament.
The Old Testament tells the story of God creating a perfect world, which was corrupted by man’s rebellion. Because of this, we cannot be in relationship with God, and ultimately face death, or separation from God. Despite this rebellion, God still loved His people, and He promised to send a redeemer who would save us from the consequences of our sin.
Many generations later, God entered into a covenant with Abraham, vowing to be the God of him and his descendants, who would live in a promised land. During a famine, Abraham’s descendants emigrated to Egypt, where they were eventually enslaved. God appointed them a leader, Moses, and freed them from the Egyptians to go to their Promised Land. After forty years of disobedience and complaining, they finally entered Canaan, later called Israel, the land God promised them. Over the following centuries, God’s people received many blessings, but still turned to false gods and rejected the one true God. They could not escape their sinful nature without God's help, nor remain in fellowship with Him without God providing an atonement for their sin.
The New Testament tells the story of Jesus, God’s only Son who came to earth in the time of Rome’s occupation of Israel. Not only do the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make it clear that Jesus is the promised messiah or saviour, but that he is the one who was prophesied about all throughout the Old Testament. As both fully God and fully man, Jesus was able to live here on earth free of sin, yet chose to take our punishment for sin in our place. Jesus suffered a painful death by crucifixion, bearing the consequence of our sins and paying the price on our behalf. Jesus conquered death, being raised back to life on the third day.
News of Jesus’ resurrection spread quickly throughout the ancient world, and the New Testament documents the rapid growth of the early church. This includes both historical accounts, and letters written to congregations and individuals to give them encouragement and guidance in their faith.
The final book of the Bible, Revelation, is a vision of the future given to the apostle John. While those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are rescued from the consequences of their sin, our world is still corrupt and in need of restoration. In Revelation, God shows us that there will be a new creation, where we will live in perfect relationship with Him forever.
The Bible offers us a complete story of all creation, from the very beginning to the anticipated end. The entire story is a testament of God’s faithfulness, and his enduring love for his people.
+ HOW SHOULD WE APPROACH THE OLD TESTAMENT?
There have been many different approaches to the Old Testament throughout history. The Jews view it as a book of laws, and many modern scholars interpret is as a collection of myths and legends. Neither of these interpretations stand up to rigourous examination, so another approach must be found. If we are to accept that Jesus is the Son of God, His view of the Old Testament is where we should start.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus often quotes portions of the Old Testament, and uses these references to make His identity and purpose on Earth very clear. Consider Luke 24:25-27, where Jesus chastises two men on the road to Emmaus not for failing to listen to His words, but for their poor understanding of the Messiah’s death and resurrection taught in the Old Testament.
Another example is Matthew 22:31, where Jesus references a verse from Exodus, calling it "what was said to you by God."
Jesus very clearly regards the Old Testament as a valid and necessary source of knowledge from God, and therefore we should treat it as such.
+ HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
The first step to reading the Bible properly is to actually read it! Despite being readily available online, in churches, libraries, bookshops, and most Christian households, few people read the entire Bible carefully. It may seem easier or more helpful to read studies, commentaries and books about the Bible, but remember that nothing can replace reading the Scriptures for yourself.
Once you begin to read the Bible, take care not to read it in a self-centred way, picking out verses which seem to apply to our lives when taken out of context. While it is good to apply the teachings of the Bible to our lives, we must always remember that it is about God, not us.
When reading a verse, remember that it is part of a chapter, which is part of a book, which is part of the Bible as a whole. Consider how the passage should be understood in its historical context, and what literary genre the book is written in. Some books are historical narratives, others are letters, laws, prophesies, poetry, parables or proverbs. The purpose for which a book was written helps us know how to interpret it today.
The Bible often includes references to other areas of Scripture, such as prophets quoting sections of the Torah, or in the New Testament, apostles explaining how to apply Old Testament laws. It can be helpful to look up these references, and understand how these scriptures connect together.
If you are unsure of how to interpret a passage, there are many resources available to help you. Try looking online or in a theological library or bookshop for a commentary, which is a kind of book written by a theologian to help explain the context and content of a section in the Bible.
It is also very helpful to talk about what you are reading! Sharing what you are learning not only helps you to solidify the knowledge in your own heart and therefore influence your actions, but also encourages the people you talk with.
Finally, pray. Ask the Lord to help you apply His word to your life, and shape you in the image of His son Jesus more and more each day.
+ MEDITATING ON AND MEMORISING THE BIBLE
- Bock, Darrell L. "Sources for Caesar and Jesus Compared," The Gospel Coalition, 2015, n.p. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sources-for-caesar-and-jesus-compared. Cited 12 September 2017.
- Crowter, P. Preaching God's Big Story. (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2008.)
- "Frequently Asked Questions," Biblica, n.p. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/. Cited 12 September 2017.
- McRae, Allan A. "The Scientific Approach to the Old Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra (1953), 18-24.
- Myers, J. Understanding the Faith. (Colorado, USA: Summit Ministries, 2016.)
- Turretin, F. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1. (Phillipsburg: Pres & Ref, 1994.)
- Woodhouse, J. "Biblical Inerrancy," The Briefing, 2012, n.p. http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2012/11/biblical-inerrancy/. Cited 12 September 2017.