The Bible is a collection of 66 different books and letters, written over a period of approximately 1500 years up to about 100 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is divided into two major parts, called the Old Testament (the first 39 books) and the New Testament (the last 27 books).
The Bible is a book primarily about God’s revelation of himself to mankind and his relationship with people. It is not just a book of history, but its accounts of God’s dealings with individuals and nations are as relevant to the modern world as they have been to every age since they were written.
It is not primarily a book of science, but it is not at variance with any proven scientific fact. Some of its statements reveal knowledge of the world of science that the writer could not have had apart from Divine revelation.
Neither is it simply a book of philosophy. Nowhere does it argue for the existence of God. Yet the God it reveals has been known in a personal way by many of the greatest minds who have ever lived as well as by many millions of ordinary people. It speaks to every person from the simplest to the most sophisticated at his or her own level of understanding.
The Bible has stood the test of time, the greatest test of all literature. It was completed nearly 2,000 years ago, yet is now read more than any other book and by people of widely varying cultures. It is still the world’s best-selling book.
The Old Testament
The historical books of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Esther, tell the story of God and his people. In the first pages of Genesis we read how God made the whole universe of planets, stars and galaxies, creating life on planet Earth and setting mankind in a perfect environment and surroundings. The story of mankind’s disobedience to God and the resulting death, sickness, violence, unrest and dissatisfaction that ensued is told through the history of certain individuals and nations that lived in the Middle East. The historical account given is corroborated by other historians of that time and by considerable archaeological evidence discovered in more recent times.
Poetry and wisdom
This section, from Job to Song of Solomon, covers prayer and praise, love and joy, despair, doubts, bitter anger, the emptiness of life without God and, in sharp contrast, triumphant faith when God is included in day-to-day life.
These 17 books, from Isaiah to Malachi, are God’s Word to his people. The prophets often speak of judgment and doom but they also proclaim the coming of a Messiah to save mankind from the consequences of their disobedience and to offer a new relationship with God.
The New Testament
The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the book of Acts, tell of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and its significance to every member of the human race. They tell how God so loved the world he had created that he sent his only Son in the form of the man Jesus, to save every person who truly repents, and trusts him, from the punishment of eternal death and misery.
Despite all the healing, help and hope which Jesus brought to so many, most people rejected him and his message and plotted to have him killed. He was crucified and died on a cross; however, God brought him back to life again three days later and he was seen by hundreds of people over a period of forty days before going back to heaven. These historical facts are well supported by the historians of the day.
The amazing spread of the Christian faith, and some of the persecution and troubles its followers faced, are told in these books.
The 21 letters, from Romans to Jude, give guidance and teaching. They were written to correct weaknesses and mistakes made by early Christians and to encourage them in their Christian faith, and they are still very relevant to us today.
The last book is Revelation. It tells of things that are yet to happen as part of God’s plan to save the human race. It describes the future of God’s people in heaven and the final defeat of Satan and the power of evil. It reinforces the warnings of the whole Bible regarding the consequences of rejecting God’s light and love.
Because the things foretold in the Old Testament about Jesus came to pass as had been prophesied, Christians who value and respect the Bible as the Word of God look forward to the coming again of Jesus to this earth. He will then judge wrongdoing and bring new hope and peace to this troubled world.
The Bible’s inspiration
Like any other book, the Bible was written by men but, unlike any other book, it was guided and planned by God from beginning to end. When Christians say that the Bible is ‘inspired’, they mean that God spoke his message through the people he chose to act as authors.
The divine author
The Bible claims that God is its ultimate author and Christians believe the Bible to be the Word of God because the Lord Jesus Christ believed it to be so. He constantly referred to the Old Testament in his teachings.
In every case Jesus’ words show that he believed in its historic accuracy and divine authority. Here are three passages that show his attitude to the Old Testament, called by the Jews “The Law and The Prophets”:
Matthew 5:17-19. Here Jesus underlines the Authority of The Law.
Luke 24:27. Here he underlines the Message of The Prophets.
John 5:39-40. Here he speaks of the Old Testament Scriptures as pointing to himself as the source of eternal life.
Jesus also gave the seal of his authority to the New Testament in advance of it being written:
Matthew 28:19-20. Here he commissioned his disciples to teach all nations “Everything I have commanded you.” It would be impossible to do this without there being a written record.
John 14:26. Here he promised that the Holy Spirit would bring back to their memories “Everything I have said to you.”
John 16:12-14. Here he promised that the Holy Spirit would teach them things they were not ready to understand at that time, but which were a vital part of his message.
Therefore, to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to believe in the divine authority of the Bible.
Also, the apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16), and it is clear from 2 Peter 3:16 that the apostle Peter regarded Paul’s writings as part of Holy Scripture.
The human writers of the Bible
There were many different writers, who lived and wrote in different countries and eras. They came from different walks of life and represented a very wide range of intellects and abilities.
One wrote history, another biography; another wrote on theology, another poetry and another prophecy. Some wrote on philosophy, and some wrote stories of adventure, travel and romance, but all of them were inspired by God.
Most of them had no contact with each other and no means of knowing that when their writings were all put together as one book it would be complete, all parts agreeing in doctrine, teaching and prophecy.
The unity of themes
As you read through the 66 books you are confronted by the Bible’s unity. The Bible is one whole book and no part is complete without the remainder.
Throughout the Old Testament the theme of the Redemption of Mankind is developed with people and nations. In the New Testament all that has been indicated in advance in the Old Testament comes to vibrant and startling reality.
The word Testament means ‘covenant’ or ‘agreement’. The Old Covenant is a ‘Covenant of Law’ and the New Covenant is a ‘Covenant of Grace’; the one led to the other (see Galatians 3:17-25). The Old finds its fulfilment in the New; the New has its roots in the Old.
The Bible’s moral impact
The Bible is not afraid to show the weaknesses of some of its major characters but it also shows us the highest moral standard in history – that of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This book has consistently challenged and transformed the lives of its readers.
The Bible, or parts of it, has now been translated into over 3,200 languages and dialects. There have been many different translations, from the time of John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century onwards. There are now many recent translations and paraphrases available in modern English. This version is the New International Version, which is produced by a panel of internationally recognised Bible scholars and was most recently reviewed and updated in 2011.
The Bible’s power and effect
During the British Coronation ceremony a Bible has traditionally been presented to the monarch with the words: “We present you with this book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.” These words are true and deeply significant.
This book has the power not only to inform, but also to reform and to transform lives. Through its influence countless people have been given a new strength, an unerring purpose and a sure hope in life. It has brought blessing to millions in every land and age.
It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, divine in authorship, infallible in authority, inexhaustible in meaning, universal in readership, unique in revelation, personal in application and powerful in effect.
It is given to you here in this life, it will be open at the Judgment, it is established forever. Come to it with awe, read it with reverence, frequently, slowly, prayerfully.
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31.