Today a look at the holy book of Christians: the holy Bible, or simply, the Bible.
Christians regard the Bible as the authoritative word of God. This means that we believe that it was inspired or given by God, and written down by people, over the course of many hundreds of years in ancient times. While it was written thousands of years ago, we believe that we still need to obey its teachings today, because it is the Word of God, and God does not change, so what He thought thousands of years ago when the Bible was being written is what He still thinks today, and what He will think in thousands of years to come.
We believe that we need to obey the Bible because in it, God has given us His opinions and His commands about how we are to live on earth. We need to obey God because He is God, and He is the creator of the earth, and He owns everything in the universe, including us. Ultimately we do not own ourselves, but rather God owns us. Again, ultimately we do not really own anything at all, but everything belongs to God. So the Bible represents God’s written instructions for how He wants us to live, and the Bible can be considered an extension of God’s own authority.
The Bible is definitive. This means that as Christians the Bible is supposed to be the final authority on making decisions. So is the Bible an even greater authority than God Himself? No. As Christians, we believe that God does speak to us directly. This is not necessarily via an actual voice that we hear, but can be in the form of dreams, or ideas, or even through other people. However, because God is a consistent God, we know that He will never contradict the words of the Bible in any other way that He speaks to us. So we can use the Bible to evaluate any other message that we believe could be from God. If it contradicts or undermines the Bible, then we know that it cannot be from God. Period.
This is why Christians like me are always going around saying “The Bible says this…” or “The Bible says that…” In theory any issue of Christian life should be settled by a consideration of what the Bible says. In practice, we have to understand techniques of how to apply Bible teachings, and some supposed Christians – many on TV, many very famous, literally make a living (often a fortune) by twisting Bible teachings, and even within the bounds of honest application of the Bible there is lots of scope for honest disagreement. This is why many Christians who love God equally and passionately often believe many different things – Christians sometimes even believe opposite things to one another. I believe that God can take this in His stride (that is, that it does not bother Him in the slightest).
Yes, the Bible is very old! Sometimes people ask me: “Why are you following the teachings of a book that was written thousands of years ago?” Sometimes, people use this to suggest that human knowledge and understanding have moved on so much since the Bible was written, that it would be ludicrous to restrain ourselves to the teachings of such an ancient book. There are two answers to this that I am going to give here. Firstly, it was given by God who is Himself outside time, this is why it is timeless. Secondly I suspect that these people have never actually read the Bible, but might be passing on recycled arguments. The Bible talks about the fundamental nature of humanity. If you read the Bible, and you look out at the world around you, then I think it is quite clear that this fundamental nature has not changed, and will never change, no matter how technologically sophisticated we become as a race. As a quick list, the Bible address issues of pride, self-centredness, greed, lust, gossip, hatred, narrow-mindedness (yes, I know many people think – or assume – that the Bible itself is narrow-minded… it’s just that the Bible’s definition of this is different from that of many people) wickedness, evil, laziness. Off the top of your head, would you say that these are issues that we still encounter in the world today? On the other hand, the Bible also addresses the need for love, patience, humility, forgiveness – this deserves to be said again – forgiveness, grace, kindness, joy, faith, perseverance, sharing. As a quick reflection, would you say that these kinds of attitudes would be positive enhancements to human life today, or are they utterly irrelevant as you would expect from any “stone-age” text? (Funny how the derogatory term “stone-age” is only applied to the Bible, when the New Testament for instance was written whole centuries after Plato and Aristotle wrote their own works, and their philosophies are never referred to in perjorative terms because of their age, but are still revered by academics as classical masterpieces – and these would be the same academics who scorn the Bible. Rolling my eyes.)
Speaking of Testaments, the Protestant Bible is split into two main sections, called Testaments. The Bible is actually not just a single book, but a library of 66 books contained within the two Testaments. The first is the Old Testament, containing the first 39 books. This contains the part of the Bible that was written before the life of Jesus, and is the part of the Bible that Christians share with Jewish people. Christians (including those Jewish people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah) believe that the Old Testament foretells or predicts the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament also shows us the character of God and, through a number of stories, shows us how God deals with His people, and what He expects from us. The New Testament, containing the remaining 27 books of the Bible, is exclusive to Christians, and is about Jesus, explaining who He is, and what He came to accomplish on earth. The New Testament is also the part of the Bible that extends the possibility of faith in the God of the Jews from the Jewish nation to include people who are not Jewish (like myself, for instance). The Old Testament is largely about God’s rules and regulations, also called the Law, but in the New Testament this Law is largely disbanded for Christians. Because of this life for a Christian in the New Testament era (that is from the time of the first church, right up until now, until the second return of Christ) is a lot more flexible than life was for a Jewish believer in God in the Old Testament. Part of the reason for this is because faith is now opened up to everyone, and it would be difficult to accommodate different national customs etc under the precepts of the Old Testament Law. The New Testament actually describes the first church, who were all Jewish believers in Jesus, sitting down together and coming up with this very, very pragmatic attitude to governing the new non-Jewish believers who were being added to the church: Acts 15v6, v19-20.
(However, in the gentile (non-Jewish) church there can often be confusion between knowing what we absolutely need to obey from the Old Testament, and what falls under the umbrella of the Law that we do not have to obey.)
Why we read the Bible
We read the Bible to find out who God is. We find out what He expects from us as individuals, and as a race, and how He wants us to live. We read the promises that He has made to us as the human race. Not all of these are beautiful and exciting. Some of these are scary and frightening, like the prospect of Hell, which yawns open for everyone who rejects the sacrifice that Jesus made. However, absolutely anyone can choose to turn away from hell and towards God and Jesus. God’s promises to us are generally amazing, and life-affirming, and utterly phenomenal, and they are available for absolutely anyone no matter whether you are a man or a woman, or where you come from in the world, and no matter even what you may have done in your life before you embrace Christ. This means that even the very worst criminals in prison, guilty of the most perverted acts, can be forgiven, and embraced by God, and washed clean of all their guilt by the blood of Jesus. It might be hard for us as humans while we’re down here on earth to forget what dreadful things people might have done, but I believe (I hope!) that in Heaven everyone will get a brand new start.
We also read God’s word the Bible to get His wisdom on how to handle different situations of our lives. We read the Bible to find out what is going to happen in the world, and what will happen when our lives end and when the world itself will end. We read the Bible to derive comfort from the fact that our God is bigger than anything we could face – even death or despair. We also read the Bible so that our thoughts might be aligned with those of God and so that we learn the to think the way God Himself thinks.
I’d say it’s more than a good book – in fact, it is a very good book! In Matthew 4v4, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament that we are to live by the Bible, the same way we live off bread or food – saying “People should not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” – a quotation from Deuteronomy 8v3 in the Old Testament. So that is what the Bible should be to me – my daily bread.
Photo of Bible by Condesign on Pixabay
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