So what is the
Bible? - a simple guide for beginners.
book of two halves
Firstly the Bible is composed of two distinct halves - the first
in Hebrew or Aramaic, the second in Greek.
The Jewish Bible, loved and revered by religious Jews, which is called
the Tenach by the Jews (and broken down into the Torah, the Prophets (or Neviim) and the Writings (Ketuviim), from which the
name TeNaCh comes). Christians call this the Old Testament. It is vital
to understand the texts are identical.
Although translations into English may differ from Jews and Christians,
the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, the Masoretic Text, is identical.
The second half of the Bible, the New Testament, is explicitly
predicted and foreseen in the Jewish Bible, Jer.31.31-3,
yet unrecognised by the majority of Jews, though their return to
God in large numbers is prophesied in many places.
Christians love and revere both halves of the book, and insist it is
impossible to fully appreciate the gloriousness of either, without the
complete interpenetration and interdependence of the two halves. They
claim that in manifold parallel ways that the Jews have lost the heart
their own Torah, by neglecting and despising the New Testament,
not the Christian New Testament but the Jewish Bible to press their
A mysterious book
At first sight, the Bible is a strangely mixed collection
of different styles, writers and types of literature. Genesis is
composed of majestic narrative, Job, probably the oldest book of the
Bible, of wrestling poetic dialogue, the Proverbs of Solomon of terse
soundbites, the Psalms of deep yearnings and heart searchings in the
form of songs of worship and confession, the prophecies of Isaiah and
his successors of exalted adoration of God, fiery exposures of the
darkness of the human heart, and gracious promises of healing to those
who seek diligently. A curious phenomenon has often been noticed by
those who come to the Bible sincerely, humbly seeking to test its
nature - as they start to search and sift the scriptures, they find
their own hearts and motives searched and sifted.
As we read it, we begin to realise we are being read ourselves by its
An intensely factual book
Unlike the Qur'an or many other claimed revelations, the
Bible is filled with detailed, names, dates, places, many of which may
be corroborated from secular history. It gives detailed statistical and
logistic information, recipes for spices and ointments, specific
blueprints for construction, battle plans and formations, sober details
rotas and genealogies, geographical descriptions.
It should be the most easily falsified of books.
Often this has given rise to criticisms of the Bible, and sometimes the
solution to these attacks is not always apparent. For over 2,000 years
criticisms of the apparently striking contradictions in the
length of the
reigns of the Kings of Judah and Israel remained unsolved, until by
general consent the problem was remarkably and elegantly illuminated by
Edward Merrill in his small but weighty book entitled 'The mysterious
numbers of the Hebrew Kings'.
Very often critics have
scathingly scoffed at the Bible only to have to shamefully swallow
their words later. This has happened with the discovery of Abraham's
birthplace (Ur of the Chaldees), the declaration of religious liberty
by Cyrus the Persian emperor, the early date for the confirmation of
Israel's nationhood by the Mernepteh stele, the discovery of lion bones
in Israel - to name just four examples.
How may we
know it to be God's word?
This is not just an intellectual
matter. Its Divine Authorship is spiritually discerned, and the Bible
warns us that by nature we harbour intense and unreasonable prejudice
against God and His claims. Nevertheless there are numerous and
inescapably strong reasons to demonstrate the Divine character of its
writings, some of them are these:
- It repeatedly presents itself as God's unique and
- Its complete separation
from and condemnation of pagan idolatry - unlike other religious works,
there is no mixing of pagan concepts of gods with the Creator. In its
Creation account, the narrative is altogether lofty yet sublimely
simple, the command is by fiat, out of nothing, by God's command alone.
- God's character and being
vast, mysteriously unfathomable and infinite.
- Yet He has created us
in His image, that we might walk with Him and commune with Him and find
our home in Him, as Abraham, His friend.
the Apocryphal writings or other purported revelations, the Bible is
unremitting in its exposure of the secret sins and flaws of its great
God does not show favouritism, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon are each
weighed in the balances, their virtues extolled, their sins painfully
exposed for learning, that we might give glory to God alone. No servant
of God is without sin, and no prophet or King is recorded by the Bible
without an exposure of his sin. This greatly argues against it being
human writing, given the evil tendency of biographers to flatter their
subjects. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, whose life is examined in
the greatest and strictest detail is repeatedly recorded as being
despite constant criticism and scrutiny by scholarly and determined
enemies. Even His enemies are silent when He asks them to convince Him
of sin, and at the trial of condemnation, no charge can be found except
by two witnesses who contradict each other.
its glorious consistency of theme, over 1800 years of writing and at
the inspired hand of 54 different authors, the Bible's basic theme of
God's unswerving moral purity, the depravity of man, and just deserving
of eternal death and banishment, and God's free and gracious provision
of a blood price for sin - from Adam to Abel to Zechariah and
Zerubabbel. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of Divine Revelation.
its simple but entire sufficiency for the deepest spiritual needs of
all men and women in every circumstance.
- By its clarity in the most vital and
immediate of matters.
its humble provision for the weak of mind and thirsty in spirit.
its outpacing and overpassing the swift and the strong in its wonderful
depths and strengths, by the intricacy, balance and precision of its
its unswerving perception and illumination of human depravity even in
the highest and most practiced of godly men and angels.
its absolute confidence in the Holy character of God.
What about the Apocrypha and other epigraphical writings?
is the voice of the
Beloved - why will you refuse and harden your heart against Him?
The contrast between the Bible's vigour, perception and colour
and the Apocrypha's frequent diversion to myths, the adulation of men,
and relatively shallow doctrine is striking and easily perceived by the
spiritually minded. One is revelation, the other the uninspired
handiwork of godly men. Although Dan Brown has popularised the views of
many foolish Bible critics that later writers were accepted and then
rejected from the Bible's compass, the difference between even the
in the scripture, like Philemon, and say Clement
of Rome's eloquent and elaborate writings, though venerable and
precious, is far greater than chalk and cheese.
do we have that the Bible's text has been faithfully preserved?
Here is a helpful and more
detailed introduction to the history and preservation of the
Scriptures after their revelation.
Yet to imagine as many Muslims and critics do that Almighty God would
allow His honour to be sullied by the corruption and defilement of His
Holy Word is unbelievably degrading to His majesty! For Muslim
apologists to claim the Bible suffers unique problems with variance in
its manuscripts is rich indeed given the burning of variant Qur'ans by
the third Caliph. Yet we are confident that
God's word is uniquely preserved despite efforts in every century to
burn, obscure, annihilate, corrupt and pervert the Bible, both from
within and without the church, and in the last more than all. To
suggest otherwise not
only flies against the evidence already cited, it also suggests sinful
men and devils are stronger than God, it is a direct challenge to His
unbreakable promise. God cannot lie
(Titus 1.2). He promises to
preserve His revealed words like silver refined of the highest grade of
purity, however dark and apostate man becomes (Ps.12.6-7).
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls for example silenced many
scoffers' mouths about the supposed imperfections of the Hebrew
Masoretic of the Jewish Bible - given the near identical text to our
own in those
scrolls which date back to up to 100 to 150 years before the Lord Jesus Christ.
of either life or death
God observes our response to His word minutely - take care what you do
with this book!
Here is what Moses cries out about the Bible, 'I call heaven and earth
record this day against you,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:
Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:'
The Lord Jesus says, 'He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words,
hath one that judgeth him:
the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.'