Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (1 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible, God's Word
To Christians the pages of the Bible contain none other than the words of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. Despite centuries of attempts to debunk and destroy it, the Bible has survived to remain the all time best-selling book in the world. (1)
From the Greek biblios which means “book”, our modern Bible is not really just a single book, but a collection or library of smaller books. Written across the span of centuries, by many different authors, these ancient texts nonetheless tell a remarkably coherent story of God and His plan for people. These words from antiquity speak with a startling relevance even to us in our time. So what is in this book?
An Epic Tale of God’s Plan for Humanity
The Bible begins with creation, and ends with a new creation. It opens with a garden, and a tree of life lost; it ends with the tree of life restored. In between these end points is traced the story of the unfolding of God's plan of redemption. A few paragraphs cannot do any justice to the richness of these writings, but I will hope that a "bird's eye view" can be glimpsed.
Centuries ago, in a time of Sumerian city states and nomadic chieftains, God called one man, Abraham, and made him a promise. His descendants would become a great nation and through them the whole world would be blessed. The promise was reaffirmed to his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob. They prospered and became a great tribe.
For a time, these people of the great promise sojourned in Egypt, in order to find refuge during a time of famine (you may recall the full story which centered on Joseph, of the famous coat of many colors). Centuries passed, and the descendants of Abraham grew in number while in Egypt. The pharaohs, rulers of Egypt, came to view these people as a threat, and they were enslaved.
This could have been the end of the story, but instead God called Moses to lead these people out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in their promised land. The great festival of Passover was born out of the famous plagues of Egypt, particularly the 10th and deadliest one. The people of Israel to this day celebrate the occasion when the angel of death "passed over" those who had heeded the warning to apply lamb's blood on their door posts.
It was during the journey to the promised land, in the time of Moses’ leadership, that the people received the law of God, which includes our beloved "10 Commandments." They also began to celebrate an annual "Day of Atonement," which remains to this day the holiest day of the calendar in Judaism. On the Day of Atonement, two animals were sacrificed; One was a blood offering for the sins of the people, and the other was a "scapegoat" that was driven away from the community, symbolizing the removal of evil from their midst.
The people of Israel entered the promised land and eventually became a great nation as had been promised to Abraham. King David, “the man after God’s own heart” subdued most of their immediate enemies and ushered in a golden age that ever afterward loomed large in the imaginations and longings of the people. Under David's son, the wise king Solomon, the ancient kingdom of Israel was for a shining moment the greatest nation on earth.
Unfortunately, the people of Israel had a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Over and over again, they turned away from the law of God and embraced detestable beliefs and practices, including even human sacrifice of babies. After Solomon, the kingdom was split into two smaller kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, and about 150 years later the southern kingdom fell to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar the Great (of the "Hanging Gardens" fame).
Prophets, the messengers of God, were always calling upon the people of Israel to return to the way of God. They foresaw the impending destruction that ultimately befell both kingdoms. At the same time, they also predicted that God would not totally forsake his chosen people. Though the tree would be cut down, a shoot would spring up from the stump. God would preserve a remnant of the faithful, and a messiah, (an "anointed one") would arise from the House of David.
We are told that in the "fullness of time" a baby named Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to Mary and Joseph, who were of the lineage of David. This baby, named Jesus, grew to be a wise speaker and powerful healer. More than this, he was God in fleshly form. “We beheld his glory,” stated his disciple John.
However, Jesus was no pagan demigod, arrived in majesty to enslave and conquer and build splendid palaces to his own glory. Rather, Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world”; His was a spiritual kingdom, and his mission was to suffer and die, like the animals of the feast of Atonement. His last meal on earth was Passover, during which he told his stunned disciples, “this wine is my blood shed for you.” He became the Passover lamb, whose blood sprinkled on the doorposts of one’s heart would cause him or her to avoid spiritual death, and be granted life eternal.
Jesus’ gruesome beatings and agonizing crucifixion did not mark the end of the story, however. Three days later, his followers were confronted with an empty tomb. “He is risen!” shouted the women who first noticed this. Jesus, who had been killed, was now alive somehow, and he appeared before many people prior to ascending to his place “at the right hand of the Father.” As he departed he gave to his followers the mission to carry his message to the ends of the earth. And he promised them that God would send his Spirit to work in and through them. These followers, who had been a dispirited band cowering in locked rooms, underwent a startling transformation, and became bold proclaimers of the message, even when it led to their own deaths.
The remainder of the Bible speaks of how these believers in Jesus, the resurrected "Anointed One", started meeting together, and their numbers rapidly grew. This assembly of believers (or “church”) spread from city to city, starting in Jerusalem and reaching all the way to Rome. Many of the letters written by leaders of this early church are preserved for us, particularly in the writings of Peter, Paul, James, and John.
John’s apocalyptic visions conclude the writings of the Bible, and his “Revelation” has become grist for numerous horror movies in our day. He foretells the ultimate triumph of Jesus and his followers over the forces of evil. He looks beyond the final judgment upon this earth, to the coming of a “New Heaven and New Earth”, a place where there will be no more tears or sorrow.
We invite you to explore the riches of the Biblical narratives for yourself.
Consider starting with one of the gospels, which tell the story of Jesus (these are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Look here for some practical advice on how to approach this task.
Of course, the words of the Bible were intended to be read in community. Getting together with a Bible study group or some other Christian community will be extremely helpful.
Check out our resource page for links to online Bibles and other helpful resources for further study.
Or click here to go directly to the online Bible Gateway, a searchable online Bible available in multiple versions.
- 1. In case you were wondering if this is really true, consider this 2005 New Yorker artice: “The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.” Online here). Also, you may be interested to see this fact cited by the current Guinness World Records, online.