It's a book that some people have tried to burn to extinction and others have ridiculed to scorn—yet it's also a book that some have willingly given their lives to preserve. It is the written record of such prominent individuals as historians, statesmen, kings, queens and clerics—yet it is also the voice of ordinary people—including a physician, a prominent fish retailer and a cattle rancher. By any standard this is no ordinary work of literature. The Holy Bible, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, is in fact a small library. It claims to be nothing less than the written Word of God.
By any standard this is no ordinary work of literature.
Bible in English comes from the ancient Greek word biblos, meaning “book.” The Bible details an epic that spans 4,000 years—the last 1,500 of them described in rich detail that is continually being confirmed by modern archaeology. Its authors range from the unlettered to pampered royalty, and its literary form varies from military narrative to pristine poetry—from legal terminology to soaring song. Within its pages you will find recipes, construction plans, uplifting homilies and even a full-blown stage play dealing with deep philosophical issues.
A Word for All Seasons
Why is it that the Holy Bible is well respected even among those who do not know God? They see wisdom in its pages, tried and true—ethics that work well to keep society sane and wholesome. Most of the important laws of the Western world are actually based on God's laws as recorded in Scripture. Many people are coming to realize that some biblical laws—such as those pertaining to sexual ethics, personal responsibility in business and politics, and judicial integrity—have been ignored to society's detriment. Leaving them out of our reckoning has not allowed us to rejoice at the liberty we might have hoped for, but rather to wail at the all-too-common corruption we see around us.
The Scriptures are replete with inspiring and helpful passages to fit every need. In 1 Corinthians 13 we read of the power of God-inspired love; Ecclesiastes tells of the pointlessness of going through life under one's own steam; the opening chapters of Proverbs graphically warn against “sowing wild oats”; the book of Job thoroughly investigates the problem of suffering. Various Psalms proclaim the wonder of creation (for example, Psalm 19); the value of generosity (Psalm 41); reliance upon God's leadership (Psalm 23); the benefit of hope (Psalm 43); and the value of Scripture itself (Psalm 119).
The legislation introduced for Israel under Moses (Exodus 19 to 34) is considered by many to be superior to other codes of the ancient world and forms the basis of British and American jurisprudence. Though it may have been written long ago, the Bible still speaks to modern men and women.
Over the past century, mankind has retreated from acceptance of Scripture perhaps because our technologically dominated age scarcely resembles the first century of Paul and John, let alone the time of Moses, 1,500 years earlier. Their writings are perceived to have lost relevance. But such an assessment is faulty. The authors were physically, mentally, morally and socially very similar to us; they knew the same successes and frustrations, joys and temptations, as any person you may know. Fashion, food and philosophy may change over the years, but the nature of man has remained constant.
God Is Working Out a Plan
The Bible is divided into two sections. The first (the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament) encapsulates the history, culture and aspirations of the Hebrew people, and the second (the Apostolic Writings or New Testament) is primarily a compendium of correspondence between leaders and followers in the fledgling Christian Church. Yet these two sections, and all the books that comprise them, form a unit. It is not simply that their unity is one of purpose or theme—it is deeper than that. Christian believers call the Bible, among other terms, “the written Word of God.” This is open testimony to the value they recognize within its pages, because the name “the Living Word of God” is a title reserved for Jesus Christ Himself—the Son of the Most High God (John 1:1, 14).
The Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible outline the working out of God's plan from the beginnings of civilized man until the Roman Empire. In this account, the one God of the universe—not a tribal god, nor a collection of mythical divinities, nor some primitive concept of the supernatural—worked within a small nation to provide a living example of what mankind could achieve. God gave a code of conduct to willing men among the Hebrews over many generations, and when one family among the Hebrews thrived as a result of God's blessings and formed a nation, God formulated that code of conduct into written law. He did this through the leadership of Moses, a Hebrew leader who was raised as a prince of Egypt, and who rescued his people from assimilation and extinction.
This nation took its name from its Hebrew ancestor Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel (meaning “prevailer with God”). From the time Moses delivered the codified laws of God for the people, leaders of Israel knew that the one true God was using them to showcase divine intentions for mankind. For over a thousand years Israel struggled with the rules of moral conduct delivered to them, and many times in this period they failed to represent the way of life God had revealed to them. Yet, as you read the Bible, you will see a clear pattern in retrospect. From the beginning, God planned not only to use Israel as a showcase but as spokespeople—not simply an example but a platform for what He desired to do with and for mankind, the crowning achievement of His creation.
The second section of the Bible shifts the focus from the nation of Israel to one Israelite man—Jesus—and His followers. Jesus was the long-predicted Messiah (“Anointed,” as future leaders would be prepared for their roles) of God, promised time and time again through Israel's history. Through the Messiah, Jesus, it became clear that God desired to extend the opportunity to form a godly government far beyond the boundaries of the nation of Israel. In fact, this opportunity was to all who were prepared to receive from Him the gift of faith, and to start becoming “children of God” (John 1:12).
This second section, usually called the New Testament, actually has two places you could call termination points: The first termination is in the historical narrative called the Acts of the Apostles, or simply Acts. This book stops shortly after the apostle Paul arrived in Rome. Branded a troublemaker and arrested because he dared to speak aloud God's message, he had insisted on his right, as a Roman citizen, to a full trial before the Roman Senate.
The Acts narrative ends abruptly with Paul living on bail, “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:31).
No later direct historical facts are recorded in the Bible—yet we know a great deal more from secular historians about the turbulent years that followed. The book of Acts tells only part of the story of the Church—its earliest years.
The other terminal point of the New Testament is Revelation—sometimes known as Apocalypse, the final book of the Bible. This book speaks in coded language about the future, when God's kingdom will finally be established on earth and all of mankind will be in harmony with the Creator, living life as He intended it to be.
So whoever surveys the Bible sees a panoramic view of mankind that is complemented by secular history.
Whoever surveys the Bible sees a panoramic view of mankind that is complemented by secular history.
The Old Testament narrates God's contract with man to demonstrate how to live life as He intended, and the struggles of one nation that tried to live in that way (at least some of the time!). The New Testament reveals God's full intention—that all of humankind (not just Israel), can overcome moral weakness and failings and can benefit from His offer of life through the power, direction and authority of Jesus Christ.
The Church in the Last Days
Today we live in what the Bible calls the “last days.” This refers to the period of time extending from the establishment of the New Testament Church until God's kingdom is established on earth once and for all—the period of time between these two major terminations (Acts 2:17; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:1-2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3).
The nation of Israel was called “the church in the wilderness” (see Acts 7:38, King James Version). The Church consists of those whom God has specially called (Greek ekklesia—the “called out” of humankind).
The New Testament Church continued to uphold the way of life revealed to Israel and indeed is called “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). Only now the members are able, through the work of Jesus the Messiah, to actually live as God intended. This allows us to see the Church today in a most significant light. Its continuing presence on earth signals that we are in the “last days.” History has marched on through another two millennia, and the prophesied return of Jesus Christ draws ever closer.
But in these last days we still suffer the failings of morality and ethics. We have seen the account of what God started in Israel; we have seen the example perfected in Jesus Christ; and yet we await the climax—God's kingdom coming, and His will being done on earth (Matthew 6:10). We live in an age when, through the Bible, we can see that God's intention has been clearly stated even in nature (Romans 1:20), His power to accomplish righteousness within us has been demonstrated in Christ, and His intention to complete the task in us is anticipated.
More Than Just Great Literature?
In this modern age, people may grudgingly recognize that the Bible is great literature, but they do not accept that something so old can be reliable or relevant. It is most important that each of us thinks through this all-too-prevalent argument and exposes its lack of logic.
Humanity may have won great victories of understanding in astronomy, in biology, in physics, and in developing some wonderful technologies, but why have we not rid the world of poverty? Why has humankind not learned how to eliminate hatred, strife and war—only how to make them more deadly? Why have we not discovered how to unload our burden of guilt or to live up to a proper expectation of right behavior? The Bible teaches that these are matters relating to God's law for us—not to mathematical or physical theorems.
Why has humankind not learned how to eliminate hatred, strife and war—only how to make them more deadly?
Through our brainpower, our ability to cooperate with each other, and our propensity to build on the success of our forebears, we have achieved great advances; man has walked on the moon and traversed the sand at the unlit depths of oceans. But the human brain does not help us solve a moral dilemma; experiment cannot prove an ethical principle. These matters are part and parcel of our relationship with God, our Creator. Only God can reveal how to function successfully in emotional, ethical and moral ways. And He has done this eloquently through the Holy Bible.
Through the Scriptures we call the Holy Bible, mankind can learn of the righteousness of God and can capitalize on His wisdom for our own good. When we see history from the Bible's vantage, we can know that we have the revelation of God for mankind. We can have access to the power to live the way He intended, not just in the future, but now.
The Bible demonstrates that we can live in the modern world as pioneers of His coming kingdom, ambassadors of the age when His righteousness will rule. And in the new world God is in the process of creating, the Bible promises that “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” and “there shall be no more pain . . .” (Revelation 21:4).
The laws God has given to humankind are for our benefit; they claim to be the recipe for successful living—not just in days a hundred generations ago, a few millennia into the past—not just for those in Eastern climes, sporting turbans, robes and sandals—but today and tomorrow, and anywhere we put our feet. In these “last days” we have a unique opportunity to take God at His word and prove His prescribed ways to be healthy, beneficial and trustworthy.