|Topical Bible Study||January 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part I
“The World’s Best Seller”
THERE is no book in the world, the name of which is so well known as the Bible. It is not a new book. In fact, it is probably the oldest book in the world, some parts of it having been written more than three thousand years ago. It has been translated into all the principal languages of the earth, and its moral and ethical teachings have undoubtedly done more to influence men and women to live nobler lives than any other single book that has ever been written. Today, in a pleasure-loving, unbelieving, and crime-plagued world the Bible is quoted by politicians, philosophers, editorial writers, and authors more than any other single book.
No book has had so many enthusiastic supporters, or has been so misunderstood by its friends; no book ever published has had such bitter enemies and has so successfully withstood their attacks. Thousands of its friends have died defending the Bible, while other thousands who have tried to discredit its teachings and destroy its influence are sleeping in death; yet the Bible lives, and continues at the top of best seller lists throughout the world.
In the fear-filled world of today there are increasing numbers of Bible believers who are convinced that this peer of all books contains the explanation, and points out the solution, of the continued world distress with which human wisdom seems to be so completely unable to cope. This solution, they claim, is not a mere theory presented by the Bible, but a plan designed by the Creator which, in his own time and way, is being carried out to its ultimate grand conclusion through the administration of a government backed by Divine authority and power.
If this is true, no one can afford to be uninformed concerning it, nor unacquainted with all the details pertaining thereto. If such information is contained in the Bible we will not want to let it remain in our bookcase, or on a parlor table, but will diligently endeavor to become familiar with the message it has for us in this time of frustration and despair.
With many, however, studying the Bible seems a difficult task; for strange though it may be, this best known of all books in the world is probably the least understood. Years ago the general public had a fair knowledge of what the Bible contains, and the man on the street usually recognized a quotation from the Bible when he heard it. This is not so true today, especially of the younger generation. Frequently when politicians or statesmen use biblical phrases in their speeches many fail to recognize their source.
True, such expressions as ‘golden rule,’ the ‘sermon on the mount,’ ‘beating swords into plowshares,’ and at the Christmas season, ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’ are associated with the Bible in the minds of practically all; but if asked the circumstances under which they were used, and where they are found in the Bible, many would be at a loss to answer.
Too frequently the Bible is considered a book principally for the use of the clergy, as a source of texts and sayings to suggest themes for their weekly sermons, and for use at weddings and funerals. Nearly all agree that it is a good book to have in the home, but for one reason or another it is being consistently read and studied by very few.
Just what is the Bible? What is its structural makeup, and what is its central theme, or message?
There are still thousands in the world who will say that the Bible is the Word of God, and we are among those. It seems to us, however, that more needs to be said to acquaint others with the Bible than merely to claim that it is God’s Word. It is necessary to get acquainted with the book’s layout and sequence of contents.
Generally speaking, the subject matter of the Bible might be divided into four classifications—historical, inspirational, doctrinal, and prophetic.
Its historical records cover a period of approximately four thousand years, beginning with the experiences of what the Bible declares to be the first man and woman, and ending about A.D. 96.
By inspirational, we mean the promises of God to his people, and his exhortations to faithfulness in doing his will.
The doctrinal portions of the Bible outline the Creator’s plan for the recovery of man from sin and death.
Its prophecies forecast the events of history down to our day, and for another thousand years yet to come.
These various subjects, with their ramifications, are not to be found separately in the Bible and under chapter headings. To a large extent, they are intermingled throughout the entire book. There are, of course, certain parts of the Bible which are more dominantly historical than others. This is true also of the other topics.
None of these principal topics of the Bible, however, is to be considered as its one central theme. They are merely incidental to it, yet supporting and clarifying it. The central theme is the redemption and recovery of a sin-cursed and dying race. The need for this is revealed very early in the book, and its final accomplishment forecast at its close, by the reassuring statement that there shall be “no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there by any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—Rev. 21:4
The Bible is divided into two main sections, to which have been given the titles, “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” The Old Testament historical records begin with the account of Creation and terminate shortly before the birth of Jesus. Its prophecies forecast his birth and give assurance that the Divine purpose of redemption to be accomplished by and through him would surely not fail.
The historical records of the New Testament begin with the birth of Jesus, testify to his unselfish devotion to the Divine cause, even to the voluntary sacrifice of his life, and present indisputable evidence that he was raised from the dead in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
The New Testament records also inform us concerning the experiences of the first disciples of Jesus, and the difficulties they encountered in the unbelieving world of that day. These thrilling narratives are found in the Book of The Acts of the Apostles.
Interwoven with New Testament history are frequent references to the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, identifying their application to Christ and his followers. These give assurance that the fruition of the Divine plan of redemption and recovery began with our Lord and will reach its glorious consummation at the close of the thousand years of his reign over the earth.
The Book of “Books”
Not only is the Bible divided into Old and New Testaments, but these are again divided into books. There are, in all, sixty-six of these, thirty-nine in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven in the New Testament. We are confident that they were all written under Divine inspiration, the Creator using human beings through which to speak.
In this very fact we have one of the strongest proofs that the Bible as a whole is the Word of God, although its writers penned its messages under vastly different circumstances, covering a period of nearly two thousand years, they are eloquent in their harmony, and convincing in their consistent emphasis of the main theme song of God. The Divine plan is designed to rescue the dying race from sin and death during the millennium or thousand-year reign of Christ.
The first book of the Bible is called “Genesis,” meaning, appropriately, ‘the beginning.’ Moses is accredited as being its author, although his name appears nowhere in it. In fact, the book of Genesis closes before Moses becomes a figure in Old Testament history. It is believed that Moses, being learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, compiled the book of Genesis from information which was available to him, and which had been handed down from generation to generation from the time of Creation.
The first chapter of Genesis contains an exceedingly brief account of God’s creative work as it was concerned particularly with this planet Earth. It is not intended to be a full and scientific revelation of all the details involved in the work of Creation. Nor is such a detailed record necessary to the purpose of the Bible. That purpose is to identify the origin of man and explain why he is now a dying creature. It furthermore assures us that the Creator is carrying forward a glorious plan for man’s recovery from sin and death, and explains the details of that plan.
The brief account of Creation as given us in Genesis, however, is found to be fully in harmony with all scientific facts, when properly interpreted. Its ‘days’ of creation, for example, are not periods of twenty-four hours, but long eras of time, each having an obscure beginning called ‘evening,’ and closing in a symbolic ‘morning’ of completion.
In the morning stage of the sixth day man was created, ‘male and female.’ They were commanded to multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it. They were given dominion over the earth, and over all the lower forms of creation. So far as the earthly Creation was concerned, man was the Creator’s crowning work.
In the command given to our first parents to multiply and to fill the earth, and to subdue it, and in the promise that they were to have dominion over the earth, we have a brief statement of God’s purpose in the creation of this first human pair. They are said to have been created in the Divine image and likeness.—Gen. 1:27
The record of the general work of Creation contained in this first chapter of Genesis is merely in the nature of background material to help highlight the essential information concerning the creation of man, the account of which closes the chapter. The second chapter of Genesis, and of the Bible, then begins to present to us the details, not only of the creation of man, but also of the Divine will for him, the fact of his disobedience to Divine law, and his consequent condemnation to death.
From this point onward through its sixty-six books, the entire Bible continues to elaborate upon, and emphasize, the dire results of disobedience to Divine law. This is merely the background music in the great song of the Bible. The melodious notes of that song are concerned with the Creator’s plan for the recovery of man from the result of his sin. If we fail to hear and to appreciate the heart-cheering strains of this Divine theme song of love, it means that we have missed the real value and the essential purpose of the Bible.
The first six chapters of Genesis present an exceedingly brief history of the antediluvian world, that is, from the creation of Adam to the Flood. It gives us a little information—although important—concerning two of Adam’s children, Cain and Abel. It informs us that these two sons of Adam and Eve presented offerings to the Lord. Cain presented fruit of the field, and Abel presented a lamb. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but did not accept Cain’s. Cain then became jealous and murdered his brother.
Two important facts are brought to light by this brief narrative. One is the terrible result of allowing selfishness to rule the heart. The other is that God, in accepting Abel’s offering of a flesh and blood sacrifice, was beginning to unfold, by illustration, the fact that his plan of redemption and recovery of the human race from sin and death was to be based upon the shedding of blood.—Lev. 17:11
At the time our first parents sinned against God and were sentenced to death and driven out of the Garden of Eden, God said that the “seed” of the “woman” would “bruise” the serpent’s “head.” (Gen. 3:15) Had God revealed his plan of redemption no further than this, no one could have known just what was meant by such a vague statement. As the story of the Bible unfolds, however, we discover that in reality it was the very first promise by God that he would send a Redeemer and a Savior into the world to rescue the human family from death. Having made this promise, his acceptance of Abel’s flesh and blood sacrifice shortly thereafter served to begin the disclosure of his plan of redemption.
The first six chapters of Genesis show the course of the world during that period as downward. It terminated in the deluge of Noah’s day. The story of the Flood is known to all. Some believe it confirmed the fact of a flood of waters in the Mesopotamian valley. It is claimed that proofs of such a flood exist in many other parts of the earth.
Not long after the Flood, a very important character in the story of the entire Bible appears on the scene. This is Abraham, originally called Abram. The remaining chapters of Genesis are concerned with the life of Abraham and his descendants down to the time when they were a nation of slaves in Egypt, and longing for deliverance.
In order to appreciate the Bible properly, it is necessary to recognize its Divine inspiration. This means that apart from the fact that its various books were actually penned by human hands, the Creator, by his power, exercised a guiding control, and made sure that his plans and purposes were properly set forth.
It has long been supposed that Moses, in writing the Book of Genesis, obtained the essential facts from those to whom they had been handed down from generation to generation. With Divine supervision this would have been entirely possible, and by this method we could have been given a truly accurate record of what occurred from the time of Creation down to the era when Moses was able to relate events—based upon his own personal observation and knowledge.
Recent discoveries of archaeologists show that Moses had something more definite to guide him than oral reports based upon the memory of the ancients. Many clay tablets have been excavated which date back to the pre-Flood period. It has been discovered that a cuneiform style of writing was understood in those early days, and that clay tablets were used for the recording of family histories.
It seems that sometimes a whole series of tablets were employed to record the history of a single family, and that on the final tablet of the series the signature of the historian would be recorded. A noted student in England, who also was a firm believer in the Bible, discovered that the wording of these signatures was identical to a phrase which occurs several times in the book of Genesis. The first, to which a name is attached, reads, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man.”—Gen. 5:1
It has been pointed out that the Hebrew word translated ‘generations’ in this expression figuratively means ‘history,’ or historical record. It is not, therefore, the introduction to a narrative, but in all probability the closing of a record, and the signature of the one who wrote it. Freely translated it would mean, This is the historical record of Adam, beginning from the day when God created him.
The Bible says, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (Gen. 2:4) This is a reference to the preceding events and the word ‘generations’ in the Hebrew text would be much more properly translated ‘historical records,’ or ‘the account of.’
The suggestion is that Adam inscribed these records on clay tablets, ending one narrative with Genesis 2:4 and beginning another shortly after the time of his creation, when he could write from personal experience and observation. Lending weight to this thought is the fact that throughout the account which precedes Adam’s creation the expression frequently appears, “And God said,” indicating that he had received this information direct from the Creator.—Gen. 1:26
This would be before Adam transgressed God’s law, and when he still enjoyed blessed fellowship and communion with his Creator. After Adam’s creation the expression, ‘and God said,’ no longer appears. It would not need to, for if Adam wrote the history of his own family, he could do so upon the basis of his personal knowledge.
Later in the book of Genesis, the expression ‘generations’ is accredited to Noah, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob. It could well be that these actually recorded on tablets the information which, in each case, precedes this form of signature. If this be true, then all Moses needed to do was to compile this record into one complete book. And in doing this, he properly gave credit to those who had first recorded its various sections.
Another internal evidence tending to substantiate this very reasonable theory is the manner in which, in a few instances, the name of a city is mentioned, and then an explanatory note giving the current name of that city. One of these instances occurs in Genesis 14:8, where the name “Bela” is mentioned, and then in parenthesis the explanation “(the same is Zoar).” This indicates clearly that Moses was copying a record written at a time when the name ‘Bela’ was used, but for the benefit of clarity to his readers he inserted the information that Bela was now ‘Zoar.’
Two facts stand out in this style. One is that Moses was merely following copy, and the other is his meticulous loyalty to the copy, a loyalty which caused him to record the original in its every detail, and then explain it when necessary, rather than to edit it without giving the reader the exact wording of the original. With such loyalty displayed, it gives us confidence in the entire book of Genesis, especially in view of the fact that it was also written under Divine supervision.
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
The next four books of the Bible were also written by Moses. These are, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The book of Exodus, as its name implies, narrates the thrilling story of the deliverance of the children of Israel (descendants of Abraham) from their Egyptian taskmasters, and their exodus from Egypt. This involved many miraculous manifestations of God’s loving care, such as bringing them through the Red Sea, and providing them with manna in the wilderness.
The book of Exodus also narrates the miraculous manner in which, through Moses, God gave his Law to the Israelites. This Law is epitomized in the well-known Ten Commandments. The moral code represented in these commandments forms the basis of civilized laws in all the enlightened countries of the earth today. This attests their intrinsic worth, and a recognition by modern man that these laws given four thousand years ago cannot be improved. Should not this fact give us profound respect for the book in which such laws were first recorded?
The name of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus, is derived from the name Levi, who was the head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi was the one selected by God to perform religious rites and services for the nation. This book presents in detail these various services, including the offering of many and varied sacrifices.
Later in our more detailed examination of the Bible, we will give further consideration to these services, and will note some of the wonderful lessons they contain. These lessons are intended to illuminate the Divine plan of redemption for the human family, and to assure us of the restoration of the willing and obedient to everlasting life on the earth, as God originally purposed.
The book of Numbers (the fourth in the Old Testament) probably gets its name from the opening chapter, in which the Lord gives instructions to Moses to “take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, … with the number of their names.” (Num. 1:2) The entire book is largely a historical record of important events which occurred during the forty years when the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness before they entered the promised land of Canaan.
Deuteronomy is the last of the five Mosaic books. As the name implies, this book consists largely of the repetition of important features of the Law previously given to Israel by God at the hand of Moses. This repetition appears chiefly as admonitions to faithfulness given by Moses in three discourses recorded in the book. This book also contains the recounting of some of Israel’s experiences during the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness before entering the promised land of Canaan.
Deuteronomy also contains prophecy. One of these is recorded in chapter 18, verses 18 and 19. The prophecy reads, “I [the Lord] will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”
In the New Testament this prophecy is quoted by the Apostle Peter, and the explanation given that it will be fulfilled during what he describes as the “times of restitution of all things.” That “Prophet” Peter indicates to be Christ Jesus, who will be ‘raised up’ following his Second Coming. This will be during the millennium.—Acts 3:20-26
The prophecy states of anyone who does not obey that Prophet that it will be required ‘of him.’ Peter interprets this to mean that such a one will be “destroyed from among the people.” In this is seen a complete change from God’s method of dealing with his people at the present time. It clearly indicates that the fulfillment of the prophecy is still future, and during the time when the righteous government of the Lord, described and promised throughout the Bible, will be exercising absolute control in the affairs of men.Go to Part II