Why Believe In Jesus?

Discovering the fundamentals of Christianity!

So what is the Bible?

The Bible is the Christian holy text describing who God is and what He is like. It tells us of His relationship with us and how we can make the most of the life He has given us. It was directly inspired by God but written down by people.

The Bible is sometimes informally referred to as "The Book of Books" for two reasons. Firstly, it is the number one bestselling book ever worldwide. No other text had sold as many copies as the Bible has. And secondly the Bible is a book composed of many other books all written at different times and places by different people. Broadly it is divided into two main sections: The Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). The Old Testament is based on the Jewish holy text, the Torah, and is subdivided into 39 books which describe the time before Jesus Christ from the creation of the universe through the history of Israel and the prophesy of a coming Messiah. It also gives clear guidance on how to live for God and contains many poems and proverbs of wisdom.

The New Testament is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy. Its main focus is the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, God's promised Messiah. It is subdivided into 27 books and contains not only accounts of Jesus' life but also letters of encouragement and instruction to different nations after Jesus returned to be with God. The New Testament also makes prophesies about the future and describes what the kingdom of heaven will be like. Together the Old and New Testaments make up the complete Holy Bible for Christians and no other text is considered holy.

What books are in the Bible?

Here are the books of both the Old and New Testaments:

Old Testament

Genesis

The Books of Moses / The Law / Pentateuch

Exodus

Leviticus

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Joshua

Israelís History

Judges

Ruth

1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles

Ezra

Nehemiah

Esther

Job

Poetry and Wisdom

Psalms

Proverbs

Ecclesiastes

Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)

Isaiah

Major Prophets

Jeremiah

Lamentations

Ezekiel

Daniel

Hosea

Minor Prophets

Joel

Amos

Obadiah

Jonah

Micah

Nahum

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malachi

New Testament

Matthew

The Gospels and Acts

Mark

Luke

John

Acts

Romans

The Letters and Revelation

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

Galatians

Ephesians

Philippians

Colossians

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy

Titus

Philemon

Hebrews

James

1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John

Jude

Revelation

When you see a quote from the Bible referenced, it will often appear like this: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. The first part is the name of the book, in this case "1 Corinthians". Often there are two or three books about a similar theme or addressed to the same person or people so the books are distinguished by numbers in front of them, hence the first letter addressed to the Corinthians is called 1 Corinthians. The next number is the chapter number and the last number or numbers (often after a colon) are verse numbers. So if you have a Bible, why not try looking up 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and if it is a passage describing love, you've struck gold!

Why are there so many versions?

The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, but a small amount was written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. Very few people in the world can read any of these languages, let alone all of them, so it was important to have the Bible translated into as many languages as possible. This is an ongoing project and Wycliffe Bible Translators are aiming to have the Bible translated into every single language in the world by 2025.

But the Bible has been translated into English many times, hence the different versions you can find in bookshops. Well-known versions include the King James Version, New International Version, Good News Version, and English Standard Version. The versions differ in their approach to translation. Some stick very closely to the original languages to make the text as near to the original as possible, but other translations favour paraphrasing so that it is more readable and accessible to the modern reader. Others try to find a translation somewhere in the middle. It is not possible to get a definitive translation because just by translating, aspects of the original have been lost. This is why Bible colleges sometimes teach Hebrew and Greek so that it can be understood as it was written, but the best way to appreciate the Bible's content without learning the original languages is to compare translations.

What is the Bible's purpose?

The Bible was written to enlighten people about God and how we can have a relationship with Him. It is God's way of speaking to us (while prayer is our way of speaking to Him). Since God is eternal, and He remains unchanged, His attitude does not change either which is why the Bible cannot become out of date. Having said that, certain examples used appear odd to the modern reader because they were written for a different audience. For example, the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) warns you not to covet your neighbour's ox or donkey, amongst other things. It is because of details like this that people dismiss the Bible and say that it is obsolete and was written for a different era. No, it was written IN a different era but can be applied for all time. The point is to avoid wanting what is not yours - it was just illustrated with an example which would have been particularly relevant at the time it was written, but we could exchange the word "ox" for "car" and the point would still be there.

Does the Bible oppose science?

The Bible is not a scientific textbook and often people will try to make it one by quoting from it and applying it directly to science. Science and the Bible do not have to be in conflict with one another, but some people like to twist it so that they are. One thing which may get distorted is the creation story at the beginning of Genesis. As far as I'm concerned "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1) is nothing short of an explanation for the origin of the Big Bang. Once there was nothing then suddenly everything came into existence - the Bible says it, and so do scientists. Another unnecessary controversy is the "God created the world in six days - this means that there is no such thing as evolution" argument. Again, this is not necessarily true. It is wrong to read the Bible literally when it is not meant to be. Many parts of the Bible are poetic or written to make something easier to understand. In the above example, people will take "day" to mean 24 hours but the original Hebrew word, yom, can also mean an era, much like we do when we say phrases like "Back in my day..." So basically the Bible is not against science but it can be twisted to appear that way. God gave us science as a way of understanding His creation - why then should God be opposed to science? It is therefore very important to be able to read the Bible correctly to get the most out of it.

Interpreting the Bible

All Christians believe that the Bible is "the Word of God" and therefore holy. However, as with church preference and style of praying, how a Christian interprets the Bible also varies from individual to individual. Broadly there are three categories into which Christians can fall:

Fundamentalists: believe that the Bible is the direct word of God as though the writers heard heavenly voices. Everything's true and should be taken word for word. The Bible has no mistakes and if the Bible contradicts science then science is wrong.

Conservatives: believe that the Bible is not directly the word of God. The Bible does not teach science so evolution can be accepted. The creation story is a form of poetic writing explaining why the world was created; not how. God inspired and guided the writers but did not dictate to them. Conservatives don't consider contradictions to be an issue.

Liberals: believe the Bible writers had experience of God and tried to put these experiences into words. As humans they made mistakes and believed the ideas of their time. Many think the miracles are simply metaphorical.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was a firm believer that a mean between two extremes provides the best ethics, as it avoids both excess and deficiency. I tend to apply this philosophy to most things in life, and my interpretation of the Bible is similarly a mean between the two extremes. To me the liberal view makes light of the Bible's importance and, if miracles are simply metaphors, then this calls into question the resurrection as well, which is the most fundamental aspect of Biblical teaching. On the other hand fundamentalism often takes the Bible out of context in order to make a point. What is almost always ignored by fundamentalists is the fact that humans wrote the Bible and they did so using the techniques of their time and culture. What meant one thing once might not translate exactly into our present culture or language and it is during this process that the message of the Bible becomes distorted. It also does not account for the differences of opinion or apparent contradictions which occur in the Bible but rather pretends they're not there. So I believe that the conservative view is the best way of interpreting what the Bible has to say, since it keeps the importance of the text paramount and accepts both that God has inspired (which literally means "breathed upon") the writers but has not directly dictated its content to them. In fact, the Bible itself even states that it is, literally, "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). In order for a human to talk, you need breath, otherwise you're just moving your lips. In much the same way, God provided the breath for the Bible-writers in order to communicate with us.

How should I read the Bible?

If you've never picked up a Bible before and are a little daunted by it, the best place to start is at the beginning of the NEW Testament. The Old Testament is very important but it is not as crucial as the message of the New Testament, and the latter is generally easier to read. The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are the best place to start as they describe the life of Jesus and the rest of the Bible is dependent on this.

The Bible is a vast text covering many things and it can be hard to make sense of it if you try to read it by yourself. For that reason many churches and Christian societies have Bible studies so Christians can read it together and make sense of it as a group. Apart from in specific Bible studies, the Bible should also be the focus for any church service.

Read the Bible for yourself!