Do you know about the letter from heaven? It may have been awhile since you’ve picked up the Bible or maybe this is your first experience with it. Whatever the reason, know that you are not alone in any feelings of being out of your depth or lack of familiarity with this text. Modern society can be so wrapped up with life in the now that anything from the ancient world may come off as irrelevant and, therefore, forgotten. Regardless of that, one thing that has proven most constant throughout history is human nature, in all of its strengths, weaknesses and horrors. The Bible records and explores the human condition, which has not changed much, assessing the ailment of our race and prescribing the antidote, a renewed relationship with our Heavenly Father.
In fact, the one thing you need to know right from the start is that this book does not proclaim to be anything other than the direct, revealed message of man’s redemption and purpose from God Himself (Exodus 31:18). It is not simply a self-help book and many times the authors who the Lord used to fill it’s pages swore of their direct revelation from Him alone (2 Timothy 3:16). Whether or not you believe that is, of course, up to you, but it’s important to clear the air.
What we now call the Christian Bible is a collection of sacred texts that combine the original Hebrew scriptures with Christian writings. Even though the oldest versions were free flowing Greek manuscripts from the 4th century, it was divided into chapters and finally verses by the 16th century. There are two main sections; the Old Testament, which is basically the Hebrew Bible and then the New Testament that contain the accounts of the life of Jesus Christ along with letters, or epistles, from His followers to Christian churches throughout the 1st century Roman Empire. Though it is tempting to view the Bible as one long narrative book, no doubt because it appears that way at first glance, it is actually comprised of many seperate books written decades, sometimes centuries apart. The gap between the last period of the Old Testament and the times of Jesus in the New is 400 years.
All in all, the Protestant bible, which we will focus on for now, consists of 66 books; 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The first five books of the Old; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, were written by Moses as revealed to him by God. They tell of the miraculous creation of man, fall from grace with sin`s entrance into the world, man`s growing wickedness, God`s desperate calls to humanity, Israel`s response and rescue from Egypt and finally the laws that God gives to them so as to learn of His character. The next set; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, are historical books. Starting from Mose’s death they chronicle the efforts of his successor, Joshua, to claim the home God had promised Israel, their later growth as a kingdom with the prophet Samuel`s guidance, years of triumph, tragedy and rebellion against God under kings of varying moral character and finally their defeat by Babylon and exile from Jerusalem. Job, Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon are writings of worship, poetry and essays on the meaning of life composed over the time span of the previously listed books.
Next are what many refer to as Major and Minor Prophets, those that heard from God and ministered to Israel on His behalf during the years of their exile and occupation by foreign powers like Babylon and the Persian Empire of 5th century B.C. Major prophets consist of Isaiah, Jeremiah and his other book Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel with the minor being Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Centuries later, the New Testament begins with four books; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These special writings are called gospels, or “good news”. They tell of the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and His Old Testament prophecied mission to see humanity reunited with their Creator. There are four accounts but each is written by a different disciple or a secretary who took dictation as an Apostle reaccounted their time with Christ. Brimming with detail and personality, the gospels not only reveal the nature of Jesus but share the feelings about Him that the authors had at the time of writing, the emotions seeping into their words.
Acts of the Apostles, or Acts for short, details the early history of the church starting from Christ`s ascension into heaven, on to the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost and finally the opening of the good news to the Gentiles, or non-Jews, with the conversion of Paul the Apostle and his many journeys as a missionary. The last books of the Bible; Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st-3rd John, Jude and Revelation, are letters from Apostles, Elders and teachers of Christ to churches located in various cities throughout the Roman Empire. They cover a plethora of topics and challenges of the 1st century church; dogma, old Judaism and the law, the meaning of sin and Christian freedom, ministry qualifications, family duties, marriage, sexuality, abstinence, perversion, relationships with non-Christians and slavery, just to name a few. The final book of the New Testament and the entire Bible, The Revelation of Jesus Christ or simply Revelation, is a vision of Christ`s return that the Apostle John has while imprisoned on the island of Patmos. In it, he is shown image after image of the last terrible days of the societies of man and the rescue that God brings through His returning Son, Jesus.
I hope you enjoyed this refresher course. Come back next month as we start from the beginning with the dawn of mankind in the book of Genesis.