ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- The Bible is a record breaker.
The Bible must be the best-selling book in the world today. How many copies are there in your house? How many are there in Church? Multiply this by the number of Christian homes or by the number of churches and the total must be staggering. Then add in those in libraries, those in bookshops, etc., to give an amazing total.
Then again, how many books are published in so many different languages? The 2004 report of the Bible Society states that the whole Bible is available in 422 languages while parts of the Bible are available in some 1955 more languages. (Yet the Society acknowledges that there is much more to be done as it estimates that there are 6500 languages spoken worldwide!)
Again for an ancient book, the number of available manuscripts far exceeds those for any other, with some 5000 known, including complete manuscripts of the New Testament dating from the mid-300’s AD.
Yet, sadly, the Bible probably breaks another record for being the least-read best-seller, in that so many copies never move from their shelf, but more of that later.
As a boy, in a Crusader (Bible) Class I used to “sing” a chorus which went something like, “The best book to read is the Bible/ if you read it every day/ it will help you on your way…..” How true that is.
- The structure of the Bible.
The word “Bible” comes from the Latin Biblia meaning “books”, a very appropriate title for a collection of 66 books in 2 divisions or “testaments.” The Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, tells the story of God’s relationships with the people of Israel spanning thousands of years down to about 400 BC (although dates are much disputed by the experts!). The New Testament tells the story of Jesus and the early years of His church.
Each book is broken up into a number of chapters (varying from 1 to 150), a system invented by a Cardinal in the thirteenth century. The verse system was not added until the sixteenth century. Someone has found that there are 1187 chapters and just over 31000 verses, giving a total of nearly 774000 words (but this will depend on the translation – see 7 below).
The best book to read is the Bible, so do not give up if it is a long read!
- How were the contents of the Bible decided?
As well as the Old and New Testaments, some Bibles contain another set of books, the Apocrypha, which includes additions to some Old Testament books plus extra books, nearly all relating to the period between the Old and the New Testaments. These books are recognised as scripture by the Roman Catholic Church, but not by most Protestants
So how does one decide which books are genuinely part of the Bible and which are not – or, in technical language, which books are canonical and which are not?
As far as the New Testament is concerned, the canon was decided over a long period of time, applying such tests as: “Was the book written by an Apostle or a disciple of an Apostle?”; “Is the teaching of the book consistent with the church’s overall teaching?”; “Does the book enjoy wide acceptance in the church?”
The list of the twenty-seven books found in the New Testament today was agreed back in the fourth century.
The best book to read is the Bible, which has stood the test of time for over 1600 years.
- How many authors does the Bible have?
In one sense this question is impossible to answer, in that some books do not declare who wrote them and experts disagree over others. But, certainly, in human terms, many people were involved. Yet in another sense there is only one author! Peter wrote “Above all you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spake from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”(2 Peter 1:20,21). this does not mean that the writers were automata or failed to use human resources (Luke 1:3), but that at all times they were guided by the Holy Spirit, Who has been watching over things from the very beginning (Genesis 1:2).
This oversight of the Holy Spirit is called “inspiration” (from the Latin in-spirare, “to breathe into.”
The best book to read is the Bible because it is “God-breathed.”
- Why should Christian people bother with the Old Testament?
Some parts of the Old Testament, like some of the detailed rules in Leviticus about, say, “cleansing from mildew” (14:33 – 57) would seem to have no relevance to twenty-first century Christians. Yet the Old Testament must not be rejected out of hand. The first reason is that it was the Scripture Jesus Himself used and as we try to follow in His footsteps we cannot ignore what He has blessed. Second, the New Testament quotes frequently from the Old and if we do not know the background it is hard to understand the point of the quotation. Third, the Old Testament forms the general background to the New, if you like it “sets the scene” for the work of Jesus and helps us to appreciate all that He did for us. For example, Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 help us to understand the significance of the crucifixion.
The best book to read is the Bible for it is all God’s “story.”
- What is the central message of the Bible?
Having created this world, God had (if I may put it so) two choices. He could have sat back and watched to see what would happen or He could have got involved with His world. The central message of the Bible is that God chose to get involved, “to get His hands dirty.” This started in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), continued as the Israelites came out of Egypt (Exodus 3:9,10), throughout the chequered history of the nation (2 Kings 6:17) and culminated in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Father’s only Son (Acts 2:36; Philippians 2:9-11)
This involvement of God in His world happened because God is love (1 John 4:8,16) and wants the best for his children (1 John 3:1), so much so that Jesus was prepared to die, taking the penalty of our sin onto His own back (2 Corinthians 5:21), that we might live with God for ever (John 3:16).
The best book to read is the Bible because it tells us just how much God loves each one of us.
- Which translation should I read?
(And in this I assume you would prefer to read the Bible in English rather than the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek!)The first complete English translation guided by John Wyclif, Rector of Lutterworth, dates from about 1384 but it was the Authorised or King James Version of 1611 which surpassed all its predecessors and was the only real choice for nearly 300 years. Many still prefer its language today but they have to remember that many words have changed their meanings over the years.
More modern versions began with the Revised Version of 1885 and countless attempts to put the Bible into modern English have followed, using both American and British English. Among the most well known are the New English Bible, the Revised Standard Version and the New International Version.
While everyone may have their favourite, the ideal way is to read several different translations of any one passage, to compare the different attempts and to get as near as possible to the true meaning.
The best book to read is the Bible and one should be grateful for the skill and dedication of so many translators.
- Reading the Bible.
The Bible, however well it may have been written and translated, and however important its message, is of no use unless it is read!
There is no one right way to read it, but it should be part of every Christian’s daily devotions. Many folk find it helpful to read it with the aid of notes, either notes printed in some “Study” versions of the Bible, or those supplied by organisations like Scripture Union or the Bible Reading Fellowship.
I referred to an old chor us. There were “extra” verses which some, rather irreverent folk added….”if you read it once a year/ it won’t help you much I fear”…….. “if you read it once a month/ it will help you just as much.” Maybe schoolboy humour, but with more than a grain of truth.
The best book to read is the Bible/if you read it every day/ it will help you on your way….
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.