Crossing Explainer: Seven Important Things You Need to Know About the Bible

IMG_23141. The Bible was written by many different human authors.

Like classic Russian novels, the Bible is bigger than most books. But unlike Russian novels, it has more than one human author. In fact, a great many authors, including some of the more familiar names to the Christian faith, like Moses, David, Peter, John, and Paul, have written several of its 66 individual books. But this isn’t just a piece of Bible trivia. Those different authors wrote in different historical situations, using different vocabulary and writing styles—all of which helps to explain why one part of the Bible reads differently than the next.

2. The Bible has one ultimate Author.

We’re not given many details on how he did it, but we’re clearly assured that he did: behind the various human writers, each writing in their own voice, stands God himself as the ultimate author (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21). This means that the Bible exhibits his trustworthiness and carries his authority. It also leads to the next point.

3. The Bible is one big story, with one big hero.

I mentioned that the Bible has 66 individual books. But God authored them all to contribute in some way to the one big overarching story, a story that centers around him as its true and ultimate hero. He is the one who creates everything to be good. He is the one, in the face of human rebelliousness and evil, who acts graciously to redeem his people. And he is the one who will one day set everything completely right, in the happy ending of all happy endings.

4. Reading the whole will help with the parts.

If, for example, you read one the accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament (found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you might come across several things—quotations, actions, historical mentions and other allusions—that aren’t immediately understandable. But they become steadily more accessible as we become more familiar with previous parts of story (i.e., in the Old Testament). Likewise, the full significance of the earlier chapters of the story only becomes clear when you read about the climax of the story in Jesus Christ.

5. The Bible is full of different types of literature.

An email from your boss. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away….” A news story on a devastating terrorist attack. #dessertbeforedinner #parentfail. You encounter different kinds of communication all the time, and you instinctively know that you can’t read and interpret all of them the same way. The same is true of the Bible. It contains everything from historical accounts to personal letters to ancient poetry to apocalyptic visions. Understanding what kind of literature you’re reading can go a long way to helping you properly read, interpret, and apply a given passage. So yes, this will take some effort on our part over the long haul. But on the other hand, it allows the Bible to speak to us in different ways. We need logical arguments and careful reasoning. We need accounts of those who have gone before us in the faith. We need vibrant imagery, strategic repetition, and memorable stories. The Bible does all of that and more in order to speak to our hearts through our heads, and our heads through our hearts.

6. Understanding what the Bible meant then will help us understand what the Bible means now.

In an important sense, the Bible was written to you. But unless you measure your age by millennia, it wasn’t written directly to you. To find out what it means for us means that we need to first find out what it meant for its various original audiences. Asking how the ancient Israelites or the church at Ephesus or Paul’s friend Timothy would have read and understood the words written to them in their own historical situations will help us to avoid a lot of errors and put us in a much better position to draw parallels to our own circumstances.

7. Reading and understanding the Bible is the gradual work of a lifetime.

If some of the things mentioned above sound intimidating, don’t worry. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is mature biblical understanding. The key thing is to be willing to learn by reading and studying the Bible on a consistent basis. That means on our own and with others (like in a small group), and listening to good preaching and teaching. And no matter how often we’ve done it, trafficking in the pages of the Bible will continue to repay our investment.


*Originally posted June 28, 2016

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