The Familiar Stranger
What’s it all about? What’s what all about? The Bible. That’s what what’s all about. Is the Bible merely an ancient, outdated book that has no relevance in our modern times? Is it just a book about the ancient history of the Mediterranean region? Is the Bible primarily a religious book? Doesn’t the Bible contain a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions? Isn’t it like any other “sacred” book of other religions? Isn’t it just a book of religious fairy tales? Isn’t it just a book of do’s and don’ts? Isn’t it just a religious textbook for Jews and Christians?
Does the Bible contain secret codes? Is it a book that foretells the apocalyptic future and cataclysmic end of the world? Is it a book containing a nice set of religious rules to live by? Are weak-minded people deceived by the Bible and by television preachers who just want their money? Do intelligent people really believe the Bible? Aren’t people just deluded by the Bible? Aren’t those who believe the Bible sort of simple-minded and narrow-minded, believing they’re right and everyone else is wrong? Aren’t they kind of right-wing extremist fanatics? Did God really give us the Bible? Why? What for? What can the Bible do for me—if anything?
All of those questions—and many similar ones—have been asked by multitudes of people now, and for many centuries. All of those are good questions asked by well-meaning people. Portions of the Bible have been read for around 3,500 years. The entire Bible in the format we have today has been around for 1,700 years or so. What gives the Bible such staying power? For centuries—and even in our times—some people have attempted to destroy and burn all Bibles. Many people have died trying to preserve and protect the Bible. Many people who believe the Bible have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed . . . even around the world today! All or parts of the Bible have been translated into over 3,500 languages. The Bible is on CD, DVD, on television, on computers, on tablets, on smart phones and on other electronic devices. Popular movies have been made based on the Bible. In whatever “form” it takes, the Bible is still the most widely distributed book in human history. Why? Why? Why? I’m glad you asked. Iwill devote several issues of The Traveler to attempt to answer lots of questions that have been asked about the Bible.
First, I’ll make a simple statement, and then take a few issues to elaborate and expand on my statement. Here’s my simple statement:
The Old Testament portion of the Bible (written before the life and times of Jesus) is the prologue to the main story about Jesus in the first four books of the New Testament portion of the Bible. The remainder of the Bible is the epilogue . . . without an end!
That’s it . . . In summation . . . Bottom line . . . Simply stated . . . In a nutshell . . . In conclusion . . . In one way or another, the entire Bible is about Jesus. Period!
What? Why? Where? When?
The Bible is not one large book beginning with chapter one and going chronologically through to the last page of the last chapter. Rather, the Bible is a compilation of 66 small and large books (actually scrolls and letters) written by 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years. For the most part, those 40 writers were just ordinary people like you and me. Those 40 people were guided by God’s Spirit to write what He wanted them to write—using their own writing styles and personalities as they wrote. The first “book” of the Bible was written approximately 3,500 years ago—1,500 years before Jesus—and the last book of the Bible was written about 30 years after his death and resurrection in 33 A.D.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. They’re not necessarily in chronological order. Some of them are books of history, some of poetry, some of prophecy, some of biographical information, some of teaching, some a blending of various types of literature. Some things written in the Bible are literal, some aren’t. Some are clear, some aren’t. Just as any other literature does, the Bible uses various forms of writing: hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism, parables, figurative language, etc. As you study, you need to know from the context which forms of writing are being used at any given time. The Old Testament is about God before the time of Jesus. The New Testament is about Jesus and events in his life and in the lives of his followers for about 30 years after Jesus died, was resurrected, and returned to heaven.
The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Bible in its present form was compiled and completed about 400 years after the time of Jesus. If you intend to be a serious student of the Bible, I strongly recommend you take the time and effort to memorize the names of the 66 books of the Bible so you can more readily look up things as you study the Bible.
The Bible is basically a book in which God takes the initiative in revealing himself to humankind. God also reveals himself to us through Jesus. The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself to humankind; Jesus is God’s living revelation of Himself in human form. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus! Symbolic hints and prophecies—alongside clear teachings—about Jesus are found in every book of the Bible. And, Jesus, during his time here on earth, taught his disciples that the Old Testament was really all about him in veiled and shadowy form. The written word and the living Word blend and interact; they are interwoven together. They are one. If you dig deep enough you will find “Jesus in every book of the Bible.” So . . . in veiled form Jesus can be found in each of the 39 books of the Old Testament. And in clear form the 27 books of the New Testament are all about him. One other minor matter. Originally, the Bible was not divided into chapters and verses; those chapters and verses were added many years after the Bible was put together in its present form.
A person can know the Bible is the written Word of God only by means of one’s inner “faith-sense”; to one’s “outer” five senses the claim that the Bible is the written Word of God is foolish, illogical, and irrational. You cannot understand the Bible by means of your five senses, mental abilities, and intellect alone, only by means of our “faith-sense” God dispenses to every human being.
God gave humankind the Bible primarily to transform our lives and restore us back into his clear image, an image marred and blurred because of our sin. Yes, God uses the Bible to clean up our lives and make us more whole and complete persons as we read, study—and obey!—it. Reading, studying—and obeying!—the Bible gives you wisdom, defined as comprehensive insight into God’s plans and purposes for all creation, for all humankind, and for you. This leads to gaining a biblical worldview, as contrasted with a purely materialistic and naturalistic, secular worldview.
On the “viewing screen” of your imagination, picture the following story based on some incidents in the New Testament portion of the Bible.
“On the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem, Israel, Jesus was crucified 3 days ago, hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, and God raised Him from the dead yesterday, 72 hours after he had been killed. This morning—the day after—two of his followers are fleeing from Jerusalem on foot for fear they, too, could be captured and killed. The two disciples are on their way to a suburb of Jerusalem, the village of Emmaus about 7 miles away. As they are walking along, they are deep in conversation discussing the events of the previous few days. Suddenly, in the midst of their conversation a person appears alongside them and asks what they’re so intently discussing. He mentions they look like they had just lost their best friend. The disciples ask the person if he’s a stranger to the area because he doesn’t seem to know about the momentous events of the past few days involving Jesus of Nazareth. Everybody has been talking about what had happened to Jesus.
The stranger responded with an unusual statement. He asked them why they were so thick-headed and slow-hearted. He asked why they didn’t understand that the entire Old Testament portion of the Bible taught about Jesus. The stranger went on to explain that all the events concerning Jesus had been predicted and prophesied by all the Old Testament books. He continued by explaining in great detail to the disciples all that the Old Testament scriptures taught about Jesus, beginning with Genesis clear through to the last book of the Old Testament by the prophet Malachi. He pointed out everything in the Old Testament that pertained to Jesus.
The three men draw near to the outskirts of Emmaus where they were staying and the stranger acts as if he is going to go farther. The two disciples urge him to stay with them in Emmaus that night because it was getting dark and travel alone in the dark can be very dangerous. The stranger decided to stay. While they were eating supper, suddenly the eyes of the two disciples were opened and they understood the stranger was Jesus. Immediately, Jesus disappeared! Even though it was dark and dangerous to travel, the two disciples immediately left to return to Jerusalem; they didn’t waste a minute. When they arrived, they reported to Jesus’ closest eleven followers what had happened. The two disciples of Jesus went over everything they had seen and heard . . . and explained that earlier while they were having supper together they recognized the stranger was Jesus. While the two disciples were excitedly explaining all they had seen, heard, and experienced, suddenly Jesus appeared among them—right out of nowhere! They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He told all who were present not to be afraid and don’t let all those doubting questions take over. He then asked all those who were present to touch him to ensure that they weren’t merely seeing an apparition.
Sitting down to eat with them, Jesus then opened their understanding and explained to them all that the Old Testament scriptures taught about him. He explained to them that something about him could be found in all 39 books of the Old Testament. Then Jesus told all of them to remain where they were for a few days until their Father would bestow upon them the Holy Spirit as He had previously promised.”
To be continued next month
“God’s Word, the Bible, is LIFE-giving, energizing, and full of God’s power. It’s sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel, penetrating and cutting through everything—right down to the deepest parts of our being, laying us open to listen and obey. It exposes and sifts and analyzes everything about us. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what. The Bible wasn’t concocted by humans. It resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to write it down, using their own personalities and styles.” – paraphrased from Hebrews 4: 12 and 1 Peter 1: 21 in the Bible
To think about this month
God’s Word, the Bible, will keep me from self-centered and self-absorbed sin . . . or sin will keep me from the Bible!
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Revised and Updated May 2019