How many of my readers have read the Bible from cover to cover? It may surprise you how few Christians have done so.
Reading the Bible can be a challenging endeavor. I have seen young Christians start at the front of the Bible, treating it like any other book. I think by the time they got into Judges they had some questions about where this was going and why. Chances are they got stuck and gave up back in the book of Leviticus.
It is not surprising to learn that church leaders in the past actually discouraged lay people from reading the Bible, believing that the average person without theological training would not properly understand or correctly interpret the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is difficult to understand, even today.
When the printing press was invented the Bible was one of the first books to be printed. Before that, we must remember, there were only a few cherished copies in the possession of church leaders. Significantly, the Protestant Reformation began as people saw discrepancies between the Bible and the teaching of the church.
It seems logical that we would want to read the Bible and study for ourselves the source of the teachings of the church, rather than rely on priests and ministers.
I didn’t read my entire Bible until I was in Bible College, at which time I had some helpful guidance. Before that I probably read most of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, the book of Genesis, and a few other select passages. This may actually be a good way to start reading the Bible.
The New Testament is generally easy to understand, with the exception of the prophesies in the book of Revelation. It is the Old Testament–the first half or more of the Bible–that can be difficult to grasp.
In a nutshell, the OT is the story before the story. It is the backdrop. It sets the stage for the New Testament. For this reason, it is helpful to be familiar with the NT before beginning to read the OT.
The meaning of the NT is enhanced by an understanding of the OT. The writers of the NT had a considerable grasp of the “Scriptures”–the collection books we call the OT. These books include history, law, poetry and prophesy and were written by various authors. The OT is the greatest collection of ancient books in the world, and today we have numerous actual copies and fragments dating back to before Christ.
At the centre of the OT we find the poetic books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, followed by a collection of prophetic books. At the beginning of the Bible are the historical books and books of the law. It helps to have this understanding of the genres as you are reading.
The historical books begin with the story of God creating the earth and then relate how God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation to whom he would reveal himself and show his glory. The Bible contains not only the story of a nation but many personal stories as well. Sadly, many of the stories are about how God’s people failed to obey and serve him, and missed out on the blessings he promised. We read story after story of God “delivering” his people, only to have them turn away from him again in disobedience.
The prophets prophesied that God would send a “deliverer,” the Messiah who would save his people from their sins. There is a four hundred year break between the OT and NT writings before this story continues with Mary, a virgin, being visited by an angel who tells her she will conceive a child, Jesus, by the Holy Ghost. He will be the “Savior” of the world, the Messiah promised by the OT prophets.
The first four books of the NT are different perspectives of the life of Christ, written by different authors. They are commonly called the gospels, gospel meaning good news. In the gospels Jesus Christ prophesies his own death as a sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. The need for sacrifice is understood in the context of the teaching of the OT books of the law in which God required animals as a sacrifice for sins. Jesus also predicted his resurrection after three days, as proof that he was indeed the Son of God.
The gospels are followed by the book of Acts which is a continued history of what happened to Jesus’ followers after he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
The remaining NT books are letters, or epistles, from Christian leaders giving instruction and encouragement to churches and individuals, with the exception of the final book, Revelation, which is a book of prophesy.
The Bible contains the story of the origin of three religions–Jews, Muslims, and Christians. All three consider the Old Testament as a holy book, but only Christians are accepting of the New Testament as a continuation of the story. Muslims and Jews both trace their lineage to Abraham.
The Bible is the story of faith in one God, a righteous God who expects to be honored and obeyed. It makes the claim of literal inspiration by God. Each book is written from the perspective of faith in one God, creating a consistent narrative. Christians, as distinctive from Muslims and Jews, see God as a triune being with different expressions as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The over-arching theme of the Bible is, The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8
This message of grace, compassion and love was introduced in the book of Exodus when God revealed himself to Moses.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands,and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7 NIV
Our modern cultural view of love makes it difficult for some to embrace the biblical message of a God who not only rescues the oppressed but also punishes evildoers. There are things in the Bible which we may never understand.
I hope this summary is helpful and I encourage serious readers to seek out and study other resources.
I struggled to fully embrace Christianity. I saw the value in living by the Golden Rule, to love your neighbor as yourself. I appreciated the Ten Commandments as laws for a successful society. I even believed in God, the Creator. But could I accept Jesus as more than a man who did good?
In our pluralistic society there used to be an “everyone to his own” attitude back in the sixties and seventies. But that has changed to everyone conforming to a new set of values which essentially oppose some of the very basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, we are facing an anti-Christian mindset.
In view of this it is imperative to be convinced of one’s faith. We not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe, or we will be easily shaken.
Recently I have been challenged by those in Christian circles who are taking issue with several basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the atoning death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
This brings me back to the time when I chose Christianity above other faiths. Not only was I drawn to the character and life of Christ, I believed in his atoning death and resurrection.
One day during the time when I questioned Christianity it became apparent to me that the validity of the Christian faith rested entirely on whether Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead. I visited a Mosque once where I had a conversation with a Muslim who said, simply, that Jesus never died on the cross. When Jesus prayed for this cup of death to be removed, God answered his prayer.
On another occasion I sat with a Muslim man on a flight and was reading Psalm 32 in my Bible.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
We had an interesting conversation and he claimed, rightly, to know more about the Christian faith than I did about the Muslim faith. He told me that Muslims believe in the Old Testament. I still intend to do a deeper study on how the Muslim faith is informed by the Old Testament. What we know, however, is that Muslims are descendants of Abraham, as well as Jews, only through the line of Ishmael, not Isaac.
The Jewish and Muslim faith are closest to Christianity but both reject Christ as the Son of God or Savior. They are the two faiths I have been inclined toward, besides Christianity.
In my search I saw that I had to establish for myself, as satisfactorily as possible, whether or not Jesus died and was resurrected. I pondered the evidence over a period time and finally came to the conclusion that indeed, Christ died and was resurrected. No, his disciples did not steal the body out of the tomb and start a new religion. They went and hid, afraid for their own lives. And the Jewish leaders themselves asked Pilot to set a guard before the tomb to prevent theft, already anticipating this possibility. When the stone was rolled away and the grave was found empty, the soldiers were not punished with death. That was remarkable. The Jews, instead spread the rumor that the body of Christ was stollen.
Well, we could say the writers of the gospels made up this complex story. I don’t think the gospels would have gained much momentum if they were known to be a clear fabrication. What finally cemented my faith was the book of Acts. It was seeing how these timid followers of Christ turned their world upside down preaching the gospel of salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. They could not all have been willing to give their lives for a lie. No, they were completely convinced, and faced extreme opposition.
This opposition continues to this day. And that is another thing that adds credibility to Christianity. Major world governments consider Christianity to be a threat. The beliefs of Christianity are peace loving, living by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The church, historically, has not always been effective in communicating the essence of the gospel and so we have seen unpardonable atrocities. Even today we see gross misrepresentations. In the words of J. I. Packer (Knowing God), “it is a long time since theology has been so weak and clumsy at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.”
The notion that is gaining popularity today is the idea that God would not require atonement. That he would not sacrifice his son. This teaching also casts doubt on the entire Old Testament, reducing it to inspirational stories and myths. The reason behind this is the difficulty people have with reconciling the wrath of God with their view of a God of love. Of course, hell does not fit in either.
For decades now the church has emphasized the love of God in an effort to be seeker friendly and it has largely avoided reference to wrath, judgment and hell. Of course, if none of these are to be considered, then why do we need atonement? They don’t go so far as to say that we don’t need forgiveness, but God can forgive without requiring a human sacrifice, they claim. I happen to agree with them and this may be a surprise to some. I believe God can do as he pleases.
I think God can indeed forgive without a sacrifice. But I believe he chose to sacrifice his son and he had his reasons. For those who don’t believe this, you will have to do your own study, as I did.
The atonement causes the entire Bible to make sense. In fact, for me it causes life to make sense. My faith informs my life and gives it meaning. The atonement means there is justice.
The atonement means there is justice. There is judgement. There is just reward. And there is mercy and grace and forgiveness and newness of life. The old dies and the new is resurrected to life in Christ. Christian baptism is a symbol of this experience.
I don’t claim to fully understand how God became man in the form of his Son. Or how the Son of God could die. How he was able to descend to the depths to preach deliverance to the captives. How he was resurrected. But I know his forgiveness and his power in my life. I have his abiding peace and joy. I experience his indwelling presence. And today I declare, He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.
I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.
For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?
I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?
In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.
Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.
Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.
It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.
I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:
The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.
The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”
I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.
When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.
This question has been on my mind for a few days since I read John 17:12. In this passage Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry and life on earth and is offering a prayer to God for his followers. He prays, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe….None has been lost except the one [Judas who would betray him].” NIV
Jesus goes on to pray, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” John 17:15-17.
In all my reading it never occurred to me that during his ministry Jesus had an obligation to protect his disciples. But I began to think about what it might have been like for twelve men to follow Jesus for three years as he went from place to place teaching and healing people. Where did they sleep? How often did they go home? They gave up their jobs, it appears, at least that’s what we read about the fishermen. Certain women ministered to them out of their resources. Isn’t that interesting? The women are supporting the men in ministry. I’ve never heard a sermon on that one.
But today as I was reading in Ezra I gained a little more clarity. I love how one part of the Bible can shed light on another.
The exiled Hebrews are rebuilding the temple and encountering some severe opposition. This tends to happen when we do the work of the kingdom of God and it could have something to do with not being “of the world.” Look what happens, “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia” Ezra 4:4-5.
Notice that in Jesus’ prayer he prayed for protection from the “evil one.” Here we see what the evil one is up to. When we want to do something for God and for the good of others then we encounter forces that try to discourage us and make us afraid. People will even go as far as to hire opposition to work against a good cause and to frustrate it. Have you seen this happen? I have.
We might as well not be ignorant of the fact that we have adversaries who are not exactly supportive of what Jesus and his followers are doing. It is comforting to know that Jesus recognizes this opposition and sees the need to pray for us and protect us.
I want to add one more thing. Part of the reason that the Hebrews succeeded in building the temple is because they knew that what they were doing was what God wanted them to do and they refused to align themselves with the enemy. Earlier their enemies had asked if they could join them in building. (With what intentions, we might ask?) The Hebrews refused their offer. They saw they were not of the same mind and purpose.
I think we have a clue here as to how we overcome our adversary. We recognize that we are different and not of this world. Jesus calls this process sanctification. When he prayed for the protection of his followers, he also prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth.” It is the truth that dispels lies that can cause fear and discouragement. It is the truth that will align us with God’s purposes and enable us to succeed in that which we set out to do, the things to which God has called us.
I am responding today to an article entitled, Michele Bachmann, Please, Girl, Read Your Dang Bible. Julia Ioffe writes about Michelle Bachmann’s comment on the recent Supreme Court gay marriage ruling in Minnesota. Here is Michelle’s statement as found in Minnesota Reacts to SCOTUS Decision on DOMA:
“Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted,” Bachmann said in a statement to the press. “What the Court has done will undermine the best interests of children and the best interests of the United States.”
Julia Ioffe discredits Michelle Bachmann’s statement by telling her she needs to read her Bible and by alluding to stories in the Bible of men, such as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon, who had wives and “handmaids” and “concubines.” These accounts are in the Bible. Does this mean that God condones polygamy?
How does God view marriage? I like to think that God is not as complicated as we make him out to be. Yes, we can benefit from the work of theologians who invest their lives in defining the details of theology, but the basics are fairly clear. In the beginning God created Adam and removed a rib from his side and fashioned Eve. He brought her to Adam to be his help-mate. One woman for one man, and God saw that this was “very good.”
God evidently allowed men to have multiple wives but we also see that it wasn’t “very good,” as there was conflict and envy, not only between the wives and mistresses, but jealousy and strife between the children as well. The consequences are woven throughout the historical account and continue today. I concur that it is in the best interests of children to be raised in a home where there are two loving parents, the father and the mother.
Don’t be deceived into thinking you cannot understand the Bible. The Bible is the richest resource we possess for guiding us in life. It reveals to us the nature and character of God. Through the Old Testament stories we begin to see how God relates to his people. We gain an understanding of the heart of God.
There was a time when only priests had access to the Bible. In fact lay people were discouraged from reading the Bible because it was presumed that they would incorrectly interpret the Bible. There is some room for incorrect interpretation, but the danger of not reading it is much greater.
When you read the Old Testament, look for a common theme. I had a Bible scholar teach me that the theme of the Old Testament is found in Exodus 3:5-7.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
While reading through the Old Testament, think about the character of God. You will see he is consistent throughout. Ask his Holy Spirit to guide you as you read. Jesus promised that when he left he would send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide his followers into all truth.
The Bible is a great source of strength to those who study it and try to understand its message. It is like a treasure in a field. Not everyone will search it out, but those who do are richly rewarded.