Lesson 7 – Introduction to the Bible
THE BIBLE BEING THE HIGHEST AMONG ALL THE CLASSICAL WRITINGS
The Bible stands above all other books in the world. It is a unique book. The sixteenth President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, once said that “the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.” It is the world’s most widely read book and has been translated into over one thousand languages, more than any other book in the world. Countless people have turned to the Bible for comfort, hope, and guidance during times of trouble and uncertainty. The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblos, which means “the book.” This means that the Bible stands as the unique book among all other books in the world. It is the highest among all the classical writings in the West and in the East. The famous French writer Victor Hugo once said, “England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.”
The first fact is that the Bible stands alone among all books in its record of authenticity. Many canons of other religions are filled with myths and legends. But within the pages of the Bible we find countless references to actual events, people, and places. The science of archaeology, along with secular historical records, confirms the precision of the references in the various biblical books. The attention to minute detail observed by the biblical writers is unparalleled in any other ancient literature.
Second, the Bible bears the super wisdom concerning man’s relationship with God and his relationship with his fellow man, his thought, his intention, his behavior, and his daily living. At the time of the Old Testament, most of the cultures on earth believed in polytheism, the belief in more than one God. The majority of the so-called gods were depicted as cruel, fierce, or at times even licentious. But the Bible reveals one unique God who is infinite and personal, who cares for human beings as a Father and a Husband, and who personifies love, respect, justice, and mercy. This is in contrast to other gods of the ancient world who were to be obeyed and served out of fear rather than from loving respect.
The last and most important factor in ranking the Bible as the most distinctive book is its influence upon men. Although the Bible is a great treasure as far as its literary, philosophical, and historical contribution to humanity are concerned, the greatest value of the book lies in its great influence upon individuals. Through its pages man is exposed concerning his true condition before God. The word of God is like a two-edged sword that pierces through the reasonings and natural excuses of man and convicts him of his sins before God (Heb. 4:12). Saint Augustine was an undisciplined and licentious man in his youth, but his mother prayed for him while he was growing up. After living a wanton life for many years, one day at the age of thirty-one he read the Bible under a fig tree and came to the portion that says, “Let us walk becomingly as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in fornication and licentiousness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:13-14). These words convicted him of his sins, and he repented to the Lord and became a great servant of Christ.
THE BIBLE BEING THE HOLY WORD OF GOD
The reason that the Bible is different from all other books is that its nature is divine. The Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). This tells us that the Scripture did not come out of man’s thought, man’s mind, but, rather, it was God’s breathing His thought and His word through His Spirit into and out of the writers. Hence, the Bible contains God’s element and carries His flavor. A Christian’s greatest joy and blessing is to be able to contact God and taste Him daily through the word of His breath.
THE CANON OF THE BIBLE
Before the Bible was written, although there were no written revelations of God, there were verbal instructions handed down from generation to generation by the fathers. This fact can be proved from inscribed stone tablets discovered in Egypt and Babylon. In 1901, a black pillar was discovered in Persia on which were inscribed some of the laws of the ancient times. Some of them were similar to the Law of Moses, yet it was inscribed five to six hundred years before the time of Moses. This proves that before the Bible was written, among ancient civilizations, there were verbal instructions of God handed down through their forefathers.
There were at least thirty-two authors of the Old Testament from Moses to Malachi. Among these authors of the Old Testament, there were people of various levels and backgrounds. There were scholars, religious persons, politicians, military leaders, kings, priests, prophets, common people, shepherds, and farmers. Some were highly educated, and some, without much education. Some were persecuted and oppressed, and some enjoyed glory and honor. Some were living in Israel, and some were in the land of the Gentiles in captivity.
The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew. The Gospel of Mark was written by Mark. The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke. The Gospel of John was written by John. The Acts of the Apostles was also written by Luke, the doctor. The fourteen books from Romans to Hebrews were written by Paul. The Epistle of James was written by James. The first and second Epistles of Peter were written by Peter. The first, second, and third Epistles of John were all written by the apostle John. The book of Jude was written by Jude. The book of Revelation was also written by the apostle John. Hence, there were eight authors of the New Testament. Among them, Paul was a Jewish scholar, and Luke was a Gentile physician. They were the only two who had received a high education. The rest were all common people and without much education. The number of authors of the whole Bible was more than forty.
The first few books in the Old Testament, the Pentateuch of Moses, were written about 1500 B.C. The last book, Malachi, was written about 400 B.C. Therefore, all thirty-nine books in the Old Testament were completed within eleven hundred years. Matthew, the first book in the New Testament, was written between A.D. 37 and 40. Revelation, the last book, was written between A.D. 94 and 96. Therefore, the whole New Testament was finished within fifty or so years. Hence, the whole Bible spans about 1500 to 1600 years from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation.
Among the Old Testament writings, the Pentateuch has always been recognized by the Jews as being from God and having absolute and divine authority. This is because it was the written revelation of God to Moses, and was handed down through their ancestors. The other books in the Old Testament were gradually acknowledged by the people of God to be from God by virtue of their own value and authority. The early churches frequently read the Gospels and the Old Testament during their meetings. Hence, the four Gospels were the earliest recognized books of the New Testament. After the apostles passed away, the leaders of the early churches, the so-called Fathers, collected all the books written by the apostles and put them together with the Gospels. Not long after Polycarp was martyred, the New Testament was viewed basically the same way among all the different churches.
THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE OLD TESTAMENT—THE TWO COVENANTS GOD MADE WITH MAN
As we come to study the new and old testaments, we must first know the difference between these terms: a promise, an oath, a covenant, and a testament. A promise is an ordinary word spoken by God, promising you that He will do something for you. An oath is a confirmation of God’s word of promise. God confirmed His word of promise by means of His oath (Heb. 6:13, 17). When a promise is confirmed by an oath, it immediately becomes a covenant. What we have received from God is not merely an ordinary word of promise but a covenant confirmed by God’s oath and sealed with His faithfulness. When the One who made the covenant died, the covenant became a bequeathed will, that is, a testament. Today the covenant is no longer merely a covenant but a testament bequeathed by the One who enacted the covenant.
The New Testament and the Old Testament are the two covenants which God made with man as the two conditions upon which man may have a relationship with Him. The New Testament is a continuation of the covenant God made with Abraham. In Genesis chapter twelve, God gave a promise to Abraham and later also swore to him (Gen. 22:16). Hence, the promise became a covenant made by God with Abraham (Gal. 3:15-17). Two thousand years later, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the world, who shed His blood on the cross and enacted the new covenant (Luke 22:20). At that point the new covenant was accomplished; moreover, it became a testament because of the Lord’s death.
The old covenant, which came four hundred and thirty years after God made the covenant with Abraham, was enacted at Mount Sinai, where God gave the law to the children of Israel. Strictly speaking, the old covenant does not cover the entire period of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. It actually began from Exodus 19 and continued until the time of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:12-13). The time of John the Baptist to the time before the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a transitional period between the Old and the New Testament times. Whereas God dealt with man in the Old Testament according to the old covenant—the law, He deals with man in the New Testament according to the new covenant—grace.
The New Testament, or the new covenant, is a better covenant (Heb. 8:6). The new covenant is better than the old one, just as the reality of a person is better than his photograph. The old covenant, like a photograph, had only the outward form, but the new covenant, like the real person, has the inward life with all its reality. The old covenant was lifeless; the new covenant is constituted with the indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). Everything in the new covenant is much better than the things in the old covenant because everything in the new covenant is the reality constituted with life. Therefore, it is a better covenant. Furthermore, the new covenant is an eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20). Unlike the old covenant, which became old and decrepit and was abolished (Heb. 8:13), the new covenant is eternally effective.