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Explaining the Bible to Our Culture

explaining the Bible
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There is much about the Bible that our post-Christian culture does not understand, which is not its fault. It is, after all, post-Christian. But when talking with people about the Christian faith, it is helpful to be able to quickly and concisely convey the significance of the Bible to the Christian faith, and to overcome some common misconceptions about it.

Specifically, three: the nature of the Bible, the particular books it comprises (and why not others), and the dynamic of translations and interpretation. It really can be explained in short order and should be when someone does not seem to understand it.

1. The Nature of the Bible

The Bible is a library of 66 books, written by more than 40 authors covering a period of approximately 1,500 years. This library of books falls into two parts, usually called “testaments”—the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is made up of 39 of the 66 books, and the New Testament is made up of the remaining 27 books.

The word testament simply means “agreement” or “covenant.” The Bible is a record of God’s great covenants, his promises, with us in regard to our relationship with him. The Old Testament is a record of God’s covenants and dealings with people before the time of Jesus. The New Testament covers everything that happened when Jesus came, and then what happened after His resurrection. The Old Testament looks forward to the coming of Jesus, and the New Testament looks back on His coming. So, while it’s 66 books in two parts, it’s still one story.

That’s why it’s called the Bible. The English word Bible comes from the name of the papyrus or “byblos” reed that was used for making scrolls and books. Because they were made from byblos reeds, books came to be known as Bibles. But the writings of the Old Testament and the New Testament were so sacred, so special, so revered, that they came to be known simply as the book or the Bible.

For Christians, we are also talking about a book that has been inspired by God. Sometimes we use the word inspired to mean that something was wonderfully creative, such as a painting by Rembrandt, or music by Bach, or a play by Shakespeare. Sometimes we use the word to refer to something that we feel—how we find a beautiful sunset or a powerful speech to be inspiring. Inspiration, as it relates to the Bible, is much more profound. Inspired to the Christian means “God-breathed”—breathed out by God, exhaled by God, produced by God.

It’s not a human book.

It was written by humans, but as they were moved by God. It reflects their personality, vocabulary and writing style, but the act of writing itself was stirred by God. The idea of inspiration is that God used people to write the books of the Bible but was so involved in the process that they wrote exactly what he wanted.

2. Why These Books?

Christians take the writings of the Bible as the Word of God for our lives for one reason: Jesus. If you believe Jesus was who He said he was—God himself in human form—then what he said is what matters more than anything. If he said something was Scripture (that is, sacred and authoritative), or he set in motion the writing of something meant to be Scripture, then it is Scripture. If he was who he said he was, then it’s not about what books I think ought to be set apart as sacred or inspired, or what books you think should make the cut, but rather what he said about it.

The Bible we have is the one he set apart.

For example, we accept the Old Testament as Scripture because Jesus did. When Jesus made reference to the “Scriptures,” he was referring to the Old Testament we have today.

When we come to the New Testament, again we look to Jesus for its establishment. First, because a lot of it records what he actually said and taught. But he also laid the foundation for the writings of the rest of the New Testament to be accepted as Scripture through the apostles. The word apostle means “those who have been sent,” and the mission Jesus sent them on was that of preaching and teaching. The apostles received a unique commission from Jesus himself to assume a prophetic role and speak God’s word to the people.