The Bible is a book, but it is like no other book.
INTRODUCTION | PART ONE
What is the Bible? The Bible is a book. In many ways, it is like any other book. However, in some ways, it is like no other book. There are many ways that the Bible is a different kind of a book.
First, the Bible is one book made up of many parts. When we talk about these parts, we call them the books of the Bible. So the Bible is one book, made up of many books.
Second, more than one person wrote the books in the Bible. Many different people wrote them. The writers of the Bible came from many different places. They wrote over many centuries. Some wrote only one book. Some wrote more than one book. We know some of the writers well. They were men like Moses, David, Solomon, Ezra and Paul. These five men wrote much of the Bible. Many of the stories in the Bible are about these men as well. We do not know who wrote some of the books. We can make a good guess, but we cannot be certain.
Third, the books of the Bible are not all the same. Some of the books are long. Some of the books are as short as a personal letter. Some books tell the history of the world and of God’s people in particular. Some are books of laws. Some are books of poems and songs. Some of the books are letters that one of the men who followed Jesus wrote to a group of people. This is what makes the Bible so interesting. It contains many different types of writing.
When you start to read the Bible, you will discover something. The Bible is not a simple book. The writers did not explain everything that they wrote. So we need to find out all we can about each writer. We need to find out when they wrote. We need to know who they wrote to. But remember this. The writers of the Bible wanted us to understand them. They wanted to be clear. They knew what they were writing was very important. So they wanted everyone to understand their words. They wanted people to remember these words for a long time to come.
We can also be sure that God wants us to understand what they wrote. That is why God helped the writers as they were writing. That is why he helps us as we read these words today. That brings us to the biggest difference between the Bible and all other books. The Bible is not just words from men. The Bible is the word of God.
INTRODUCTION | PART TWO
The Bible is like other books in many ways. But there is one way that the Bible is like no other book. In fact, it is the only book of its kind. The Bible is the word of God.
What does it mean to say that the Bible is God’s word? We mean that the Bible is a revelation* from God. We are saying that the words of the Bible come to us as a message from God himself. The words are God’s way of showing us things that we could not know unless he showed us.
God has many ways to show us things about himself. For example, God made all things. When he did, he left many signs in his creation* that tell us things about him. When we look at what he made, we can see that he has great power. We can know that he must be very wise. We can see that God likes order and beauty. We can know these things about God by looking at all he has made.
But there are many things that we cannot know about God just by looking about us. That is why God gave us the Bible. God tells us things in the Bible that we could not know without it. The Bible tells who God is. It tells us why God made us. It tells us what is wrong with the world. It tells us how God will make everything better some day. We could not know these things unless God chose to tell us. God has chosen to tell us in the Bible. If God had not given us the Bible, we would know almost nothing about him. And we would know almost nothing about his son, Jesus.
How does the Bible tell us these things? The Bible uses words. It is a book with words and sentences just like other books. But there is one very important difference. The words that are in the Bible come to us from God. That is why we sometimes call the Bible the scripture*. They are God’s words in writing. So, when we read the Bible, we are reading God’s words. When we listen to the words from the Bible, we are hearing from God. The Bible is not just some men’s ideas and thoughts about God. They are the thoughts and words of God himself.
So men wrote the words in the Bible and the words are the words of God. But how can that be? How can human words be God’s words too? The Bible tells us. Sometimes, God told men just what to say. But, sometimes, men wrote just what they wanted to say. And, as they wrote, God helped them. The Bible does not tell us just how God did this. The Bible only tells us that these men were ‘carried along’ by God’s Spirit*. The writers did not just write the words as they heard them from God. Nor did God just give them ideas about what to write. The Bible says that the written words are ‘God breathed’. What the human writers wrote is what God wanted to say to us. The words that they wrote tell us what God wanted us to know.
We should read the Bible because there is no other book like it. The Bible comes to us from God.
INTRODUCTION | PART THREE
Before you read the Bible, it is good to know how the Bible fits together. The Bible has two main parts. We call the first part of the Bible the Old Testament*. We call the second part the New Testament*. Both parts of the Bible are a collection of other books. The books are not in the Bible in the order of when they were written. The books are in order by the kind of stories in the book. That is true of the books in both parts.
We sometimes call the first five books the books of Moses. That is because Moses is the man who wrote them. These books tell the story of the beginning. They tell about the beginning of the heavens and the earth. And they tell about the beginning of the nation of Israel*. These books also include the laws that God gave to Moses to guide the people. That is why we sometimes call these books ‘the law’. These first five books are the first part of the Old Testament*. Sometimes, people call these books ‘the five scrolls*’.
The next books are books of history. There are 12 books in this group. Each book tells a part of Israel’s* story. The first book of history is the book of Joshua. His story begins just after the death of Moses. The last book of history is the book of Esther. Her story takes place almost 900 years after the stories in Joshua. These books of history show how God kept his promises to Israel*. He blessed* them when they obeyed him. He punished them when they did not obey him. He kept his promise to keep them as his own people.
We call the next part of the Old Testament* the ‘wisdom’ books. Sometimes, we call these the books of poetry. Some of the writers told stories of people who lived during the time of Abraham. The book of Job is one of those. Other writers lived through the time of the kings of Israel*. Some of the parts are songs by people who lived during the last part of the Old Testament* story. The books are filled with wise words, as well as psalms* and poems to help the people worship* God.
Song of Songs
The last section is the largest section. These are the books of the prophets*. These books make up the last 17 books of the Old Testament*. Because some of the books are larger, we call them the ‘Major Prophets*’. We call the smaller books the ‘Minor Prophets*’. These books are the prophets’ messages. The prophet* Jeremiah wrote the book called Lamentations. That book is also part of the books of the Major Prophets*.
In the times of the prophets*, the people were not following God. Almost all of the prophets* warned the people to return to God. They warned the people that God would punish them. But the people did not listen. So God sent nations to fight against them. Some of those nations defeated Israel* and seized them. They took them away from their land. Some of the prophets* spoke during that time of the exile*. They told the people that God remembered them. God would bring them back to the land some day. And God did bring them back. Some of the prophets* spoke to the people who returned to the land.
The prophets* spoke messages from God. Sometimes, they spoke words of hope*. Sometimes, they told people that God would punish them. But the best message of the prophets* was about a person. They told of a saviour*, the Messiah*. The prophets* said that he would come to rescue the people and rule the world. They said that when the promised saviour* came, all of the nations would worship* the true God. They said that when the Messiah* came, God’s people would find rest.
What is the New Testament*?
The New Testament* is also a collection of books. These books are in groups by the kinds of writing in the books. These books tell us that the promises of the prophets* have now come true. God did send a saviour*, the Messiah*. He is Jesus. The promise of a ‘new covenant*’ is now here. This new ‘testament*’ began when Jesus died and rose again. The books of the Old Testament* are God’s words. Now, the words of the New Testament* are also from God.
Each of the first four books is a ‘gospel*’. The word gospel* means ‘good news’. Each gospel* tells about events in the life of Jesus. They record his words and many of the surprising things he did. The books do not tell everything that Jesus said or did. But they tell us who Jesus is. They show how Jesus’ life and death answered the promises of the Old Testament*. And they tell how God raised Jesus from death.
We call the next book ‘the Acts’. Acts is a book of history. The book tells the story of how the people who believed in Jesus spread the good news. They told the entire ancient world the good news about Jesus. Many of the Jews* in that day did not accept this message. Acts tells how the Gentiles* welcomed the good news. This book tells the stories of how that happened.
The next part of the New Testament* is ‘the epistles*’. The word epistles* means ‘letters’. This section has 21 letters in it. The leaders of the new church* wrote these letters. A man named Paul wrote most of them. Peter, James, and John wrote most of the other letters. These letters tell the readers how to live as God’s people. The letters remind them that God will keep his promises. They warn people about false teachers. They tell them that they might suffer because of what they believe. Many of the letters tell them that Jesus is coming back. He will judge the world and he will make everything right again. The letters tell people how to live as they wait for him.
The last book of the New Testament* is a book of prophecy*. Like the Old Testament* books of the prophets*, this book talks about the future. It tells the story about a man named John. He had a dream, or a revelation*, from God. God showed John many strange things. So John wrote them down. His book tells about the time that Jesus will return to the earth. It shows us that Jesus will win over evil*. It tells of a new heaven* and a new earth. In that place, there will be no tears. No one will be sad and there will be no pain. God will be there and Jesus will be king.
THE WORD OF GOD
INTRODUCTION | PART FOUR
‘Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.’
When you become a Christian, you must do your best to learn more about God. You can learn many things from other Christians. God’s people have learned many things about God. They can help you understand many things about God and his ways. But you must also learn to read the scriptures* for yourself.
Some Christians do not try to read the scriptures for themselves. They do not believe that they can understand the scriptures*. They are afraid that they will make mistakes or misunderstand. Yes, some people have made mistakes from time to time. But, if you learn how to read the Bible*, you will be able to read and understand it clearly. Here is a list of rules that will help you. When you read the Bible with these rules in mind, you will be able to understand what you read.
Ask God to help you understand the scriptures.
The first thing to remember is this. You will not be able to understand all that God is saying in the scriptures* without God’s help. The Bible* tells us many things about what God is like and how we can be close to him. It tells us about what God wants of us and how God thinks about the world. The Bible* shows us how we can be close to God and how we can learn to love him now and always. But we can only know these things when God opens our eyes so that we can see and understand them. We need God to help us want to know him and to please and honour him. God helps us to have these desires through his Spirit*. As we read the scriptures*, we must always pray. We must pray that God’s Spirit* will show us what God wants us to see. We must ask God to help us want to do what we come to understand. We must pray that God will help us know his words better so that we can love him more.
Think about who wrote each book.
Every book of Scripture* is written by a human being. Remember this. A person wrote these words to say something to the people he was writing to. When you read the Bible, ask yourself what the writer was saying. Who was he writing to and what did he want them to know? What did he mean to say? Thinking about the scripture* this way will help you see what the scripture* is saying. It will also keep you from seeing things that are not there. The Bible is the word of God. But God used people to write it. What was the writer thinking as he wrote? This is a good way to begin to understand the scriptures*.
God gave us the Bible to tell us about who he is and what he wants us to do. He helped men write the Bible in plain words. They wanted us to understand what they said. This is true even of the books of the prophets*. These men used symbols and word pictures when they wrote. So did John when he wrote the book of Revelation*. These books tell picture stories. Some of the stories are strange. Yes, parts of the Bible are hard to understand. We may not understand every part of a story. But we can understand the main story from the first time we read it.
Think about the time and place where each book was written.
If we know what people were like when the words were written, that also helps us understand the Bible. What were the people’s customs? What was the world like when this part of Scripture* was written? Were the people at peace* or at war? Were they living in good times or bad times? When we think about these questions, the answers will help us know what the writer was saying. The answers will also help us know what the readers may have thought when they read the words.
Think about where the book fits into the Bible story.
Remember that God did not give us all of the scripture* at one time. Each part of the Bible* tells only a part of the story. The story began in Eden. The story goes all the way to the coming of Jesus and beyond. It tells about when Jesus returned to the Father. It tells how God sent his Spirit* to help his church*. The story tells about the work of the apostles* and how they wrote the New Testament*. All of the Bible is one great story of God’s love and grace*. When we read parts of scripture*, we must remember the bigger story. And we must remember where each part fits into the big story.
When we read a section of the Bible, we should ask this question. Where does this part fit in the rest of the Bible? For example, the Psalms* show us a picture of what worship looks like. But the way people pray and praise* God in the Psalms* is not exactly the same way people speak today. They used different words than we use today. They spoke about kings and a kingdom* and of a land that God gave them. But the Psalms* do talk about the same things that we want and need today. They talk about our desire for God’s blessings*. They speak about how to honour God and live a good life. And they show us how to depend on God to show us his ways and to provide what we need. These are the things that we should pray about too. We may not use the same words that the Psalms use. But the Psalms* can teach us to pray and praise* God just like the people who wrote them.
Remember, the clear parts will help you understand the parts that are not so clear.
Remember also that each part of scripture* came from the mind of God. Different people wrote the scriptures* at different times. But the thoughts are God’s thoughts. The words are God’s words. That is why scripture* agrees with scripture*. That means that the best way to understand the Bible is to read the Bible.
The best way to understand one part of the Bible is to find another part that is about the same subject. One scripture* explains another. Some parts of the scripture* are very clear. Other parts are not as clear. The parts of the Bible that are clear help us understand the parts that are not as clear.
Remember, the scriptures* are God’s words to you as well.
Each book of the Bible tells us the truth about God. Each book tells us the truth about all people and ourselves. Each book tells us the truth about how to live in a way that pleases God. Each book tells us how to avoid the ways that do not please him. But these truths are not only for the people who lived during the times when the scriptures* were written. The scriptures* are not just nice stories about other people at other times in other places. The Bible* is God’s word to us at this moment. That is why the person who reads the scripture* must apply the truths they find to their own life.
The Bible* was written to other people at other times and in other places. But God and his truth are also true for us. These words from God are words for us. God in scripture* is speaking to us at this moment. King Josiah knew God was angry with Judah. That was because they had not obeyed God’s laws that were written by Moses 700 years earlier. Jesus spoke to people with words from the very first part of scripture*. When he was tempted by Satan*, he turned him away by using the words that God gave Moses*. When Paul wanted to tell people how to be right with God, he used the scriptures*. He used the book of Genesis and the book of Psalms to help them know what God wanted them to do.
Remember that we must read the scriptures* with care and respect. We must pay attention to the words we read there. Even if the words of scripture surprise us or offend us, we must respect what they say. The Bible comes to us from God. If we want to show respect to God, we must show respect to what he says.
So those are a few rules to get you started. Think about these rules when you read the scriptures*. Pray that God will help you. And when we pray, God will help us. Then, we will become the kind of people whom the apostles* praised. We will become people who ‘correctly handle the word of truth’.
INTRODUCTION | PART FIVE
This book will help you understand each book of the Bible. But, first, you need to know where each book fits. What is the big story of the Bible? Here is a short outline.
From Adam to Abraham
The Bible begins with God. God has always been. And God decided to make the world. He made the heavens. He made the earth. And he filled them with good things. Then God made a man named Adam. He made a woman named Eve. He put them in a beautiful garden. He gave them all that they needed. God told them that there was only one thing that they could not do. They could not eat from one of the trees in the middle of the garden.
One day, a snake came into the garden. That snake was Satan*. The snake told them a lie. He told them to eat the fruit. They chose to believe that lie. They decided not to obey God. They ate the fruit. So God sent them out of the garden that he made for them. But he did not leave them. He watched over them. He gave them clothes to cover them. He gave them children. And he gave them a promise. He would give them a son. That son would overcome Satan.
After Adam and Eve left the garden, many things happened. One of their sons killed his brother. Their children and their children’s children grew more in number. They built cities. As more and more people began to live on the earth, the more evil the people became.
So God decided to send a flood to the earth. The flood would destroy all of the people and animals from the earth. But God chose one man to remain alive. He would build a boat. He would bring some of the animals into the boat with him. After the flood, he and his family would start over again. They would fill the earth with children and teach them to follow God.
After the flood, Noah and his family came out of the boat. They built houses. They had children. Soon the earth began to be filled with people again. But not all of the people followed God. Instead, some of them built a tall building to honour themselves. God was not pleased. So God confused the people. He changed the languages they spoke. They could not understand each other. So they moved away from each other. They became many different nations. They moved to various places on the earth.
From Abraham to Moses
Many years went by. But God was not finished with the people on the earth. He had a plan to rescue them. So God came to a man named Abram. He made him a promise. He told Abram that he would bless* him. He would give him a land of his own. He would give him a son. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. God told Abraham that he would bless* all of the nations because of him. Abraham did have a son. His name was Isaac. Isaac became a man and he also had a son. His name was Jacob. Jacob grew to be a man and he had 12 sons. God changed Jacob’s name too. He called him Israel*. And the sons of Jacob became known as the children of Israel*.
After many years, there was a time when there was no food in the land that God gave to Abraham. So Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. Not many years after they moved to Egypt, the king of Egypt made them slaves. They lived there for 400 years.
From Moses to David
One day, God came to a man named Moses. God told Moses that he was going to take the children of Israel* back to the land that God gave Abraham. This was a very difficult job. But God helped Moses. And, after the children of Israel* came out of Egypt, God made another promise. He told them that he would bless* them. He would give them the land that he promised Abraham. And they would become a great nation.
God also gave Israel* rules to help them live for God. When they obeyed God’s ways, God would bless* them. If they did not obey, God would not bless* them. After many years and after many tests, the people did go into the land God gave them. They lived there for many years. God was with them. He sent men and women to lead them. They were called judges.
From David to exile
Then, God gave the people of Israel a king. The first king did not follow God. So God gave them a second king. His name was David. Just like he had with Abraham and Moses, God made a special promise to David. He promised to make a great nation from his family. He promised that one of David’s sons would rule some day. This son would be the king of all of the nations in all of the world. His kingdom* would last for ever.
When David was king, God began to speak to the people through some special men. These men were prophets*. David built a great kingdom*. He was not perfect, but he was good. The people were strong. The land was safe.
One day, David had a son named Solomon. After David died, Solomon became king. God made him great too. Solomon built a special house for God called the temple*. The temple* was a place where the people came to honour God. When they came there, they did the things that God told them to do through his words to Moses.
But, after Solomon died, there was trouble in the land of Israel*. The people did not want Solomon’s son to be the next king. So Israel* was no longer one nation. It broke apart. The people in the north part of the country chose a different king. They took the name Israel*. The people in the south chose their own king. They took the name Judah. For many years, the two nations fought each other. Sometimes, Judah had a good king who told them to follow the ways of God. But Israel* did not have kings who pleased God.
God sent prophets* to Israel* and Judah for many years. The prophets* told the people to come back to God. The prophets* warned the people. They said that God would punish them if they did not return to him. God would let their enemies come into the land. Their enemies would take them away from the land. Then, Israel* and Judah would be in exile* in a land that was not their own.
God warned them. But they did not listen. So God sent an army to fight against Israel*. The army was from Assyria. They overcame Israel*. They took the people from the land. Many years later, God sent another army. That army was from Babylon. They fought against Judah. They destroyed the temple*. They took the people from the land. It was a very sad time for God’s people. But God sent prophets* to the people. The prophets* said that God would not forget them. He would remember the promises that he had made to them. God would bring them back to the land that he promised to Abraham.
From exile to return
For many years, the people of God lived in exile*. But, one day, God brought many of the people back to the land. The first thing they did was put the temple* back together. Then, they built the walls of the city again. And soon, God sent leaders to remind them of the ways Moses had taught them to live. The people were back in the land.
But they were not a great nation any more. They had no king. But the prophets* told them to have hope*. God would still keep his promises to Abraham, Moses, and David. God would send the son he promised Abraham. God would live among his people like he had promised Moses. God would give a son from David’s family who would rule all of the nations.
From return to Jesus
So the people waited. For almost 400 years, there was no new word from God. No prophets* spoke. No kings came to rule.
Then, one day, God came to a young virgin* named Mary. He told her that she would have a son. He said that this son would sit on the throne* of David. This son would be called the Son of God. Soon, Jesus was born. God had become a man. When he grew to be an adult, he chose some men to be his followers. They went from place to place with him. They heard him say many wonderful things. They saw him do many wonderful things. He made blind people see again. He made sick people well again. He even went to people who had died and gave them life again. They saw that he was a holy man. He did nothing evil*. He always obeyed the laws of Moses. He did not sin*.
Many people were happy to hear what Jesus said. But many of the people did not believe him. Some of the leaders became angry with him. They said that Jesus spoke in a way that made people think that Jesus was God. They were right. That made them so angry that they decided to kill him.
So Jesus met with his followers and told them what was going to happen. Soldiers were going to take Jesus and hold him. They were going to kill him. But his followers did not have to be afraid. God would bring Jesus back to life again. And that is just what happened.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he spent some time teaching the men and women who believed him. He told them that he would go to be with God soon. But, someday, he will return. When he returns, he will do all of the things that God had promised to Abraham, Moses, and David. But, until then, Jesus wants all of his followers to go everywhere and tell everyone the good news about him. Jesus is the Son of God. He died and is alive again. And anyone who believes in Jesus, anyone who trusts* his words, will have life that lasts for ever. God will forgive* them for the evil* things that they have done. And, some day, they will live with God. They will go to a place where everything is good and they will never die. But, until then, they would not be alone. Jesus would send the Holy Spirit* to help them.
After Jesus finished saying these things, God took him up through the clouds. And so the followers did what Jesus told them to do. They went everywhere they could go. They told everyone they could tell about Jesus.
From Jesus to now
After many years, God came to one of the first men to follow Jesus named John. He gave him a dream. He showed him many things about what will happen in the future. He told him that life will be hard for the Christians. He told him that Satan* will fight against God and lie to many people. But he told John not to be afraid. Jesus will return to earth. He will defeat Satan*. He will judge everyone that ever lived. He will punish Satan* and all of those who followed him. And he will gather his people to be with him for ever. He will make a new heaven* and a new earth. And he will rule all of the nations. They will be his people. He will be their God for ever.
But that is not the end of the story. In some ways, a new story will just be beginning.