BLOWING THE DUST OFF THE BIBLE
2021 is Brockenhurst’s Year of the Bible – an opportunity for us to think about why and how we should be reading our Bibles. So why should we blow the dust off our Bibles?
What is the Bible?
Most of what we know about Jesus comes from four accounts of his life called the Gospels, written close to his lifetime. The Gospels are set in the context of a larger volume – a collection of 66 ‘books’ called the Bible.
The first 39 books make up the Old Testament and mainly record the story of God’s dealings with the people of ancient Israel. Here we read of their leaders and laws, kings and battles, prophets and poets. We encounter life with all its high points and darkest depths: love, hatred, sex, suffering, death, courage, betrayal, success and failure. We see God’s intimate involvement in the lives of the Jewish people, even when they turned their backs on him. The second part of the Bible – the New Testament – tells of the life of Jesus – what he said and did, and the exploits of his first followers. It also brings together letters of encouragement and instruction which were circulated by followers of Jesus.
The Bible is unique…
- It was written by 40 different authors – including soldiers and statesmen, poets and princes, fishermen and philosophers. They lived on three different continents and wrote in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.
- They wrote using various forms of literature: history, law, biography, letters, essays, prophetic writings, poetry.
- The Bible was written over a period of 1500 years.
- Far from being a miscellaneous collection of thoughts about God, it presents a unified view of who God is and how we can get to know him. It deals with hundreds of controversial topics in a harmonious way.
What did Jesus think of the Bible?
Jesus had the highest regard for the Old Testament – the only part of the Bible available in his day. He quoted from it frequently, referred to events mentioned in it, and related to it in a way that showed he believed it was God’s word. For example:
- In his teaching he drew on almost every book in the Old Testament.
- He predicted his own death using prophecies from the Old Testament.
- He used the phrases ‘the Scriptures say’ and ‘God says’ interchangeably.
- He said he did not come to do away with the Old Testament, but to fulfil it.
Where is Jesus in the Bible?
The Gospels are not the only place you’ll find Jesus in the Bible. He’s referred to often, from the very first book of the Bible to the last. Over 200 times in the Old Testament, prophets pointed towards him as the promised Saviour or Messiah who would come. But we read of his actual words and actions mainly in the Gospels, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are found at the beginning of the New Testament.
Has the Bible changed with time?
Some mistakenly think that because the Bible was written so long ago, lots of errors must have crept in over the years, so that the Bible we have now might be very different from the original. When faced with these questions, historians would ask, ‘How old are our oldest copies of the text? ‘ ‘How many of these ancient copies do we have?’ ‘Are the oldest copies similar to the Bible we have today?’
The Bible passes these tests with an A*.
For the New Testament, around 24,000 ancient manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts exist. This outshines other ancient documents, for which only a handful of manuscripts are available. That’s because every small group of Christians was eager to have their own copy of the writings being circulated, so they copied them faithfully as they were handed around. We have a number of manuscripts which were copied very early in the history of the Church. Comparing these plentiful ancient copies with each other and with the New Testament we have in our hands, we can see that it’s remained essentially the same throughout its history. The accuracy of the Old Testament was demonstrated by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. These parchment copies had been hidden in a cave, undisturbed for centuries. They were about a thousand years older than any other copies of the Old Testament in existence – yet their words were almost exactly the same. Again, this confirms that the Bible has not changed over the centuries.
Does archaeology back up what the Bible says?
When the Bible is checked against sources outside of itself, to see if the people and places and dates it mentions are real or mere inventions, it passes with flying colours. For example:
- Time and time again, archaeology has revealed the existence of towns mentioned in the first five books of the Bible. Places like Sodom and Gomorrah, once thought fictitious, are now known to exist – exactly in the location the Bible places them.
- The ‘Cyrus cylinder’ in the British Museum contains the account of how Cyrus the Mede overthrew Babylon in 539 BC and returned the Jewish exiles to their homeland, just as the Bible describes.
- Luke, author of a Gospel and of the book of Acts, was a painstaking researcher. Archaeologists found that he got no less than fifteen subtly different titles for Roman officials of the day exactly right.
- Five covered colonnades at the pool of Bethesda mentioned in John’s Gospel (John 5:2) were thought to be fictional embroidery until uncovered by archaeologists.
These are just four among hundreds of examples. The Bible record is well authenticated by what we know from sources outside the Bible.
How were the various books of the New Testament chosen?
Most of what is now the New Testament had been written by 60 AD and had been copied and circulated widely. Those books written by people who had been actual witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus received special status, as well as those by writers like Luke and Paul, who were early followers of Jesus. In time, other writings began to circulate with fanciful ideas about Jesus or additions from other religions and philosophies. To stop people being confused the leaders of the Church drew up a list of the books recognised as authentic from the beginning. In this way they confirmed what had been accepted for many decades. The lists were finally ratified at a major assembly of Christian leaders in 325 AD.
More than just a book
The Bible is not just a book of words about God. The Bible speaks of itself as The Word of God. As such, it claims God’s special authority because God is the Author behind the human authors. God brought it into being – not by dictating each word but by infusing the writers with his own thoughts expressed through their personalities. The Bible also refers to itself as being a ‘lamp for our feet and a light for our path’. lt is God’s written communication to his people, one of the ways by which he expresses his character and intentions, and draws them to himself. He wants us to listen to what he’s saying in his written word, and act upon it.
Were predictions made in the Bible accurate?
The Bible’s claim to have supernatural origin is underscored by the fact that not some, but all of its prophecies have come true – except those concerning the final days of the history of the earth. For example around 600 BC a prophet named Ezekiel predicted about the Mediterranean city of Tyre that:
- King Nebuchadnezzer would destroy it.
- Many nations would rise up against it.
- It would be flattened like a bare rock.
- The debris would be thrown in the water.
- It would never be rebuilt.
- Fishermen would spread their nets over the site.
These predictions became reality in every detail, the climax being 300 years later when Alexander the Great utterly demolished what was left of Tyre and scraped its ruins into the sea. For centuries fishermen dried their nets there on the bare rock. There are hundreds of other prophecies in the Old Testament, all of which came true to the letter. This includes those regarding the coming Messiah, which were fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Bible and you
To begin the adventure of reading God’s message, you could start with one of the four records of Jesus’ life. Use a modern translation such as the New International Version. The Gospel of Mark would be a good place to start. Or order some Bible Reading notes; use a Bible Reading Plan – there are lots of ways to make reading the Bible interesting and exciting. Throughout history those who have read the Bible with an open mind have found its message to be life-changing. Their experience has been that God has spoken to them as they have considered what they have read. The proof of that will be down to you. Throughout 2021 – Year of the Bible – there will be lots of resources on offer at Brockenhurst Parish to help you better understand and engage with the Bible – our planner 2021 Year of the Bible shows all the ways in which you can engage with a book that might just change your life.