The Bible

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An old dusty book. Who reads the Bible these days? Some think it is a fairy-tale book, others think it’s a literary masterpiece. Who wrote the Bible? And why? For Christians the Bible is a great source of inspiration about life. There is no denying that the Bible has an enormous influence on our world. But how does that come about?  And what do you gain from reading a book that is almost 2000 years old?

A collection of books

Many people find the Bible boring to read. And that makes sense. First of all, the Bible is a rich and varied collection of ancient books, letters, poems and history stories. So it is not the most exciting book that you just grab from the shelf and read in one sitting. Each book of the Bible has its own story to tell and touches on a small part of the larger story.

 

In addition, in the past most people were illiterate. People were used to having the books of the Bible read aloud in the synagogue and later in church, and then discussing them. So what we find in the Bible are actually a kind of summaries, very concise, that give food for thought.

 

Although most people around the world can now read and write, reading is not a favorite activity for everyone. Are you not really a reader? Then, just like in earlier times, it makes a lot of sense to engage in conversation about it and listen to podcasts about it, for example! Here are some examples:

 

What is the Bible about?

Let's go back to the beginning for a moment. The content:

In a nutshell, the Bible is about the question, "Who is God?  There is no other book that better shows who God is. Through stories in the Bible about the creation of the earth, God's connection with people, the Jewish people, the role of Jesus, and about the future of our world, we get a sense of the versatility of God. Do you want to know more about God? Then the Bible is a good place to start!

Although at first glance it seems like a complicated library, there is a common thread in it. To follow it properly, it's important to give you some overview first.

Structure of the Bible

The Bible is divided into two parts. The Old Testament with 39 books of the Bible and the New Testament with 27 books. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 7 additional books as part of the Old Testament. The so-called deutero canonical books.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament begins with the creation of the earth and of people. The first five books reveal how the Jewish people are trapped as slaves in Egypt, how God frees them from it, and how they end up in Israel. Throughout this journey, the relationship between God and man is often on edge. 

In the Old Testament, therefore, you get to know many different sides of God.Both loving and forgiving, but who may also punish severely. The common thread, however, remains God's faithfulness to people. There is always hope. Many predictions are made in the Old Testament that God will send a savior, a Messiah, to restore the bond between God and mankind once and for all.

The New Testament

The New Testament focuses on Jesus. Jesus, after his resurrection, is seen by his followers as the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies. His coming turns everything upside down. Jesus is the savior who restores the relationship between God and man. 

In the first books, also called gospels, you can read in detail all that Jesus said and did. Eyewitnesses tell of his birth, his mission, his suffering and his death. However, the writers do not stop at his death. Because according to them, Jesus comes back to life. And this very miracle changes the world forever. 

The New Testament is further filled with letters and accounts from Jesus' followers. In them you can read many life lessons, tips on how to believe together, warnings and also predictions about the future.

What is the common thread of the Bible?

If you read the Bible in its entirety, you will discover a common thread: God's love for people. The Old Testament shows how God intentionally made people and that God genuinely enjoys them. But in many stories you also see that people often want to go their own way and have nothing to do with God. Yet God does not let them go. He continues to hold out hope and there are always people to be found who trust God. In the Old Testament there are also many prophecies. Prophecies that God is going to send a savior to deliver people from the evil things of the world.

Christians believe that the coming of Jesus in the New Testament was the ultimate way for God to show his love. They believe that Jesus is the savior that has been waited for for so long.

Jesus showed us through the word and his deeds how we humans are to care for one another. You can read how he claimed to be the Son of God and how this radical message cost him his life. His followers write down how they encountered him alive again. The first books of the New Testament are called the Gospels. The Gospel literally means "good news. Christians say that there is always hope and God's love is good news for everyone.

Who wrote the Bible?

The Bible was written by 40 different writers, over a period of about 1500 years. The writers were all very different people: fishermen, doctors, farmers, priests, poets and prophets. The names of some are known such as Jeremiah, David, John and Paul. Other books do bear the name of a person (for example, the book of Esther), but were written down pseudo-biographically by an unknown person.

 

The books of the Bible were written by people. People who seem to have really experienced God. At the same time, they were ordinary people, like you and I. Most Christians believe that God inspired the writers to write these words.

Which stories from the Bible do I already know?

Even if you have never read the Bible, you might know stories from it. For example, stories about Jesus. We celebrate his birth at Christmas, his death at Easter. But also other holidays like Carnival and Pentecost come from Biblical stories. During these holidays you may see or hear snippets of his story.

 

But many stories from the Old Testament are also more familiar than you think. Think of the movie The Prince of Egypt, about the story of Moses. Or the musical Joseph who is sold as a slave by his brothers and later becomes an important leader in Egypt.

Many expressions also come from the Bible. Can you guess which of the following are from the Bible?

How important is the Bible to Christians?

The Bible is the most important book within the Christian faith. Christians believe that the Bible is a holy book, that its authors were inspired by God. Many Christians have several Bibles at home and encourage each other to read them regularly. In church there is always a reading from the Bible and someone explaining the text.

The Bible has also played an important role in our society for centuries. We see this reflected in our legislation, art, philosophy and language. In Europe you see this influence diminishing. While in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America the Bible is gaining more and more influence.

Is the Bible true?

It depends on what you mean by the word ‘true’. If you are asking if the Bible is historically and scientifically correct in all respects, then the answer is no. To give a very simple example: it is written somewhere that the earth stands on pillars. With today's knowledge we know that this is not actually the case. But it is also good to realize that as humans we are limited. That may mean that certain details in the Bible are incorrect. But does that immediately mean that the core, or message is also wrong?

Should you take everything literally from the Bible? There is some debate about that. Some schools of thought within Christianity take the words literally, while others see the Bible more as a guide.

Why should I start reading the Bible?

You may start reading the Bible because you are interested in history, literature, or religions. The Bible can also be a very good mirror for getting to know yourself better. The reason most people read the Bible is because they want to know more about God and about Jesus. Where he was born and raised? Who were his friends?. What adventures did he have? They want to read about the miracles he did. About the arguments he got into with the leaders of the land and  about the important life lessons in his stories.

But the Bible also tells of his violent execution and how his friends dealt with it. His followers write about how Jesus comes back to life and the enormous impact this has on their lives. The reason they wrote some of the books of the Bible is because they want everyone to know that the story of Jesus does not end at his death.

The Bible is full of beautiful quotes and can help you when you need to make important decisions in your life. Many Christians draw strength from the Bible and find hope in the way God looks at people and therefore at themselves.

What is the best way to read the Bible?

If you are not familiar with the Bible, it can be a confusing book. Many people get stuck because they read the Bible like a book. From front to back. They may stop after the first few books of the Bible because they miss a lot of context. But the Bible is a library of different books. Each Bible book has a different purpose and a different form of writing. Some books are history stories, some are poetic, and some are written in an epistolary form. The best way to read the Bible therefore is step by step. Read it in small pieces and think about it.

Why are there so many languages and translations?

In the first centuries, no one had their own Bible. In 400 AD, the Bible was first translated from the original texts into Latin. Since only the educated and clergy (Latin) could read and write, this meant that the ordinary people had to depend on others for their explanations. So the church had a huge influence on what the people heard or did not hear.

Around 1500, the first translations came into English by William Tyndale and into German by Martin Luther. The rise of the printing press during this same period accelerated the distribution of the Bible.

The complete Bible has been translated into at least 694 languages and parts of it into more than 2,000 languages. Today, nearly everyone can get a Bible, in many different shapes, sizes and designs. Many Christians think it is important that everyone can understand the Bible properly and read it in their own language. After all, by reading for yourself, you get to know and understand God better.

Which Bible translation should I choose?

The Bible has more than 100 different English translations. If you are just starting to read the Bible, it is best to choose a simple translation. For example, The New Bible Translation, Basic Bible or The Bible in Ordinary Language. These translations use understandable language and read easily. But because the words have been adapted to make it easier to understand, they sometimes take on a different meaning than originally intended.

Translations such as the King James Version are translated more literally. So closer to the source but therefore sometimes more difficult to read. What you like, you must discover for yourself. A good tip is to use the YouVersion Bible App for example and put Bible books side by side. You can then read sections of the Bible side by side.

The Bible may seem like an old dusty book but nothing is what it seems. The book is packed with stories and inspiration that are still relevant today.

More about the Bible

Want to learn more about the Bible, but don't know where to start? Try one of our reading plans in YouVersion.