Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
(Acts 17:11 NIV)
Followers of Jesus generally understand that the books of the Bible are inspired by God. We view the Bible as a reliable source of truth, which points the way to God. We look to the Bible to learn about God and creation, and to learn how to live in a way that pleases God. As scripture says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16-17)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Peter 1:19-21)
The Bible is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains 39 “books” written before Jesus’ life on earth. The New Testament contains 27 “books” written after Jesus’ life on earth. Here is a very brief outline of the Bible:
OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS:
Genesis through Deuteronomy: Five books widely believed to be written by Moses. They record what happened from creation to Moses’ death, and include the law of Moses.
Joshua through Esther (12 books): Historical books, covering the time period from Moses’ death to the building of the second temple in Jerusalem (roughly 517 BC).
Job: The story of Job’s suffering and deliverance.
Psalms: Prayers and songs written by several authors.
Proverbs: About wisdom, mostly written by King Solomon.
Ecclesiastes: More wisdom from King Solomon, showing what life looks like from the perspective of “under the sun.”
Song of Solomon: By King Solomon; about romantic love.
Isaiah through Malachi (17 books): The Prophets, calling the people to turn back to God.
NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (or “The Gospel according to …”): Four accounts of Jesus’ life. Each book is named for its author.
Acts (or “The Acts of the Apostles”): An account of what happened after Jesus rose from the dead, written by Luke.
Romans through Philemon (13 books): Letters from Paul the apostle, to various churches and individuals. Each book is named for its original recipient.
Hebrews through Jude (8 books): Other letters to God’s people. Each book is named for its author, except for Hebrews (the author of Hebrews is uncertain).
Revelation: A revelation from Jesus to John. It includes letters to seven churches, and prophesies about the future.
The books of the Old Testament were mostly written in the Hebrew language, and the books of the New Testament were mostly written in the Greek language. The Bible has been translated into many languages, and most believers read and study a translation in their own language, rather than trying to learn to read Hebrew and Greek.
We should keep in mind that the purpose of the Bible is to show us how to know and follow God. Some people wrongly make knowing the Bible their primary goal, rather than knowing and following God. Be careful not to be like the people Jesus spoke of:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
It is important to understand that much of the Old Testament relates to “the law” given by God through Moses. This “law of Moses” was mostly given in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. The law of Moses made the people aware of sin and required various animal sacrifices for the people to be in right relationship with God. However, the law of Moses could not make the people righteous, or provide a final solution for sin. The law of Moses pointed to the final solution that Jesus would provide. As scripture says:
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)
I personally make a distinction between the “law of Moses” (an imperfect law intended to restrain sin and direct people toward Christ) and the “law of the LORD” (God’s perfect eternal moral law, which is praised in the Psalms).
Ask God for wisdom and understanding as you read the Bible. If you are not familiar with the Bible, I recommend that you start by reading about the life of Jesus, in the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
Finally, consider the goodness of the word of God:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:16)
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. (Psalm 119:98-101)
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. (Psalm 119:140)
I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. (Psalm 119:162)
For Further Reflection
Psalm 1: Blessed is the man…
Psalm 19:7-11: More to be desired than gold.
Psalm 119: The beauty of God’s word.
Matthew 5:17-48: Jesus clarifies God’s perfect law.
Matthew 22:29: You do not know the scriptures.
Hebrews 10:1-14: The law as a shadow.
James 1:22: Be doers of the word…
Find at least one verse in the Bible that is meaningful to you, and start memorizing it today.
E-Sword Software: If you have a compatible computer, I recommend free “e-Sword” Bible software, available at www.e-sword.net (Bible translations in many languages are available, as well as many reference books about the Bible).
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