The Bible is not a book in the usual sense of the word. Actually, it is a collection of 66 spiritual documents, all remarkably preserved and authenticated, and now translated, in whole or in part, into more than 3,000 languages.
Think of the Bible as a mini-library with certified information about God.
It's very IMPORTANT to understand that the Bible consists of two major parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Testament means covenant, contract or agreement. The old agreement and the new agreement: the way God used to deal with people, before Christ, and the way God deals with us today.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the Old Testament, but the New Testament is uniquely Christian.
The New Testament is the primary documentation of the Christian faith. Without it, Christian faith would drift off into millions of personal philosophies without any anchor.
As we experience the Bible today, our single printed volume is 66 small books bound together, about 1,200 pages in total, arranged in approximate historical sequence.
By number of pages:
• 77% is the 39 books of the Old Testament. (Catholics and Orthodox include about a dozen non-conflicting additional books). The Old Testament is a history of how God dealt with the Jewish people, before Christ.
• 10% is the four gospels, eye-witness accounts of the life of Christ.
• 3% is the book of Acts, a record of the teachings and growth of the early church.
• 8% is 21 letters of instruction from apostles (those who had been taught by Christ personally) to new churches springing up throughout the Roman Empire.
• 2% is the book of Revelation, the Apostle John’s vision about heaven.
Approximately forty different people, working independently, were used by God to write the Bible.
They came from different geographic areas, different political systems and different social situations. They came from different walks of life – including king, farmer, shepherd, doctor, fisherman, priest, philosopher and tax collector. They ranged from educated to uneducated, from rich to poor. They lived on three different continents, spanning a period of more than 1,500 years.
Christians believe that God chose, inspired and directed these writers, and that’s why, when all of these independent writings are put together, they read as a single coordinated volume.
The Bible has been rigorously challenged and investigated with regard to archaeology, bibliography, historical accuracy, fulfilled prophesy, internal unity, miraculous preservation and life-changing power. Thousands of studies and proof-books document this astounding evidence.
Ordinary writers, even if they worked as a team at the same time and place, could not produce a book that would survive such intense scrutiny over the centuries. The Bible has survived the tests of time and is still the world’s most read book. The Bible itself is its own proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that God directed the writing.
The written Word of God keeps his message from becoming distorted over time.
The Old Testament books were written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. (Jesus spoke Aramaic, but His words were translated and recorded in Greek.)
Our Bibles today are translations from the original languages, remarkably preserved on thousands of manuscripts handed down from generation to generation and continually verified by new archaeological finds.
Different translations give slightly different shades of meaning, but they all say essentially the same thing.
People investigating Christian faith for the first time, or wanting to re-examine and re-define their faith, shouldn’t even consider the Old Testament or Revelation at this time. Those parts can provide rich historic and prophetic context for later study, but for now, they should stick with the essentials, found in the gospels, Acts and letters.
These 26 books of the New Testament define our relationship with God today.
Thus, we can distill the Bible to about 20% of its full size, to about 250 pages. We can handle that!
There are many troubling stories in the Bible, and they are often major stumbling blocks to Christian faith.
For example: Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the big fish, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, Joshua stopping the sun, Israelites killing innocent people, and more.
Those credibility problems are in the Old Testament. It is usually in that part of the Bible where people get hung up.
People find it easier to believe the New Testament miracles, such as Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water and restoring sight to a blind man. We can understand how these public miracles were essential to prove that Jesus was actually God in human body, otherwise no one would have believed him.
But the Old Testament is about an ancient world we really can’t understand, and Revelation is about a future world beyond our comprehension and open to many interpretations.
Actually, those parts of the Bible are not essential to Christian faith, and we should not be concerned about what we don’t understand there. There are many explanations and interpretations, but no consensus.
It’s okay to have unanswered questions and suspended belief about parts of the Bible that are not directly relevant to us today.
Whether we believe or don’t believe some of the stories in the Old Testament, or the dream in Revelation, or regardless how we explain or interpret them, literally or figuratively, a clear answer is not essential for today’s decision.
There’s nothing wrong or disingenuous about saying, I don’t know. I don’t understand. Like thousands of other questions in life we can’t answer, and don’t need to answer, we regard them as interesting, but not essential, and we move on.
So, in Christian faith, rather than get hung up on non-essential answers we don’t have regarding the past or the future, we act on the essential answers WE DO HAVE for TODAY – in these 26 books of the New Testament.
But, by setting aside 80% of the Bible in defining our Christian faith, how can we be sure that we are not missing something of critical importance? Don’t we have to read and understand the WHOLE Bible?
Here is some information to give us confidence that everything we need is in these 26 books:
The Old Testament says in many places that a new spiritual agreement is coming. And the New Testament says in many places that the message and sacrifice of Jesus has replaced the old agreement. And there are many confirming links of transition.
As stated clearly throughout the Bible (for example, Hebrews 11) and explained in Jesus only way?, people can get to heaven without knowing anything about the Old Testament or Revelation.
In the book of Acts, when the church experienced it’s most explosive growth, there wasn’t any Bible at all! Everything was word-of-mouth and experiential. Most of the new believers were Gentiles – meaning not Jews – who knew nothing about the Old Testament Jewish scriptures.
The New Testament, which came later, says that some people ARE in heaven now because of their faith in Jesus Christ, as personal Savior, based on oral testimony told to them, NOT because of anything they read in the Old Testament, or in Revelation, or even in the New Testament.
Therefore, it's God’s central message that is essential for us to understand – the message from the words and life of Jesus Christ, documented for us in these 26 books of the New Testament.
The following eight sections are an investigation of this central message.