Getting to know God's Word
The Bible is God's Word. The word "Bible" itself simply means "books". It comes from the word βιβλία (biblia) in Greek, the same word that gives us biblography, and in many European languages (Bibliothek in German, bibliothèque in French, biblioteca in Spanish), the word for library. But when we speak of the Bible, we are referring to something more than simply a compilation of 66 books.
The Bible is the work of God. It is not the work of man. Although it was written by human authors, they were divinely inspired to write down the Scripture, which is, the very Word of God. For what purpose? Through the Scripture, God reveals Himself to us. The Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16, New International Version)
If you want to know God, listen not to what I have to say. Listen rather to what God has to say, and He says in through His Word as written in the Bible. So the first thing you ought to do, in starting off your new life in Christ, is to get yourself a Bible, and familiarize yourself with it.
Choosing the right Bible
The Bible today comes in all shapes and sizes. There are also numerous versions written in different languages. Which one to choose? My answer to this is ...
As long as it presents the Scripture without adding to it or subtracting from it, every Bible is the right Bible. The inspired Bible is in the original Hebrew & Greek language. What we have today are translations from the original language. We can trust the translations because they are translated from many, many copies of the original. Having said that, we should approach the question from a practical perspective. Is it the right size? If you are on the move, you may consider one that is portable. If you have eyesight issue, you may consider a Big Letter Bible. If you are online, you may also read the Bible on the Web, on sites such as http://bible.cc
Getting acquainted with the Bible
As mentioned, the Bible comprises 66 individual books that have been put together, collectively the biblical canon. They are divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. What's testament? It's a covenant - a formal agreement - that God makes with you and me. With all of us.
The Old Testament comes directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. It sets the stage for the teachings and events in the New Testament. Through the Old Testament, we learn everything from the very beginning of the earth, God's laws and commandments, Jewish customs and their expectation as they await the arrival of their Messiah.
The New Testament reveals God's promise to each of us, whether we are Jews or otherwise. It also provides explanation of the prophesies made in the Old Testament, of things that were fulfilled, and those to come. The four books of the New Testament form the Gospels, which recount the life of Jesus Christ on earth.
It is important to take the Old and New Testaments as a whole, and not regard one essential and not the other, lest we lose out on the full picture that God is revealing to us.
How to read the Bible
As there are ways to skin a cat, so too are there ways to read the Bible. You may start from the very first book, and work your way to the last. On the other hand, you may start with the Gospels, then the rest of the New Testament, and then proceed to the Old Testament. God has put together a substantial body of work, so expect to spend some time to completely read the whole Bible. There is no point in rushing through the Bible if you understand little of what you are reading. The important thing to remember is that the Bible is a collection of different writings by men moved by God (1 Peter 2:21). Much is historical in nature and others are poetical and letters. We need to read each one as they are intended by the authors. For example, a description of an incident is not necessarily endorsed by God, such as an account of a sinful act by an indidividual.
Getting acquainted with the Old Testament
There are 39 books in the Old Testament. To help you make sense of them, I group them according to their position in the Hebrew Scriptures, and not according to their exact sequence within the Bible. You should also note that the Old Testament books that I mention below are those found in the Protestant Bible, and may differ from those of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths.
The first group of Old Testament books, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are God's Word given through Moses. They are often called the Five Books of Moses or in Greek, Pentateuch (meaning five hand-scrolls).
The second group of books are sometimes known as the historical books since they record the history of the Jewish nation and God's dealing with them. They are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.
Next group of Old Testament Books are called Prophets. They are attributed to the various prophets that play a crucial role in the history of the Jews, from the rise of the Hebrew monarchy to its division into two kingdoms, their exile in Babylon and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The books in this group are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (Major Prophets, due to their length) and the books of the Minor Prophets, namely Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The next group of Old Testament Books are those which were put together when the Jews were or after their exile in Babylon. They include Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Some of the prophetical books were also written during these times.
Finally, the last group of books are known as Wisdom or poetical books. They are a collection of writings that are more poetical in nature. They are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.
Getting acquainted with the New Testament
There are 27 books in the New Testament.
As mentioned, the first four books are called the Gospels. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fifth book, Acts of the Apostles, is regarded as a continuation of Luke, and is therefore part of the Gospels by extension.
The next group of books in the New Testament are letters whose authorship is attributed to Paul the Apostle. They offer an insight into the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity. Placed immediately after the Acts of the Apostles, they are Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus and Philemon. They are written to specific groups of believers, named according to their geographic location (i.e. Rome, Corinth, Galatia, etc., places in present-day Greece, Turkey and Italy), or to specific persons (e.g.. Timothy).
Next we have books containing letters to Christians in general. Authorship is attributed to various people. They are James, First Peter, Second Peter, First John, Second John, Third John and Jude.
The final book of the New Testament, and of the Bible, is the book of Revelation, whose authorship is attributed to John. Written on the island of Patmos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of mainland Turkey, it is a prophecy of things to come.
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