Bible Basics (Part One)
I love reading the Bible. When I open it, it’s like I am back with my best friend. I feel such peace and comfort. But it wasn’t always like that. Not in the least.
The day I accepted the Lord as my Savior, I was advised to get a Bible and start reading it. I grew up in a religion where a Bible was not allowed in the home. I had no idea what was in the Bible or how to read it. But I was willing to learn. I was given a Bible and started right in. And was promptly lost. With no one to go to for help, I quit reading. I didn’t go back to it for years.
Because of this early experience, I have a strong desire to help others get comfortable with reading the Bible for themselves. I find such joy, comfort, and wisdom in reading it; I want others to have the same. This article will touch on the very basics of our Holy Bible; knowledge that would have benefited me in the beginning of my faith journey.
What is the Holy Bible?
It’s a book. The word Bible comes from the Greek word for book. Holy means sacred and deserving great respect; The Holy Bible, a sacred book. It is a book inspired by God Himself. It’s a book about God. Both Mother Theresa and Billy Graham have called the Bible “God’s love letter to mankind.” Within its pages can be found not only answers to many of life’s questions but more importantly God’s plan for His creation; His plan for redemption and kingdom building. His plan to give His children a future; an incredible future. But before that future comes, the Bible shows us where humankind goes wrong and how we can go right. The Bible is filled with second, third, and hundredth chances given by a gracious and loving Lord. The Bible helps us to understand that gracious and loving Lord better. It is His story and it is history.
How is the Bible divided?
The Bible is divided first into The Old and New Testaments and then into individual books within the Old and New Testaments. Testament is another name for covenant or promise and God’s covenants have to do with both man’s restoration to perfect relationship with a perfect God after sin comes into the world and to the building of His Kingdom.
When you look at the Table of Contents, you will find the Old Testament (OT) and the books relating to the old covenant. The 39 books of the OT begin with Genesis and end with Malachi. These books help us see the need for Jesus. After the OT, you will find the 27 books of the New Testament (NT) beginning with Matthew and ending with Revelation. The NT is centered on Jesus and living the Christian life. These 66 “books” as they are called are actually different writings by various authors compiled into one large book, the Bible.
Who wrote the Bible?
The Bible was written by many men, most of whom were Jewish. However, it is imperative to note that every single word in the Bible was inspired or as 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us “God breathed.” God directed these original authors in exactly what they were to write. The Bible is God’s spoken Word written down for us by men. Each author may have had a different purpose for writing and even a different audience, but they were all men of God chosen by Him to share exactly what He inspired them to share. Some of the writers’ personalities will come through in their writing just like you find in a biography; nevertheless what they wrote was from God Himself.
What about all the different versions?
Buying your own first Bible has to be incredibly difficult with all the different translations out there today. I would not have had a clue where to even start. There are two basic categories of Bibles that most Bibles today fit into: literal and paraphrase.
Olive Tree defines them as “Literal translations are a word-for-word rendering of the Greek and Hebrew, conveying the literal meaning of the text,” and “Paraphrased translations use modern language and idioms to try to capture the thought and essence behind the original text.”
Let’s take these definitions down to a simpler level: literal translation means they take the Scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew languages they were written in and take each word in the original and attempt to translate it to its corresponding English word today. Word order might change in order to make the sentences make sense to us or sometimes there is no equivalent English word and another with a similar meaning is substituted.
In the paraphrase translation, they take the original words, or sometimes already literally translated words and put them into modern, easy to understand sentences using words found commonly in our culture today.
Why are there so many different versions?
In the book, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding & Living God’s Word, several reasons were listed: “translation is an inexact science, translators continue to try to improve on what has been done in the past, language continues to change over time so updated translations are needed for clear communication, different translations are needed to address different audiences,” and “there are different approaches to doing translation work.”
When looking for a translation, an important recommendation is to look at the Preface and verify the translation was compiled by a committee instead of just one person. A committee oversees each other’s work to ensure accuracy. Never rely completely on a version translated by a single person. Typically you can find this information in the preface of the hardcopy or online.
How do I pick the best one for me?
Which type is best for you? Depends on what you want. If you want to study the Word deeply, get a literal. If you want to be able to read for pleasure, get a paraphrase. If you can afford to, get one of each. I love my literal for study and I enjoy the paraphrase for devotional reading. I read in my literal version in the morning and make notes and then read the same in my paraphrase in the evening for devotions.
If you go to Bible Gateway you can actually read the entire Bible in any version you want for free. It’s a great way to try out the different translations prior to investing in one or two. My personal favorite translations are the English Standard Version (ESV) for study and the New Living Translation (NLT) for devotions. NOTE: Both of these versions were translated by a large committee to ensure accuracy, ESV Study Bible had 95 and the NLT Study Bible documented one and a half pages of contributors. The NIV Study Bible (another good study bible) had over a hundred contributors.
If you want an electronic version, I recommend downloading Olive Tree. Their Bible app is one of the best I have found for ease of finding specific books and verses. It’s an app that is easy to use while listening to a sermon because you can quickly find the verses. You can choose your translation along with other study tools if you so desire. Here is a link to the exact Bible I have on my app: ESV with Strongs. It costs $20 but is well worth the investment. Strongs links to the meaning of the words in the original Hebrew and Greek which I love for those times I’m just not quite understanding the passage. Getting all meanings for the original word helps me figure out what the verse is saying. Think of Strongs as a Hebrew and Greek dictionary translated into English. You can get bibles without Strongs though so don’t feel overwhelmed. More information on Strong’s coming in Part Three: Bible Study Resources.
You can also choose a study bible. A study bible has notes at the bottom of each page explaining the verses above. I have the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles typically not only give you Scripture along with notes on most passages and their meanings but numerous helpful articles as well. Some topics in the ESV are: God’s Plan of Salvation, Theology, Reading the Bible, Archeology and the Bible, and how the NT Quotes and Interprets the OT. Many hardcopy study bibles come with a free download of the electronic version as well. You can also get a free Bible at Bible.com for your phone, tablet or computer along with reading plans and other great resources.
Why do I need to read the Bible?
I’m ending with the most important topic because the ending is what sticks in our minds.
Reading the bible gives you immense knowledge about God. He is so beyond what we can fully comprehend but the Bible helps us as much as our finite minds can comprehend so complex a God. We learn about who He is, what He has done, what His plans are, and how we fit into them. We learn about ourselves through the examples given throughout Scripture. And we learn about who we are in our relationship with Jesus. We learn hope, grace, and love through the Lord’s interactions with His people. We learn His will.
By reading the Bible, we learn about God’s perfect plan for mankind, how it was disrupted in the Garden of Eden when man sinned and has been disrupted ever since through sin. We also learn about God’s plan to bring about perfection once again through Jesus Christ, our Savior and His plan for His children to reside for eternity with Him in a once again perfect setting.
God is Love
God works supernaturally as we read His Word. As we spend time with Him in His Word, we are drawn ever closer to Him. Love, an intimate love, nurtures in the relationship between man and God that matures through reading His Words. God is love (1 John 4:8b). We read the Bible to experience that love, to grasp how great it is, to trust in His love in all circumstances, and to dance in the joy His love brings us as we deepen our understanding of it.
We read the Bible because we love the Lord and He loves us. And we want to read His love letter to us. Treasure it. Learn from it. Enjoy it. Celebrate it.
(Part two will include a simple bible reading plan. Watch for it.)
George Guthrie, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding & Living God’s Word, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011, Page 61.