For a book that was written almost 2000 years ago and took almost that long to write, there is no way that we could even scratch the surface in studying its origins in a few short lessons. However, it is my hope that we can, through this study here, along with your own personal study, gain a better understanding of some things we find in this sacred text.
Among them are:
1. Who exactly are the people who penned the Bible?
2. When were the books of the Bible written, and in what order?
3. Why are they placed in the order in which we find them instead of chronologically in some cases?
4. If other books about the children of Israel, Jesus, and other events during the same time were written, can they be trusted, and if so, why were thy not included in the Bible?
5. Why are there four Gospel accounts in the New Testament and why are they not identical if they are all true?
"Beginning Bible readers are often struck by the people God chose to serve Him in various endeavors. To put it plainly, they seem so...well, normal? So imperfect? There are exceptions, but most of them were ordinary people through whom the Holy Spirit worked in spite of weakness and imperfection...Whatever your imperfections, God's purposes are made all the more glorious through you as you trust in Him." -Dr. David Jeremiah Today's Turning Point August 21, 2012
Rather than answer the questions above in the exact order in which they are presented, our study may jump around some in order to make more sense of things. As to the first question, "Who exactly are the people who penned the Bible?" we can get answers to a lot of that as we look at each individual book, although even today we have some unanswered questions about the authorship of several of them. However, regardless of who held the instrument that wrote the words, the inspiration was that of the same Holy Spirit throughout. For now, let us look instead of how the books of the Bible are laid out and arranged. It will help us to understand why they are not all chronological as we might find in other books.
BOOKS OF LAW
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy make up the first books of the Bible and are often referred to as the "Books of Law".
There were primarily three purposes of the law given to Moses, the person who penned these five books:
Civil Law-much like the laws of government that we have today which govern our criminal and civil laws at the local, state, and national levels.
Ceremonial Law- To govern Israel's worship; also given to express the need to conform to God's will and obedience, in many ways, these laws not only were to show obedience but also to set the people apart. If God instructed the children of Israel to do something that no other people were doing, it set His chosen people apart in a special way.
Moral Law-To give God's rule for living. This is much like the moral rules of today. Some of these also crossed over into what would be criminal laws today however in today's climate, morality has been clouded and morality has become more of an individual and situational decision that society has decided to not want to involve itself with any longer.
Notice that all of the Historical books listed with the exception of Acts are in the Old Testament. Although the Gospels, all in the New Testament, could technically be considered "historical" because they do, indeed record the history of the life and ministry of Jesus, they are not counted as historical books.
The main purpose of the historical books is to record the events and people that God used in preparing for the coming of Christ and in the forming of the early church. We can see as we read these books that not always do the people God calls choose to follow His will and generally, there are dire consequences as a result. Also, there are times when even ungodly and pagan people, including rulers of other lands, are used to fulfill the will of God. Let us never underestimate His power to use whomever He chooses.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
The purpose of these books is to express feeling to God, give praise, even sometimes to question His purpose. We also see offers of repentance. An understanding of the people who wrote these books is very helpful. For example, many of the Psalms were written by King David. Knowing when he wrote certain ones, such as after a victorious battle, after confessing his adulterous affair, while on the run from Saul, etc. helps us to better understand why he writes what he does.
The purpose of prophetic books, and the prophets and priests who wrote them was to proclaim God's commands and promises to His people. These men were specially gifted and appointed men with prophesies of things to come. Sometimes they were blessings, but oftentimes they were warnings! Some were about things in the immediate future, others about the coming of the Messiah, and some of these things have yet to come.
Divided into two groups, "Major" and "Minor" prophets, these distinctions have nothing to do with their importance but are simply a reflection of length. (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel are considered the major prophets).
There is much more to look at even in an introduction to Bible study. We will look at an overview of the New Testament next time and then look at a few basic steps we can all take to make Bible Study more beneficial for all of us.
May God richly bless you.
Serving Him through Serving Others,
Rev. James M. Dakis
Bible Basics Part 2- The New Testament
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Purpose- Quite simply, the purpose of the Gospels accounts was to give an accurate account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some people have aske why four gospel accounts were written and why some of the details are different in them. Why are some events repeated and others aren't? The answer is multi-faceted. First, only Matthew and John were first-hand observers and walked with Jesus. Mark and Luke got their information about Him second-hand as we will see later. We will also see that each writer wrote to different audiences. Just as advertisers for a company will develop different advertisements to present their product(s) to different markets, the gospel writers present the message of Jesus in different ways depending on their intended audience.
Matthew: Written primarily to the Jews, Matthew, whose name was originally "Levi", may have been from the tribe of Levi although we do not have anything in Scripture to either support or deny this suggestion. Presenting Jesus as the "Son of David" in order to justify His lineage, Matthew 1:1-17 shows the genealogy of Joseph, not of Mary. Matthew goes on to speak of Jesus as the "Son of David" ten times. Since the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be of the house of David, this was very important to them.
Mark:(Full name John Mark)-Mark did not necessarily walk with Jesus, but is believed to have learned a lot about Him from the time he spent with Peter, one of Jesus' Apostles. We see in the book of Acts that the two spent time ministering together as part of the first missionary team of the early church. His Gospel addresses Jesus as a servant, doing the will of His Heavenly Father, not the will of His own choosing. He teaches service even in leadership and this can be seen when we read in Mark 10:42-45. "But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, 'Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.'" This gospel account is written primarily to a Roman audience.
Luke:-Luke, who also wrote The Acts, was a physician, and accompanied the Apostle Paul on a number of his missionary journeys. More than any other gospel, Luke presents Jesus as a man while never denying His deity. It is interesting that Luke places more emphasis on some of the physical aspects of the crucifixion and what could be seen as observations that a physician would have made, than others did. While he was not present at the event, it stands to reason that a man of his knowledge and probable compassion and empathy for a suffering and dying man would see these things more than others. Written to a Greek audience, this makes perfect sense, as Luke was half Greek himself. Luke writes the longest of the four gospels.
John: As previously stated, John and Matthew were the only two of the four writers who actually walked with Jesus and thus are named as Apostles. Therefore, they had firs-hand knowledge of the things that they wrote. John, referred to as the disciple Jesus loved, simply indicates a closer relationship, not one that implies that Jesus did not love the others, or that there was anything inappropriate between them as some have suggested. Writing about Christ in His deity, John's gospel account is on truly written for the masses. It is often recommended for new believers as the first book in the Bible to read. I also recommend it for anyone who has never read the Bible and is looking for a place to start.
The Book of Acts: Written by Luke, this book was mentioned in the historical books, and covers the history of the beginnings of the early church. A greatly persecuted people, they were still determined to grow and missionaries, primarily the apostles and those sent by and with them, went to all corners of the known world to fulfill the Great Commission. This commission still stands with each of us today.
Matthew 28:18-20, "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."