The Bible is a sacred book, or collection of books, recognized by the Christian Church as being uniquely inspired by God and thus authoritative, providing guidelines for belief and behavior.
Many verses in the Bible attest to the Bible’s divine origin (Genesis 6:9-13, Exodus 20:1-17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Revelation 1:1-2, etc.) However, the Bible was not simply dictated word for word by God; it is also the work of numerous human authors.
Human authors’ works reflect their various writing abilities, writing styles, personalities, world views, and cultural backgrounds. Many of the New Testament books began as letters rather than as Scripture. Some Bible writings include the authors’ own research and recollection of historical events, as well as their own opinions (Luke 1:1-4). (1 Corinthians 7:12).
The Background of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is the first of the Christian Bible’s two major sections. The Jewish sacred writings are contained in the Old Testament. It was written between roughly 1000 B.C. and 100 B.C., but it includes narration of events that occurred many centuries earlier and were passed down orally from generation to generation. The Hebrew language was used to write the Old Testament, with a few sections written in Aramaic.
There was no “official” list of accepted Jewish scripture books until around 100 A.D., when Jewish rabbis revised their Scripture and established an official canon of Judaism, rejecting some books that were not found in Hebrew versions of the Scripture. This revision accounts for the fact that Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christians use slightly different Old Testament versions.
The central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was born a Jew and practiced Judaism throughout His earthly life. Christianity began as a branch of Judaism and became a separate religion only after large numbers of Gentiles were converted. The coming of a savior, the Messiah, was predicted in Jewish Scripture, and Jesus fulfilled that role. As a result, it is natural for Christians to include Jewish Scripture in their Bible.
For more information, please see: What is the distinction between a Protestant and a Catholic Bible?
The story of God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, later known as Israelites or Jews, is told in the Old Testament. God made a covenant with a man named Abraham around 1800 B.C. to make of his descendants a great nation. The first few generations of these descendants fled to Egypt to escape famine in their homeland. They had greatly increased their numbers over many generations but had become enslaved to the Egyptians.
God sent Moses, a great leader and prophet, to lead the Hebrews out of captivity and into Israel’s Promised Land. During this time, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which are still regarded as the foundation for a moral life by Jews and Christians alike.
Aside from the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament contains numerous laws concerning circumcision, dietary restrictions, blood sacrifices, Sabbath observance, tithing, social welfare, crimes, social behavior, armies, leadership qualifications, and so on. These laws governed nearly every aspect of Hebrew life.
God intended for the Israelites to live in accordance with His commands and to demonstrate God’s truth to the rest of the world (Genesis 12:1-3). However, the Israelites frequently lost sight of their mission and devolved into idolatry, sin, or narrow-minded nationalism.
God sent prophets such as Elijah, Samuel, Jonah, Isaiah, and others to guide them back to the right path on these occasions. The Old Testament writings make no attempt to conceal the fact that the Israelites and their leaders were flawed. Nonetheless, God was able to accomplish His purposes in the world through these flawed people.
Later Hebrew prophets predicted the appearance of a Messiah (meaning “anointed one”), a king who would usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity. The Israelites, more than any other nation, looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to make of his descendants a great nation.
More information: The Ten Commandments, Abraham
Background of the New Testament
The sacred books that are unique to Christianity are contained in the New Testament. All of the New Testament books were written in Greek between the years of 50 and 120 A.D. None of the New Testament books were originally written to be part of a Christian Bible, but they were read aloud in church for religious instruction.
The New Testament as we know it today emerged in the late second century A.D. The church leaders accepted books that they thought were based on eyewitness accounts of the events described while rejecting many other early Christian writings. The current New Testament, along with the Old Testament books, eventually became the Christian Bible as we know it today. The Synod of Carthage formally established the New Testament canon in 397 A.D.
The New Testament recounts Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, as well as the growth of the early Christian Church and predictions of Jesus’ second coming. Jesus was born in Bethlehem sometime between 6 and 4 B.C., and He was destined from birth to fulfill the role of Messiah or Christ (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah”). He lived a normal life for 30 years before beginning His ministry among the Jews.
Jesus went from town to town, healing the sick and preaching about God’s upcoming kingdom. He taught that God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that is now growing among the faithful and that it will be realized in God’s ultimate sovereign rule and defeat of all evil. Jesus promised to return someday to bring God’s kingdom to completion. He promised a wonderful afterlife to those who put their trust in God and obey His commands.
Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a great political and military leader who would defeat Israel’s enemies, but Jesus envisioned His kingdom as spiritual rather than physical. He taught that the path to victory is not one of force and violence, but of love, humility, and service to humanity. The Jews had expected a different type of “Messiah,” and many of them rejected Jesus and His teachings.
Israel’s religious establishment saw Jesus as a threat. His claims of divine authority, as well as His refusal to follow some of their religious rules, amounted to usurping their authority over the people. This conflict eventually led to Jesus’ crucifixion only three years after He began His ministry.
Three days after His death, Jesus’ body was discovered missing from the tomb, and many people saw Him alive again over the next 40 days, and He spoke with His disciples. He ascended to heaven after 40 days, returning to God, His Father.
Many people were convinced by Jesus’ miraculous resurrection that He was Christ and their personal savior. Christianity was born, and Jesus’ former disciples rose to prominence as its leaders. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as God’s Son, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, and the means of our personal salvation from the power of sin and death.
Jesus taught that the two “Greatest Commandments” that should completely guide our lives are love of God and love of others. He preached obedience to God and love for all people, Jews, and Gentiles alike, even enemies!
The moral and ethical laws that had been in place since the time of Moses were not abolished by Jesus. He confirmed and expanded on those principles, but He added that obedience must come from the heart (attitudes and intentions) rather than just technical adherence to the letter of the law.
Jesus and His apostles provided us with a fundamentally new understanding of the true intent of the Old Testament Law; they usher in a new era of love for all people and spiritual truth rather than rule by law.
The Jewish religious establishment and the Roman Empire both persecuted the young Christian communities. Saul, a member of the Jewish religious establishment, was one of the most zealous Christian persecutors. Saul saw a blinding light on the road to Damascus one day, and Jesus spoke to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
As a result of this overwhelming experience, Saul changed his mind. Now known as Paul, he became a zealous Christian missionary who spread Christianity beyond Judaism, establishing many Christian communities throughout the Gentile world.
Paul wrote numerous letters to the members of the churches he established. He explained his beliefs about Jesus, taught them proper modes of worship, and occasionally chastised them for moral failings.
Paul taught that the only way to salvation and eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ and upholding high moral standards, not by obeying the Old Testament Law. Many of Paul’s letters have been incorporated into the New Testament. We know Paul as the most energetic and influential interpreter of Jesus’ life and teachings through these letters.
At the time, Jews believed that holiness could be attained by following approximately 600 rules derived from the Old Testament Law. However, Gentile Christians did not share that tradition, and disagreements arose about whether or not those rules had to be followed.
Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders determined that the ceremonial and legal aspects of the Old Testament Law – circumcision, dietary restrictions, blood sacrifices, Sabbath observance, and many other rules – are not binding on Christians (Acts 15:1-5, 22-29).
For more information, see The Birth of Jesus, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Greatest Commandment What Does the Bible Have to Say About Old Testament Law?
Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion. Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. What Does the Bible Have to Say About Love? What Does the Bible Say About Eternal Life and Body Resurrection? What Is the Bible’s Take on Salvation?
The Bible’s Unity
Despite the diversity of the Bible books and their chronological separation, there are several recurring themes in both the Old and New Testaments:
Only one true God exists. He created the universe and plays an active, ongoing, and loving role in its upkeep.
God loves all races, nationalities, and religions and longs for their love in return.
God gave men and women the ability to choose between good and evil. We are called to do good by serving God and respecting our global neighbors. Evil is a constant temptation that we must strive to avoid.
God desires to save all people, both individually and collectively, from the power of sin and evil. God has intervened directly in human affairs, as well as sent prophets and, ultimately, His Son Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, to assist us in our salvation.