For Christians the Bible is the central text of our faith. It is the book. As meticulously studied by scholars as it is treasured by Christ’s followers, it has comforted, challenged, provoked, and outraged countless people over thousands of years. Oft quoted and ever paraphrased, and yet faithfully transmitted, translated, printed and distributed – and hugely accessible in large parts of the world.
Presidents are sworn in with one hand on a copy of the Bible. University entrances are emblazoned with verses taken from it. It has instigated political reform, challenged Kings and Emperors, outlived entire civilisations and transcended cultures.
The Bible has been the chosen foundation for living well – both for individuals and for nations. Through its pages we learn of a history of God’s interaction with humanity. We learn of the promise of redemption and read how it happened through the person of Jesus Christ.
Today we’re starting a new series on the Demolition Squad blog. The purpose of this series is to look at some of the basic facts of the Bible, to examine the text, the composition, and the history of transmission. We will evaluate the trustworthiness of what is says within the pages of this bestseller. Christianity doesn’t teach that we ought to simply believe for belief’s sake, without reasons, without evidence. We don’t believe in a vacuum. Christianity isn’t a blind leap of faith, but a commitment to following the evidence where it leads.
The sacred texts of the Christian faith are there to read, to examine, and to prod around in. They are holy not because they forbid examination, but demonstrate their holiness through the repeated tests that have been devised for it.
As the central text of the Christian faith the Bible is hugely important. So it’s important that we understand it. There are many opinions of what the Bible is and how it got to us today. For example, here’s one of them:
“To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”
If Richard Dawkins is right, then Christians have some serious problems. For if we cannot trust the history of the Bible, how can we trust what it claims? And if we cannot trust the claims of the Bible, then our basis for faith has been dealt a major blow. The Bible is an evidence of the Christian faith and one that many of its truths hang upon. If this evidence is dismissed, many things will be lost.
It would be not possible to have the Christianity we know without the Bible as the Bible. When we lose the Bible, we lose Christianity.
Core Bible Facts
To start us of we’ll take a look at the basic facts of this great book.
1. The Bible contains 66 books
In this way the Bible is like a library of books – 39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament.
2. The Bible was written over a roughly-1,500 year period
From the oldest parts of the Old Testament to the most recent parts of the New, the span from beginning to end is a whopping 1,500 years. This is a long time. 1,500 years ago in England the Britons were fighting the Anglo-Saxons and King Arthur was supposedly running around.
In the Ancient World, this span of time contained the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman empires.
3. The Bible was written in three different languages
The languages of the Bible are Hebrew (most of the Old Testament), Aramaic (some of the Old Testament), and Greek (the New Testament).
Hebrew and Aramaic were common languages for the ancient Israelites during the period in which the Old Testament was being written.
By the time of the New Testament, Alexander had conquered many parts of northern-Mediterranean Europe and had enforced the use of the Koine Greek language throughout. The Romans, after taking over the Greek Empire, continued to use this language alongside their Latin and trained their scholars in it. As such, it was commonly spoken and written throughout the Roman Empire, including the geographical areas and timespan of the New Testament.
4. The Bible was written by around 40 different authors
These authors were from all walks of life too. From Kings, to peasants, to doctors, to missionaries.
5. The Bible has one main theme: God’s redemption of man
Starting with the book of Genesis and ending with the book of Revelation the Bible speaks of a history of God’s involvement with his people.
The Old Testament tells of a beautiful world, disrupted by sin, and a promise from God to restore the world to perfection once again. Along the way we see acts of heroism and acts of tragedy. Many people trust in God, and equally many people turn their back on him. There is great hope and there is great depravity.
The New Testament shows the promises of the Old Testament fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It builds open the Old Testament and sits on the foundation of the 39 books that came before it.
6. The Bible has one main character: Jesus
Historical records, poems, letters, and wisdom literature – in the Bible there are lots of words written by many people about many things yet when we step back and survey the complete works as a whole we see a story line that’s built around one person: Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prophesies and points towards his arrival, and the New Testament tells of the prophecies come true.
These 6 facts sum up quickly what the Bible is. Next we need to show whether any of the above matter, to ascertain whether or not we can trust what is written in our Bibles.
Here’s a roadmap for where we’re going. Over the next few weeks we will look at:
- How well or poorly the Bible has been transmitted throughout history
- How reliable we find the text to be – both when tested against what it says elsewhere within it, and against external material
- What the legacy of the Bible throughout history has been
A Word on Comments
We love to engage in comments on the Demolition Squad blog and hope that healthy debate springs up around what is written here. We will look to deal with comments as they come up. It may be that a question that is raised after one part of this series will be answered later on. In that case we’ll most likely reply stating that your point will be covered later.
We’ve also reserved the last article of the series to answer any larger questions that come up over the course of all the articles, that we think requires more space to deal with.