So, let’s talk about this book that is the bestselling book of all time. Bible means book in Latin and in Greek. We know the book is ubiquitous. This book has shaped history and influenced music and art. Its language can be found in great literature and great speeches. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with people. While, in many cases, it is easy to read, it often gets misunderstood. Some things are lost in translation, such as recognizing poetry or idioms of the time. I hope to cover the basics with this post and maybe give some insight.
I am going to start with the translations. Most people I know, including myself, have wondered how we can trust handwritten copies and the subsequent translations. Our bibles are not translations of translations. We did not translate The Bible from Hebrew/Greek to Latin to English. They were all translated from Hebrew and Greek to English. Are you saying to yourself, so what, Chris, we don’t have original manuscripts; we only have what scribes wrote, which could have mistakes? Yes and no. Yes, we do not have the original pieces written by the hand of Moses or the Apostle Paul. No, the copies are not riddled with errors. If you go to the National Archives in Washington D.C., you can see the original Declaration of Independence (unless Nicholas Cage really stole it). 200 copies of this document were made, and 26 of them are still in existence, but it only had two of the signatures on it. In 1777, another set of copies was made with all the signatures, minus one was sent to the states. Nine of those still exist. Almost every version of the Declaration of Independence printed or written in 1776 differed from the next in terms of punctuation, capitalization, or errors. Are you less confident of what the declaration says? I’m not. In the past, I wondered if a short-lived document such as that can be wrong, then surely a document as old as the Bible must be hopelessly corrupted. It isn’t, and I went to Seminary just to find out.
The fact is that there are over 5000 pieces of papyrus and parchment with original language text from every book of the Bible. Many date back to the first, second, and third centuries. Some of these are books in their entirety, some have been partially destroyed, and others are mere fragments. These remnants have been found all over the ancient world. This is not where I state that all these pieces are identical and ta-da proof that it is accurate. But we can see that the inaccuracies are minor. Fortunately, with over 5000 documents, there are multiple copies of the same books and passages. We can accurately determine what the originals said by looking at all of them together. There has been no book more scrutinized than this one by both believers and non-believers. I encourage you to research this topic independently and not take my word for it.
Why are there so many different versions of the Bible? The various translations help us read and understand the Bible better. Some translations are word-for-word interpretations, while others are thought-for-thought. For example, the ESV version is a word-for-word translation, while the Message version is thought-for-thought. Other versions, such as NIV and NRSV, strike a balance between the two. KJV is also a balanced book, although its language is no longer modern. But its beauty means it continues to be popular. There are many online lists with translation descriptions and graphs to explain them.
The Bible is split into two parts, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). The OT covers the time before the birth of Jesus, while the NT covers the life of Jesus and the beginning of the early church after his death and resurrection. All Christian Bibles have 66 books, 39 in the OT and 27 in the NT. Catholic Bibles have 7 additional books in the OT. The Bible has multiple authors ranging from kings to fishermen, and some books don’t have an author attributed to them. The Bible is broken into sections as follows:
The Old Testament:
The Pentateuch or the Law – Genesis to Deuteronomy
Historical – Joshua to Esther
Wisdom Literature or Poetry – Job to Song of Solomon
Major Prophets – Isaiah to Daniel
Minor Prophets – Hosea to Malachi
The New Testament:
The Gospels – Matthew to John
Historical – Acts
Epistles – Romans to Jude
Prophetic Literature – Revelation
Several genres are included in the Bible, and knowing what you are reading is important to understanding context. These include:
Narrative – a story of what happened, such as Exodus or Acts.
Poetry – figurative language meant to communicate ideas and express emotion.
Wisdom – wise sayings that serve as ethics lessons and practical applications.
Prophecy – meant to be warnings or encouragements in times of danger.
Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are narratives, but they are also eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. These are narratives of faith.
Epistles – These are letters written to groups or individuals. While they are intended for the reader, there are practical applications for us.
Apocalyptic – The book of Revelation is prophecy. There is a lot of symbolic language that serves as warnings or comforts for the reader.
Sometimes when people don’t understand or misapply what they’ve read in the Bible, they don’t understand the genre or the context.
I bet you can guess that I will suggest you actually read the book. Why would you take my word for what it says when you can find out yourself? When you read the Bible, you learn how much God loves us. You understand that God gave us the law, but we weren’t very good at keeping it. You find out that God’s people sang his praises, cried out in anguish, yelled in anger, and prayed in gratitude. You will learn that God wanted all of us to gain eternal life despite not keeping the law. You will find that his Son became a human just like us to share God’s message of love and then died taking on the punishment for our sins so that we could spend eternity with Him.
Why do people read the Bible over and over again? Every time a person reads the Bible, they discover something different. You may read a passage in one frame of mind one month and a different frame of mind the next month. Some things will jump out at you in this reading that didn’t in the last. Others have study Bibles that tell them the context and history surrounding that passage. As you mature in your faith and knowledge, you see and understand more of what’s in there. You will learn that people sometimes have multiple translations so that they can read the same passage multiple ways to grasp it better.
What I know is that you can’t know how much God loves you and values you without reading the word. This is a book of hope, and I want all of you, dear readers, to live your life with hope.