The Bible is a library of 66 distinct books, written over the span of 1000 years, with dozens of different authors involved. It is the best selling and most widely read book in history, having impacted hundreds of millions of lives directly. What does it teach us about God and Life? How do we come to trust it to give us guidance? Can something so old and so foreign be relevant to me? Can I even trust that it is what it claims to be?
There are very real and pertinent questions many skeptics have about the Bible’s reliability, but we there are various historical-archelogical pieces of evidence that give credence to many of the Bible’s stories as well. For instance, archeologists and historians have identified over 5,000 ancient manuscripts from the books of the New Testament from the earliest centuries of Christianity that are remarkably consistent– thousands more than other Greco-Roman ancient documents we take as authentic. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 was a fantastic example of how ancient people preserved the text of the Bible with great care in unaltered states. The reality is that the books of the Bible were intimately treasured and meticulously preserved documents that tell a story of a very unique people in the world, whom Christians believe had a first hand experience with God.
Still, its not an easy book to read and understand. To help, we need to understand the kind of literature the Bible is, where it comes from, and what its overarching message is.
One of the trickiest parts of reading the Bible is that 21st century Americans have a very different way of thinking and seeing the world than ancient people of the near-east. All of us have been trained and raised in the “Western Tradition” of thinking. There is a very distinct style of of thinking and reading that comes from our Western culture: to us, things are supposed to be linear, logical, and detailed. “Eastern Thinking” views the the world more abstractly: things aren’t necessarily linear (more circular), details are not quite as important, and things are more ambiguous.
Consider these two sculptures from roughly the same time period. The one on the left is from Greece, the other on the right is from Syria. The Greek sculpture is full of detail and attention to accuracy, while the Syrian one is more abstract and less detailed. This mirrors the Western and Eastern world views. The Bible more resembles the Eastern worldview than the Western worldview. So it is a challenge for us as Western readers to understand it in the same way as the authors intended.
But more than knowing about the Bible, for followers of Jesus Christ we come to the Bible searching not just for knowledge but to experience God and have our hearts and lives touched by the words. The Bible is an “altar” where we meet God in reading and reflection. It is the unique book in the world that has the ability to not just teach, but to transform.
Journaling questions this week
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17
- What is the best book you ever read? Why?
- According to these verses, what is the purpose of scripture? What is it useful for?
- In what ways have you been “equipped for good work” in your life? Who/what has taught you to be good?
- What is it you want to find by studying the Bible?