by Greg Williamson (c) 2008, 2011
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture verses are from the NET Bible.

1: What are some basic facts about the Bible?
What are some basic facts about the Bible?

The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,400 years - from the time of Moses until the end of the first century AD/CE. Despite the fact that its 66 individual books were written over such a long period of time by many different people from various walks of life, the Bible presents a unified message of revelation and rescue: God reveals himself in many and various ways as he seeks to rescue the human race. 

The Bible is divided into two main sections, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). The OT is held in very high esteem by the world's three largest monotheistic (= belief in one God) religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The OT, written in Hebrew (and some Aramaic), depicts God's dealings with humankind in general, and with his chosen people, Israel, in particular. The NT, written in Greek, presents the coming of Jesus Christ, the birth of the Christian Church, and the spread of the Gospel message of salvation through personal, saving faith in Christ.

2: Who Said What: Theodore Roosevelt

A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.
- Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) [ref]

3: How can we know about God?
How can we know about God?

The Bible is built on the fact that there is a real and personal God who created people in order to have a real and personal relationship with us. Because God is a supernatural being, we cannot see, hear, or touch him. And so he must choose to reveal himself to us before we can know anything about him. God has chosen to make himself known in two ways, often referred to as general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to God's communication of himself in a general sense. This is what can be known of God  through nature (including human nature) and human history. The design and beauty of nature, the preservation of the nation of Israel, and our religious nature -  these are all general ways in which God reveals himself to us. [ref]

Scripture Says:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth ... (Psalm 19:1-4) 

For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made ... (Romans 1:20)

4: Apologetics 101: Why should I believe in God when no one can prove he exists? 
Why should I believe in God when no one can prove he exists? 

God is spirit. We cannot see, hear, or touch spirit. Therefore, we cannot see, hear, or touch God - at least not directly. That is why he gave us his Word, the Bible. And that is why we must look at Jesus to see God. 

Lots of things cannot be "proven" through the scientific method. Love, for example, cannot be weighed on a scale or poured into a test tube. And yet we know love is as real as anything in this world. People set themselves against tremendous odds, endure tremendous hardships, go tremendous distances - all in the name of love. The greatest example of love, of course, is God's love for us: "For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). 

In addition, while there may be little direct evidence for God's existence, there is much indirect or circumstantial evidence: [ref]

  • The universe must have had a beginning - and hence a "beginner."
  • Complicated design - that is, evidence of an intelligent designer - is found throughout all of nature, even down to the DNA within a single cell.
  • Certain moral laws - against murder, rape, stealing, lying, etc. - have been and still are accepted by many and various cultures around the world.
5: Why isn't general revelation enough?
Why isn't general revelation enough?

By itself general revelation is limited for at least two reasons: 1) "due to their fallen condition," human beings "suppress this knowledge and pervert its message," and 2) general revelation cannot prove that the God spoken of in the Bible actually exists. [ref] In addition, if all we had to go by was general revelation, we could reach some very misleading conclusions. For example, without knowing anything else about God, all the pain, suffering, and evil in the world could easily lead us to conclude that the being who created this world is unloving, powerless, or both. [ref] 

General revelation lays the foundation for special revelation, which is God's communication of himself in a particular sense. This is what can be known of God through his many personal encounters. As recorded in the Bible, God communicated directly with such individuals as Abraham, Moses, and the OT prophets of Israel. God's ultimate revelation, however, came with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God made himself known as never before. 

Jesus' many miracles, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection from the dead verified his teachings and made a way for us to enter into a personal relationship with God. This is the message the followers of Jesus (the first Christians) took to all the world beginning in the first century AD/CE.

Scripture Says:
After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word ... (Hebrews 1:1-3) 

"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

6: Who Said What: Immanuel Kant

A single line in the Bible has consoled me more than all the books I have ever read.
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) [ref]

7:  Why should the Bible be accepted as the authoritative Word of God?
Why should the Bible be accepted as the authoritative Word of God?

While there exists overwhelming historical evidence for both the OT and NT, the main reason we accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God is because of Jesus and his apostles. As God incarnate, Jesus had ultimate authority. Jesus verified the OT in his own teachings, and he commissioned his handpicked representatives, the apostles, to take his teachings to literally the entire world. [ref] In addition, the apostles' writings (our NT) are saturated with OT quotations and allusions. The apostles held the OT in highest esteem, and their own writings amounted to a divinely inspired, authoritative commentary on the OT. [ref]

Scripture Says:
"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you." (John 14:26) 

Then Jesus came up and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) 

They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43) 

who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. (Romans 1:4-5)

8: How can we know the Bible is historically reliable?
How can we know the Bible is historically reliable?

There are three main tests historians use for determining the reliability of an ancient document: [ref]

  • Bibliographical Test. This has to do with how a document was preserved as it was passed from generation to generation.
  • Internal Evidence Test. This has to do with contradictions and other inconsistencies.
  • External Evidence Test. This has to do with other sources outside the document that help to prove the document is true and trustworthy.

When subjected to these standard tests, both the OT and the NT are shown to be historically reliable.

9: Apologetics 101: Isn't the Bible really just a book of myths and legends?
Isn't the Bible really just a book of myths and legends? 

This question is often asked by folk who are skeptical or even critical regarding the Bible's origin. However, it is not what the authors of the Bible books believed; they were absolutely convinced they were recording actual, historical events. 

Many of the alleged myths in the OT were actually verified by Jesus himself. Examples include Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4), Noah and the flood (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27), and Jonah and the whale (Matthew 12:39-40). 

It has been shown that it takes at least two full generations for a myth to develop. The events of the NT are drawn from eyewitness testimony and were recorded by Jesus' contemporaries. [ref] 

In response to the claim that the NT gospels contain legendary or romantic accounts, renowned professor, writer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." [ref]

10: How was the OT written and preserved? 
How was the OT written and preserved? 

The OT was written over a period of about one-thousand years - from Genesis circa 1400 BC/BCE to Malachi circa 400 BC/BCE - and involved between 30 and 40 writers, including prophets, judges, and kings. [ref] 

The first OT manuscripts (= handwritten documents) used only the consonantal Hebrew alphabet, and were written without divisions (to preserve space). Schools of scribes meticulously hand copied the text in this way until the time of the Masoretes (circa AD/CE 500-900), who were Jewish scholars and scribes that added vowel points and made other improvements to the text. The OT we have today is called the Masoretic text (MT) because of the tremendous contribution made by the Masoretes as they preserved and passed on the Hebrew Bible. [ref] 

Both prior to and including the period of the Masoretes, those who copied the manuscripts did so with a sense of reverence, care, and precision rivaling any modern scientific endeavor. [ref] Why? Because they remained absolutely convinced they were dealing with the very thoughts and words of Almighty God.

11: Who Said What: John R. W. Stott

A man who loves his wife will love her letters and her photographs because they speak to him of her. So if we love the Lord Jesus, we shall love the Bible because it speaks to us of him.
- John R. W. Stott (1921- ) [ref]

12:  Does the Bible contradict itself?
 Does the Bible contradict itself?

If God really did inspire men to write the Bible, then we would expect the Bible to be free of contradictions and errors. Which is exactly what the doctrine of inerrancy (inerrant = "without error") teaches: when correctly interpreted (a crucial point) the Bible is completely true and trustworthy in all that it affirms. [ref]  Many Bible critics have pointed to errors or contradictions in the text - only to be proved wrong following new archaeological discoveries, new manuscript evidence, etc.

Scripture Says:
Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) 

Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet's own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

13: Apologetics 101: Hasn't the Bible been translated and copied so many times that what we have today cannot be trusted?
Hasn't the Bible been translated and copied so many times that what we have today cannot be trusted? 

Of course it's true that the Bible has been translated into a vast number of languages. In fact, the Bible is the most translated book in the world, and in some cases a language was first put into writing by Christian missionaries for the express purpose of making the Bible available to a specific people group. And it's also true that the Bible manuscripts were repeatedly copied by hand for many hundreds of years (until the advent of the printing press, invented in Europe in the 15th century). In both cases, mistakes were made. 

Far from making the Bible unreliable, however, the vast number of translations and thousands of hand copied manuscripts still in existence help to ensure the accuracy and reliability of our modern Bible. How so? Through the science of textual criticism, which can be defined as: "Comparison and evaluation of the different readings of the manuscripts of the Bible in order to construct the history of the text through its various stages and to establish, as far as possible, the original." [ref] 

In the case of the NT, today there exists nearly 5,700 Greek manuscripts, some fragments of which can be dated to within only a few years of Jesus' death and resurrection. This number has been said to be embarrassingly high when compared with other ancient writings. While no two manuscripts are exactly alike, modern Bible scholars have arrived at a text that is very nearly 100% accurate. What's more, any questions or uncertainties that remain do not impact any major Bible doctrine. [ref]

Imagine a large group of scientists from another country who were given 5,700 U.S. one-dollar bills, each containing a tiny mark located in one of a myriad of possible spots on the bill - front center, front right bottom corner, rear bottom center, rear left top corner, etc., etc. Their assignment would be to identify the original, mark-free bill. With enough painstaking care - and a good software program(!) - they could do it. In a sense, textual criticism is like that.

14: What about the other books not included in the Bible?
What about the other books not included in the Bible?

For both the OT and the NT, there arose a number of books from the same time period that were not included. The process of determining which books to include and which to exclude is known as the "canonization" of Scripture (canon = "an accepted principle or rule" [ref]). There were certain strict criteria that had to be met before a book could become part of the Bible. The book had to: be written by a prophet (an official spokesman for God); be confirmed by miraculous acts; speak the truth about God; and be accepted by the people of God. [ref]

15: Who Said What: Abraham Lincoln

All things desirable to men are contained in the Bible.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865 ) [ref]

16: Why was the NT written?
Why was the NT written?

During the earliest years of the Christian mission there was no real need for a written record of Jesus and his teachings. The material contained in the writings that we know today as the NT gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) was circulated by word of mouth, and there were lots of eyewitnesses still alive to verify what was being said. As the eyewitnesses eventually began dying out, their testimony was preserved in writing.

Various problems and difficulties arose within the new churches that were being started far and wide. This situation resulted in what we know today as the NT epistles (= letters), most of which were written by the apostle Paul in an effort to help the fledgling churches work through their difficulties and, most of all, fully understand and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul and the other apostles were guided by God's Holy Spirit in communicating his truths that remain valid and binding to this day. [ref]

17: Apologetics 101: Isn't it narrow-minded for Christians to think that only they have the truth? Isn't all truth relative?
Isn't it narrow-minded for Christians to think that only they have the truth? Isn't all truth relative?  

Christians claim that God is the source of all truth. And since the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, we must check our view of reality against it.  

Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). If that sounds narrow, it's because truth is narrow. For example, it's true that 1 + 1 = 2, period. 

By definition, "truth" is what corresponds to reality and is true for all people, at all times, in all places. While our understanding or perception of truth may change with time, truth itself never changes.  

Today it's common to hear someone say that "all truth is relative." But such a statement is self-defeating for two reasons: 1) it itself is making an absolute claim regarding truth, and hence 2) if it's true, it's false. [ref]

18: How did the NT develop, and how old are the copies of the NT writings we have today?
How did the NT develop, and how old are the copies of the NT writings we have today?

At first the NT books were circulated individually. By late in the first century and early in the second, they were being grouped together into the fourfold gospel, the book of Acts, and Paul's letters. By about AD/CE 150 the Church at large had accepted most of the NT books as authentic (some of the books found at the end of the NT were disputed). But by AD/CE 367 the limits were firmly in place, and a church council meeting in 393 ratified what had already been accepted by the Church at large as the limits of the NT writings. [ref] 

The NT writings were copied by hand and distributed abroad. Today there exist in various languages more than 25,000 manuscripts, with more than 5,600 in Greek. The earliest NT manuscript in existence is dated to the beginning of the second century AD/CE (circa 114); manuscripts of entire books are dated circa 200; manuscripts for most of the NT are dated circa 250; and manuscripts of the entire NT are dated circa 325. This can be compared, for instance, to Homer's Iliad. Originally written in 800 BC/BCE, the earliest copy dates 400 years later (circa 400 BC/BCE), and there are less than 650 copies in existence. [ref]

19: Are there any ancient sources other than the NT that speak of Jesus?
Are there any ancient sources other than the NT that speak of Jesus?

Early non-Christians whose writings speak of Jesus and/or the movement he founded include:

  • Cornelius Tacitus (circa 55–120), Roman historian.
  • Gaius Suetonius (circa 69–140), Roman historian.
  • Flavius Josephus (37–circa 100), Jewish military officer and historian.
  • Pliny the Younger (circa 61–c. 113), Roman writer and administrator.
  • Emperor Trajan (52–117).
  • Lucian (circa 125–circa 190), Greek writer. [ref] [ref]

While none of these secular sources offer any facts beyond what is recorded in the NT gospels, [ref] they do help to confirm that: [ref]

  • Jesus was a real person who lived a wise and morally upright life despite which he was put to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem on the charge of being "the king of the Jews."
  • Jesus performed extraordinary acts and was worshipped as divine by followers who rejected polytheism (= the belief in many gods)
  • Jesus' small group of followers multiplied rapidly, including establishing a presence in the the very heart of the empire, the city of Rome.
20: Wasn't Jesus just a great moral teacher, but not God in the flesh (as Christians claim)?
Wasn't Jesus just a great moral teacher, but not God in the flesh (as Christians claim)?

As has often been pointed out, a close examination of Jesus' own claims about himself leaves us with only one of three conclusions:

  • Jesus was a liar, or
  • Jesus was a lunatic, or
  • Jesus was (and is) the Lord.

In addition, only Jesus Christ said and did what we would fully expect God-in-the-flesh to say and do, including: [ref]

  • being born in a way different from any other human being
  • being completely perfect
  • performing tremendous miracles
  • teaching the greatest truths ever taught
  • having a profound and universal influence
  • satisfying our deepest spiritual hunger
  • overcoming our greatest enemy: death
21: If, as the Bible teaches, humanity started out perfectly, what went wrong?
If, as the Bible teaches, humanity started out perfectly, what went wrong?

As recorded in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), when God created the earth, he planted a garden and placed within it the first human pair. Adam and Eve's world was filled with beauty, peace, and purpose. With only one exception, they could have and do anything their hearts desired. Because God made Adam and Eve to be fully human beings and not mere robots, he gave them the opportunity to respond to his love by choosing to trust in and obey him. By choosing to abstain from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the first human pair would prove that they loved God and were willing to trust him for their every legitimate need. 

Adam and Eve chose to disobey God by eating of the forbidden fruit. In so doing, they rebelled against God's rightful rule over their lives. Moreover, that single, decisive act of disobedience opened the door to the immeasurable pain and suffering that has been the lot of the human race ever since. Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, and each one of us is born into this world tainted by that same sin -  and thus separated from a pure and holy God.  

While God certainly had the right to give up on us, he refused to do so. The OT tells how he chose a nation set apart to know, love, and serve him - the nation of Israel. While Israel ultimately failed to obey God completely, she was the one through whom came God's Son, Jesus Christ. The NT tells how personal, saving faith in Christ brings a spiritual rebirth that includes a deep and abiding desire to obey God.

Scripture Says:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) 

Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man  many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19) 

But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls  "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:4-6)

22: What is so special about Jesus?
What is so special about Jesus?

Jesus Christ is the single most influential person who ever lived. Why? What was so special about Jesus? Jesus claimed to be both man and God. While his humanity was apparent for all to see, his deity had to be revealed through his words and works. One significant proof for Jesus' deity is the way in which what was said of God in the OT is now said of Jesus in the NT. To give just a few examples (with Bible text from the NET Bible]: [ref]

Old Testament
New Testament
God said to Moses, "I AM that I AM." And he said, "You must say this to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Exodus 3:14

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!"

John 8:58

"I am! is an explicit claim to deity. Although each occurrence of the phrase "I am"in the Fourth Gospel needs to be examined individually in context to see if an association with Exod 3:14 is present, it seems clear that this is the case here (as the response of the Jewish authorities in the following verse shows)." [ref]
For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:14

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

(The subject here is the judgment of works. It has to do with our motives, and it awaits everyone - saved and unsaved alike.)
... I saw the sovereign master seated on a high, elevated throne. ... Seraphs stood over him ... They called out to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!"

Isaiah 6:1-3

Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ's glory, and spoke about him.

John 12:41

"It is clear that [John] presents Isaiah as having seen the preincarnate glory of Christ, which was the very revelation of the Father (see John 1:18; John 14:9)." [ref]
[The LORD] will become ... a stone that makes a person trip, and a rock that makes one stumble ...

Isaiah 8:14

[Jesus Christ has become] ... a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over

1 Peter 2:8

"A quotation from Isa 8:14." [ref]
"I am the Lord! That is my name! I will not share my glory with anyone else, or the praise due me with idols."

Isaiah 42:8

"And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created."

John 17:5

"Whatever else may be said, the statement in 17:5 strongly asserts the preexistence of Jesus Christ.

"It is important to note that although Jesus prayed for a return to the glory he had at the Father's side before the world was created, he was not praying for a "de-incarnation." His humanity which he took on at the incarnation (John 1:14) remains, though now glorified." [ref]

This is what the LORD, Israel's king, says, their protector, the LORD who commands armies: "I am the first and I am the last, there is no God but me."

Isaiah 44:6

... "Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last" ... "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!"

Revelation 1:17; 22:13

"Revelation ... attributes to Jesus Christ titles uniquely attributed to the Lord in the Old Testament. This data is death to any theology that withholds full deity from Jesus Christ; it illustrates why Revelation is said to present a 'high Christology.'" [ref]

It is also highly significant that Jesus: [ref]

  • claimed the authority to forgive sins - something only God can do
  • claimed the power to raise and judge the dead
  • requested prayer in his name
  • accepted worship
  • equated his words with the Law of God
  • performed many mighty miracles
  • fulfilled the numerous OT prophecies regarding God's Messiah
  • lived a sinless life
  • and rose from the dead  
23: Who Said What: E. T. Harris

No one ever graduates from Bible study until he meets the author face to face.
- E. T. Harris [ref]

24: What was Jesus' message?
What was Jesus' message?

Jesus' basic message was the arrival of God's kingdom, which is God's sovereign rule over the hearts and lives of those who place their faith in Jesus Christ and are spiritually born again. [ref] Jesus personifies God's kingdom, and the Bible tells of a time when he will establish his literal rule over all the earth. That will be the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom. In the meantime, we enter into God's kingdom in a spiritual sense by committing our lives to Jesus Christ. As Jesus taught, such a commitment means turning from our old life of sin and taking up the challenge of living a new life in obedience to God's will as expressed in his Word, the Bible.

Scripture Says:
From that time Jesus began to preach this message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17)

 Jesus replied, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?" (Matthew 16:24-26)

 God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:22, CEV)

25: What does Jesus have to do with me?
What does Jesus have to do with me?

The Bible teaches that God offers everyone everywhere the same opportunity he gave Adam and Eve: a personal relationship based on trust and obedience. But because we are sinful beings, we cannot enter into that relationship on our own. And so God, out of his incredible love and mercy, took upon himself the punishment our sins deserve. He did so by coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, who died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. By confessing our sinful condition and our need for God's forgiveness available only through personal faith in Jesus Christ, we are brought into a real, lasting, personal relationship with God.

Scripture Says:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) 

So you will be saved, if you honestly say, "Jesus is Lord," and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. God will accept you and save you, if you truly believe this and tell it to others. The Scriptures say that no one who has faith will be disappointed, no matter if that person is a Jew or a Gentile. There is only one Lord, and he is generous to everyone who asks for his help. All who call out to the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:9–13, CEV)

26: What is the key to understanding the Bible?
What is the key to understanding the Bible?

On one level, the Bible is a simple story of God's interaction with human beings. And so we can open it up and begin reading at virtually any point, and before long we will see God working in the lives of people. There are heroes and villains, kings and peasants, angels and demons, and all of them can teach us valuable lessons both about God and ourselves. If we stop there, however, we will miss most of what God wants us to know.  

In a word, the key to understanding and applying the Bible is proper interpretation. To "interpret" is "to explain or tell the meaning of; present in understandable terms." [ref] In one respect, our English language Bibles come to us already interpreted, since the translators explain the meaning of the Bible's original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). However, a full understanding of any book, including the Bible, calls for much more than simply knowing what the words mean.

27: Apologetics 101: The Bible is so complicated. How can I understand it? 
The Bible is so complicated. How can I understand it? 

The Bible  is actually much simpler than many people realize. It is made up of several types of literature (narrative, poetry, prophecy, etc.) that tells a unified story of God's plan and purpose for the human race. The first part of the Bible (the Old Testament) centers on God's dealings with the nation of Israel. The second part of the Bible (the New Testament) centers on the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his Church.  

At the heart of Scripture is the story of the gracious and loving God who mercifully extends salvation to us rebellious and undeserving sinners. In a word, it's about reconciliation.  

Today as never before, there exists a wide array of helps for understanding the Bible. For example, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, introductions, and word study aids offer a wealth of knowledge. (Look under the "RESOURCES" tab on the homepage for some suggested titles.)

28: What about the fact that the Bible is so ancient and mysterious?
What about the fact that the Bible is so ancient and mysterious?

Because the Bible is an ancient book, inspired by God, and written in a foreign land, there are several areas in which major gaps exist between the Bible and us living today. [ref]

  • Chronology. No human being living today can claim firsthand knowledge of the people, places, and events described in the Bible.
  • Geography. Most people live thousands of miles from the area in which the events described in the Bible took place.
  • Culture. Both attitudes and actions are, to a large extent, culture bound.
  • Language. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek - languages largely unknown to the average Bible reader.
  • Literature. There are many different genres (= types of literature) found within the Bible.
  • Spiritual. The Bible comes from and seeks to describe the thoughts and workings of an infinite God.

However, we living today have access to a large number of excellent resources for bridging these gaps, including:

  • different English versions/translations of the Bible
  • study Bibles
  • Bible dictionaries
  • Bible encyclopedia
  • language reference works (word study dictionaries, lexicons, and interlinear Bibles)
  • introductions to the Bible
  • Bible handbooks
  • Bible commentary
  • Bible background/historical reference works

(Look under the "RESOURCES" tab on the homepage for some suggested titles.)

29: Who Said What: Soren Kierkegaard

The Bible is a letter from God with our personal address on it.
- Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) [ref]

30: What's the best way to study the Bible?
What's the best way to study the Bible?

By 1) committing to a regular schedule of Bible reading, and 2) asking questions of the Bible as we read. The questions we should ask of the text as we read are actually the same questions we should ask of any literature we read, including: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? Such questions can be divided into three basic categories: [ref] 

  • Setting. Who wrote the book? Why was it written? What is its historical context? Where was it written, and to whom?
  • Context. What genre is being employed? What is the message of this verse, passage, or book? What is said before and after the passage under consideration?
  • Structure. Look for: repeated words or phrases; comparisons and contrasts; questions and answers; progression (in time, action, or place); a climax; figures of speech; linking words or ideas; and verbs (action words).
31: Apologetics 101: How does Christianity compare to other religions? 
How does Christianity compare to other religions? 

Today it is common to hear that all religions are basically the same and that everyone worships the same God (although he goes by different names). But while it is true that most religious traditions can generally agree on what makes a morally good person, there are major differences regarding who/what God/god/gods is/are and how we can be rightly related to him/her/them/it. [ref] 

It has been observed that the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions is Jesus Christ, and that the most important difference between Jesus Christ and all other religious leaders is Jesus' claim to be God - a claim backed up by numerous miracles, the greatest of which was his own resurrection.  

Christianity is the only religion that offers the true teachings of Jesus, and binds together the true followers of Jesus.  

As important as the Christian faith is, however, we should be quick to remember that the most important issue is not a religion, but a relationship. As one paraphrase renders Jesus' words:  

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

32: How can I apply the Bible to my daily life?
How can I apply the Bible to my daily life?

More than a book of facts to be learned, the Bible is a book of truths to be lived. Jesus had this same idea in mind when he said

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!" (Matthew 7:24-27)

The application part of Bible study helps us make "meaningful connections" between the passage being studied and our contemporary world. [ref] In other words, application means going from the then-and-there to the here-and-now. Applying God's never-changing truths to our ever-changing lives is a two step process involving 1) determining what a given Bible passage teaches concerning how people relate to one another and, most importantly, to God, and then 2) thinking in terms of contemporary human relationships found in one's home, neighborhood, workplace, school, church, state, nation, and world. [ref] While there is only one correct interpretation -  that is, the original message the original author intended to convey to his original audience -  a given passage from the Bible may contain any number of principles that can be applied to the many and various situations we encounter.  

Regarding specific application, one source helpfully suggests using the acronym SPECS: [ref]

  • Is there a Sin to be forsaken?
  • Is there a Promise to be claimed?
  • Is there an Example to be followed?
  • Is there a Command to be obeyed?
  • Is there a Stumbling Block (= hindrance) to be avoided?

Having said all that, it is vital to remember that right application begins with right interpretation. Which, in turn, means taking the time and effort to hear the original message and the entire message. A very dangerous but all too common tendency is to 1) skip interpretation altogether and go straight to application, and 2) look for those portions of Scripture we can personally identify with while skipping over everything else. And so, for example, the person with a gentle and quiet spirit may key in on "gentle Jesus meek and mild," while someone with a more aggressive personality type may emphasize Jesus' anger toward the Pharisees and his driving the money-changers out of the temple. The best approach - and, really, the only one that does justice to God and his Word - is to read, study, and seek to apply all of the Bible. [ref]  

33: Who Said What: Charles Colson

The Bible - banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.
- Charles Colson (1931- ) [ref]

34: What are some benefits of studying and applying the Bible?
What are some benefits of studying and applying the Bible?

As has often been said, God loves us just the way we are -  but (thankfully) he loves us too much to leave us that way. Instead, he wants to change us from the inside out, to make us into the people he created us to be -  which means making us more like Christ in our attitudes and actions. As we consistently study and apply God's inspired, authoritative Word, the Bible, we will see our lives change for the better as God both calls us to and blesses us with specific personal qualities. To name only a few: [ref]

  • a strong and lasting desire to help others
  • a pure and blameless life
  • the courage that comes from strong convictions
  • a sense of peace and contentment
  • a sense of direction, purpose, and meaning
  • a hunger and thirst for what is right - that is, righteousness
  • a firm commitment to be truthful
  • the fruit of God's Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23)

Scripture Says:

But I and my family will worship the LORD! (Joshua 24:15)

Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path. (Psalms 119:105)

"The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

35: Who Said What: Henry Melville

The mystery of the Bible should teach us, at one and the same time, our nothingness and our greatness, producing humility and animating hope.
- Henry Melville (1742-1811) [ref]