The Bible,  God’s message to men

The Bible is an approved (or canonical) collection of scriptures, arranged into a series of books. It shares all its earlier books with the approved scriptures of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible.

The books included within the canonical Bible were those in which the early church sensed the Spirit of God at work, divinely inspiring the text. That divine inspiration, when coupled with the continuing action of the Holy Spirit upon these words, gives the Bible the capacity to change lives for the better, as God empowers it and sets its words to work within the believer.

The Church’s desire to produce such a collection went hand in hand with the increasing use of the codex as a format for books. The decision on the basic set of books to include was finalised in 315 C.E. and the earliest complete manuscript of the Bible in that form is the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from before 400 C.E. (see the Codex Sinaiticus project site). 

The Christian Bible has sixty-six canonical books, the earlier thirty-nine of which are the Hebrew Bible (these Hebrew books also form the basis for Judaism). Some Christian groups include additional books in their bibles which they considered of merit, though not of the same standing as the sixty-six.

Over forty authors were involved in producing the canonical books. The timespan covered being so long that, whilst the latter books were certainly written on scrolls, the earliest chapters preserve structures typically found on clay tablets. 

The Bible’s books include poetry, history, legislation, proverbs, songs, lament, prophecy, letters and genealogy. Three different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, are used in the original texts. Ancient translations of the Hebrew books into Greek have been preserved along with ancient Syriac versions of the whole book.

Thanks to its historical and social content, the Bible provides a unique glimpse into the ancient past. At times the picture it portrays has been challenged on the basis of archaeological finds. However, there is a long history of archaeologists concluding that the Bible is incorrect, only for subsequent discoveries to substantiate the validity of the Biblical account. So much has this been the case, that Biblical scholars are far happier to accept the antiquity of the books at face value now than they would have been in the prevailing academic climate of the early nineteen hundreds.

Despite the diversity of the Bible’s authors, there is consistent message running through the entire book (though it can take a while to get to grips with it). Moreover, the book has built in features, such as repetition from different perspectives and symmetric rough the unfolding stories of a series of patriarchs, the Israeli judges, monarchs and prophets, Jesus and then the early Christians.

The best way to find out about the Bible is to read it yourself. As the earlier books expect the reader to have a significant understanding of the Hebrew culture, it is best to start with one of the gospels. Preferably one written for a non-Hebrew audience, such as Luke’s. The story of Jesus’ followers, started in Luke’s Gospel, is continued in its equally accessible companion-book, The Acts of the Apostles.