WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
What is the Bible? How shall we regard it? Where shall we place it? These and many questions like them at once come to the front when we begin to discuss the Bible as a book. It is only possible in this brief study, of a great subject, to indicate the line of some of the answers.
It is not Like Other Books. -- Although its last paragraph was written and the canon completed many hundreds of years ago, it is still one of the freshest and newest of books and its moral precepts and admonitions are far in advance of the world's practice. It has an adaptability to all sorts and conditions of men and a flexibility in meeting the most radical changes of thought, which is possessed by no other volume. It has been attacked and denounced and seemingly demolished only in the end to lead its critics captive and to come forth from the fray stronger than ever.
It is a God-filled and God-inspired book. It is the most lasting in its popularity of all books.
It is Like Other Books in that it is cast in the mold of the literature of a certain people. We find here all the forms of literature, history, philosophy, poetry, letters, etc. There is much plausibility in the plea for the study of the Bible as literature for it is the best of its kind.
It Leads the World's Thought of Righteousness and Purity of Life. -- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) set forth the highest ethical standards known to man.
It is the Record of a Revelation from God.
The theme is, "the entrance of God into the spiritual life of man." This makes it superior to all other books and invests it with a unique character which commands our most earnest attention. God, who is speaking to men through this book, says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." God is not only the God of the Israelites but of all nations and peoples.
The great men, whose life stories are given in the Bible, were God called to, and God guided in, their work of uplifting the world. We have only to look at the record to see how the initiative is declared to have been taken by God. Here is the roll call, Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3:14), Joshua (1:1-6), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4-21), David (1 Samuel 16:3,11-13), Isaiah (1:1), Ezekiel (1:1), Jeremiah (1:2) and all the prophets, John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-17; Matthew 3:1-12), Peter, John and Paul (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; 13:1,2).
The Old Testament shows the looking forward to the Christ and the New Testament records His coming as the Spiritual Light of the world. No other book or set of books announce "the entrance of God to the spiritual life of man" through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-l8), who came speaking of the new spiritual birth of man (John 3:1-21).
The only key to the understanding of the Bible is this plan of God to enter into the spiritual life of man. We may easily look in the Bible for what is not there and read into its pages what is in our own thoughts or read out of them that which we do not wish to see, but back of all we must acknowledge this peculiar purpose of God.
Back also of all theories of revelation and inspiration -- and giving rise to them -- stands the great thought of God for the spiritual redemption of men. For this end He enters into covenant with the Israelites, He sends them prophets and teachers, and at last He sends His Son. Continually God is calling to men, "Be ye holy for I am holy."
In any book, after the consideration of the theme, we look for the form and the plan. In order to study a book to the best advantage, the different parts and their relation to each other and to the whole must be made plain. The Bible readily lends itself to an investigation of its structure.
The Bible is One Book with one thought running through it, God's purpose to redeem man, and may be so read and studied.
The Bible is Composed of Many Books written by different authors in different languages, at different times. Some of the books were circulated separately before they were gathered either into the canon of the Old or New Testaments. The gathering together of the books and the placing them in the order that we have them now was a slow process, but all in the order and interest of a progressive revelation of God and because of a common sympathetic subject.
The books take different forms and have different classifications, such as books of the law, wisdom, history, poetry, etc. In studying any book it is necessary to attend to its classification; there has been much misunderstanding of the Bible books because of the interpretation of a book of poetry as history or the holding the free style of a letter to the hard and fast standards of a carefully worded court document. The standpoint of the author of a book, and some consideration for the age in which he lives, must always be taken into consideration; in this way a book, which may seem to us now to be behind the age in its thought, will be seen to be far ahead of the age in which the author lived and making and marking an important epoch in a progressive revelation.
Each Bible book has a well considered plan, a special aim, a historical setting and a practical value. For instance, in Genesis we have a book of beginnings; a broad explanation of the origin of the world, man, sin, salvation; and the revelation of God as Creator, Preserver, Lawgiver, Judge and Merciful Father. After the introduction the book, if we look into the book itself, is divided into ten parts with the recurring formula, "These are the generations of." This book cannot be overestimated from a religious standpoint. The fact of a Creator is the fundamental teaching of its cosmogony. God, one God, is here clearly distinguished from a host of heathen gods. He is over and above matter, everything in the universe is subject to Him. Again in this book we have the early history of the human race shown in large outline and also the story of the fathers of the Jewish race from the calling of Abraham to the death of Jacob. Behind any theory of the construction of Genesis the great representative truths stand firm. Every Bible book can be considered and its plan and purpose shown in this way. Even a small book like Ruth, which seems to be only a little pleasant story, has an important part to perform. Without it the times of the judges would present only a very somber picture, but with it we can see that in those dark and troublous times there were noble, God fearing men like Boaz and true women like Ruth. We could not spare a single book of the New Testament, for with one lacking something would be wanting in the picture of early Christianity.
The Bible is Composed of Groups of Books Which Relate to Special Eras. -- They show God revealing Himself and also dealing with the chosen nation, under different forms of administration; they indicate the steps leading up to Christ and His appearance on the earth.
First Era, the Time of Beginnings (Genesis 1-11:32). This extends from the creation of the world to the call of Abraham. We have here set forth the connection of the world with God, the beginning of life and beginning of sin, which rendered salvation necessary.
Second Era, the Theocracy. The record is found in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1 Samuel. This period is known as the Theocracy because it marks the direct rule of God over His people. It lasted from the covenant of God with Abraham to the anointing of Saul as king. We here see the beginning of the chosen family, and nation, what laws and precepts were given it and what fortunes befell it. This training time shows God's high standards in the laws and precept given this Israelitish people.
Third Era, the Monarchy. The record is found in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Joel, Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah. We have here the story of the rise, glory, division and fall of the Jewish monarchy. The people desired a king and the king sought to rule by his own will rather than the will of God. We note God's desire to make this nation a "Holy Nation" and its sin and failure. The function of the prophets was to declare the sin of the nation, to set the right way before it and seek to lead it back to God, but the nation would not heed the voices of the prophets, hence the fall of the monarchy. The coming of the perfect king and kingdom under the Messiah is prophesied. The work and place of Christ is foretold by the prophets.
Fourth Era, the Captivity. The record is found in the books of 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Obadiah. The people rejecting God are taken into captivity. In this captivity the people turn to God in their affliction, their worship is purified and the hope of the coming of the Messiah grows very strong.
Fifth Era, the Restoration. The record is found in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The people purified by their captivity and uplifted by their hope of the coming Christ are restored to their own land.
Sixth Era, the Christian. The record is found in the books of the New Testament. The Christian era is ushered in by the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of God's promises. The mission of the Jewish nation finds its fruition in Christ and the coming of the Saviour of all mankind.
It will be seen from this very brief summary of the eras how God gradually revealed Himself and His plan for the spiritual enlightenment of all men. The necessity also of studying each book, not only in its own plan but in its group place, in order to find its meaning, cannot be too earnestly commended.
It is natural that a book demanding our belief in such great things should be asked for its credentials and that these credentials should be subjected to the most searching investigation. The Bible has nothing to fear, however, from the keenest scrutiny of any scholar who has only the desire to get at the truth. The trouble begins when a critic, who is hostile to its spiritual truth or who has a theory to maintain, takes a part in the investigation; even then the truth is sure, in time, to assert its rightful claim (Acts 5:39). The fact of different interpretations of the same set of facts in different times, but leading to the same practical results, must also be taken into consideration. All men do not receive the same truth in the same way while they may be one at heart in the fundamentals (1 Corinthians 12:4-14).
The Bible welcomes any and all searching of its claims; it stands out in the open; it has won its way amongst mankind not by the might of those who advocate its claims, but by the power of the truth within its pages.
Some of the arguments for the credibility of the Bible are here given.
The Argument from History. -- Back of all questions of authorship, date and composition of the books of the Bible, is the one great question, Are the records true to the facts? Is the Bible, in plain words, true history?
The writers of the New Testament use the historical argument. They speak of the things most surely believed amongst us and of the testimony of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35; 21:24,25). The disciples were not to go forth preaching a subtle philosophy, but were to be witnesses of certain facts and were to testify of the things which they had seen and heard (Acts 1:8). Peter's speech upon the day of Pentecost is a recital of facts. Paul's argument for the resurrection of Christ is based upon the testimony of eye-witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:1-20). If God has manifested Himself in the person of Jesus Christ we need to know it through the best of testimony in regard to the fact. The record of the New Testament is made to this end.
The writers of the Old Testament profess to give us statements of facts in regard to God's dealings with the Israelitish people. The critical dealing with each of the books of the Old Testament is all to the intent whether it fairly represents a historical situation. The older scriptural narratives show of the doings of other nations than the Israelites, they describe situations in times long past, where owing to broken and imperfect records, it has been difficult to get at the exact facts. Unfortunately in some quarters the tendency has been to cast doubt upon the Old Testament writings where the statements were not corroborated by a research in the archives, often very imperfect, of other nations. But happily this state of affairs is being changed and confidence in the historicity of the Old Testament records is being greatly strengthened by the investigations of the archaeologists in the ruins of the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia with which Israel came so closely in contact. Until recently the Old Testament stood alone in its assertion of a comparatively high civilization antedating Moses and Abraham, but now we know from excavations made in Nippur and other buried cities that the contention of the Bible is true to the letter. The situation in Egypt and Palestine about the time of the Exodus is made plain by the Tel-el-Amarna tablets. The history of first and second Kings is not only corroborated but amplified by the monuments. Much yet remains to be done along this line, some views may have to be changed, but the period of destruction has passed and that of construction has begun.
The Argument from Prophecy. -- The Old Testament prophets were not only the preachers of righteousness for their own times and their own nation, but they had a mission to other nations and times as well. Their ruling idea was the establishment of God's kingdom upon earth. They taught the unity, spirituality, holiness, justice and goodness of God. They made predictions in regard to Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Syria, Moab, and their cities, when they were at the height of their power; these predictions were remarkably fulfilled. They foretold the captivity and restoration of Israel. Their great subject was the expectation of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom. The prophecies in regard to the Christ became more and more explicit as the time drew near; they declared His mission, His prophetic power, His kingly office, His priestly activity, the circumstances of His coming through a man, a nation, and in a definite place.
The Arguments from Vitality, Adaptability and Growth.
1. Vitality. The religions of Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome died with the nations which gave birth to them. The religion of the Bible, shows its divine author in its vitality and power to outlast the religions with which it has come in contact. Empires, systems of thought, mighty kings, great men rise and have their day and pass away, but this book lives on. Here is a vitality which persists in spite of any and all adverse circumstances and influences.
2. Adaptability. The Bible is at home with all races in all climes. It adapts itself to all conditions of life, the most humble and the most exalted. The Asiatic, the African, the European, the American accept it as their book. It finds men, as men, in the deepest needs of their nature and shows them the all loving Saviour.
3. Growth. The multiplying power of the book is shown by its translations into hundreds of languages and dialects. It makes its own way into the remotest quarters of the globe and is found wielding its power in the hut and the palace. More popular than any book that has ever been published, its sales, of millions of copies a year are ever increasing, because it comes with a message from God direct to the heart of man.
What is the Bible? How is it not like and how is it like other books? How is it the record of a revelation from God? What can be said of its structure? What can be said of its books, of its groups of books? What can be said of its credibility? Give the arguments from history, prophecy, vitality, adaptability and growth.