What is the Bible?

The Bible is the most read book in human history by far.

It (at least parts of it) is considered  “sacred” by Christianity, Islam and Judaism – the 3 religions that trace their human origins back to Abraham, and are humanity’s most popular religions – to which nearly 50% of people today ascribe, even if only nominally.

  • The Bible has two parts – the Old Testament and the New Testament.
  • The Old Testament was written before Jesus; the New Testament after.
  • The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew (the language of the ancient Jewish people); the New Testament was written primarily in Greek (the language of the Roman Empire – the “world” into which Jesus was born).
  • The Old Testament comprises 39 books (there are 3 letters in Old and 9 letters in Testament); the New Testament comprises 27 books (there are 3 letters in New and 9 letters in Testament, and 3×9 = 27)
  • The books of the Old Testament were written over a period of perhaps 1000 years (c.1400-400BC?); the books of the New Testament were written over a period of perhaps 50 years (AD 50-100).

The books were (obviously?!) written by a number of different people and in a number of different styles (genres – like history, legend, poetry, letter etc.).

The one thing they all have in common is that they are part of a “Testament” – that is they are all collectively “witnessing” to something. So the key question is what are they witnessing to?

The New Testament is self-evidently witnessing to Jesus. But the extraordinary claim of Jesus is that [the Old Testament] too “are the very Scriptures that testify about me …” (John 5:39)

The Bible is not God; the Bible’s purpose is to point us to Jesus.

John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the spokesmen for God (ie. prophets) before Jesus. It was said that [someone just like] Elijah, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, must come before the Messiah would come. Jesus, referring to John the Baptist, said “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28) and “Elijah has already come” (Matt 17:11)

The role of the Bible as a whole is like that of the greatest prophet in it before Jesus. Perhaps the point is most clearly made if we read John 1:6-10, putting “the Bible” in the place of “John”:

“There was a [book] sent from God whose name was [the Bible]. [It] came as a witness to testify concerning that light [which is Jesus], so that through [it] all might believe. [It itself] was not the light; [it] came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”

In a similar way, people continue to read the Bible without recognising the one it is trying to point us to. We call the Bible the “Word of God” but that is not what the Bible calls itself. John 1 identifies Jesus as “the Word” – in other words, Jesus (not the Bible) is what God has to say to us.