The Bible continues to hold the record as the world’s all time best seller. You can find the Bible in hands of commuters on public transportation in the developed world, as well as in the hands of a farmer in the plains of Africa. The Bible, while originally written in Hebrew and Greek, has been translated into more languages than any other book ever written. The Bible is studied by many undergraduate students in college because of its standing as one of the greatest literary works every written in the history of humanity. If you live in the United States, you know it’s not unusual to hear the Bible referenced in cultural debates about the morality of war, abortion, sexuality, or science.
The Bible is an integral part of Western Civilization not only in its religious contexts but in its wider literary, social, and cultural spheres as well. There is a movement among some educators to teach the Bible in high school. This isn’t an attempt to bring religion into schools, but to give students access to some of the foundational literature of America and the Western World. References to the Bible are found throughout history in the works of such important cultural figures as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Arthur Miller. Without an understanding of the Bible, many authors, as well as events in American history, cannot be fully understood. Knowing the Bible will enable you to better understand culture, literature, and the history of your own society.
More importantly, knowing the Bible gives you the opportunity to develop your own personal spirituality and relationship with God. The Bible is the sacred book for followers of Jesus Christ, commonly known as Christians. Whether you’re a Christian or not, the Bible offers unique insights into the heart of human nature, the way relationships work, and the ultimate purpose of life. The Bible itself can be thought of as a collection of books brought together in one sacred library. There is a wide range of genres, or types of books in the Bible, including history, poetry, story, and law. This is important to realize when trying to make sense of what the Bible is saying. For example, you wouldn’t read a romance novel the same way you would read a science essay. You expect different sorts of things from each kind of writing. Each writing might convey things that are true about human living, but do so in a different way. Likewise, if you are reading a poetic section of Scriptures (Psalms for example) you should read it differently from a book of history (1 Kings for example).
It’s also important to know that the Bible was written by a number of authors. Scholars debate about the exact number, but general estimates put it in the range of forty different human authors, who wrote the different books of the Bible over a long period of time. Some of the earliest parts of the Bible in the Old Testament may have first been written down over 3000 years ago (1000 BC), while the newest parts of the Bible in the New Testament may be have been written down in a little less than 2000 years ago (100 AD).
During your lifetime you’ve probably heard the Bible described as being God’s Word. You might have wondered, what does that mean exactly? There is considerable diversity among people of faith about the nature of the Bible. However, all of the positions held by different Christian churches about the Bible can be summarized by the following chart.
HUMAN BOTH DIVINE
Some Christian communities emphasize that the Bible was written by human beings. They tend to believe that the Bible is not so much God’s Word as it is the reflections of humanity about its relationship with God. These types of churches would tend to be considered progressive theologically and would fall on the left side of the chart. Then there are Christian communities that tend to emphasize the divine nature of the Bible almost to the exclusion of the human side. These types of churches tend to be very conservative theologically and fall on the right side of the chart. Classically, over the centuries the traditional Christian position on the Bible has been to understand it has having both human and divine elements.
Understood this way, the Bible is recognized as having been written by human beings under the inspiration or special guidance of God. In other words, while human beings literally wrote the words of the Bible, God worked through these writers to convey timeless truths about Himself for all people and for all times. The authorship of the Bible can be best understood as a dual authorship between God and His people. The Bible is a way that you and I can receive guidance from God for our own individual lives by reading about the lives of God’s people in history.