What is the Bible?

The Bible is the story of God's creation of and interaction with the world and the human race. It is a collection of sixty-six books, written by about forty different authors over 1500 years, but encompassing the entirety of human history from creation to the end of the world and beyond. Most importantly, the Bible is a unified whole, due to the fact that ultimately, it has one Author—God Himself. The Bible is "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). The human authors wrote exactly what God wanted them to write, and the result was the perfect and holy Word of God (Psalm 12:6; 2 Peter 1:21).

The Bible is God's way of telling us about Himself—His nature, His attributes and His plans and purposes. The Old Testament begins with His creation of the world and how we, His creation, rejected Him (Genesis 1-3). It includes books on history (Genesis-Job), poetry (Psalms-Song of Solomon), and prophecy (Isaiah-Malachi). The New Testament tells the story of how God sent His Son, Jesus, to save mankind from our sins. The New Testament begins with the four Gospels, the accounts of the life of Christ, and it continues with letters which describe how we can take advantage of Jesus' sacrifice to live fulfilling lives and grow closer to God. It finishes with a book of prophecy, explaining how the world will end and what will happen to the people of the world.

The Bible begins with the story of creation. God created the entire cosmos, and then placed mankind on the earth. Mankind rebelled, however, choosing to reject God and follow their own desires (Genesis 1—11). Knowing this would happen, God already had a plan in place to renew His fellowship with mankind. God created a nation, Israel, starting with a man named Abram (later Abraham). His wife (Sarai, later Sarah) had no children, but God miraculously gave her the ability to conceive, even in her old age. That son, Isaac, had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob had twelve sons who became the tribes of Israel (their stories are in Genesis 12—50). Through a series of events, the Israelites became enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years. They multiplied in number and God miraculously rescued them from Egypt (Exodus). He then gave them a specific set of laws and brought them into a land He had promised to Abraham. Israel was to be a light to the nations and point to the one true God. God had promised Abraham that He would bless all the nations of the earth through him, which was ultimately fulfilled in Abraham's descendant Jesus, the Messiah. The laws, as well as the narrative, can be found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The book of Joshua talks about how the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. The book of Judges talks about how the Israelites fell away from God after going into the Promised Land, and how God provided rescue through various leaders. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel talk about Israel's transition to having a king. The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles discuss Israel's split into a northern kingdom and southern kingdom, its various kings, and its various failures and some successes in following God. The books of the prophets detail warnings from God and His calling back of His people. Some of the prophets address foreign nations. The Old Testament also contains wisdom literature and other historical narrative books.

After many years of ignoring God's law, or trying to follow it but failing, interspersed with glimpses of what life without God's presence would look like in the form of war and punishment, God exiled Israel away from their home. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah talk about many of the Jews being able to go back to their homeland. The Old Testament concludes with the Jews living in Israel under Medo-Persian reign. The Jews had rebuilt the temple and stopped worshipping idols. But the Old Testament concludes with a warning and a promise (Malachi 4). There is no recorded Scripture for the next four hundred years.

When the stage was set and His people understood better how much they needed God's presence, God sent His Son, with the full deity of God and the full humanity of man (John 8:58; 10:30; John 1:14) to personally interact with Israel, as described in the Gospel accounts. Jesus explained that what was true for the nation of Israel was true for every individual on the planet—obeying God and His laws was impossible in their own efforts and, therefore, a Mediator was necessary to bridge the gap between sinful man and a holy God. The covenant that God had established with Israel through Moses set the stage for this. The Old Testament predicted that a Messiah would come to bring true salvation and that God would give people a new heart and write His law on their hearts (see the New Testament book of Hebrews for more explanation). Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, made this reconciliation possible through His perfect sacrifice on the cross for sin. While being crucified, He personally took on the weight of sin and the necessary separation from God that it necessitated, making everyone who accepted by faith His sacrifice children of God, fully forgiven and able to have true and eternal life in God (Ephesians 1:3–14). Because Jesus was sinless and because God accepted His sacrifice, He rose from the dead three days later, conquering death for all who choose Him.

To explain these things to the rest of the world, God established a more varied ambassador than a single nation—He created the church (Acts). As word of Jesus' sacrifice spread, church leaders wrote letters explaining more fully what Jesus had done, what it meant, and how to follow Him (Romans-Jude). Finally, God gave one particular Jesus-follower, John, a glimpse of the impact the church would have on the world, the final rejection of Jesus by the world, and God's judgment on the world (Revelation). Church leaders gathered the accounts of Jesus, the letters, and the book of prophecy and, after many years of discussion and research, settled on the books of the New Testament as we have them today.

The Bible is complete, but the story of God's work in human history continues. Through the Bible, we can learn to recognize how God still interacts with His creation. We can see how current events, such as the re-formation of Israel in 1948, fit into God's stated plan. Most of all, however, we can see the over-arching story of God's love for us and the ultimate expression of that love in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Related Truth:

Is the Bible really the Word of God?

Why should we study the Bible?

Is the Bible still relevant today?

What is the canon of the Bible and how did we get it?

I want to start reading the Bible. Where should I begin?

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