The Book That Reveals the Knowledge of God
1, 2. Why do we need our Creator’s guidance?
IT IS only reasonable that our loving Creator would provide a book of instruction and guidance for mankind. And do you not agree that humans need guidance?
2 More than 2,500 years ago, a prophet and historian wrote: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Today, the truthfulness of that statement is more evident than ever. Thus, historian William H. McNeill notes: “The human adventure on the face of this planet has been an almost uninterrupted series of crises and disruptions of society’s established order.”
3, 4. (a) How should we approach a study of the Bible? (b) How will we proceed with an examination of the Bible?
3 The Bible fills all our needs for wise direction. True, many are overwhelmed when they first look through the Bible. It is a big book, and some portions of it are not easy to understand. But if you were given a legal document outlining what you had to do in order to receive a valuable inheritance, would you not take the time to study it carefully? If you found certain parts of the document hard to understand, likely you would get the help of someone experienced in such matters. Why not approach the Bible with a similar attitude? (Acts 17:11) More is at stake than a material inheritance. As we learned in the previous chapter, the knowledge of God can lead to everlasting life.
4 Let us examine the book that reveals the knowledge of God. We will first give a brief overview of the Bible. Then we will discuss reasons why many informed people believe that it is the inspired Word of God.
WHAT THE BIBLE CONTAINS
5. (a) What is contained in the Hebrew Scriptures? (b) What do the Greek Scriptures contain?
5 The Bible contains 66 books in two sections, often called the Old Testament and the New Testament. Thirty-nine Bible books were written mainly in Hebrew and 27 in Greek. The Hebrew Scriptures, consisting of Genesis through Malachi, cover creation as well as the first 3,500 years of human history. Examining this part of the Bible, we learn about God’s dealings with the Israelites—from their birth as a nation in the 16th century B.C.E. on into the 5th century B.C.E.* The Greek Scriptures, containing the books of Matthew through Revelation, focus on the teachings and activities of Jesus Christ and his disciples during the first century C.E.
6. Why should we study the entire Bible?
6 Some claim that the “Old Testament” is for Jews and the “New Testament” is for Christians. But according to 2 Timothy 3:16, “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial.” Therefore, a proper study of the Scriptures must include the entire Bible. Actually, the two parts of the Bible complement each other, blending harmoniously to develop an overall theme.
7. What is the theme of the Bible?
7 Perhaps you have attended religious services for years and have heard some of the Bible read aloud. Or you may have read excerpts from it yourself. Did you know that the Bible has a common thread from Genesis through Revelation? Yes, a harmonious theme permeates the Bible. What is that theme? It is the vindication of God’s right to rule mankind and the realization of his loving purpose by means of his Kingdom. Later, we will see just how God will fulfill this purpose.
8. What does the Bible reveal about God’s personality?
8 In addition to outlining God’s purpose, the Bible reveals his personality. For example, from the Bible we learn that God has feelings and that the choices we make matter to him. (Psalm 78:40, 41; Proverbs 27:11; Ezekiel 33:11) Psalm 103:8-14 says that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” He treats us compassionately, ‘remembering that we are made of mere dust’ and return to it at death. (Genesis 2:7; 3:19) What marvelous qualities he displays! Is this not the kind of God you want to worship?
9. How does the Bible give us a clear view of God’s standards, and how can we benefit from such knowledge?
9 The Bible gives us a clear view of God’s standards. These are sometimes stated as laws. More often, however, they are reflected in principles taught by means of object lessons. God had certain events in ancient Israelite history written down for our benefit. These candid accounts show what happens when people work in harmony with God’s purpose, as well as the sad outcome when they go their own way. (1 Kings 5:4; 11:4-6; 2 Chronicles 15:8-15) Reading such real-life accounts will undoubtedly touch our hearts. If we try to visualize the events recorded, we can identify with the people involved in them. Thus, we can benefit from good examples and can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared wrongdoers. However, this vital question requires an answer: How can we be sure that what we read in the Bible is actually inspired of God?
CAN YOU TRUST THE BIBLE?
10. (a) Why do some feel that the Bible is out-of-date? (b) What does 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 tell us about the Bible?
10 Perhaps you have noticed that many books offering advice become outdated in just a few years. What about the Bible? It is very old, and almost 2,000 years have passed since its last words were penned. Some therefore feel that it is not applicable to our modern age. But if the Bible is inspired of God, its advice should always be up-to-date despite its great age. The Scriptures should still be “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
11-13. Why can we say that the Bible is practical for our day?
11 Close examination reveals that Bible principles apply just as much today as they did when they were first put down in writing. When it comes to human nature, for instance, the Bible reflects keen understanding that applies to every generation of mankind. We can easily see this in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in the book of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7. This sermon so impressed the late Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi that he reportedly told a British official: “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”
12 No wonder people are impressed by Jesus’ teachings! In the Sermon on the Mount, he showed us the way to true happiness. He explained how to settle disputes. Jesus provided instruction on how to pray. He pointed out the wisest attitude to have toward material needs and gave the Golden Rule for proper relationships with others. How to detect religious frauds and how to have a secure future were also among the points covered in this sermon.
13 In the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the rest of its pages, the Bible clearly tells us what to do and what to avoid in order to improve our lot in life. So practical is its counsel that one educator was moved to say: “Although being a high-school counselor with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and having read a large number of books on mental health and psychology, I discovered that the Bible’s counsel on such things as having a successful marriage, preventing juvenile delinquency and how to gain and keep friends is far superior to anything I had read or studied in college.” In addition to being practical and up-to-date, the Bible is dependable.
ACCURATE AND RELIABLE
14. What shows that the Bible is scientifically accurate?
14 Though the Bible is not a science textbook, it is scientifically accurate. For example, at a time when most people believed that the earth was flat, the prophet Isaiah referred to it as a “circle” (Hebrew, chugh, which here carries the idea of “sphere”). (Isaiah 40:22) The idea of a spherical earth was not widely accepted until thousands of years after Isaiah’s day. Furthermore, Job 26:7—written more than 3,000 years ago—states that God is “hanging the earth upon nothing.” Says one Bible scholar: “How Job knew the truth, demonstrated by astronomy, that the earth hangs self-poised in empty space, is a question not easily solved by those who deny the inspiration of Holy Scripture.”
15. How is confidence in the Bible strengthened by its style of reporting?
15 The style of reporting found in the Bible also strengthens our confidence in this age-old book. Unlike myths, the events covered in the Bible are linked to specific people and dates. (1 Kings 14:25; Isaiah 36:1; Luke 3:1, 2) And whereas ancient historians nearly always exaggerated the victories of their rulers and hid their defeats and mistakes, the Bible writers were candid and honest—even about their own serious sins.—Numbers 20:7-13; 2 Samuel 12:7-14; 24:10.
A BOOK OF PROPHECY
16. What is the strongest evidence that the Bible is inspired of God?
16 Fulfilled prophecy gives conclusive evidence that the Bible is inspired of God. The Bible contains many prophecies that have been fulfilled in detail. Obviously, mere humans could not be responsible for this. What, then, is behind these prophecies? The Bible itself says that “prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit,” or God’s active force. (2 Peter 1:21) Consider some examples.
17. What prophecies foretold the fall of Babylon, and how were these fulfilled?
17 The fall of Babylon. Isaiah and Jeremiah both foretold Babylon’s fall to the Medes and the Persians. Remarkably, Isaiah’s prophecy about this event was recorded some 200 years before Babylon was conquered! The following aspects of prophecy are now matters of historical record: the drying up of the Euphrates River by diverting its waters to an artificial lake (Isaiah 44:27; Jeremiah 50:38); a careless lack of security at Babylon’s river gates (Isaiah 45:1); and the conquest by a ruler named Cyrus.—Isaiah 44:28.
18. How was Bible prophecy fulfilled in the rise and fall of “the king of Greece”?
18 The rise and fall of “the king of Greece.” In a vision, Daniel saw a male goat strike down a ram, breaking its two horns. Then, the goat’s great horn was broken, and four horns came up in its place. (Daniel 8:1-8) To Daniel it was explained: “The ram that you saw possessing the two horns stands for the kings of Media and Persia. And the hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it stands for the first king. And that one having been broken, so that there were four that finally stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up, but not with his power.” (Daniel 8:20-22) True to this prophecy, some two centuries later, “the king of Greece,” Alexander the Great, overthrew the two-horned Medo-Persian Empire. Alexander died in 323 B.C.E. and was eventually replaced by four of his generals. However, none of these subsequent kingdoms matched the power of Alexander’s empire.
19. What prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ?
19 The life of Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures contain scores of prophecies fulfilled in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For example, more than 700 years in advance, Micah foretold that the Messiah, or Christ, would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4-7) Micah’s contemporary Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be struck and spit upon. (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 26:67) Five hundred years in advance, Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:15) More than a thousand years beforehand, David foretold circumstances associated with the death of Jesus the Messiah. (Psalm 22:7, 8, 18; Matthew 27:35, 39-43) And some five centuries in advance, Daniel’s prophecy revealed when the Messiah would appear as well as the length of his ministry and the time of his death. (Daniel 9:24-27) This is just a sampling of the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You will find it rewarding to read much more about him later.
20. The Bible’s perfect record of fulfilled prophecy should give us what confidence?
20 Many other long-range Bible prophecies have already been fulfilled. ‘But,’ you may ask, ‘how does this affect my life?’ Well, if someone told you the truth for many years, would you suddenly doubt him when he said something new? No! God has told the truth throughout the Bible. Should this not build your trust in what the Bible promises, such as its prophecies regarding a coming earthly paradise? Indeed, we can have the same confidence as did Paul, one of Jesus’ first-century disciples, who wrote that ‘God cannot lie.’ (Titus 1:2) Furthermore, when we read the Scriptures and apply their counsel, we are exercising wisdom that humans cannot achieve on their own, for the Bible is the book that reveals the knowledge of God that leads to everlasting life.
“FORM A LONGING” FOR THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
21. What should you do if some things you learn from the Bible seem overwhelming?
21 As you study the Bible, you are likely to learn things that differ from what you have been taught in the past. You may even find that some of your cherished religious customs do not please God. You will learn that God has standards of right and wrong higher than those common in this permissive world. This may seem overwhelming at first. But be patient! Carefully examine the Scriptures to find the knowledge of God. Be open to the possibility that the Bible’s counsel may call for an adjustment in your thinking and actions.
22. Why are you studying the Bible, and how can you help others understand this?
22 Well-meaning friends and relatives may oppose your study of the Bible, but Jesus said: “Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens; but whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 10:32, 33) Some may fear that you will become involved with a cult or will turn into a fanatic. In reality, however, you are merely striving to gain accurate knowledge of God and of his truth. (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) To help others understand this, be reasonable, not argumentative, when you speak to them about what you are learning. (Philippians 4:5) Remember that many are “won without a word” when they see evidence that Bible knowledge really benefits people.—1 Peter 3:1, 2.
23. How can you “form a longing” for the knowledge of God?
23 The Bible urges us: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word.” (1 Peter 2:2) An infant depends on nourishment from its mother and is insistent on having that need met. Similarly, we are dependent on knowledge from God. “Form a longing” for his Word by continuing your study. Indeed, make it your goal to read the Bible daily. (Psalm 1:1-3) This will bring you rich blessings, for Psalm 19:11 says of God’s laws: “In the keeping of them there is a large reward.”
B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
In what ways is the Bible like no other book?
Why can you trust the Bible?
What proves to you that the Bible is God’s inspired Word?
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PUT YOUR BIBLE TO GOOD USE
Becoming familiar with the Bible need not be difficult. Use its table of contents to learn the order and location of Bible books.
The books of the Bible have chapters and verses for easy reference. The chapter divisions were added during the 13th century, and a 16th-century French printer apparently divided the Greek Scriptures into the present-day verses. The first complete Bible to have both chapter and verse numbers was a French edition, published in 1553.
When scriptures are cited in this book, the first number indicates the chapter, and the next denotes the verse. For example, the citation “Proverbs 2:5” means the book of Proverbs, chapter 2, verse 5. By looking up the cited scriptures, you will soon feel at ease locating Bible texts.
The best way to become familiar with the Bible is to read it daily. At first, this may seem challenging. But if you read from three to five chapters a day, depending on their length, you will complete the reading of the entire Bible in a year. Why not start today?
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THE BIBLE—A UNIQUE BOOK
• The Bible was written over a period of 16 centuries, by some 40 contributors from diverse backgrounds. Nevertheless, the finished product is harmonious from beginning to end.
• The Bible has survived more controversy than any other book. During the Middle Ages, people were burned at the stake simply for possessing a copy of the Scriptures.
• The Bible is the number one best-seller in the world. It has been translated, in whole or in part, into over 2,000 languages. Billions of copies have been printed, and there is hardly a place on earth where a copy cannot be found.
• The oldest portion of the Bible dates back to the 16th century B.C.E. This is before the appearance of the Hindu Rig-Veda (in about 1300 B.C.E.), or the Buddhist “Canon of the Three Baskets” (fifth century B.C.E.), or the Islamic Koran (seventh century C.E.), as well as the Shinto Nihongi (720 C.E.).
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