Get to Know Your Bible
HOW fortunate you are if you have a Bible! Even more fortunate if you know something about it, for many people do not even know when, how, why or by whom it was written. Your greatest pleasure and profit, however, comes when you read with understanding this most important of all books.
This Book of books is the oldest in existence. It has reached the greatest circulation of any, and still is the “world’s best seller.” No other book has been translated into so many languages, more than 1,300, more than the average person has ever heard of. Actually, the Bible is a whole library of little books bound together, sixty-six in number. In the King James Version there are 1,189 chapters with 31,173 verses containing 773,746 words.
But what makes the Bible the most unique of all books is its divine authorship—it is the inspired Word of Jehovah, given for man’s instruction and guidance. And yet, more enemies have waged war against the Bible than against any other book. Preservation of the Bible, in the face of every conceivable effort to destroy it, is one of the strongest proofs that the Bible is indeed the Book of Jehovah, just as it is written: “The grass becomes withered, and the flower falls off, but the saying of Jehovah endures forever.”—1 Pet. 1:24, 25.
ONE AUTHOR—MANY WRITERS
Do not confuse the two, authorship and writership. A book may be credited to a certain author, yet, by means of dictation, the actual writing be done by a number of secretaries. This is how it was with the Bible. Its authorship is rightly credited to Jehovah God, who by means of his holy spirit inspired about forty human secretaries to write the information down. “All Scripture is inspired of God,” and this includes the writings of the apostles along with “the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) Paul in writing to Timothy here used the Greek word The·oʹpneu·stos, literally meaning “God-breathed,” a term translated “inspired of God.” So when God’s spirit or invisible active force became operative upon the Bible writers so they could record what Jehovah dictated, it was as if God was breathing upon them to empower and bear them along in the task. Hence, it is written, “prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—2 Pet. 1:21; John 20:21, 22.
In still another illustrative way this unseen holy spirit of God is spoken of as his “finger.” That is why men, upon seeing Moses perform a supernatural feat, exclaimed, “It is the finger of God!” (Ex. 8:18, 19; compare with Jesus’ words at Matthew 12:22, 28; Luke 11:20.) It was “God’s finger,” the active force of God, that carved the Ten Commandments in the stone tablets.—Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10.
So it was an easy matter for Jehovah to pick men from among shepherds, farmers, fishermen and tentmakers, or to choose one who was a priest, king, prophet, physician or tax collector, to write at His dictation. Whether the writer was schooled in the courts of Pharaoh or was just an “unlettered and ordinary” man in scholastic training, was unimportant to the Great Author. (Acts 7:22; 4:13) Sometimes these men of God simply repeated Jehovah’s words verbatim, but at other times God’s active force put the divine thoughts into their minds and then allowed them their own choice of words. This colored the pages of the Bible with a beautiful rainbow of individual writing traits and a diversity in styles—songs, prayers, prose, poetry—while at the same time superb oneness in theme and unity in purpose was maintained throughout.
Thus the Bible, reflecting as it does the mind and will of Jehovah, far surpasses anything mere men could author. It is written in simple, easy-to-understand language that can be translated into practically any tongue. Scholars admire it as a masterpiece of simple, yet powerful, descriptive words like “God,” “man,” “life,” “death,” “fire,” “ice,” “sing,” “cry,” “stop,” “run.”
Another feature of the Bible that demonstrates its single authorship is the systematic orderliness of the book as a whole. It is not a scramble of unrelated fragments from the pens of many men. Rather, the many subjects discussed are highly unified and interconnected, reflecting the mind of the Creator-Author himself. Throughout, the Bible proves to be an organizational book, whether the subject matter pertains to the patriarchal families, the nation of Israel, the Davidic kingdom or the Christian congregation.
GET TO KNOW IT, FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION
You may think it difficult to learn where the different Bible books are located, or to tell who wrote them. Not so. It is a comparatively easy matter. This is because the books, in the most popular versions, are arranged in the following rather systematic order.
The first three-fourths of the Bible, containing thirty-nine books from Genesis to Malachi (the “Old Testament”), is properly called the “Hebrew Scriptures,” since for the most part it was originally written in that language. It may be subdivided as follows: (1) Historic (seventeen books), Genesis to Esther; (2) Poetic (five books), Job to Song of Solomon; (3) Prophetic (seventeen books), Isaiah to Malachi. These, of course, are rather general divisions, for in each of the three sections portions of the other two are to be found.
In the historic section Moses wrote the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), which are sometimes called the Pentateuch, meaning “fivefold volume.” These are followed by the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, seventeen in all. The five poetic books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Among the seventeen books in the prophetic section are the “major” prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah (who also wrote Lamentations), Ezekiel and Daniel, and the twelve “minor” prophets of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
The last twenty-seven books of the Bible, Matthew to Revelation (the “New Testament”), were written in Greek and hence are called the “Christian Greek Scriptures.” They also are in a logical order according to subject matter: (1) the five historical books consisting of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and the Acts of Apostles; (2) the twenty-one letters or epistles; (3) the Revelation. The twenty-one letters include fourteen by Paul (Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews), and seven others named after their writers (James, First and Second Peter, First, Second and Third John, and Jude).
Please note that none of the so-called Apocrypha books, those of doubtful origin, are included in this catalog of inspired books. A comparison of the sixty-six with the apocryphal writings will show why the latter are excluded. They do not bear credentials demonstrating divine inspiration. Canonicity does not depend on ancient origin, reverence by many, or on the acceptance or rejection by some council, committee or community. The voices of non-inspired men are valuable only as witnesses to what God himself has already endorsed, guarded and protected as canonical.
The most conclusive testimony supporting the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Scriptures is the unimpeachable word of Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Jesus, for example, did not complain that the Apocrypha was missing from the Hebrew canon, which he certainly would have done if someone had tampered with it to “take away from” what was inspired of God. (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18, 19) No, Jesus accepted the Hebrew canon as he found it.—Luke 24:44.
No other book was so long in preparation as the Bible. Moses started writing in 1513 B.C.E., and after him during the next thousand or more years some thirty other writers and compilers (including Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah) contributed to the Hebrew canon. The books of Nehemiah and Malachi were completed sometime after 443 B.C.E. Bible writing was then suspended for nearly 500 years until the apostle Matthew penned his historic Gospel account. It was nearly sixty years after that when John, the last of the apostles, completed the Bible canon around 98 C.E. This means that altogether, some 1,610 years were consumed in the writing of the Bible. It should also be noted that all the co-writers of the Bible were Hebrews, for it was such descendants of Abraham that were “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.”—Rom. 3:2.
HOW IT WAS PRESERVED FOR YOU
Even though none of the original manuscripts of the Bible are known to exist, yet Jehovah saw to it that copies were made. Some of these were translations or versions. In fact, the first book of any consequence to be translated into another language was the Hebrew Scriptures. Today there are more than 1,700 handwritten copies in various languages of the Hebrew Scriptures, the oldest of which are of the second and first centuries B.C.E. Most of these manuscripts were made by professional copyists who prided themselves on the accuracy of their reproductions. Ezra was just such a man, “a skilled copyist in the law of Moses, which Jehovah the God of Israel had given.” (Ezra 7:6) There are also more than 13,600 papyrus and vellum manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the whole or in part, dating from the second to the fifteenth century.
More than nineteen hundred years after Ezra’s day the invention of the European printing press became a reality; it is an interesting fact, the first book to come off the Gutenberg press was the Bible. The printing press indeed opened the floodgates for the duplicating of the Bible in the common languages of the people, until today the distribution of this Book of books has reached up toward three billion copies.
Such a phenomenal circulation, however, has been accomplished in spite of the most vicious opposition from many quarters, even popes and councils prohibiting Bible reading under penalty of excommunication and death. Down through the centuries the Bible’s struggle to survive cost the lives of thousands of Bible lovers, while at the same time thousands of copies of the Book were committed to bonfires lighted by the ignorant and intolerant. This alone should fire you with a desire to know what this Book contains, this Book that, not only raised such fanatical opposition, but made so many willing to die that the Bible might live.
CONTENTS OF YOUR BIBLE IN BRIEF
No other book reveals the past, explains the present and foretells the future like the Bible. After all, only He who knows the end from the beginning could give this information. (Isa. 46:10) It opens with a sweeping account of earth’s preparation for habitation by plant and animal life, and gives the details on the creation of man and woman in their paradise garden of Eden. (Genesis, chapters 1 and 2) In the next chapter we are told of the sin and disobedience, the trial, the sentence of death, and the prophecy concerning ‘the seed of the woman,’ which is bound up with the principal theme of the entire Bible, namely, the sanctification and vindication of Jehovah’s word and name.—Gen. 3:15.
Over two thousand years later this promise of a “seed” was renewed to Abraham. (Gen. 22:18) Some eight hundred years more and hope in the promise was strengthened by the assurance given to King David. (2 Sam. 7:12, 16) Another one thousand one hundred years (now more than 4,000 years after the Edenic prophecy), the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ, appeared. (Luke 1:31-33; 3:21-23; Gal. 3:16) Bruised by Satan, the Serpent, in death, Jesus provided the ransom price for mankind, and was then resurrected to await the appointed time to destroy Satan forever. So in the last book of the Bible the grand theme announced in the first book is brought to its glorious climax as God’s triumphant Kingdom rule restores the paradise that was lost.—Rev. 11:15; 12:1-12, 17; 19:11-16; 20:1-3, 7-10; 21:1-5; 22:3-5.
Were it not for the Bible we would not know of the great issue that was raised in Eden, and that explains why God has permitted the wicked to exist for nearly 6,000 years. Without the Bible we would know nothing about Jehovah, not even his name, which occurs 7,199 times in the New World Translation, not counting the abbreviated form of “Jah.” Without the Bible we would not know of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, the nearness of Armageddon, or the requirements that must be met in order to live forever in or under God’s Kingdom rule.—John 3:16, 36; 17:3.
The better you get to know your Bible the more you will appreciate that it is a very practical book in this “time of the end.” It gives you sound counsel on how to make your mind and personality over so you will not be conforming to this system of things that will soon be destroyed. (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23, 24; Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 3:5-10) You can learn to live now as you will have to live if you live at all under the rule of God’s kingdom. You can learn to cultivate the fruitage of God’s spirit—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Gal. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:12-14.
So fundamentally complete is the Bible’s code of laws, that if there were no other regulations, it could easily serve as the only book of rules for a whole nation. For by following only the Bible everyone would be obliged to love, worship and obey Jehovah; and toward his fellowman everyone would exercise justice and loving consideration. Everyone would be industrious too. Results? No drunkenness, no selfishness, no fornication! No lying, stealing or cheating! No warring against and killing of fellow creatures! What a practical and wonderful way of life even now in this hate-torn, emotionally explosive world! Jesus summed up all the laws of the Bible in two great commandments: love God and love neighbor. Love is the fulfillment of all the laws of God.—Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:9, 10.
KNOW YOUR BIBLE BY READING IT
Having such a grand Author, and with contents of such supreme importance, the Bible is truly one of the best companions you can have. As Abraham Lincoln said: “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.” Or in the words of Patrick Henry: “The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” Henry van Dyke described the Book this way:
“Born in the East and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet and enters land after land to find its own everywhere. It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man. Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and wise men ponder them as parables of life. The wicked and the proud tremble at its warnings, but to the wounded and penitent it has a mother’s voice. It has woven itself into our dearest dreams; so that Love, Friendship, Sympathy, Devotion, Memory, Hope, put on the beautiful garments of its treasured speech. No man is poor or desolate who has this treasure for his own.”
What about you? If you too are to treasure the Bible above all other books, then you must personally read and study it. Jehovah’s witnesses, without cost or obligation on your part, will be happy to show you how to study it systematically. Just tell the next Witness who calls that you want such a free home Bible study. Soon you will appreciate the Bible as a “lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Pet. 1:19; Ps. 119:105) Be like the man whose “delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night” and you too will prosper. (Ps. 1:1, 2; Josh. 1:8) To you Jehovah’s laws, reminders, orders, commandments and judicial decisions as found in the Bible will become “sweeter than honey,” and you will value the wisdom derived therefrom as something “more to be desired than gold, yes, than much refined gold,” for it will mean your very life.—Ps. 19:7-10; Prov. 3:13-18.