Accept the Bible for What It Really Is
“We also thank God incessantly, because when you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God, which is also at work in you believers.”—1 THESSALONIANS 2:13.
1. What sort of information in the Bible makes that book truly outstanding?
THE Holy Bible is the most extensively translated and widely distributed book in the world. It is freely acknowledged to be one of the great works of literature. More important, however, the Bible provides the guidance that is urgently needed by people of every race and every nation, regardless of their occupation or position in life. (Revelation 14:6, 7) In a manner that satisfies both mind and heart, the Bible answers such questions as: What is the purpose of human life? (Genesis 1:28; Revelation 4:11) Why have the governments of mankind not been able to bring about lasting peace and security? (Jeremiah 10:23; Revelation 13:1, 2) Why do people die? (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-6; Romans 5:12) In the midst of this troubled world, how can we successfully cope with the problems of life? (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 3:5, 6) What does the future hold for us?—Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:3-5.
2. Why does the Bible provide completely reliable answers to our questions?
2 Why does the Bible answer such questions authoritatively? Because it is the Word of God. He used humans to do the writing, but as clearly stated at 2 Timothy 3:16, “all Scripture is inspired of God.” It is not the product of private interpretation of human events. “Prophecy [declarations of things to come, divine commands, the Bible’s moral standard] was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—2 Peter 1:21.
3. (a) Give examples that show how highly the Bible has been valued by people in various lands. (b) Why were individuals willing to risk their lives in order to read the Scriptures?
3 Appreciating the Bible’s value, not a few people have risked imprisonment, even death, to possess and read it. That was true in years past in Catholic Spain, where the clergy feared that their influence would be undermined if people read the Bible in their own tongue; it was true also in Albania, where harsh measures were carried out under an atheistic regime in order to end all religious influence. Yet, God-fearing individuals treasured copies of the Scriptures, read them, and shared them with one another. During World War II, in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, a Bible was cautiously passed from one cellblock to another (though this was forbidden), and those who had access to it memorized portions to share with others. During the 1950’s, in what was then Communist East Germany, Jehovah’s Witnesses who were imprisoned because of their faith risked prolonged solitary confinement when they handed small portions of the Bible from one prisoner to another to be read at night. Why did they do it? Because they recognized that the Bible is the Word of God, and they knew that “not by bread alone” but by “every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) These expressions, recorded in the Bible, enabled those Witnesses to stay alive spiritually despite being subjected to unbelievable cruelty.
4. What place should the Bible have in our lives?
4 The Bible is not a book to be simply put on the shelf for occasional reference, nor is it meant for use only when fellow believers gather for worship. Every day it should be used to shed light on situations that confront us and to show us the right way to walk.—Psalm 25:4, 5.
Meant to Be Read and Understood
5. (a) If at all possible, what should every one of us possess? (b) In ancient Israel, how did people find out what the Scriptures contained? (c) How does Psalm 19:7-11 affect your attitude toward Bible reading?
5 In our day, copies of the Bible are readily available in most lands, and we urge every reader of The Watchtower to obtain a copy. During the time when the Bible was being written, there were no printing presses. People in general did not have personal copies. But Jehovah arranged for his servants to hear what had been written. Thus, Exodus 24:7 reports, after Moses had written down what Jehovah had directed, he “took the book of the covenant and read it in the ears of the people.” Having been witnesses of the supernatural displays at Mount Sinai, they recognized that what Moses read to them was from God and that they needed to know this information. (Exodus 19:9, 16-19; 20:22) We too need to know what is recorded in God’s Word.—Psalm 19:7-11.
6. (a) Before the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, what did Moses do? (b) How might we imitate Moses’ example?
6 As the nation of Israel prepared to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, thus leaving behind their nomadic life in the wilderness, it was appropriate for them to review Jehovah’s Law and his dealings with them. Impelled by God’s spirit, Moses reviewed the Law with them. He reminded them of details of the Law, and he also highlighted underlying principles and attitudes that were to influence their relationship with Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 4:9, 35; 7:7, 8; 8:10-14; 10:12, 13) As we today take on new assignments or face new situations in life, we too do well to consider how the counsel of the Scriptures should influence what we are doing.
7. Shortly after the Israelites crossed the Jordan, what was done to impress Jehovah’s Law on their minds and hearts?
7 Shortly after Israel had crossed the Jordan River, the people again gathered to review what Jehovah had told them by means of Moses. The nation assembled about 30 miles [50 km] north of Jerusalem. Half the tribes were in front of Mount Ebal, and half were in front of Mount Gerizim. There Joshua “read aloud all the words of the law, the blessing and the malediction.” Thus the men, the women, and the little ones, along with the alien residents, heard a timely restatement of the laws governing conduct that would result in Jehovah’s disapproval and of the blessings they would receive if they obeyed Jehovah. (Joshua 8:34, 35) They needed to have clearly in mind what was good and what was bad from Jehovah’s standpoint. Furthermore, they needed to etch on their hearts a love of what is good and a hatred of what is bad, as does each one of us today.—Psalm 97:10; 119:103, 104; Amos 5:15.
8. What was the benefit of the periodic reading of God’s Word at certain national assemblies in Israel?
8 In addition to readings of the Law on those historic occasions, a provision for regular reading of God’s Word was outlined at Deuteronomy 31:10-12. Every seventh year the entire nation was to gather to hear a reading of God’s Word. This provided spiritual food for them. It kept alive in their minds and hearts the promises about the Seed and thus served to direct faithful ones to the Messiah. The arrangements for spiritual feeding that were instituted when Israel was in the wilderness did not dry up when they entered the Promised Land. (1 Corinthians 10:3, 4) Instead, God’s Word was enriched by including the further revelations of the prophets.
9. (a) Was it only when Israelites assembled in large groups that they read the Scriptures? Explain. (b) How was instruction in the Scriptures given within individual families, and with what objective?
9 Review of the counsel of God’s Word was not to be restricted only to those times when the people were assembled in a large group. Portions of the Word of God and the principles embodied in it were to be discussed every day. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) In most places today, it is possible for young people to have a personal copy of the Bible, and it is very beneficial for them to do so. But in ancient Israel, that was not the case. Back then, when parents gave instruction from God’s Word, they had to rely on what they had memorized and on the truths that they cherished in their hearts, along with whatever small excerpts they may have personally written down. By frequent repetition, they would endeavor to build up in their children a love for Jehovah and his ways. The objective was not simply to have a head full of facts but to help each family member to live in such a way as to manifest love for Jehovah and his Word.—Deuteronomy 11:18, 19, 22, 23.
Scripture Reading in the Synagogues
10, 11. What program of Scripture reading was followed in the synagogues, and how did Jesus view these occasions?
10 Some time after the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon, synagogues were established as places for worship. In order for God’s Word to be read and discussed at these meeting places, more copies of the Scriptures were made. This was a factor in the survival of some 6,000 ancient handwritten copies containing portions of the Hebrew Scriptures.
11 An important segment of the synagogue service was the reading of the Torah, equivalent to the first five books of modern-day Bibles. Acts 15:21 reports that in the first century C.E., such reading was done on every Sabbath, and the Mishnah shows that by the second century, there were also Torah readings on the second and fifth days of the week. A number of individuals shared in reading assigned portions, one after the other. The custom of Jews who lived in Babylon was to read the entire Torah yearly; the custom in Palestine was to spread the reading out over a period of three years. A portion from the Prophets was also read and explained. It was the custom of Jesus to be present for Sabbath Bible-reading programs in the place where he lived.—Luke 4:16-21.
Personal Response and Application
12. (a) When Moses read the Law to the people, how did the people benefit? (b) How did the people respond?
12 Reading of the inspired Scriptures was not meant to be merely a formalism. It was not done simply to satisfy the curiosity of the people. When Moses read “the book of the covenant” to Israel on the plain facing Mount Sinai, he did so in order that they would know their responsibilities before God and fulfill these. Would they? The reading called for a response. The people recognized that, and they spoke up, saying: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do and be obedient.”—Exodus 24:7; compare Exodus 19:8; 24:3.
13. When Joshua read the curses for disobedience, what were the people to do, with what objective?
13 Later, when Joshua read to the nation the promised blessings and the curses, or maledictions, a response was called for. After each of the maledictions, the instruction was given: “And all the people must say, ‘Amen!’” (Deuteronomy 27:4-26) Thus, point by point they went on record as agreeing with Jehovah’s condemnation of the cited wrongs. What an impressive event it must have been when the entire nation thundered its agreement!
14. In the days of Nehemiah, why did public reading of the Law prove to be especially beneficial?
14 In the days of Nehemiah, when all the people gathered in Jerusalem to hear the Law, they saw that they had not been fully carrying out the instructions written there. On that occasion they promptly applied what they learned. What was the result? “Very great rejoicing.” (Nehemiah 8:13-17) After a week of daily Bible reading during the festival, they realized that yet more was required. Prayerfully they reviewed the history of Jehovah’s dealings with his people from the days of Abraham onward. All of this motivated them to take an oath to conform to the requirements of the Law, to refrain from intermarriage with foreigners, and to accept obligations for maintaining the temple and its service.—Nehemiah, chapters 8-10.
15. How do the instructions at Deuteronomy 6:6-9 show that, within families, instruction in God’s Word was not to be a mere formalism?
15 Similarly, within the family, teaching the Scriptures was not meant to be a mere formalism. As already seen, in figurative terms at Deuteronomy 6:6-9, the people were told to ‘tie God’s words as a sign upon their hand’—thus demonstrating by example and action their love for Jehovah’s ways. And they were to place God’s words as ‘a frontlet band between their eyes’—thus constantly keeping in view the principles embodied in the Scriptures and using these as a basis for their decisions. (Compare the language used at Exodus 13:9, 14-16.) They were to ‘write them on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates’—thus identifying their homes and their communities as places where God’s word was respected and applied. In other words, their lives were to give abundant evidence that they loved and applied Jehovah’s righteous precepts. How beneficial that could be! Does God’s Word have that sort of prominence in the everyday life of our households? Sadly, the Jews turned all of this into mere formality, wearing scripture-containing cases as if these were charms. Their worship ceased to come from the heart and was rejected by Jehovah.—Isaiah 29:13, 14; Matthew 15:7-9.
Responsibility of Those in Positions of Oversight
16. Why was regular Scripture reading important for Joshua?
16 In the matter of Scripture reading, special attention was directed to those who were overseers of the nation. To Joshua, Jehovah said: “Take care to do according to all the law.” With a view to his fulfilling that responsibility, he was told: “You must in an undertone read in it day and night, . . . for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Joshua 1:7, 8) As is true of any Christian overseer today, Joshua’s regular reading of the Scriptures would help him to keep clearly in mind the specific commandments that Jehovah had given to His people. Joshua also needed to understand how Jehovah had dealt with His servants under various circumstances. As he read statements of God’s purpose, it was important for him to think about his own responsibility in connection with that purpose.
17. (a) For the kings to benefit from Scripture reading in the way that Jehovah stated, what was needed along with their reading? (b) Why is regular Bible reading and meditation very important for Christian elders?
17 Jehovah directed that anyone who served as king over His people was, at the beginning of his kingship, to make a copy of God’s Law, basing it on the copy that was kept by the priests. Then he was to “read in it all the days of his life.” The objective was not the mere memorizing of its contents. Rather, it was that “he may learn to fear Jehovah his God” and that “his heart may not exalt itself above his brothers.” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) This required that he meditate deeply on what he was reading. Some of the kings evidently thought that they were too busy with administrative duties to do that, and the whole nation suffered as a result of their neglect. The role of elders in the Christian congregation is by no means that of kings. Nevertheless, as was true of the kings, it is vital that elders read and meditate on God’s Word. Their doing so will help them to maintain a proper view of those entrusted to their care. It will also enable them to fulfill their responsibility as teachers in a manner that truly honors God and spiritually fortifies fellow Christians.—Titus 1:9; compare John 7:16-18; contrast 1 Timothy 1:6, 7.
18. What example set by the apostle Paul will a regular reading and study of the Bible help us to imitate?
18 The apostle Paul, a first-century Christian overseer, was one who knew the inspired Scriptures well. When he witnessed to people in ancient Thessalonica, he was able to reason effectively with them from the Scriptures and help them to understand the meaning. (Acts 17:1-4) He reached the hearts of sincere listeners. Thus, many who heard him became believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13) As a result of your program of Bible reading and study, are you able to reason effectively from the Scriptures? Does the place occupied in your life by Bible reading and the way that you do it give evidence that you truly appreciate what it means to have the Word of God in your possession? In the next article, we will consider how a positive answer can be given to these questions even by those whose schedules are very full.
How Would You Answer?
□ Why have people been willing to risk life and freedom in order to read the Bible?
□ How are we benefited by reviewing provisions that were made for ancient Israel to hear God’s Word?
□ What should we do with what we read in the Bible?
□ Why are Bible reading and meditation especially important for Christian elders?
[Picture on page 9]
Jehovah told Joshua: “You must in an undertone read in it day and night”