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Meet Your Bible

Ryan Joy


November 19, 2023

— Watch the Full Sermon —

You probably know a little about the Bible, but have you ever been “properly introduced”?

Whether you read your Bible daily or only bump into it in church pews and hotel rooms, you may have been disoriented by the ancient setting, intimidated by the divisions and numbering system, or overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the book.

Many people honor the Bible from a distance, deciding that personal Bible study “just isn’t for me.” Others jump to strange conclusions because they’ve never learned the importance of context. Just as a longtime acquaintance can become a good friend once you know a little about who they are and what they’re about, Bible study will become a treasured, fruitful part of your life once you grasp—really—what the Bible is.

A Book of Many Books

The word “Bible” comes from biblia, Greek for “books.” God brings a unified wholeness to the Bible, but reading it as one book (in the usual sense) can lead to out-of-context conclusions. Each book has its own purpose, themes, and structure. We must also recognize the book’s genre: poetry, narrative, letter, or something else. Topical studies are essential, but first, we must understand what the passage says within the context of the book. Therefore, we need a steady diet of studying the Bible one book at a time. What does Mark say about Jesus? What do we learn from John’s gospel about belief?

The first 39 books, the Hebrew Scriptures, form the Old Testament. We call the first five books “The Law” (also known as the Pentateuch or Torah). Next comes twelve history books, followed by the five major and twelve minor prophets.

The final 27 books comprise the New Testament, beginning with four books about Jesus called the gospels. Then comes Acts, a book of history about the early spread of Christianity, and 21 letters (or epistles), including 13 written by the apostle Paul. The Bible ends with a prophetic vision called Revelation.

God’s Complete Written Masterpiece

Through the centuries, God has preserved this library of books that give us everything we need “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible was written over 1600 years by many writers in three languages, but men wrote with authority from God. These many parts reveal God’s message in harmonious, complementary ways.

Framing all of the other stories within the Bible is one grand story of God’s saving work, taking us from creation (Gen. 1-2), to humanity’s disastrous early sins (Gen. 3-11), to a new creation restoring all things to God’s order (Rev. 21-22). The narrative focuses on the descendants of Abraham and his grandson Israel, a nation through whom God brings about the Great Deliverer of the whole world. Jesus Christ is the hero of this book and indeed of history, the fulfillment of all that comes before his appearance and the authority directing his church in the present age as they look forward to the last day.

Written For Us, But Not To Us

Some people open the Bible and expect to hear a love letter directly from God to their unique situation in life. We can put ourselves into the Bible rather than taking God’s truth out! But if our goal is “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), we will put in the effort — and be better for it! God’s Word is relevant to our lives, and we take it personally. But first, we have to study what the author intended for his audience to understand. Only then can we grasp the authoritative message God revealed through the author so that we can apply it to our lives. Most of the work involved in Bible study comes as we traverse the gap between the original recipients and ourselves.

The first obstacle to overcome is the language barrier. Some Bible versions — like the NASB and ESV — aim to give a word-for-word translation, which is helpful for study, while others — like the NIV and GNT — seek to capture the general idea, which is often easier to read. The second obstacle is our worldview. We must beware of forcing our 21st-century Western perspective onto the text and learn what we can about their culture. Finally, when reading, we should always know where we are in the Bible “story” and whether a passage occurs within the old covenant or new (cf. Gal. 3, 2 Cor. 3, Heb. 8-9).

Made For Us to Search, Teach, and Live

Like Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach” it (Ezra 7:10), we should search the Word, looking deep into it to understand God’s will so it can change us. Through the years, Christians have given the Bible chapter and verse divisions to help you study and teach it. To “rightly handle” the Bible, we must do our best to give it diligence (2 Tim. 2:15). Like any acquaintance, the best way to get to know your Bible is to sit and spend time with it!

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