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Back to the Basics: The Bible – and what Jesus thought of it

After hearing the pastor reference the sixty-six books of the Bible, one visitor went to find the church’s bookshelves. Standing there befuddled, she wondered, “Where are the sixty-six books of the Bible?”

Whether or not we are brand new to the Bible or have read it since we were little children, we sometimes approach it with confusion, trepidation, or a lack of confidence. Maybe we’ve read our Bibles for years but never got much out of it. 

Sitting down to study the Bible, we hesitate: “Wait a second! Am I doing this right?”

One question leads to another: Is this the correct answer? Is this enough? Have I done enough? Then comes the downward spiral into an avalanche of doubt: Am I enough? Is God enough? Sprinkle in skepticism, and it’s enough to throw in the towel!

This is hardly God’s intent for His Word. Instead, the sixty-six books of the Bible tell one unified story about God so that we can know and enjoy Him forever. He would not give us the Bible to know Him and make it too difficult to understand. Bible study is not rocket science.

This blog series aims to unpack the essential tools and steps of knowing and enjoying God through His Word used in every SIMPLY BIBLE study. Before we examine the practical how-to’s, let’s answer two questions: What is the Bible? And what did Jesus think about the Bible? 

What is the Bible?

The Bible, sometimes called the Holy Scriptures is a collection of sixty-six books. 

These sixty-six books were written over a span of two thousand years by approximately forty different authors. Each book fits into the overarching view of the Bible, and all of the Scriptures point to Jesus. They tell one cohesive story, allowing us to know and understand the God of the Bible. Magnificently, this Ancient Book grants us a window into God’s heart. 

The Bible has been regarded as God’s inspired and authoritative word since its inception. 

The first mention of the recorded Word was even written by God Himself:

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written.  The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Exodus 32:15-16

From there, the Word was inspired by God, first to Moses and then to other Old Testament prophets.

Paul spoke about the importance of the Scriptures to his spiritual son, Timothy:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

II Timothy 3:16-17

Did you catch that? Paul says that all Scripture is God-breathed or inspired by God. The Apostle Peter explains the idea this way: 

no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

II Peter 1:20-21

The Bible does not come from man alone but is God-breathed by the Holy Spirit. 

At this point, it is fair to ask, “How did people decide which writings belong in the Bible?” After all, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles include extra books known as the Apocrypha. Why? This question concerns the canon of Scripture, the list of all the books belonging to the Bible.*

To answer that question, it is helpful to understand that the Bible is divided into two main sections: the Old and the New Testaments. 

The Old Testament consists of texts written before the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament consists of writings after the birth of Jesus.

The Old Testament

Originally written in Hebrew, the Old Testament canon is tied to Judaism. The first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch (Greek) or the Torah (Hebrew), are widely attributed to Moses’ authorship. Then, after the death of Moses, Joshua added to the collection of the written words of God: 

And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God.

Joshua 24:26

After Joshua, authors included various leaders, kings, and prophets such that the Biblical text grew substantially and involved different genres of historical narratives, laws, poetry, prophecies, and wisdom literature.

Wayne Grudem, renowned scholar and author of systematic theology textbooks, explains that the Old Testament grew until the time of the minor prophets and ended after the writings of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the book of Esther: “After approximately 435BC, there were no further additions to the Old Testament canon.”** For four hundred years, God remained quiet. The world seemed overcome by darkness.

Until Jesus.

The New Testament.

Jesus dominates the New Testament canon. Through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we learn of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts narrates the early history of the Christian Church, and the remaining books include letters written by the apostles like Paul, Peter, James, and John to the early churches. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, contains apocalyptic visions pointing to Jesus, providing hope for His return. 

These New Testament books, originally written in Greek, confirm the authenticity of the Old Testament canon. As Grudem explains, nowhere in the New Testament is there a record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders over the canon of Scripture. Over and over again, Jesus and the New Testament authors directly quote various parts of the Old Testament as authoritative, but not once do they cite a passage from the books of the Apocrypha, a group of books that the Jews never accepted as Scripture. (These books were written during the 400 years of silence before Jesus.)

Instead, the confusion and division began in early church history concerning whether or not the Apocrypha texts should be included in the Bible.***

In the 4th century, Jerome translated these texts into the Latin Vulgate (the first complete translation of the Bible into another language). Yet, he stated that they were not “books of the canon” but only “books of the church” that could be useful to believers. In 1546, at the Council of Trent, a meeting in response to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha part of the canon. This happened even though the Apocrypha texts were not regarded as God’s Words by the Jewish people from whom they originated, nor were they regarded as God’s Word by Jesus and the New Testament authors. The inclusion also occurred despite containing teachings that conflicted with the rest of the Bible.****

Apart from the Apocrypha, the Old Testament canon can safely be regarded as God’s inspired and authoritative words. The same holds for the New Testament. 

The books assigned to the New Testament canon depended upon who authored them. The early church determined that only first-hand witnesses of Jesus and His teachings possessed the authority to speak and write God’s words. Luke and Acts were included as Luke was a close companion of Paul. Whereas the Old Testament records and interprets for us the lives of the patriarchs, their descendants, and all the great acts of God throughout the Israelite history, the New Testament speaks to redemptive history happening in real-time.

What did Jesus think about the Bible?

On the very day of Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus shared His thoughts with two men. Luke records that these men were walking on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem and were discussing Christ’s crucifixion and apparent resurrection.

These men had placed their hope in Jesus but were bewildered by all that had gone down. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus shows up and asks about their conversation. One of the men, Cleopas, accuses Jesus of being the only visitor in Jerusalem unaware of all that happened to Jesus.

Jesus responded:

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27

So, what does Jesus think about the Scriptures? 

It ALL points to Him! In this conversation, Jesus affirms the Scriptures- from beginning to end to be the inspired Word of God with the overriding theme pointing to Himself.

In writing to the Romans, Paul explains:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

According to Paul, God doesn’t breathe out Scripture to thump us over the head with it. Instead, He gifted it to us so that we might have hope. Yes, these God-breathed Words about Jesus provide instruction to help us endure life in a chaotic world. But ultimately, the purpose is hope, Living Hope.

That’s what Cleopas and his buddy experienced with Jesus. When they arrived at the village they were heading to, they invited Jesus to stay:

When he [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

Luke 24:30-32

What a Bible study! Their hearts burned within them.

What happened when they engaged the Scriptures with Jesus? They came alive! Despite being evening and having just arrived at their destination, they hopped up and hustled back to Jerusalem. Filled with living hope, they couldn’t help but share the Good News with others!

The next time you feel confused or befuddled when reading or studying the Bible, remember the purpose: to point us to Jesus, our Living Hope. Reading or studying the Bible is not merely to know information about Jesus. Instead, enjoy a conversation to know and enjoy Him. He will explain and equip us with a heart like His.

Lord God, thank You for the gift of Your inspired Words that we might know hope, Your Living Hope through Jesus! As we read and study the Bible, explain and equip us with a heart like Yours. 

Footnotes:

*Grudem, Wayne A. “The Canon of Scripture.” Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., 2000, pp. 54–69.

**p. 56.

*** pp. 59-60

**** pp. 58-59

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