Introduction to Bible

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Introduction to Bible

Most people around the world have heard about the Bible. People know that the Bible is the religious book of the Christians. Many people have also heard or read about a story or two from the Bible like the moral story of Job or about a prophet like Isaiah and a leader like Moses or about some anecdotes in the life of Jesus like the woman caught in adultery and Jesus teachings about forgiveness and love.

The vast majority of Christians keep a copy of a Bible at home and read it regularly. They have studied the Bible in religion classes in their school days. Many read and study the Bible all their lives seeking the meaning of ones life and Gods hand in it.

A great saint in the Catholic Church, St John Chrysostom had noted with just pride that there was not a house in Constantinople , rich or poor, that did not have and use the Bible.

In the past Christians used to be known as the people of the Book meaning the Bible because Christians gave so much importance to the Bible as the Word of God which guides their daily life.

People of other faiths who are in contact with Christians know the importance Christians give to their Bible. Some times the Christians in their great appreciation for the Bible may gift a copy to their friends and neighbours. Some times people of other faiths have heard so much about the Bible that they may buy a copy out of curiosity to know what the Bible is all about.

People without any initiation or introduction to the Bible may start to read the Bible. They may find it uninteresting and boring. They may even form wrong ideas about the Bible. They may find the Bible full of stories and legends like the creation story. They may not like to read about cheating and wars and many such unpleasant and repulsive things in the Bible. So they give up reading the Bible in spite of buying a Bible with good will and great expectations. Hence the importance of this introduction.

The word Bible comes from the original Greek work biblion, which means book. The Bible is not just a book but a collection of books. So someone has compared the Bible to a library, which has many books of various types of literature like history, poems, stories etc. the Bible is not a series of books but a collection of 73 big and small books of different genre. But some protestant versions of the Bible have only 66 books, as they do not accept the other 7 books as authentic parts of the Bible.

Christians believe that God is the author of the Bible. But the authorship of God is not the same as human authorship. The Bible is written by human authors who have been inspired by God. The human authors bring into their book their cultural and religious ambient.

We know about some of the human authors of the books of the Bible. But we do not know about most of the human authors of the Bible. We know that each of the books in the Bible originated from Gods chosen people, the Israelites. As a specially inspired Book the Christians call the Bible the Word of God and take God as the author of the Bible.

Scholars of the Bible believe that the origin of the Bible may be traced to the beginning of the Israelite people twenty centuries before Christ. At first books of the Bible were not written as books. In the early stage the books of the Bible were passed on by word of month from person to person and from one generation to the next. In this way from the story of our forefather Abraham, the faith and the experiences of the Israelite people were preserved in the form of folk literature like stories, poems, laws of life, etc. In this first stage of the formation of Bible, nothing was written.

In the second stage the word of mouth communication began to be written down. The written form developed when the Israelites began to settle down in the Holy Land , Palestine .

In the third stage the written materials of different books of various sizes and shapes were collected and put together in a single book form. In this way the first part of the Bible, called the Old Testament, took shape.

From its folk-lore stage to its present book-form stage the Old Testament was shaped by many authors of different generations in varied cultures in different religious ambients. So each written book has its own peculiarities and characteristics.

If you look at the Bible from a purely human point of view, there are many things in the Bible which may shock us or find them odd as the Word of God. In the Bible we find strange ideas as well as repulsive characters. We have the story of our first parents Adam and Eve. When confronted with their disobedience, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent! (This blame-game goes on to our days!)

Abraham is the forefather of all believers and so are Isaac and Jacob. In the Bible Jacob with the help of his mother snatched the birthright of his elder brother Esau by lying. A great leader like Moses, when he was called to lead his people out of Egypt gave all types of excuses to God to escape from the mission.

We have a whole book of Ruth, a Moabite women, which describes an unparallelled story of Ruths love and devotedness to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. There is the book of Kings in which king Saul can fight the wars in the name of God but does not obey the command of God. The great King David who rejoiced leaping and dancing before the ark of God with great devotion but who also commited adultery with the wife of his commander Uria and got him killed deceitfully in war and took his wife Bathsheba as his own!

A long list of laws, killings in the name of religion, and every kind of evils find a place in the Old Testament. About half of the Old Testament is filled with such historical narrations of the Israelites. The prophets too speak in such historical contexts of day-to-day life of the Israel people. So about two-thirds of the Old Testament is orientated towards history, but not history in its strict sense. There are also moral stories and philosophy of life. But you will be disappointed that these are fewer in comparison with the killings and other evils narrated in the Bible!

The purpose of the Bible is to portray the relationship between God and the Israelites. They have established a covenental relationship. The Israelites believed in one God while all the other people around them worshipped many gods. In fact, the worship of one God is the gift of the Israelites to the world. The Israelites believed that God is Spirit; God has no statue or shape.

The Bible shows that God is completely The Other different from human beings, but at the same time God keeps a very close relationship with all people especially his chosen people, the Israelites. In human language this relationship between God and man is a covenantal or testamental relationship. So from the beginning to the end, the whole Bible speaks about the relationship between God and the people.

The story of this relationship between God and the people is divided into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament ends about 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ and the New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus and ends with the book of revelation which speaks about a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth. (Please see the introduction to The New Testament)

The books of the Old Testament may be divided into 4 parts: 1) Pentatuchs or the five books of law, 2) Historical Books, 3) Prophets and 4) Wisdom literature.

The Pentatuchs or the first five books of the Bible are 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers and 5) Deuteronomy. The second part of Exodus and the three books, which follow Exodus, speak about social and religious laws of life. These types of laws played important roles in ancient times. So all ancient cultures had such a collection of laws and regulations. The Manursmruti is such a book of laws of ancient India .

The historical books in the Bible are 1) Joshua, 2) Judges, 3) First Book Samuel 4) Second Book of Samuel, 5) First Book of Kings, 6) Second Book of Kings, 7) First Book of Chronicles, 8) Second Book of Chronicles, 9) Ezra, 10) Nehemiah, 11) First Book of Maccabees and 12) Second Book of Maccabees.

The following four books are also counted among historical books. But actually they are moral stories based on more or less historical events:

Ruth, 2) Judith, 3) Tobit and 4) Esther.

The books of the Prophets are 1) Isaiah, 2) Jeremiah, 3) Lamentations, 4) Baruch, 5) Ezekiel, 6) Daniel, 7) Hosea, 8) Joel, 9) Amos, 10) Obadiah, 11) Jonah, 12) Micah, 13) Nahum, 14) Habakkuk, 15) Zephaniah, 16) Haggai, 17) Zechariah and 18) Malachi.

The Wisdom books are 1) Job, 2) The Psalms, 3) The Proverbs, 4) Ecclesiastes, 5) The Song of Songs, 6) The Book of Wisdom and 7) Ecclesiasticus ( Ben Sirah).

There are differences of opinions between the Catholic Christians and the Protestant Christians regarding the number of books in the Old Testament. There are 46 books in the Catholic Bible while the Protestant Bible contains only 39 books. There are historical reasons for this difference.

A few centuries before the birth of Christ many Jews were living in foreign countries in exile. They slowly forgot their mother tongue Hebrew and began to use the language of the place, namely Greek. The Greek language held sway in the costal countries of the Mediterranean Sea . So about three centuries before Christ (BC) Jewish scholars in Greek speaking countries translated the original Jewish Bible into Greek.

The Jewish Bible has 39 books. But in the new Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the translators included other books, probably composed first in Greek. This new Greek Bible became very popular among the Jews living in foreign countries. When the disciples of Jesus began to preach the message of Jesus in those foreign countries, they used this popular Greek version of the Bible. Hence some quotations in the New Testament taken from the Old Testament (Greek version) are different from the original Hebrew version of the Jewish Bible. Thus in the first century the Old Testament of 46 books become the accepted Bible (Old Testament) of the Christian community.

Then in the fourth centuary a great scholar St. Jeromme raised doubts about some books in the Old Testament which were not originally written in Hebrew. He held the opinion that only those books originally written in Hebrew should be considered as the official text of the Bible. From time to time someone or other raised such opinions. But it is a historical fact that till the 16 th century all Christians accepted all the 46 books as the official text of the complete Bible (Old Testament).

In the 16 th century Martin Luther accepted only the 39 books which were originally written in Hebrew as the official Bible. All the same when he translated the Bible into German he translated the 8 books of the Greek Bible but added them at the end of the Bible as useful and worth reading books. Those 8 books are:

1) Tobit 5) Baruch

2) Judith 6) First Book of Maccabees

3) Wisdom 7) Second Book of Maccabees

4) Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirah) 8) Esther & some parts of the Book of Daniel

Today the Bible, both Catholic and the Protestant versions, are available in all the languages (and even in some dialects) around the world. For any specific information about the Bible you may contact Catholic Information Service Society (CISS) on our
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