Nearly every young person today knows at least something of the Bible. It is such a significant and important book, has had such a vital part in the making of our nation, and is so often quoted that all of us have some idea of its general character. Many of us have become familiar with parts of it by our experiences in the program of our churches. Parents, Sunday School teachers and other friends have told us some of its charming stories and have taught us some of its familiar precepts. However, the large majority of people have but a very limited knowledge of this remarkable book because their study of it has been unorganized. Too often we have "dipped into" it here and there without any plan to see it as a whole, or to appreciate it as a remarkable library of history, literature and religion.
We should understand that the Bible is a very big book. In reality it is a large collection of books—sixty-six in number. These books, written by many different authors over a long period of time, contain many kinds of literature such as history, laws, prophecy, poetry, biography and letters. To gain a thorough knowledge of it will require years of study. However, it is possible for the college student, with one year in a well-planned course, to gain a basic understanding of it. This study should be a delightful and rewarding experience.
Before attempting to study the contents of the Bible we should become acquainted with some of the important facts about the book itself. Such knowledge will make our study much more meaningful.
The Bible is the book of the Hebrew people. With the single exception of Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, every other writer who contributed to this volume was of the Hebrew race. Almost all of the events and experiences recorded in the Bible had to do with the Hebrew people. To be sure, numbers of other peoples are mentioned in the Old Testament, but only incidentally. It is true that after the death of Jesus the New Testament records the story of how Christianity worked its way out of the strict limits of Jewish life and assumed international importance, but it is to be noted that it was the Jews themselves who crossed these frontiers and gave their teachings to other races.
The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblos which at first meant the bark of the papyrus plant. The word was later used to designate the pith of papyrus plants from which writing material was made. Still later the word was applied to the writings themselves, that is, the scrolls or sheets of paper. In this sense it meant a book. Through Latin usage the word came over into the English language as Bible. Hence, this volume consisting of many smaller books is known as the Bible or the Book.
The Bible has two main divisions called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament means covenant or will. Hence the meaning is old and new covenant, or more specifically, the covenant of God with his people before Christ, and the new covenant made possible through Christ. The Old Testament closes with the period previous to the birth of Christ. The New Testament begins with the events connected with the birth of Christ and closes about the end of the first Christian century.
There are sixty-six books in the Bible. Thirty-nine of these are included in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. In reality, the Bible is a great library consisting of these sixty-six books. Several different classifications of these books have been made. The Jews have one for the Old Testament, and others have been used by different scholars. For the sake of brevity and convenience we may divide the Old Testament into three divisions. (1) The seventeen historical books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. (2) The sixteen books of prophecy, usually called the "major" and "minor" prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. The first four mentioned are called the "major" prophets and the other twelve, "minor" prophets. (3) The following books of poetry make up the third section: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations.
The New Testament books may be classified as follows: (1) The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; (2) One book of history, Acts; (3) Twenty-one epistles or letters. Thirteen of these were written by Paul: I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy. Eight of these are classified as general letters: Hebrews, James, Jude, I Peter, II Peter, I John, II John, III John; (4) One apocalyptic book, the Revelation.
There is a wide difference of opinion as to the time when the different books of the Bible were written. Many competent scholars believe that the earliest books were written around 1300 b.c. and that the New Testament was completed about 100 a.d. Thus it may be said that these sixty-six books were written during a period of some fourteen hundred years. It is generally held that there were about thirty authors. The Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language, except some small sections written in the Aramaic tongue. The writers of the New Testament used Greek. These men used finely prepared sheepskin, vellum, and the material known as papyrus, which was something like our paper. Their writings were preserved, not in the form of a book as we have them today, but in a scroll or long strip of papyrus rolled at either end. These were used sparingly, were closely guarded and were carefully preserved.
Christian people regard these writings as divinely inspired. Of course there are various theories as to the meaning of inspiration. In fact this subject is so important that a great many books have been written to explain it. We may say that in general there are three views of inspiration. (1) One extreme view, held by some liberal scholars, is that these original writers were inspired only in the sense that any writer is inspired when producing his best work. By this view Shakespeare, Browning, Goethe, Tennyson or any other were equally inspired and consequently their works have the same value. (2) Another extreme view, held by some ultra-conservative scholars, is that these writers were inspired to the degree that every minute detail of their work was automatically directed, even to the extent of proper spelling. In other words the writers were mechanically directed by a higher force and they were absolutely infallible. (3) There is a third view held by the majority of Bible students which comes in between these two. "Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." These writers were men of ability and holy life and were "inbreathed" or inspired by God to write. The Holy Spirit directed them as they wrote the message of God. They were the instruments used for this important service, and yet they were men who were conscious of what they were doing and whose individuality is revealed in their writings. They were aware of divine leadership and because of this fact their writings have divine sanction and authority. It is the word of God, and as such it has a value and an authority which can be claimed for no other writing. Through the centuries Christian people have accepted the Bible as the word and revelation of God. It is authoritative and final and is sufficient for all the needs of men in spiritual matters.
Each book of the Bible was written for some specific and immediate purpose. However, its value and use would not be exhausted with this particular occasion. The book would be needed for other situations, so it would be preserved. Usually they were highly prized and carefully guarded. When one considers the fact that the writings of some thirty men were kept through a period of more than 1000 years of changing fortunes, it seems nothing less than miraculous. Indeed we can not refuse to believe that God had a part in preserving these precious writings. The limits of space will not permit us to discuss here the story of how these books were kept from destruction and were later gathered into the volume of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Two or three facts ought to be mentioned. There were other writings similar in nature to the books of both Testaments written during these years. Some of these have been kept and are found in certain versions of the Bible like the Vulgate, which is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. From all these books written during these years certain ones were selected and later were recognized as the Bible. These selected ones which met the test were included in the list known as the canon of the scriptures. Scholars are almost unanimously agreed that this process of selection was completed by about 400 a.d. Since that time the Bible has consisted of these selected books. The most remarkable thing in the history of literature is the fact that these sixty-six books, written by thirty or more men in different situations over a period of more than 1000 years, constitute one great book in which there are no contradictions or inconsistencies. Indeed, the marvel is that these various books, arranged in their present form, make up a volume which is marked by complete unity and through which one great purpose runs.
We do not have today the original manuscript of any of the books of either the Old Testament or the New Testament. These original manuscripts have long since perished. Every student is shocked when he first learns this fact. However, this feeling of disappointment soon disappears when he discovers that this fact does not affect the authenticity of these books as they now appear in our Bible. Ancient peoples guarded such precious documents with the greatest care. Copies were made from the originals as accurately as humanly possible and were distributed to various parts of the world at that time. No part of these sacred writings was allowed to be without many witnesses. We have abundant evidence that the writings we now have are substantially the same as in the days of the first Christian century.
We do have certain very old manuscripts of the books of both Testaments. While they are not the originals they are old enough to be very accurate copies. Of course, these are of inestimable value. They are to be found in various libraries of the world and are guarded with the greatest care.
Up to 1947-48 the oldest known manuscript of the Old Testament was dated at 900 a.d. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls (1947-48) date back to the first or second Christian century. These scrolls thus have tremendous significance in the study of the Old Testament text. Altogether there are some 1700 manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures in existence, but most of these are of comparatively late dates.
We can mention only three of the important manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest of these is the Vatican Codex which is dated around 350 a.d. This Codex is in the Vatican Library in Rome. It has nearly 800 pages, 10x101/2 inches and contains practically all of the Old and New Testaments. The Sinai Codex, dated about 375 a.d., is next to the Vatican Codex in importance. It is now in the British Museum. The Alexandrian Codex consisting of 776 pages, and containing practically all of our Bible goes back to about 425 a.d. It also is in England. In addition to these three there are several other important manuscripts which we need not name here. All of these ancient manuscripts have priceless value as surviving witnesses of the works of the inspired writers of old.
The Old Testament, written in the Hebrew language, naturally was used by the Jews. About 275 b.c. when the Jews, along with other peoples of the Roman world, began to use the Greek language they felt that their scriptures ought to be in the spoken language of the day. So the famous Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek, was produced. This was a monumental achievement and is the first translation of any part of the Bible into another tongue. The New Testament was written at a time when Greek was the universal language. Naturally then the New Testament writers used the Greek language. But as time passed and Christianity became the religion of other rates the need for new translations arose. About 200 a.d. the lesser known Peshito, a translation into the Syrian language, was made. Perhaps the most famous and influential of all these versions was the one made by Jerome near the end of the fourth Christian century. It was made in Latin, and after considerable controversy gradually became the standard used by European peoples. As the Roman Catholic Church grew in power and came to be the predominant expression of Christianity in Europe (400 a.d. to 1400 a.d.) this Latin Version was used exclusively. One can easily see the vast influence it exerted upon the entire world for a thousand years or more. With the rise of the English people there was a demand for the Bible in their language. The first real attempt at an English translation, made against almost unbelievable opposition, was that by John Wycliffe, a great scholar and opponent of the Roman Catholic Church. This important work appeared in 1380. It was most influential and was the forerunner of a number of other translations which appeared later. There were several translations which were called Reformation Versions—Tyndale's 1525, Coverdale's 1535, the Great Bible 1539, and so on. The most famous translation of the Bible ever made was the one produced during the reign of King James of England and called the King James or Authorized Version. This translation appeared in 1611 and, beyond doubt, has exerted a greater influence on the English speaking race, and on the world, than any other ever made. As time passed and earlier manuscripts of the New Testament were discovered, and the language used in the King James Version became obsolete, scholars felt the need of a new version. So after prolonged study and diligent labor the English Revised Version was produced in 1885. The American Revised Version appeared in 1901. Since then a number of translations in so-called "modern speech" have been produced. The new Revised Standard Version (N.T. 1946, O.T. 1952) has proved quite popular and may enjoy increasing usage, but only time can tell. In the meantime the King James Version continues to be the translation favored by millions of people.
The Bible has been translated into many other languages. In whole or in part it has appeared in more than eleven hundred languages and dialects. Today there is scarcely a tribe or group of people anywhere which does not have at least a part of this unique Book in its own speech.
The great men and women of history have known and appreciated the Bible. Queen Victoria said, "This book is the secret of England's greatness." Gladstone, the grand old man of Great Britain, told the secret of his life when he said, "My daily advisor and comfort is the impregnable Rock of the Holy Scriptures." Listen to Jefferson's estimate of the Book: "I have said and always will say, that the studious perusal of the Bible will make better citizens, better husbands, and better fathers." The rugged Andrew Jackson said, "The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests." Our great Lincoln knew and loved the Bible. His words are: "I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a better man." Significant is the testimony of Theodore Roosevelt. "Almost every man who has by his life work added to the sum of human achievements of which the race is proud—has based his life work largely upon the teaching of the Bible." The great commoner, W. J. Bryan, speaking of the Bible, said "There is not a community which cannot be purified, redeemed and improved by a better knowledge and larger application of the Bible to daily life." The late Woodrow Wilson, son of a minister, bears weighty testimony: "I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible daily. I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and the pleasure. I should be afraid to go forward if I did not believe that there lay at the foundation of all our schooling and all of our thought this incomparable and unimpeachable Word of God." Its beneficent influence on human history is incalculable. It has been the inspiration of the great movements for human betterment in the past 2000 years. In every field of worthy human endeavor the influence of this Book is clearly distinguishable.
Its characters and its teachings have been the theme of the world's greatest art. A visitor to the famous art galleries of the world will discover that the majority of the masterpieces are Biblical in theme.
There are more than 2600 recognized works of art with Christ as the center. The world has no finer productions than those of Michelangelo, Raphael, Van Dyck, Rubens, Murillo, Leonardo da Vinci, Hoffman and scores of others whose best works are based on Biblical themes. In the realm of music also it has been the supreme source of inspiration. Many musicians have become famous because of their masterpieces with Biblical background and theme. Handel's "Messiah" and Mendelssohn's "Elijah" will suffice to illustrate this statement.
To recount the influence of the Bible on the literature of the world would require volumes. Some of the world's greatest writings were produced by men whose very soul was saturated with the truths of the Scriptures. Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browni�