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Frequently Asked Questions - Bible

The Bible contains 66 books, or writings, which are divided into two major sections called Testaments. There are 39 books in the Old Testament. The first five are called books of Law because they not only contain the history of the early patriarchs, but also the Law of Moses. The next 12 books are books of history, primarily of the Israelites. These are followed by 5 books of poetry including the Psalms. Then there are 17 books of prophecy. These not only contain judgments against many countries, but also predict the future and the coming of Christ.

The New Testament contains 27 books. The first 4 are biographies of Christ, called gospels. They focus on His ministry and, especially, His sacrificial death and His rising from the dead. The gospels are followed by the book of Acts which contains the history of the early church. Then come 21 letters and books which teach doctrine and give practical instruction about living the Christian life.  The last book of the New Testament is a book of prophecy which foretells the future and describes the ultimate victory of Christ and the church.

'Testament' is another word for 'covenant.' The Bible is divided into two major portions called Testaments because they reflect the two major covenants which God has made with mankind. In the biblical sense, a covenant is a solemn agreement which the one offering the covenant makes for the benefit of the other party. God enacted both the Old and New Covenants for the benefit of His people. The Old Covenant, which God made with the people of Israel, contained many blessings and promises.  It was based on keeping the Law of Moses. Since the people were unable to keep the Law, God introduced the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. It is not based on keeping a written code, but on belief. Under the New Covenant our sins are forgiven (soemthing the Old Covenant could not do) and we are promised eternal life.

It should be noted that the failure of the Old Covenant does not reflect on God. The establishment of the New Covenant was part of His plan from the very beginning. One of the purposes of the Old Covenant was to demonstrate and teach people that they are incapable of earning their own salvation. Scripture says that it's purpose was to act as a school-master or tutor to bring us to Christ. (Colossians 3:24)

Many of the things people point to as errors in the Bible are a difficulty of understanding rather than an error in the Bible itself. Simply saying the Bible has errors or contradictions isn't the same as proving the accusation. When all the facts surrounding such accusations are examined, the Bible is shown to be correct rather than in error. This is an identifying characteristic of Truth. The closer it is examined, the better it looks. Deception, on the other hand, always seeks to avoid scrutiny.

The gospel of Mark, chapter 12 verses 18-27 contains a story that illustrates this idea. The Sadducees thought they had caught Jesus in an error in His teaching. Jesus' answer is contained in verse 24 "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?"

These people were also respected by many, like scholars today, but that didn't prevent them from being mistaken. Psalm 119:99 also points out that God's word can give us more insight than teachers. We believe the Bible is holy because that belief is consistent with the claims inspired authors make. Romans 1:2 refers to the Scriptures as holy. 2 Timothy 3:16 affirms that the Scriptures are inspired by God Himself.

Cases where people assert that the Bible contradicts itself indicate an error of understanding rather than an error in the Bible itself. Those who are honestly seeking to understand and willing to put in the effort to consider all information will find that the message contained in various passages of the Bible is harmonious. They tell the same story from different perspectives or with a different focus. This supports the idea of each story being true, rather than indicates that it is false. We see the same in every day life. For instance, If three boys relate some event using the exact same words and phrases we can rightly conclude they have probably invented and practiced the tale together. But when their words are different but harmonize in the important details, we can be more sure the event really happened as told.

We can be confused by portions of the Bible when we impose constraints from our culture or understanding that were not present in the original readers of these books and letters. One common error is expecting all events to be listed in chronological order. We usually write that way. But the writers of Scripture were not living with these same expectations. They sometimes organized their writing by subject or general category rather than just by time. They also would speak in generalizations like, "They all said..." while not intending this to be understood as a specific detailed account. All passages that address a topic should be examined before assigning specific or detailed meaning to one where it isn't actually warranted by the text itself. We also need to keep in mind the situation or question being addressed, as well as the original audience for a particular book or letter. For example, whether a person would need to go North or South to get to Jerusalem would depend upon where they started.

Other passages are worded such that a person who is looking for a reason to disbelieve will have room to convince himself he has found what he was looking for. It appears God has allowed such situations purposely. He often gives us evidence for believing the truth, but stops short of furnishing absolute, irrefutable proof. God desires for us to have faith. Such faith is a choice to believe and obey. Absolute proof would preclude the possibility of faith, rather than build it. It would take away choice. Because God wants us to choose to believe in Him and serve Him, he leaves room for us to choose. The one who has already decided to reject the Bible will find room to rationalize this choice. The one with a good and honest heart will find abundant evidence that God and His Word are true.

The word in Scripture which is translated 'inspired' literally means 'God-breathed.' When we say that a certain writing is inspired, we mean that the writer was under the influence of, or filled with, God's Holy Spirit at the time of writing. Christians believe that this was the case when the 66 books of the Bible were written down. " prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

There are many places in the Bible where God's actual words are recorded. But in most cases, when we say that the Bible is inspired we do not mean that God dictated the words like a business executive dictates to his secretary. Instead, God impressed on the hearts and minds of the Bible writers what He wanted them to say and used their personalities and characters to express the message in a unique way. It is as if God were making the Prophets and Apostles partners in proclaiming His message. It is this quality which makes the Bible, though it is God's Word, so personal and relevant to us as human beings.

The author of the Bible is God. It is He who inspired the 66 books of the Bible and caused them to be written. For a list of whom God inspired to write down these books and the approximate dates, please refer to the article Chronology Of The Bible Record.

All Christian groups agree that there are 39 inspired books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. It is these 66 books which are authoratative. In some translations, another small group of ancient books is inserted between the Old and New Testaments. These books are called the Apocrypha. They are not inspired but some feel that they contain information which is helpful in understanding or interpreting the Bible. These books do not change the content or the message of the Bible in any way.

The Bible was complied over a period of approximately 1,600 years. The majority of the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language. A few chapters were written in a similar language called Aramaic. The New Testament, on the other hand, was written in the Greek language.

Actually, there is only one Bible. The text of the Bible is better preserved than any other ancient document. While there are a few places where there are questions about which wording is correct, in almost all cases there is little or no effect upon meaning.

When people ask about different Bible versions, they are really asking about translations of the Bible. The Bible has been translated into most of the major, and many of the minor, languages of the world. Some languages have many translations of the Bible. It should be obvious that however many translations there are, and regardless of the quality of the translation, they can never change the original. The original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek text of the Bible remains the same no matter how it is translated.

The real question is, "Why are there so many translations of the Bible?" First, the message of Christ is universal. It applies to everyone. Christians believe that everyone should have the ability to learn about Christ in their own language. This is why we try to translate the Bible in every language. Secondly, language changes. Scholars estimate that the meanings of words and idioms of speech change so rapidly in some languages that a new translation is needed every 25 to 50 years. In other words, the work of translation needs to be re-done approximately every generation.