We cannot separate the Bible from God.
In some kind of objective sense that I don’t know I can really put effectively into words, God is separate from the Bible. He existed before the Bible was written. Through the Holy Spirit, He is the author of the Bible. The Bible is somehow less than He is.
But for us, the Bible is the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Through it we discover who He is, what He is like and what He has done. In the pages of our Bible, we learn what He loves and what He hates. When we talk about God, we are really talking about what we’ve learned through the Bible.
Yes, we can learn some things about Him through our own direct observation of the world around us. The Apostle Paul makes a big deal about this in the first chapter of Romans.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (19-20)
Paul’s point is that through observation people can figure out enough about God that they cannot plead ignorance. The condemnation for their sin should not come as a surprise to anyone.
But thinking that natural observation is a sufficient way to know God is just plain silly. We wouldn’t drive at high speed in the dark with only a few stars shining down on us. That’s a recipe for disaster. The light is inadequate to really understand the reality of our circumstance. We would turn on the headlights to illuminate the way.
This is what the Bible does for us. It shines a bright light on things that we can’t really see under our own power or vision. Through it, we can see details and facts that were undetectable to us without it.
Through the Bible, God’s revelation is communicated to us. When I say revelation, I mean it in a very specific way. In the Bible, the word “mystery” is sometimes used. This is a term that is drawn out of secret societies in first century Greek culture. When a person was initiated into one of these societies, they were given a set of secret knowledge. The thing about this knowledge was that apart from being told by someone who already knew, there was no way to empirically discover it.
Back to the Bible. When I say it is God’s revelation to us, I mean it contains information that we can only know if someone who already knew it told us. The only person who knows is God. So our only path to understanding this knowledge is if God directly tells us. Which He did, in the Bible.
This puts the Bible in a very special category. It actually stands alone in that category. It is the only communication we have from God, telling us things about Himself and about ourselves that only He knows.
In my book Study the Bible Six Easy Steps I devoted the entire first chapter to why we ought to study the Bible. It’s such a critical foundation to our faith that it’s impossible to ignore this.
So let’s look at our Bible. It is composed of 66 individual “books,” or independent writings. From the time of the first book to the “The End” of the last one, one thousand five hundred years elapsed. During that time, at least thirty nine different people held the pen/quill to write the words.
Any group project of 39 people who were not allowed to talk to each other or plan their activity would invariably result in chaos. But not the Bible. It actually hangs together as a coherent work, telling a singular story.
No, it’s not uniform. Individual pieces are told in various ways. Leviticus reads like a law book. The psalms are poetry and songs. Judges is a history book. Isaiah is a series of relayed messages from God. Matthew is a biography. The epistle to the Romans is a letter. Revelation is an apocalyptic vision.
But it all hangs together and tells us the story of God and humanity. The Apostle Peter, himself under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit puts it this way:
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. (2 Peter 1:21)
The Holy Spirit was the mastermind behind the organization and message of the Bible. God didn’t leave it up to individual people to communicate His message. He orchestrated the entire thing. From start to finish, His fingerprint is on every page.
Of course, individual authors brought their own style to it. We see Solomon’s wise words in Proverbs. Paul’s impeccable logic drives his epistles. Samuel’s storytelling makes 1 and 2 Samuel flow like a novel. James’s practicality moves naturally through his letter.
The Holy Spirit wasn’t a dictator in His inspiration. We see a celebration of diversity in the styles of writing throughout the Bible. But despite the differences, the message was directly from God. It is His way of revealing Himself to us.
Given all of the different books of the Bible, they have to be placed in a sequence or order. That’s why most Bibles have Genesis first and Revelation last. It’s the order of the individual works. To a certain extent, the Bible flows chronologically. Genesis begins with “in the beginning” and Revelation ends with eternity future. In between, things sort of flow in a time sequence.
But there is more than that. The books of your Bible are also organized thematically. It’s nice that this also mostly aligns to the chronological view.
- Genesis through Deuteronomy are the Books of Moses or “The Law”
- Joshua through Esther are considered History books.
- Job through Song of Solomon are considered Wisdom books
- Isaiah through Malachi are “The Prophets”
- Matthew through John are the Gospels
- Acts is another History book (more recent than the others and with a different focus)
- Romans through III John are Epistles, or letters
- Revelation is another prophetic book
The chronology is generally forward through time. However, History and The Prophets have a lot of overlap; the same chronology told from different perspectives. Some of the authors of the Wisdom literature were also contemporaries of the History books.
From Moses (who wrote the first five books) through Malachi was about a thousand year period. Throughout that time, holy writing was coming out on a fairly regular basis. The Old Testament features thirty nine individual books, and some of the longest ones at that. The Holy Spirit didn’t exactly have an editorial calendar, but except for the four hundred year period that Judges describes, there was a pretty regular cadence of communication from God.
Then came the great silent period. After six hundred years of pretty solid communication (even if much of it was condemnation), God seemed to go silent. Between Malachi and Matthew everything seemed to stop. This was unnerving for the people of Jesus time. It was like God had forgotten about them.
Then after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, there was a burst of activity. Twenty seven books came out in approximately sixty years. And then they stopped again. It’s been almost two thousand years since the ink dried on John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ.
We now consider the revelation closed. That doesn’t mean that God is done. Just that His communication has reached a point of completeness. He’s told us everything we need to know. We certainly have enough to understand the gospel and follow lives of spiritual growth.
For the purposes of this study, I’m going to take my lead from the way most Bibles are organized today. We’ll start with Genesis and end with the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Between these two bookends I’ve divided the narrative up into ten different segments.
- In The Beginning: Genesis 1-3
- God Chooses His People: Genesis 4-50
- God Chooses Leaders: Exodus – Judges
- Long Live the King: 1 Samuel – 2 Chronicles
- The Wisdom in the Middle: Job – Song of Solomon
- God’s Spokesmen: Isaiah – Malachi
- The Life and Times of Jesus the Christ: Matthew – John
- Apostles and the Early Church: Acts
- Error and Instruction: Romans – III John
- Then Comes the End: Revelation
When we look at the Bible through this framework, a unifying thread of revelation becomes very clear. Not only that, we’ll see how the Bible is geared to ultimately and finally tell the story of salvation.
I’m looking forward to taking this journey with you. In the mean time, I have a challenge for you.
Since the Bible is the avenue of God’s revelation, what are you doing to embrace it? I have two actions for you. Pick the one that seems to be most appropriate to you.
Challenge One: Learn the books of the Bible in order. This sounds arbitrary, but let me tell you that it’s an important source of power. It will help you use your Bible if you know where to turn when you hear a reference called out. It will also help you know where a given book generally falls into the framework I’ve described above. Just knowing the name will help you understand how it fits into the Grand Story.
Here’s a pro tip: use a song to help you get around some of the admittedly odd-sounding names. That’s how I learned when I was younger. “Let us sing the books of Moses, of Moses, of Moses. Let us sing the books of Moses for he wrote the Law. First Genesis, second Exodus, third Leviticus, fourth Numbers. And the fifth is Deuteronomy, the last of them all.” Even to this day, I fall back on the little tune to remember the correct sequence of books (like in the Minor Prophets).
Challenge Two: Start a Bible reading plan. There are lots of options out there. All you need to do is search on the internet for “Bible Reading Plans” and you’ll get a host of options. From chronological to books in order, to Old Testament and New Testament…. And even more than that.
Since the Bible is so important, it’s critical that we engage with it. We can’t apply what we don’t know. So it’s time to start learning. Reading is one of the simplest and easiest methods to start to learn something. Don’t worry that it’s not super deep or technical. Start easy and become familiar with the flow and the characters and the lessons that pop off the page.
So what did you choose? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve decided to take up one of the challenges.