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What Is the Bible?

Explore the origins, content, and purpose of the Bible and learn how to approach this brilliantly designed book with greater insight and wisdom.

How to Read the Bible Feb 15, 2017


Introduction [00:00-00:19]

Tim: The Bible––it’s one of the most influential books in human history.

Jon: It explores the big questions of why we exist.

Tim: It’s inspired many people to do amazing things.

Jon: And confused many others.

Tim: And you’ve probably got one sitting around somewhere.

Jon: So what is the Bible actually?

What is the Bible? [00:20-01:30]

Tim: Well, the Bible is a small library of books that all emerged out of the history of the people of ancient Israel. And in one sense, they were just like any other ancient civilization. But among them were a long line of individuals called prophets, and they viewed Israel’s story as anything but ordinary. They saw it as a central part of what God was doing for all humanity. And these prophets were literary geniuses.

Jon: Really?

Tim: Yeah. They expertly crafted the Hebrew language to write epic narratives, very sophisticated poetry. They were masters of metaphor and storytelling. And they leveraged all this to explore life’s most complicated questions about death and life and the human struggle.

Jon: So there’s a lot of different authors writing this book.

Tim: Yeah, and these texts were produced over a thousand-year period, starting with Israel’s origins in Egypt, then leading up to their kingdom with their first temple. But eventually, they were conquered by the Babylonians, who took them away into exile. Then at a crucial moment in their history, many Israelites returned to their land. They built a second temple, they reformed their identity, and this is when the Jewish Scriptures begin to be formed into the shape that we have them today.

The Jewish Bible [01:31-03:01]

Jon: Okay, the Jewish Bible. What’s in it?

Tim: Well in Hebrew, it’s called by an acronym, TaNaK.

Tim: The “t” stands for torah, sometimes called “the law.” That's Israel’s five-book foundation story. The “n” stands for nevi’im, the Hebrew word for “prophets.” And this section consists of the historical books that tell Israel’s story from the prophets’ point of view. Then you get the poetic books of the prophets themselves. The “k” stands for “ketuvim,” a Hebrew word for “writings.” This is a diverse collection of poetic books, wisdom books, and more narrative. And the Jewish people believe that through all of these literary works, God speaks to his people.

Jon: Now, there were other Jewish writings being produced during this Second Temple period as well.

Tim: Yeah, a really diverse group of texts. And these too were highly valued in Jewish communities. And there was debate from ancient times about whether or not some of these should be considered part of their Scriptures.

Jon: So this is a lot of different writings over a long period of time. Why did they put them all together like this?

Tim: Well all together, these texts tell an epic story about how God is working through these people to bring order and beauty out of the chaos of our world. And it all builds up to a hope for a new leader who would come and renew all creation. And then the TaNaK concludes and this leader never comes.

Jon: So it is an expertly crafted work, but it’s missing an ending?

Tim: That’s exactly right. Now, a few centuries later, a Jewish prophet comes onto the scene, named Jesus of Nazareth. He claimed he was carrying the TaNaK’s story forward.

The New Testament and the Second Temple Literature [03:02-04:01]

Jon: Yeah, so Jesus did a bunch of cool stuff, was killed, but his followers claimed he was alive from the dead.

Tim: Yeah. They said that Jesus was that long-awaited leader who would restore the world. And so these earliest followers, called apostles, they composed new literary works about the story of Jesus. They called these “good news” or “the Gospel.” They formed an account called Acts about the spread of the Jesus movement outside of Israel, and then they circulated letters to different Jesus communities all around the ancient world.

Jon: And they saw these writings as part of the Scripture.

Tim: Yeah. The apostles wrote all of this as the fulfillment of that epic story found in the TaNaK, and they were continuing the literary genius of the Jewish tradition. They also believed that God was speaking to his people through these texts alongside the Scriptures of Israel.

Jon: So that’s the Old and New Testament. But what did the early Christians think of the other Second Temple literature?

Tim: Well, different groups had different views about some of these books, but we know they read them and valued these texts, because they passed them along with the Jewish Scriptures.

What’s in My Bible? [04:02-05:02]

Jon: Okay, so we’ve got the TaNaK, the Jewish Scriptures. We’ve got these other Second Temple period works then the writings of the apostles about Jesus. And that’s a lot of literature! So what’s in my Bible?

Tim: So the Christian movement has taken different forms over two thousand years, and from the beginning, all Christians recognized the TaNaK and the New Testament as Scripture. And for centuries, much of the Second Temple literature was read as part of the biblical tradition. The Catholic church eventually made it official and called some of the books from this collection the Deutero-Canonical books. Some Orthodox churches used even more books from this Second Temple period. And then in the 1500s during the Reformation, Protestant Christians wanted to go back to the oldest writings of the prophets and apostles, so they accepted only the Old and New Testaments.

Jon: Okay. I think I got it. But how does a collection of books produced over a thousand years by all these different authors tell one unified story?

Tim: Yeah. That’s the question we’ll address in our next video.

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