Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Introduction to the Bible 3

So, what are the books of the Bible about?

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, or the Books of Moses. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books contain about the same amount of material as the entire New Testament. Each of them is very important and quite different, so I will summarize each one briefly.

Beginnings. The first 11 chapters are big, huge, world-wide in scope. God created the world good, but mankind messed it up. So God promises to redeem the word. He shows his anger at the rebellion of mankind by a huge flood, but miraculously saves Noah and his family. Chapters 12-50 zero in on one family. God chooses Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s family goes to Egypt because of the provision of Jacob’s son Joseph. This book is mostly narrative literature – the story of the beginning of creation, sin, redemption, and Israel.

Redemption. Moses is born and survives miraculously. He is banished from the Pharaoh’s presence, and God appears to him in a burning bush in the desert, saying, “Tell Pharoah, ‘Let my people go!’” God sends 10 plagues on the nation of Egypt, and finally the people are allowed to leave. They miraculously cross the Red Sea. God gives the 10 commandments. The second half of the book gives guidelines for building the tabernacle, a sort of moveable temple. This book is narrative in the beginning, but contains a great deal of construction plans toward the end.

Law codes. Civil laws, ceremonial laws, moral laws, case laws. This is a law book. It is named for the Levites, the keepers of the law.

This book is named for the census taken in the beginning of the book, and the one at the end. It begins and ends with lots of numbers. Almost the entire book (the middle) is the narrative stories during the wandering of the Israelites in the Sinai desert.

A restatement of the law in the terms and forms of typical contracts of the day. “Deutero” means “second.” And “Nomy” means “law.” This is the second presentation of the law. The first is in Exodus and Leviticus. This presentation is different in format, but there is a great deal of overlap, with the law codes of Leviticus, which are much less organized.

Joshua through Esther are narrative stories of God’s people after they come into the promised land. Their authors are unknown, and probably many people helped to write and edit them.

In two parts, the conquest of Israel, and the settlement boundaries for each Israeli family. Notable story – the walls of Jericho come down.

A series of bad leaders (that get worse) in Israel. Notable leaders are Gideon and Samson.

Short romantic and redemptive story that happens in the time period of the Judges.

1&2 Samuel
The Rise and Fall of King Saul, and the Rise of the Davidic Dynasty. Notable stories – David and Goliath, David and Bathsheeba.

1&2 Kings
The Reign of Soloman, the split of the kingdom, the dynasties of the North and South. Assyria conquers the North, Babylon conquers the South. Notable story – Elisha and the prophets of Baal.

1&2 Chronicles
Retelling of the stories of David and Solomon from a more kingdom-oriented perspective. They are seen in a more public and glorified way. Many parallels with 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.

Originally one book. Tells the story of the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem after the exile. Notable story – Nehemiah rebuilds the wall of Jerusalem.

Short story. While in Persian exile, a Jewish lady becomes queen, and risks her life to save the rest of the Jews from genocide. This book does not mention God, but he is clearly “behind the scenes.”

Job through Song of Songs. There is a great deal of poetry throughout the Old Testament, but these books are almost exclusively poetry.

After a short narrative setup, this is a variety of poetical speeches looking at the problem of pain and suffering through the eyes of a man named Job (usually pronounced “Jobe”). The story has very few details and only serves to introduce the problem of pain. We don’t know when Job lived, if at all.

This is the songbook of the Old Testament. Each chapter is the lyrics to a different song. There are a variety of different kinds of songs, written by a variety of authors, describing the full range of human emotion. King David wrote many of the psalms, and many are anonymous. They are meant to be used for corporate and private worship, they all are in relationship to God – most are in the form of a prayer. It is difficult, perhaps impossible to find a structure to the book.

A long list of proverbs. Very little (if any) structure. Most of the proverbs were probably written by King Solomon. These proverbs describe, in striking images, how the world usually works.

Solomon’s meditation on the futility and meaninglessness of life on this earth. The title comes from a Greek word meaning, “Teacher.” This is how the author identifies himself in the first verse.

Song of Songs
Also known as, “Song of Solomon.” A series of very erotic and explicit love poems between two lovers. The book treats sex plainly, but not in a crass or crude way.

These books are mostly written sermons. These are not necessarily manuscripts of live sermons, but rather, each book is like one, long, written sermon. Each is an evaluation and commentary on the contemporary issues of the day. The prophet speaks for God and pronounces blessings or curses for the people as a result of their behavior. They speak of God’s wrath for the wicked and of his saving grace for those who repent. The books are named for the prophet who delivered the message of the book. Some prophets lived during the time period of the split kingdom and afterward, before Jesus. Some prophesied to Israel (in the North), some to Judah (in the South), some to other nations.

Isaiah through Daniel are the major prophets. They are “major” because they are longer. Hosea through Malachi are the minor prophets.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are the four gospels. They tell the story of Jesus. All of them focus on the last three years of his life, while he was teaching and preaching, and especially on the last week of his life.

The first three gospels are called “synoptic” gospels because they share the same outline, and there are many word-for-word parallels. It almost seems like they did a “cut and paste” job using each others’ work, though each of them has unique material, too. John’s gospel is very different.

Authored by one of Jesus personal friends. Written to a Jewish audience, and spends a good deal of time showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Written by a close associate of the Apostle Peter, the leader of the early church, and friend of Jesus. Very fast-paced gospel, has very little of Jesus’ speeches or sermons.

Written by a very careful physician as if he were an investigational reporter, for a non-Jewish audience. This is the longest of the gospels. Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ teachings on money and his teachings on radical equality for women.

Written by Jesus’ closest friend, much later than the other gospels. John’s gospel is less like a biography and more like a sermon. Only a few incidents are recorded, but John spends a long time on each one, showing the theological and pastoral significance of each one.

Written by Luke as a sequel to the gospel. The story of the spreading of the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The title is short for “Acts of the Apostles.”

Romans through Jude. Letters written by various church leaders (mostly Paul) to the new churches. These letters contain clear and specific theology and practical wisdom for living the Christian life. Most are named for the audience they were written to, some are named for their author.

Written by John (the gospel writer). It is the “Revelation” of Jesus. Hotly debated book in a genre no longer in existence called “apocalyptic,” which was common in the time it was written. As such, it is difficult to understand for many people. Has many vivid pictures and symbols. Revelation speaks of the end of the world and the victory of Jesus over all things.


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