Some Thoughts About Understanding the Bible
By Jon W. Quinn

Sometimes people unfamiliar with the Bible and how it came to be are confused when they pick it up and begin to read. In many ways it is like any other book. It uses words and sentences to convey thought. But in other ways, it is quite different.
Its information is not in alphabetical order so you cannot use it like a dictionary, looking under, say, "R" if you want to study "repentance." Its information is not strictly chronological so you cannot use it like a history book. Some portions of it are written chronologically; the book of Genesis and the book of Acts, for examples, but the Bible as a whole is not written chronologically. The epistles are not in the order in which they were written. Neither is the Bible written like a text book where the simplest facts come first and proceed to become increasingly difficult as you read deeper into the book. There is a mixture of simple and complex ideas throughout Bible.

Accurate Handling of the Word
The Bible tells us to be "diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth."   (2 Timothy 2:15). The Bible is a tool to understanding God's will for us. We need to be sure we are using the tool correctly. Just as a carpenter should know which end of the hammer to hold and which end to hit the nail with, we need to be familiar with the Bible in order to use it correctly.

There is an Order
But if the Bible is not in any particular order, then how does one find what he needs to find? Well, there is indeed an orderly arrangement. It is not in alphabetical, chronological or simple to complex order. The Bible books are ordered according to type.

The main division is Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, the first five books, sometimes called the Pentateuch, are the books of the Law, or the books of Moses. The following twelve books, from Joshua through Esther, are the books of history. Following these, we have five books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Finally, there the prophets. These can be further divided into the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the twelve minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi).

The New Testament books are divided into history, the epistles and prophecy. The history part consists of five books. The first four are biographical histories of the life of Christ and sometimes referred to as the gospels. The final historical book, called the Acts of the Apostles, traces the early history of the church. The epistles consist first of Paul's writings. Many fail to note that there is an order to these epistles even though they are not chronologically or alphabetically arranged. First, there are Paul's letters to churches (Romans through Thessalonians). After these, Paul's letters to individuals (Timothy, Titus, Philemon). After Paul's epistles come the epistle to the Hebrews, which some also think Paul wrote, but unlike the others it does not bear his name in the text. Then come the minor epistles (James. Peter, John and Jude). And finally, the book of prophecy; the book of Revelation.

It should be noted that while God inspired the writing of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16,17) that the order by which they are arranged was determined by man. Originally, these were 66 different writings which came to be bound under one cover only after book bindings with pages was introduced and replaced the scroll. Although these writings have always been Scripture, the convenience of having them all so easy to access in one volume to expedite our study is a blessing unknown to those who lived during Biblical times.

One can gain valuable general knowledge of the Bible by reading it "cover to cover" but that is not a good way to study a particular topic. That would be like looking up the word "Mechanic" in a dictionary by starting with the "A's" and reading definitions until you came to the word "mechanic." Better to make the use of study aids such as concordances, Bible dictionaries, and/or topical indexes to quickly locate all the information on a given subject throughout the Bible. These are alphabetically arranged and really speed up information gathering from the Bible.

I Can't See it!
I think it is biological. I am not sure exactly... maybe it is because Barbara, my wife (of 28 years, bless her), has blue eyes and I have brown. Maybe it is because I am nearsighted. I'm not sure.

We sit and stare at a painting of colored blobs and squares which is supposed to contain a hidden picture of a shark. If stared at long enough, the shark will suddenly emerge from the colors, so they say. Sure enough, Barbara exclaims. "I see it!" to which I reply "Where?" She points at a section of the blobs and says, "There!" I stare as minutes pass. Just once I would like to see one of those hidden items. I try squinting. I try focusing. I blink my eyes rapidly, then I try not to blink. No shark. It's not fair. I realize this probably does not make me eligible for a handicap parking sticker, but it is still frustrating! I just cannot perceive anything but colored blobs in those pictures.

But I do perceive something much greater. Not everyone does. Paul wrote, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might..." (Ephesians 1:18,19). Paul was praying that the Ephesians would perceive the value of knowing Christ and His rich gifts. He was aware that many have no such perception. God permits man to close his eyes in stubborn rebellion, and many are exercising this freedom of choice today. Paul said, "...just as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.' And David says, 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.'" (Romans 11:8-10).
We are thankful for God's grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. We are thankful for the hope, the promises, the blessings, and the peace of God. Jesus said, "For the heart of this people has become dull, And with their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes Lest they should see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear." (Matthew 13:15,16). Do your eyes perceive the truth?

From the Bradley Banner 11/2/2003
Published by the Bradley Church of Christ
1505 E. Broadway
Bradley, IL 60915


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