The Bible is rightly called Christianity’s foundation document. It’s a story in five stages of God’s dealings with his people on earth, presented in a collection of 66 ‘books’ of widely differing style and length.
1. Creation: The first book is called Genesis, and its first two chapters tell how God arranged the heavens and the earth, and the water and dry land with plants, filling them with living creatures and appointing humans as his regent on earth to work and look after it all.
2. Fall: Chapters 3-11 record humanity’s rebellion against God’s authority, and the utterly disastrous consequences for the whole earth.
3. Israel: God then chose one man (Abraham) and from his family formed a whole nation (Israel) with a land of their own to live in, to show the rest of the world what life with God could be like, and should be. The whole of the rest of the Old Testament records their ups and downs, and God’s continuing relationship with them, as his plan for the rescue from the Fall unfolded over 2,000 years.
4. Jesus: Jesus begins a new era in the world, and the New Testament begins with four accounts of his miraculous birth, life, teaching, and his death by crucifixion as God’s way of saving the world, paradoxical though that may sound – but also his resurrection from the dead and ascension back into heaven. It is a startling story, as relevant today as when it happened 2,000 years ago.
5. Church: The fifth stage in the story God’s giving the Holy Spirit and the formation of the world-wide Church, a fellowship or family intended to have no internal divisions and no limits to growth, because Jesus is Lord of all things. The rest of the New Testament tells the start of the story of Church, with teaching to keep it on course. And the rest of Church history continues the story so far.
…And then: The final book in the Bible (Revelation) tells of how the story will move into its final stage when Jesus returns to earth to complete the work of rescue, with new heavens and a new earth – the old transformed, with no taint of the past’s failures – and with God and humanity dwelling together, following judgement. This book is written with highly symbolic imagery, and is much easier to understand when you’ve become familiar with the rest of the Bible.
Reading the Bible as a Message from God
It’s important for Christians to know the story of the Bible, to absorb its teaching and follow its guidance, because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit as a message from God. And countless believers down the ages (and today) testify that through the Bible God has spoken and made himself known to them, which is the point of it all: to be restored to God the Father, made possible by Jesus his Son. Because we are restored to God, we want to please him as obedient children, and the Bible shows us how. We seek increasingly to live in a way that pleases him, as Jesus did, and that is the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, using the Bible as we read it.
Choosing a Bible
The Bible wasn’t written in English, of course. It comes to us through translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, and now there are lots of versions to choose from. Some are good for study; others are good for reading right through. The message is always the same, but the style of expressing it differs, and it’s wise to choose a version that suits you. You can find some guidance at http://www.biblefresh.com/resources/reading/bibles/, or have a word with the Minister.
Getting help with your Bible
You can read the Bible just like a book, from start to finish, although most have found it easier to read at least one of the gospel accounts of Jesus first (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) before you get into the Old Testament. Then you can appreciate better how God’s plan was unfolding in preparation for the coming of Jesus, and also how the Church thereafter grew in his name, enabled by the Spirit (and what to look forward to). Some of the writing relates to God’s dealing with people in very different cultures from ours, though they were all still thoroughly human, and some of the teaching gets a bit deep – as indeed it should. But for those reasons many find Bible reading aids very useful. Study Bibles, with lots of notes and cross references can be invaluable, as can booklets or websites which set out a short portion each day and offer explanation or comment. For more detailed study, you can turn to books and commentaries.
You can speak to Val Gilman if you want to order Bible reading aids.
The following links may be useful to start with, but a search on the web will reveal many more. Find one that suits your level.
Some are wholly on-line, and free
Others offer helpful diary-style booklets for sale
Much more detailed study is possible with commentaries of various kinds. Have a look in Christian bookshops, or the following(or do your own web searches)
Into Thy Word: teaching people how to study the Bible