The Bible is the foundation of our Christian faith and knowing what it means can sometimes be a challenge. The Bible was written for us, to speak to us in our modern context, but it was not originally written to us, but to the people of Israel. Understanding this difference helps to deepen our knowledge of the Bible and its revelation of a good and loving God.
For some it’s sacred scripture, for some it’s a moral guide, and for others it’s simply a collection of stories that gives a glimpse into ancient life. But what, ultimately, is…the Bible?
First, it’s not actually a book, but rather more like a library, a collection of books, composed in a variety of styles for a diverse array of purposes…
one finds prose, poetry, and allegory; historical accounts, personal letters, and recitations of laws and guidelines for living.
The collected writings making up the Bible were composed across almost two millennia by more than 30 different authors inspired by God.
But one thing not often considered is this: to whom was the Bible written…first? Who was the original audience and what were they afraid of? What did they hope for? What questions did they ask?
Consider, for example, the story of creation in genesis, the first book of the Bible. While a more modern audience might want or even expect a fact-based, scientific explanation for how all things came to be, the original intended audience, the people of ancient Israel, were more concerned with how their God—yahweh—compared with the gods of the neighboring Egyptians and Babylonians.
Yet beyond this immediate context, we see the questions of the ancients align with questions we ask today: did they matter? did they have purpose? is God…good? In Genesis, God answered their questions in ways and terms they were sure to understand, since it was written first to them.
But it was also written for us, answering our deepest questions. Humans matter and have a purpose. We have a special place of honor and responsibility in God’s good creation.
Understanding the ancient context doesn’t diminish the truth…it deepens our understanding. The Bible is not a scientific explanation but instead the revelation of a good and loving God.
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