Ryken's Bible Handbook

Ryken's Bible Handbook

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by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, James Wilhoit

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This book gives students of the Bible a quick overview of every book in the Bible. Leland Ryken's distinctive trait is a literary approach to the Bible—understanding the Bible as literature. The three authors help shed light on understanding the Bible as the inspired Word of God and as literature by looking at the Bible's different literary genres: poetry,


This book gives students of the Bible a quick overview of every book in the Bible. Leland Ryken's distinctive trait is a literary approach to the Bible—understanding the Bible as literature. The three authors help shed light on understanding the Bible as the inspired Word of God and as literature by looking at the Bible's different literary genres: poetry, narrative, wisdom literature, story, parables, and more.

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Tyndale House Publishers
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Ryken's BIBLE handbook


Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Leland Ryken, Philip Graham Ryken, and James Wilhoit
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8423-8401-4

Chapter One

THE BIBLE AS A BOOK God's Revelation to the Human Race


FORMAT. Old Testament: 929 chapters, 23,138 verses; New Testament: 260 chapters, 7,957 verses; Cumulative: 1,189 chapters, 31,095 verses

AUTHORS' PERSPECTIVE. God, the ultimate author, speaks with complete authority and knowledge. God used human authors to write the Bible's individual books, which provide both the human perspective and the divine perspective on life.


1. A revelatory purpose: The Bible reveals to people the things that God most wants them to know.

2. A salvific (pertaining to salvation) purpose: The Bible is designed to lead people to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life.

3. A practical purpose: The Bible shows people how to live and what to avoid.

4. A nurturing purpose: The Bible is a means by which believing readers find refreshment and an infusion of grace.

SPECIAL FEATURES. The divine authority that is evident throughout the Bible; the immense range of subject matter; the large number of types of writing (literary genres); the pervasive religious orientation of the material; a format of two testaments, corresponding to God's old and new covenants with his people; the Bible's unified message across many books from many centuries; the only infallible, inerrant book ever written, and God's only written revelation to humanity


1. The immense length and magnitude of the book

2. The ancient strangeness of the Bible's world and customs, when compared to our own

3. The diversity of subject matter and forms of writing

4. The fact that most of the Bible is embodied in distinctly literary forms rather than the utilitarian prose of our daily lives

5. The way in which the Bible's refusal to gloss over human failing convicts us of our own failings

6. The need for spiritual discernment to understand the Bible's spiritual truth THE BIBLE AS A BOOK


1. Relinquish the idea that you need to read the Bible through as you read a novel. Instead, read the Bible as you do other anthologies of diverse writings.

2. The Bible requires a "bifocal" approach: First, enter the world of the Bible, and then look through that world to your own.

3. Relish the Bible's different forms of expression.

4. Welcome the opportunity to put into practice what you have learned about literature and to learn more about how literature works.

5. Accept the Bible's bad news about human behavior, and pay attention to what the Bible says about God's gracious solution to the problem of human sinfulness.

6. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth of God's Word.

This great story has within it many complex parts-fragments of history, law codes, moral systems, stories, poems, prophecies, philosophies, visions, wise sayings, letters-but the main structure or outline is simple. It can be seen as a completed circle which first moves downward from the garden of Eden into the wilderness of human history, and then slowly and painfully back to the starting point, as man proceeds toward Eden restored or the New Jerusalem.

ALVIN AND HOPE LEE The Garden and the Wilderness

Most people experience the Bible as a collection of individual pieces. This is not totally wrong, inasmuch as the Bible is made up of individual books. The very word Bible (biblia) means "little books." But the Bible is also a book. The purpose of this introductory chapter on the Bible as a book is to delineate ways in which the Bible forms a unity.

The Form of the Book

In its external format, the Bible is an anthology of diverse works by separate authors. At this level, though not in its content, the Bible reminds us of an anthology of English or American literature. Its individual books were written by at least three dozen human authors over a span of nearly two thousand years. Like other anthologies, the Bible is composed of numerous different genres (types of writing, such as narrative and poetry). This comprehensive anthology, which is a book for all seasons and temperaments, covers every aspect of life.

The Bible as a Story

Although the Bible is not a single story, and even though it includes many nonnarrative genres, it is nonetheless helpful to think of the overall pattern of the Bible as a story. If we take a wide-angle view, the Bible is a series of events having a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is literally the beginning-God's creation of the world, as narrated in Genesis 1-2, and humankind's spoiling of that world, as narrated in Genesis 3. The end of the story is literally the end-God's final destruction and banishment of evil and his establishing of eternal bliss for believers in Christ-as narrated in the book of Revelation. The middle of the story consists of God's providential oversight of fallen human history.

The overall shape of this story is like a U in which events begin in perfection, fall into corruption, and painfully wind their way back to the final defeat of evil and the triumph of good. The crucial turning point is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because the Cross entails the horrific death of God's Son, it is the lowest point of all, yet paradoxically this proves to be the basis for elevating humanity to salvation, as the Resurrection proves.

While human actions are important in this story, the story of the Bible is primarily the story of God's working out his purposes in history and eternity. Not only is God the One in control, but he also has a plan that unfolds as the story progresses. It is a story of providence (oversight and provision for the world); judgment against evil; and redemption from destruction through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. (For more on the story dimension of the Bible, see "The Story Lines of the Bible," page 9.)

The protagonist, or central character, in the story is the triune God. The unifying plot conflict is the great spiritual battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. God's unfolding plan-centered on the saving work of Jesus Christ-weaves its way through this plot conflict. The setting encompasses total reality, including heaven, earth, and hell.

The Cast of Characters

The leading character, or protagonist, of the Bible is God. He is the One whose presence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unifies the story of universal history with its myriad of details. The characterization of God is the central motif, or theme, of the Bible, and it is pursued from beginning to end. Correspondingly, a question that will continually yield analytic insights for individual passages in the Bible is, What do we learn about the character of God in this passage?

All other characters and events interact with this divine protagonist. They are ultimately judged according to their relationship with God: He rewards those who seek him and depend on him for salvation, and he punishes those who rebel against him. The cast of characters appears endless. In one way or another, the Bible encompasses all creatures, including ourselves.

A distinctive feature of the Bible is the supernatural world that surrounds and transcends earthly existence. Earthly existence is not self-conained. Events and human experiences keep reaching beyond the earthly and physical realm to the supernatural and spiritual realm. Seemingly mundane events such as the falling of rain or the birth of a child are shown to be part of an unseen spiritual reality, which God calls people to believe in by faith.

Three Impulses That Govern Biblical Writers

One way to organize the material in the Bible is to distinguish among three impulses that governed the writers as they selected their material and three corresponding types of writing. They are as follows:

The historical impulse: This means that much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is firmly rooted in the history of an author's time. The resulting writing is filled with historical facts and figures that require us to look for universal religious and moral principles that apply to our situation today.

The literary impulse: Literature has two main characteristics: (1) the content of human experience, rendered as concretely as possible in order to capture the very qualities of life as we live it and (2) the embodiment of that content in distinct literary genres, such as story, poetry, vision, and many others.

The theological impulse: In this type of writing, the primary aim is to express ideas about God and religion in a direct way. Because the Bible is a religious book, many people think that it is entirely theological, but in terms of how the material is presented, this is untrue. The other two types of writing are as much in evidence in the Bible as the theological type is.

These three impulses converge in the Bible. Most passages possess some qualities of all three. Nonetheless, one is usually dominant in a given passage, and individual passages will yield most if they are approached first of all in terms of the kind of material they contain and also the author's intention in the passage.

The Purposes of the Book

The Bible serves multiple purposes. Above all, the Bible exists to lead people to see their need of a savior and to believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation. Paul told Timothy that it was by "the holy Scriptures" that he was enabled to "receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15), and John said that the purpose of his Gospel was "that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life" (John 20:31). A second aim is to guide people in daily living: As the psalmist said, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105).

Additionally, the Bible informs and illuminates our minds, telling us the religious and moral truths that we need to know to make adequate sense of what we encounter day by day: "The teaching of [God's] word gives light" (Psalm 119:130). Reading the Bible also equips believers to live godly lives. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Bible "is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work."

Finally, the Bible exists to exalt the triune God. The glorious character and works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are continuously lifted up in our praise as we read the Bible. Thus the Bible enables us to achieve the purpose for which we were made, namely, to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states.

The Flow of the Book

The story of this massive book is episodic, not a single action such as we find in a novel. Additionally, the narrative sections are continually interrupted by nonnarrative elements. Still, there is an inner sequence to the material, based partly on historical chronology, partly on the progression from the Old Testament to the New, and partly on the literary genres of the Bible.

The broadest structure is found in the two divisions of the Bible: the Old Testament, or Old Covenant, and the New Testament, or New Covenant. The basic principle is that the Old Testament foreshadows its fulfillment in the New Testament. Events and themes in the Old Testament look forward to the New; events and themes in the New Testament look back to the Old.

The percentage of the Old Testament found in the New is larger than most people think. One-third of the New Testament consists of Old Testament allusions or quotations (Andrew E. Hill, Baker's Handbook of Bible Lists [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], 104). Northrop Frye has expressed the importance of this in this way: "References to the Old Testament in the New ... extend over every book-not impossibly every passage-in the New Testament. ... The New Testament, in short, claims to be, among other things, the key to the Old Testament, the explanation of what the Old Testament really means.... The general principle of interpretation is traditionally given as 'In the Old Testament the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament the Old Testament is revealed'" (Northrop Frye, The Great Code [New York: Harcourt, 1982], 79).

As we move through the Bible from beginning to end, we can organize blocks of books into the following progressive phases:

Creation and the Fall (primeval history-the Bible's story of origins)

Covenant (God's dealings with the patriarchs and the nation of Israel that stemmed from them-patriarchal and early national history)

Exodus (law and epic as dominant genres)

Conquest and early settlement in the Promised Land (history and hero stories-Joshua, Judges, Ruth)

Israelite monarchy (court history, Psalms, and wisdom literature)

Exile from and return to the land of Israel (prophecy)

The life of Christ (the Gospels)

Beginnings of the Christian church (Acts and the Epistles)

Consummation of history (apocalypse)

The Religious Orientation of the Bible

The Bible is unified by its religious orientation. It is pervaded by a consciousness of God, and it constantly views human experience in a spiritual and moral light. Part of this orientation is the theme of two worlds-a visible earthly sphere and an unseen spiritual world that can be viewed only by faith. Biblical writers take it for granted that life exists simultaneously at these two levels. Their constant appeal is that people order their lives by the unseen spiritual realities that the Bible reveals.

Because human life is thus surrounded with spiritual and supernatural potential, the Bible invests human experience-our own experience-with a sense of ultimacy. All of life is revealed as having spiritual and supernatural importance. There is a constant penetration of the spiritual world into the earthly order and a continuous reaching of the earthly order upward toward the supernatural realm. God is a constant actor in human and earthly affairs. Every event takes on a spiritual and moral significance.

Another aspect of the religious orientation of the Bible is its vivid awareness of values.


Excerpted from Ryken's BIBLE handbook by LELAND RYKEN PHILIP RYKEN JAMES WILHOIT Copyright © 2005 by Leland Ryken, Philip Graham Ryken, and James Wilhoit. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Ryken's Bible Handbook 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ScriptureZealot More than 1 year ago
This book was provided as a review copy from Tyndale House Publishers. This review has been a long time coming and in the future I don't ever intend on letting a review go on this long since the time I receive the book. I thank them for their generosity and patience. This book is for teachers and students of the Bible and I think it would also be good for parents to use with their kids. Even though it's over 600 pages long, it's a smaller sized reference book and isn't comprehensive or meant to be. It's a concise handbook on how to read and study each book of the Bible. Anyone familiar with studying the Bible will benefit from this book. Each chapter is devoted to a book of the Bible and includes things such as Author's Perspective, Audience Perspective or Implied Audience, Special Features, Challenges Facing the Teacher or Reader of the Book, How to Meet the Challenges, Form, Genre, Structure, Outline, Timeline, Characters, How To Apply the Book, Key Verses etc. Don't let that overwhelm you. Each part is concise and very useful and not every chapter has every one of those. I especially like The Most Common Misconceptions of the Book since this is one thing I've been working on for a few years now whether it's books, passages, verses, etc. I also like Perspectives which are quotes on the book at the end of each chapter by various authors and scholars and somewhere in each chapter there may be a quote dealing with a subject of the book. I also like various Did You Know? inserts which are short factual items related to the book that are helpfully shaded in gray (see below). Also sprinkled throughout the book are one page articles on the major genres of the Bible and other topics anywhere from How We Got the Bible at the beginning to Apocalyptic Writing in the end. My one complaint is that these articles don't look different enough from the rest of the book. It's easy to keep reading and not always realize it's the start of the article. The typeface is different but that's the only thing that sets it apart other than the title. A border or shaded background would be helpful. The very idea of a "Christless sermon" appalled Charles Spurgeon and in the same vein this handbook always looks for how OT books point to Christ but doesn't press the point too far if it's scant. There has to be some interpretation in a book like this but as far as I can tell it's very neutral. Since my theological outlook is the same as the authors', I may not be able to discern that as clearly as others. In any case, I can't imagine anyone not benefiting from this book. Part of the reason this review took so long is because I read each chapter before reading each book of the Old Testament this year (in addition to having surgery right in the middle). This was very helpful. It gave me a "heads up" on things to look for without telling me how to interpret it or without it being a commentary that I would want to read after reading that book of the Bible. This is the only book that I can remember reviewing where I really don't have anything negative to say other than the formatting issue of the article inserts. I often even try to find something negative so that I don't sound like a shill for the publishers that provide review copies for me. I like it that much.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
Dig deeper into the Bible with Ryken's Bible Handbook by Leland and Philp Ryken and James Wilholt. Go beyond merely reading the Bible and discover it's hidden treasures with the help of Ryken's Bible Handbook. Whether you're new to Bible study or have read the scriptures countless times, greater riches are waiting to be unearthed. Discover for yourself the depth of God's word. Inside you'll find: ? Maps, charts and illustrations ? A fact sheet for each book ? Key verses ? Key doctrines ? Overviews and main themes ? Perspectives from theologians, educators, and authors ? One Year Bible reading plan. Since I love to really study through my Bibles, I can never have too much reference material at my fingertips so it was no surprise to me when I was offered this complimentary copy from Tyndale House Publishers to review. I love the simplicity this book offers when I am reading any book in the Bible. For example in the Book of John there is one full page outlining all the miracles of Jesus that He performed along with scripture references which makes locating that material so much easier. There is simply too much to list that really enhances your experience in learning more about the Bible. This comes with my highest recommendation for those of you seeking for Bible study materials and reference books. For more information on this book and where to purchase a copy, please click on the link below: http://www.tyndale.com/x_products/details.php?isbn=978-0-8423-8401-8
quilldancer More than 1 year ago
Ryken's Bible Handbook is an excellent pre-reading resource for Bible study. It is also an excellent during-reading reference and study outline; AND an excellent after-reading point-by-point review. The Ryken's and James Wilhoit have created a consummate reference book in a usable size. The book opens with an over-view of the Bible as a whole. What is it? Why should we study it? How do we know it is true? Then the book goes on the explain the Bible in detail, providing an overview of each book that includes maps, charts, graphs, time lines, and illustrations, as well as key doctrines, key verses, unifying themes, historic detail, and different quotes and perspectives from well known Bible scholars and teachers. I will not be keeping this book on my reference shelf. It will be right here on top of the desk with my Bible and daily study resources. I am blessed to have this book in my library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago