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The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible

by Stan Campbell

You're no idiot, of course. You know what the Book of Genesis is, or at least that it is about Adam, Eve, and an apple. But when it comes to sitting down and understanding the full significance of the Bible, you feel as helpless as Noah without an Ark. Don't try swimming for shore just yet! The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible offers accessible summaries and


You're no idiot, of course. You know what the Book of Genesis is, or at least that it is about Adam, Eve, and an apple. But when it comes to sitting down and understanding the full significance of the Bible, you feel as helpless as Noah without an Ark. Don't try swimming for shore just yet! The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible offers accessible summaries and interpretations of everything you'll find in the Bible, from "In the beginning" to the last "Amen." You'll learn all about patriarchs and matriarchs, kings and kingdoms, prophets and losses, and the good news of Jesus Christ. In this Complete Idiot's Guide, you get:

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Alpha Books
Publication date:
Complete Idiot's Guide Series
Edition description:
Older Edition
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7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.85(d)

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In the Beginning

In This Chapter

  • Creation and the Garden of Eden:How everything started out well but got messed up
  • God 's response to disobedience
  • Cain and Abel,Noah 's ark,and the Tower of Babel
When you begin a big project, it's good to start from scratch, from "Ground Zero," from the very beginning. Yet no sooner do we begin our excursion into reading and understanding the Bible than we run into a question. The first four words of Genesis are "In the beginning, God…." But what, inquiring minds might wonder, about God's beginning?

What Was Before the Beginning?(Genesis 1:1)

The Bible takes us back to the beginning of life as we know it, but it never suggests that God had a beginning. The concept of eternity is going to be important as we get into the basic teachings and doctrines of the Bible. Believers hope in eternal life with God. Because there is no end to this time, we should not expect that God's "time" had a beginning either. This is a hard concept to wrap your mind around. Scientists have recently tried to expand our thinking to grasp concepts of billions of years, but it's more challenging still to comprehend something that has always existed and will never end. Yet the Bible makes that claim about God—the one who, in turn, sees to the creation of everything else.

A Good Day 's Work (Genesis 1:1 —2:3)

The story of creation follows a logical progression. The Bible suggests that humankind was God's greatest achievement. (Who are we to disagree?) Yet that's not where the creation starts. Why make people first if there is no dry land to park them on, or while it is still dark and they could bump into something and hurt themselves? Just as a sculptor begins with rough forms before concentrating on finer details, God began the work of creation by separating and shaping. The farther along God went, the more defined creation became. Notice the practical sequence of the days of creation.

  • Day 1 (Gen. 1:3–5) Light is created and is separated from darkness to designate day and night.
  • Day 2 (Gen. 1:6–8) God structures an expanse called "sky" to separate the water on earth from the water above.
  • Day 3 (Gen. 1:9–13) The water on earth is gathered to form seas distinct from land. Vegetation is created with the capability of reproducing from seeds.
  • Day 4 (Gen. 1:14–19) Heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) are created to provide light and mark seasons.
  • Day 5 (Gen. 1:20–23) Birds and sea creatures are formed with the capabil-ity of reproducing "according to their kinds."
  • Day 6 (Gen. 1:24–2:1) God turns his attention to land creatures, complet-ing his work with the creation of humankind—both male and female.
  • Day 7 (Gen. 2:2–3) God rests.
The Genesis account of creation describes God as speaking each day's work into existence. We are repeat-edly told that God saw that his work was good. But when it was over and the totality of creation was evaluated, he knew it was very good (Gen. 1:31).

When the time came to create humans, God said, "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26). The use of the first-person plural pronoun suggests to some scholars that ancient Israelites believed God to be surrounded by angelic members of a heavenly court, much as the kings on earth were surrounded by courtiers. Others interpret the "we" to mean that God's being comprises a "three in one" Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (More about the Trinity when we get to the New Testament.)

One more question before we move on. Why did God rest? (Gen. 2:2)

What Saith Thou? Were the days of creation literal, 24-hour days? Those who say yes believe in a "young earth " that is thousands,,rather than billions,of years old.Others accept scientific evidence such as fossil records and carbon dating and view the "days " of creation as time periods of undetermined length.(After all, the sun wasn 't even present to determine "days " until Day 4..)

Although an omnipotent God cannot, by definition, become tired, the God of the Bible sometimes models what he wants people to do. In this case, the pattern is established from the beginning of time to set aside one day of the week for renewal and spiritual reflection.

Adam and Eve in a Brave Nude World (Genesis 2:4 –25)

The first chapter of Genesis is essentially the overview of creation. Genesis 2 backs up a bit to provide a closer look at the creation of human beings. This is an intensely personal and intimate description. In the Bible, human life begins as a relationship— not simply a chance occurrence involving slimy primordial ooze.

According to the Genesis narrative, God formed dirt into the shape of a man and performed a kind of heavenly CPR to breathe life into him. He then placed the man in a green paradise known as the Garden of Eden, filled with trees, rivers, and food. The Bible says that the garden was a place where four rivers converge, including the Tigris and the Euphrates. (In today's world, its location would probably be southern Iraq.) At the center were two significant trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God gave Adam almost unlimited freedom, plus a fulfilling job naming animals and overseeing the garden. The one restriction was that Adam had to avoid eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As Adam went through the process of naming animals, he probably couldn't help noticing peculiar behavior among the birds and the bees. Adam was singular, a one-of- a-kind creature, when he surely longed to be two-of-a-kind. So God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, during which God took a rib (or "part of the man's side") and created woman. "For this reason," the story continues, "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). You hear this verse recited at many weddings, and it is quoted in the New Testament by both Jesus (Matt. 19:5) and Paul (1 Cor. 6:16). But isn't it interesting that the "two becoming one" principle is established in this context when Adam and Eve didn't even have a mother or father?

Adam and Eve were both naked, the narrative concludes, "and they felt no shame."

Fall Comes to Eden (Genesis 3)

We don't know how many blissful years (or decades or centuries) Adam and Eve spent in Eden. The next account we have is when things go sour for them. Although Satan is not mentioned in this narrative, tradition holds that the serpent who figures so largely in this episode was none other than the Temptor himself, the Devil, taking the form of the serpent to tempt Eve. In the book of Revelation, Satan is designated "that ancient serpent" (Rev. 20:2).

The serpent's strategy is crafty. He doesn't oppose anything God has said or done—at least, not overtly. Instead, he asks an innocent-sounding question that causes Eve to doubt what she has been told. Before she has time to think clearly, he follows up with an even more venomous suggestion that perhaps God has an ulterior motive. Is Eve going to let herself be duped? "For God knows that when you eat of [the forbidden fruit], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). The Satan-serpent has succeeded in directing Eve's attention from the vast expanse of paradise to the single forbidden tree and the luscious, ripe fruit hanging there. (The Bible doesn't specify the kind of fruit that was forbidden.)

The fruit looked delicious. Eve grabbed a piece, took a bite, and handed some to Adam so he could share the experience. He, too, ate some of the fruit. Things changed, all right. We don't know what kind of wisdom they were expecting, but the first recorded result of eating the forbidden fruit was something to the effect of, "Hey, turn your head! I'm buck naked!" Adam and Eve took to the bushes and didn't come out until they had sewed some fig leaves together to cover themselves.

They must not have become very smart, because after who knows how long of being naked and unashamed, they suddenly decided to try to hide from God. When they finally came out, they were wearing the latest fig fashions. God knew what was going on. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" (3:11)

Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. But neither the man nor the woman had any idea what the disas-trous effects of their disobedience would be. In fact, as the Bible explains it, Adam and Eve had moved from a state of perfection and innocence to one of sin and death. That is why this biblical account is frequently referred to as "the Fall." Although they didn't die immediately, death did come to them in time, and to every one of their descendants, too.

What Saith Thou?

Why would God place a potentially lethal tree in Eden?Didn 't he know what would happen? Here 's one way of looking at it. Parents want their children to love them by choice,not as a result of parental manipulation or authority. Similarly,God surely wanted Adam 's devotion and loyalty to be volun- tary.The tree of the knowledge of good and evil allowed Adam (and later Eve)the freedom to obey or disobey God.

Potent Quotables

I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers;he will crush your head,and you will strike his heel. (Gen.3:15) This verse is often considered the first prophecy in the Bible.Speaking to the serpent (Satan),God makes it clear that this isn 't the last time they will oppose one another.Satan will "strike the heel " of the woman 's offspring —usually interpreted to refer to the death of Jesus —but in the ultimate victory,this same offspring will crush the "serpent " with a fatal blow.

God did not let the human beings' disobedience pass unpunished. Adam and his descendants were sentenced to endure"painful toil" for their livelihood. Eve and her descendants would have greatly increased pains in childbirth, and in addition, her desire for her husband would somewhat diminish the more equitable status she had enjoyed in the garden.

Stronger still was the curse God placed upon the serpent: It was doomed to"crawl on [its] belly" and"eat dust" (3:14).

The ground was also cursed: From now on it would produce thorns and thistles to interfere with the"easy pickings" Adam had previously enjoyed. Then Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden.

The serpent had been right: Having tasted the fruit, the humans now knew the differ-ence between good and evil—and, as the saying goes, ignorance turned out to have been bliss. To protect them from eating from the Tree of Life, which would doom them to live forever in their new, imperfect state, God placed an angel with a flaming sword to prevent their return to Eden.

Yet God had not ceased to care about human beings. Before they left Eden, he replaced their figgy clothing with more practical animal skins (the first suggestion of death in the Bible).

Brother Against Brother (Genesis 4:1-16)

Dramatic as it was, the sudden downward mobility of Adam and Eve did not prevent them from getting on with their lives. As they adapted to their new lifestyle, they began a family. Cain, their older son, became a farmer. Abel, the younger son, raised flocks.

One day, Cain and Abel decided to make an offering to God. Cain brought some of the fruits of his farming, while Abel offered God some of the firstborn of his flock. In ancient Israelite culture and religion, the firstborn was the most valued offspring, whether animal or human. However, as we shall see, in biblical narratives God makes frequent exceptions to this rule.

God was pleased with Abel's offering, but rejected Cain's. Why? The narrative does not explain. In the days of temple sacrifice, farm animals, grain, oil, and flour were all perfectly acceptable sacrifices, so the nature of the offering doesn't seem to be at issue. The New Testament perspective on this event suggests the problem was one of atti-tude: Abel's offering was sincere; Cain's wasn't (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12).

Whatever the reason, Cain was very unhappy. Ignoring God's stern warning that"sin is crouching at your door" (Genesis 4:7), he lured Abel into a field and killed him. The first instance of sibling rivalry in the Bible ended disastrously.

When God questioned Cain about Abel's disappearance, Cain replied,"I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). People who have heard this question quoted in various contexts may not have realized that originally it was a rather inept defense for fratricide.

Meet the Author

Jim Bell is editorial director of Moody Press. Previously, he served as director of religious publishing at Doubleday. He has assembled dozens of classic devotionals, abridgments, and compilations, including the God's Little Instruction series. He resides in West Chicago, Illinois.

Stan Campbell is author of the eight-book BibleLog series, the New Testament Quick Studies Series, and a host of other Bible-related youth products. He resides in Woodbridge, Illinois.

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