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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BIBLEIN 12 LESSONS
By MAX ANDERS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1995 Max Anders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow Important Is the Bible?
Just to the west of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, there lies a vast and imposing fortress of stone called the Grand Teton Mountains. Long and narrow, rising to nearly 14,000 feet, they stretch for fifty miles north and south like the sawtoothed backbone of a half-submerged prehistoric monster. One of the most photographed places in the United States, these mountains rise abruptly from a flat floor and cast their cold and impersonal, yet strikingly beautiful, presence in every direction for scores of miles.
The Teton range is virtually impassable. If the summer is warm, there is one pass that will open for a matter of weeks to let you travel east and west over the backbone. Otherwise, you may have to drive as many as fifty or more miles out of your way to go west from Jackson Hole, just to get around one of the largest outcroppings of exposed stone in the world. When you look at the horizon anywhere near the area, the Tetons dominate the landscape.
In the same way, when we scan the horizon of human civilization for the last two thousand years, we see the Bible, confronting the traveler like a massive mountain range that must be negotiated and cannot be merely wished away. The Bible is an enormous historical presence, the dominant piece of literature and a dominant influence in history since the time of Christ. No other piece of literature has come within a fraction of its impact. If the Bible is a mighty oak, then every other piece of literature is a sapling, a seedling, or an acorn.
The curious, the earnest, the zealous traveler on life's highway wants to know about and seriously consider the claims of such a book. Why is the Bible so important?
What Influence Has the Bible Had on Our Society?
The Bible has played a major role in determining the social values of the Western world.
The Bible has made a monumental impact on our society, and we can be glad it has. Once a South Sea Islander proudly displayed his Bible to an American soldier during World War II. "We've outgrown that sort of thing," the soldier said. The Islander smiled back and said, "It is a good thing that we haven't. If it weren't for this book, we would have eaten you by now."
Whether the story is true or not, it certainly expresses a truth: If it weren't for the Bible, something, somewhere, may very well have eaten us by now, literally or otherwise.
The Bible is certainly the dominant piece of literature worldwide, with multiple billions of copies published to this point, and millions more published every year. While its impact may be diminishing in some circles, it is growing in others, and its historic impact cannot be denied. As one example, the United States was founded largely on Judeo-Christian principles drawn from the Bible, and when one considers the unprecedented historic impact which this nation has had on the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in promoting peace and political freedom, it is clear that the influence of the Bible extends far beyond its borders.
The Bible has influenced many societies to adopt basic, important community virtues and to oppose several social vices.
In some parts of the world, a husband may have more than one wife. In some parts of the world, a man's wife is his property, to treat as he sees fit. In some parts of the world, if a couple produce a daughter when they wanted a son, they simply throw the daughter away. Not in America, however. Our laws governing the family have been forged on quite a different anvil.
The Bible has defined relationships in the family for the last two thousand years. Modern society has largely ignored biblical teachings about the family, and has, as a consequence, seen the family suffer. Yet numerous voices today are calling us back to the ideal, insisting that a society flourishes only to the extent that its families flourish.
The Bible's ideal of one man and one woman married to each other for life provides the strongest underpinning for any society. The Bible proclaims the dignity of man, woman, and child. Men and women are equals in the sight of God, and the value of women is upheld in the Christian Bible to a degree higher than that of any other religion's scriptures. The Bible is often misused, as well as falsely accused of being demeaning to women. Seen clearly, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Jesus upheld the dignity and equality of women in His teaching and all His dealings with women. In Ephesians 5:25, the apostle Paul describes the love husbands are to give their wives by pointing to Christ, whose love for the church moved Him to give Himself up for her. Total and complete commitment to the welfare of the wife is the standard to which the Bible holds all husbands. The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:7, "husbands, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor." Whenever men have exploited women, they have violated the Bible, period.
So with children. Jesus held children in the highest esteem. Once "some children were brought to [Jesus] so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "'Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'" (Matthew 19:13–14 NASB). The apostle Paul wrote "Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Also, in Colossians 3:21 we read, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."
Certainly, it is true that the Bible has been used to justify the abuse of children with verses such as Proverbs 23:13–14: "Do not withhold correction from a child, / For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. / You shall beat him with a rod, / And deliver his soul from hell." However, no one will abuse children on the basis of the Bible if he or she knows the whole Bible (not falling prey to the mistake of yanking verses like that out of context) and seeks to bring up children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." In fact, through the example and teaching of Jesus, children (just as women) are taken more seriously and treated more kindly in the Bible than they are in any other sacred writings. Protection of both the physical and psychological dimensions of women and children is a fundamental responsibility of all Christian men, and that is the origin of laws and customs governing life in America, in spite of all the violations we see. They are just that—violations, not the law.
Throughout history, the pendulum of conflict has swung back and forth between owners and workers. Whether it was masters and slaves, merchants and buyers, landowners and serfs, or employers and employees, there is a long history of persecution and victimization. The teaching of the Bible, in principle, ends the pendulum swings. First, it teaches us generally to "do unto others as we would have others do unto us." Second, it teaches us specifically concerning the responsibilities of employees and employers:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him (Ephesians 6:5–9 NASB).
Also, in Colossians we read,
Bondservants [applies also to employees] obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (3:22–24, 4:1).
If employees and employers followed these principles, the major pendulum swings between labor and management, to see who can take greatest advantage of whom, would disappear from the workplace.
In some countries, discrimination is accepted and deeply entrenched. Indeed, discrimination among races has been a particularly acute problem in America, though certainly not confined to America. Problems between African-Americans and Caucasians have certainly received the most attention, but conflict among Hispanics, Asians, Europeans, and Eastern Europeans has also been legendary in America. And, sad to say, it shows signs of getting worse in some places, instead of better. However, the laws of our country forbid racial discrimination because as a nation we believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. This value, while many people do not realize it, is part of our heritage from the Bible. Scripture lays discrimination to rest. Again, in general terms, Jesus' teaching of the Golden Rule applies: If we would not like to be discriminated against, then we should not discriminate. Specifically, in James 2:8–9, we read, "If [in giving a seat of honor to a rich person] you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (NASB).
These principles were violated in our nation in a ghastly display of selective understanding when we tolerated slavery. But, terrible as that was, at least it is no longer legal. And the breakdown of support for slavery was encouraged to a great extent by Christians. Today no one can claim support from the Bible to discriminate against another person. The Bible clearly establishes the equality of all people before God, and it is a sin to treat anyone otherwise.
What is considered to be lawful and unlawful in America has been influenced significantly by Scripture. Our law says we are not to steal, kill, cheat, or lie, just as the Ten Commandments also teach. According to the Bible, we are not even to covet, hate, or lust! People who don't know the Bible well have stereotyped ideas of what it teaches, thinking that it teaches intolerance, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. The fact is, if everyone started following the Bible today, most of our major social problems would be solved, or well on their way, by tomorrow!
In addition, how we treat criminals is also influenced in a major way by the Scripture. Some countries punish thieves by chopping off a hand. Some routinely beat prisoners within an inch of their lives, merely on the whim of the authorities. Some countries exert no to little effort to give a suspect his due process under the law. In America, while some would say we have gone too far in the other direction, at least we treat everyone as innocent until proven guilty, and then still acknowledge that even criminals have some rights. These values have grown out of our national acceptance of a basically biblical view of human beings.
Poverty has always existed and always will exist. Even Jesus said, "the poor you have with you always" (Matthew 26:11 NASB). Yet the Bible has encouraged our national sense of compassion and directed us to help those who cannot help themselves. Christianity has done more for the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged— and still does—than any other form of organized help in the world.
The Scriptures as the marching orders of believers have done more to advance humanitarianism than any other force on earth. From Mother Teresa helping the dying and destitute in the streets of Calcutta, to World Vision feeding thousands in a refugee camp, to the Salvation Army helping the down-and-outers, to the soup kitchens run by a rescue mission, to the church that provides shelter for the homeless, housing for unwed mothers, and financial assistance to those in crisis, Christianity is doing, and has done, more for the needy than any other institution or movement in the history of the world. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, teaches that we should take care of those in our families, the poor, the needy, the hungry, and those who cannot help themselves.
In the spirit of such teaching, from the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages, and into the modern age, Christianity has led the world in the establishing of hospitals, orphanages, and educational institutions. It has led the way in fighting slavery, child labor, and discrimination of any kind.
The oldest hospital in existence today is the Hotel Dieu (Hotel of God) in Paris, established by St. Landry around A.D. 600. Christians established the first hospital in the Western world in Rome, around A.D. 400. Today, throughout the world, hospitals named St. Joseph, St. Andrew, St. Anne, or the Baptist or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Methodist hospitals, testify the natural bent of Christian faith toward relieving human suffering and promoting health. The Bible gives the faith this direction.
Florence Nightingale established the institution of modern nursing out of her compassion and Christian convictions. The Red Cross and Young Men's Christian Association were established to extend Christian assistance to the needy. Louis Pasteur, a devoted follower of Christ, advanced medicine into the modern era as an outgrowth of his Christian convictions. Albert Schweitzer, as a result of his desire to serve Christ, spent his life helping establish a hospital in a remote part of Africa.
While excesses, miscalculations, and outright abuses have occurred throughout history in the name of Christ, those incidents are an embarrassment to Christ and a misapplication of biblical truth. In addition, the harm that has been done in the name of Christ comes nowhere near the good that has been done.
There is no perfect government on earth, but the ideals of government in America as expressed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights surpass those of any government established before. By contrast, anti-Christian governments, from the Empire of Rome to Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to Mao to a thousand obscure tyrants, have been murderous, barbarous expressions of the darkest corners of evil hearts. The Bible's influence on the establishment of benevolent governments has literally directed international fates. For example, if the United States had wanted to rule the world, it could have taken control at the close of World War II. After dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, the United States could have said to all other nations, "Unless you want one of these bombs dropped on the doorstep of your capitol, lay down your arms." But it didn't. Instead, it gave every country its freedom, and even spent billions rebuilding the very nations that waged war against us.
Christianity has had a profound effect on government in the world, especially in democracies. The dignity of the individual, the establishment of benevolent governments, and the promotion of just and fair laws is one of the great legacies of the Bible. It has promoted the humane treatment of criminals and has provided a safety net for disadvantaged people. Particularly in the history of England and the United States, the influence of Christianity has been profound. The major documents, from the Magna Charta to the Mayflower Compact to The Declaration of Independence, are filled with biblical principles and spirit. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," is perhaps the most lofty ideal in all of the documents of all human governments.
Excerpted from WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BIBLE by MAX ANDERS Copyright © 1995 by Max Anders. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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