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The MAPMaking the Bible Meaningful, Accessible, Practical
By Nick Page
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Nick Page
All right reserved.
Chapter OneExploring the Bible
The thing that really annoys me about the way many people talk about the Bible is that they make it seem so boring.
I believe the problem is often to do with how we approach the Bible. We approach it almost in fear, as if it's going to be an unpleasant experience. It's not meant to be an exciting experience-it's just something you have to do. Like going to the dentist: it's good for you, but you don't actually enjoy it.
Well, I don't think the Bible is like that. I prefer to think of Bible study as exploration. Reading the Bible should be less like visiting the dentist and more like exploring another land. We should approach the Bible with the spirit of pioneers, "boldly going" into brave new chapters, seeking to understand the natives and to learn from their wisdom.
So, how do we map the Bible? How is it laid out? What does the country look like?
At first glance the Bible appears to be a huge, forbidding land mass. Open the covers and you will see that it is split into two "land masses," the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the larger-and older-of the two and both masses are linked by what looks like a small,thin strip.
Look a bit closer and you can see that the huge continent is really two land masses joined by a small bridge.
The Bible is split into "regions" or types of writing. There are the rocky, ancient areas, a large flat plain, dense forest lands, even some difficult and dangerous swamps-different regions, all distinct.
The Old Testament is split into four different regions: History, Prophecy, Wisdom and what some people call "the Pentateuch" or "the Books of the Law."
The New Testament is divided into three regions: the Gospels (sort of mini-biographies of Jesus), the book of Acts (a history of the early Church) and the Letters. The Letters are subdivided into letters from Paul and letters from other people, such as John and Peter.
Each region is full of cities-which correspond to the books of the Bible. The Law, for example, consists of five "cities": Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Gospels "region" in the New Testament contains Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Within all the regions there are cities and towns. Some of these are huge and ancient. Some are smaller. Some are tiny. They are all linked by a crisscrossing of roads and tracks.
The longest book in the Bible is over one hundred times the size of the smallest book. And just as cities and towns look different, the books are written in different styles. Some books-the Psalms, for instance-are collections of poems. Some are long histories. Some of these "cities" are very similar in architecture. There are parts of Chronicles and Kings that echo each other very closely, but from a different standpoint.
Just as there are streets within every city, each book of the Bible is broken down into chapters. Some of these are long streets-more like highways. Others are very short. Some of them look like other streets; in some of them the architecture is completely different. Some of the streets are identical to streets in other towns on that continent.
And just as streets are made up of houses with numbers, each chapter of the Bible is made up of different amounts of numbered verses. Again, some houses are replicas of houses in other cities, other towns. Most of the houses are different, although they might be built in a particular style.
Finding your way around
When someone says, "Look up John 3:16," what they are actually doing is giving you an address. All you have to do is go to the city of John, find street number 3 and go to the house numbered 16. Ring the bell, open the door, read it and see what's inside.
Broken down in this way, we can see that the Bible isn't meant to be taken in all at once. You can no more grasp the "whole of the Bible" at once than you can spend a day in a continent and think that you have seen it. Reading the Bible should be an adventure, an exploration, a visit to a different land. If you really want to understand it, you have to spend some time there. There are, of course, the famous "sights." There are the places that every traveler visits-the chapters that we all should read, the passages that should be on everyone's itinerary. But the smaller, less visited places have their delights and their importance too. There is always something to discover. Each city has its own charms, its own sights. Hidden streets and half-forgotten alleys can help you to understand a place in a way that the tourist traps never can.
Whatever the case, the point is this: reading the Bible should not be seen as either a test or a chore. It's not a painful duty to be performed. It's a place to explore.
Sometimes that journey will be slow and tough, sometimes it will require slogging through foothills or climbing mountains. Sometimes it will be easy and smooth. Some sights we will see will make us stop in awe. Some will make us simply stop and think. All of it is important. All of it requires that we set out and make the journey.
Chapter TwoThe Old Testament
The books that we group together under the name "Old Testament" are some of the most remarkable works ever written. But to really appreciate the Old Testament we have to understand a few highly important facts.
It wasn't written by Christians
The Old Testament is only given that title when it is put together with the New Testament-that is, when it is part of the Christian Bible. It is "old" because, in Christian eyes, it describes a relationship with God that was preparatory to, and superseded by, the new relationship revealed through Jesus Christ. Thus you cannot expect the people in the Old Testament to behave like Christians-they lived thousands of years before Jesus arrived.
It was written over a huge period of time
The Old Testament comes from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds and took around 1,500 years to put together. So the culture described in the early parts of the Old Testament differs, not merely from the culture of the New Testament, but from the culture of other parts of the Old Testament itself. During that time attitudes and behavior changed vastly. By the end of the Old Testament period, for example, it was assumed that one man married one woman. Much earlier it was not uncommon for one man to have several wives (or several hundred if you're King Solomon).
It was specifically organized and edited
The Old Testament is a collection of documents that were deliberately edited and gathered together by a series of editors and compilers. That means it is very hard to give a specific author and date for many of the books, because many were put together many years after the original material was written by an editor who sometimes added his own comments and insertions.
It is not a system
For all these reasons, it is hard, if not impossible, to talk about one comprehensive system of Old Testament faith. Ideas and attitudes changed over time. God reveals himself in different ways to different people. Abraham is cited in the New Testament as a "man of faith," but his understanding of God was very different from ours. He lived before God saved the Israelites from Egypt, before the giving of the Law, before, most crucially, the arrival of Jesus.
Over the years this has led to huge problems for Christians in particular as the God of the Old Testament seems so different from the God of the New Testament. Some people could reconcile the differences only by dismissing the Old Testament completely. Others argue that there is no difference-that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Most readers, however, will find things that are puzzling and that simply don't "fit." That is not to say that there are not themes that run through the Old Testament. Ideas of love, justice, mercy, compassion are found woven into the pattern of many books of the Bible. And the people in the Old Testament show many characteristics that we can see in our own lives and in the lives of people around us-hope, fear, joy, greed, treachery, selfishness and many more universal human emotions. But we will find much that we don't understand, and behavior that we find difficult even to condone.
The key thing to remember is that they too were exploring, finding things out as they went along. We should be wary of looking at people in the Old Testament as if they shared the same understanding of God that we do. They didn't. But they were humans for all that, and there is still an awful lot that we can learn from their faith and their lives.
The Books of the Law
The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, from the Greek word pentateuchos, meaning "five-volumed book." They are traditionally associated with Moses. Some claim that he wrote them himself, others that his words and his encounter with God were the inspiration for their composition. For this reason they are often referred to as the Law of Moses. When other parts of the Bible talk about "the Law," they generally mean the Pentateuch.
Begins with the creation of man, and then traces the origins of the people of Israel through ancestors like Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. Although it begins with a global perspective (you can't get much more global than the creation of the world), it soon begins to narrow down into the story of Israel. By the end of Genesis, the people of Israel are in slavery in Egypt.
With Exodus we enter Moses' own time. Exodus tells the story of the escape from Egypt-the exodus itself. The book ends with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God and the instructions for the building of the tabernacle.
Leviticus is almost completely a book of rules and regulations. It consists of a huge amount of what might be called religious red tape. Most people find it a difficult and even dull book, but there are gems inside.
Gets its name because it is full of ... er ... numbers, actually. It contains a census of the people of Israel, taken while they were on their journey. It also records the failure of Israel to enter the Promised Land and their forty years in the wilderness.
This is mainly Moses' farewell speech. It is a summary, in a way, of the other books, given just before his death and before the Israelites' entry to the Promised Land.
Genesis In the beginning ...
Genesis is the book of beginnings. It is not only the start of the Bible-it is the start of all creation.
Who: The traditional view is that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Nowadays most experts believe that the books are the work of several hands and come from different traditions.
When: Genesis was written over a long period of time. It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the book together. The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC).
What: Genesis is about origins. It tells the readers where we came from and why we are here. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we have all the themes that will fill the rest of the Bible-creation, sin and rebellion; love, grace and mercy. For, following the fall of Adam and Eve, God was not concerned solely with punishment, he was also planning for salvation.
The book is structured around the lives of several key figures, people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. There are, of course, interludes that cover other topics, but these are the key characters. They are known as the patriarchs, the "fathers," and they remind us that the Bible is not a book about God-it is a book about God and man.
God is personal. He speaks, he thinks, he relates to humans. This is not some impersonal "life force," still less some distant, alien being. This is a "someone," a being who wants to communicate with the world he has created. Indeed, the whole of the Bible is about God's attempts to make himself known to his creations, to inspire, cajole, correct and above all to love these people he made.
Excerpted from The MAP by Nick Page Copyright © 2002 by Nick Page. Excerpted by permission.
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