Overview of the Bible


Reading is always a matter of interpreting a piece of writing no matter in what language it is written. To understand the writer, the reader must know the meaning of the words in the literary form in which they are used.

Here is a ready-to-hand example. You pick up today's newspaper and you see the word, "dead" or "died," in the script. What does it mean? Does it make any difference where you find the word in the newspaper?

A teacher explains the relationship between the knowledge acquired through the external senses and intellectual knowledge. He asks a few questions and draws a complete blank. He says to the class, "It's Monday morning and, as usual, all of you are dead from the shoulders up." Everyone smiles a bit and wakes up to what is being said.

What is true of the newspaper is true of the written word anywhere. Before you can say you know what a person means in his writing, you have to know the literary forms in use at that time, in that language and interpret the writing accordingly.

Apply these ideas to reading the Bible. It is not a book in our modern sense of the word. The Bible is a collection of writings, large and small, written over a period of about 19 centuries, between 1800 B.C. and 125 A.D. The authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The writings of the Bible were translated into Latin when Latin was the common language of the educated world. This Latin was translated into various modern languages. The translators, in both cases, were more or less skilled. Today, you pick up an English version of the Bible and read the text in the light of 20th century language, literary forms, and customs. Will you get any meaning out of the reading? Yes, if you understand the language. Will you get the meaning intended by the writers of 19 to 37 centuries ago? Most probably not!

If you want to understand the basic message of the Bible and know how to apply it to your life today, you must get back to the meaning of the words as intended by the original writers. A big job? Yes! A necessary Job? Even more so! It is this lack of true understanding that has emasculated the dynamism of the Biblical ideals and given rise to a lot of pietistic mush. The plan of God as presented in the Bible is supposed to change the world into a place of peace, happiness, creativity and love. Supposedly, people have been reading the Bible and following it for 20 centuries, and the crime and corruption are worse today than they were in the 1st century.

The Bible has an essential message for the world today. But until that message is understood as it was intended, we will continue to substitute the structure of the church for the Kingdom of God. We will continue to substitute rituals for life. We will continue to supplant the wisdom of God with the ignorance of man.

I hear the objection. "The Bible is not supposed to be read like other writings. This is the Word of God and it must be accepted on Faith." That statement is half-right and half-wrong. Let's take the correct part first. You are to accept the Bible on Faith. That is correct but what is the meaning of "Faith" as a biblical term? The word "FAITH" comes from a Hebrew word that most people have used since they were able to speak. The English word is "A M E N." Amen is a Hebrew verb and it contains four ideas, all equally necessary:

1) I UNDERSTAND what is being said. (understanding)
2) I am CONVINCED of what I understand. (conviction)
3) I am COMMITTED to these ideas. (commitment)
4) I will CARRY OUT this commitment in my daily life. (practice)

Every time you say "Amen" this is what you are supposed to mean. You cannot leave out anyone of the four ideas and still say that you have Biblical faith or are sincerely saying "Amen."

The end-result of these ideas is that the readers of the Bible must either read the original languages of the writers in their literary context of centuries ago. Or they must get the help of scholars who have this knowledge.

I am not against reading the Bible. But I think it is as foolish to read the Bible without the literary skills as it is to give a child in 3rd grade a college psychology text and expect him to understand it. He will get some of the words but he will certainly not be equipped to understand what the writer is trying to teach.

I am firmly convinced the message of Christian ideals is capable of changing the world and the human race into a society built on true love. However, this message must be understood as it was written. This message and its applications must become the convictions of the people of today. These personal convictions must be expressed in a true and realistic commitment. This commitment must be carried out in all aspects of daily life, today.

The Canon of Sacred Scripture

The actual writing of the Bible took place over many centuries.

The Bible is not a book in our sense of the word. It is a collection of booklets, essays, advice and notes written separately for specific groups, and to answer clearly defined problems. Gradually, these writings took on the note of antiquity and authority and became known as "The Writings," "The Booklets," or "The Book." This last title came from the Greek word "To Biblion" which translated into English as "the Bible."

The oldest part of the Old Testament goes back to the 10th century B.C., and the last writings of the New Testament are in the early 2nd century A.D. So these writings span about 12 centuries, and were intended for many different people in a variety of places.

There are three groupings of the Books of the Bible among Biblical scholars. They are the Protocanonical, the Deuterocanonical, the Apocryphal. The reason for these divisions is quite involved and requires pages in any discussion of the Bible. The following is a summary.

If you go back to the early teachers and writers of the Church, they made little distinction among the books. They gave equal authority to all the writings. Then the question arose, "Which were the authentic teachings of God in Old Testament and in New Testament times?"

For Roman Catholics, an official pronouncement was made at the Council of Trent in 1563. The books that were officially accepted as the inspired Word of God, the Bible, were mentioned by name. Scholars could discuss the matter, but Roman Catholics must accept these books as official. The non-Catholic scholars were not bound by any such decree, and so they made a different listing according to what they considered the evidence from history.

Everybody agreed on the Protocanonical. These books are listed in all Bibles. This list reads: Old Testament (OT): Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy; Joshua; Judges; Ruth; the Four Books of Kingdoms: 1 & 2 Samuel, 3 & 4 Kings; the Paralipomena: 1 & 2 Chronicles; Ezra; Nehemiah; Esther; 1 & 2 Maccabees; Psalms; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Songs; Job; the major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezechiel, Daniel. cc. 1-12; and the 12 minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai. Zechariah and Malachi.

The Deuterocanonicals are the books about which there was some doubt as to canonicity in the past. This means that the scholars questioned whether these books were always accepted with authority equal to the Protocanonical books. The Deuterocanonical books of the OT books, about which there was some doubt, include: Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch and Daniel chapters 13-14. As stated, there was doubt about these books but at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, this doubt was settled for Catholics.

Protocanonical and Deuterocanonical have equal authority and acceptance. Many non-Catholic scholars will not agree with this picture. So they call the Deuterocanonical books the Apocryphals. Some editions of their Bibles do not include these books. Others include them in a separate section because they have a very long history, but they are not part of the official Bible - as they see it.

If you are not too confused, there is one more distinction to be made. There are other books that were used by many of the early Christian writers and teachers. They were quoted in the same breath with the books of the Bible. They were considered holy and authoritative but they were never truly accepted as an official part of the Bible. These are called Apocryphals by all scholars.

Therefore, if you have a Bible that is approved by Catholic authority with the “Nihil Obstat” and the “Imprimatur” of the Church, both the Protocanonical and the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament will be included. If any of these books are missing, you do not have a book officially approved by the Catholic Church, but may be acceptable to many other groups.

When you study the historical and chronological development of the Old Testament, it is easy to see why there were questions and doubts.

New Testament
The New Testament (NT) had a much easier history. The only book that is thrown out by some is the "Letter of James." This exclusion took place in the time of Luther, and he called it the "straw epistle," meaning that it was worthy only to be burned. His reason was quite easily seen. Luther wanted to teach, as did many theologians in the 16th century, that man lives by faith ALONE. Good works are not necessary. St. James had dealt with this problem in the first century of the Christian era. He said, "Faith without works is dead." This statement was the direct and open refutation of the basic teaching of Luther. So he took the letter of James out of the Canon.

The New Testament Canon is made up of 27 writings: The four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke. and John; the Acts of Apostles; 13 letters of Paul; 2 letters of Peter; 3 letters of John; the letter of James; the letter of Jude; the letter to the Hebrews; and the book of Revelation. These are not in chronological order. The first writings were the letters of Paul about 50 A.D. and the last writing was the Gospel according to John. about 125 A.D. Some non-Catholic Bibles will not include the letter of James or will list it as an apocryphal work.



The Bible, as it was called by the Septuagint translators, is a collection of long and short writings. Who wrote these works is difficult to say. They are a collection of ideas handed down orally for many centuries.

Old Testament:

Genesis: Beginnings.

Exodus: Deliverance.

Numbers: Wanderings.

Leviticus: Ritual.

Deuteronomy: On the eve of failure.

Joshua: Promised land.

Judges: Ups and downs.

Ruth: A true believer.

1 & 2 Samuel: A kingdom starts.

1 & 2 Kings: A kingdom fails.

1 & 2 Chronicles: The remnant discouraged.

Ezra & Nehemiah: Have courage.

Tobit, Judith, Esther: Believers who succeeded.

1 & 2 Maccabees: Loyal soldiers against terrible odds.

Job: Why does a good person suffer?

Psalms: Songs for every occasion.

Proverbs: Wisdom of the ages in short form.

Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth): Does life have a meaning?

The Song of Songs: Songs for the wedding feast.

Wisdom: True wisdom drawn from faith in Yahweh.

Sirach: Wisdom of the ages much like Proverbs.

Isaiah: Yahweh is holy.

Jeremiah: Old Covenant falls; A New Covenant will come!

Lamentations: Songs of sadness at the failure of the People.

Baruch: Note of secretary of Jeremiah.

Ezechiel: Personal, individual responsibility.

Daniel: The Son of Man, the New Adam, will come.

Hosea: Live by love.

Joel: Punishment is terrible but there is a happy ending.

Amos: The greatest famine: Word of Yahweh will not be heard.

Obadiah: Edom will be punished.

Jonah: The impossible will be done.

Micah: Punishment will be terrible but there is a future.

Nahum: Ninive will be destroyed.

Habakkuk: Challenged Yahweh to explain why good people suffer.

Zephaniah: The Day of Yahweh: “Dies Irae.”

Haggai: (Aggeus) The Temple rebuilt: New Glory.

Zechariah: Future Glory.

Malachi: The priestly leaders have failed: Elijah will return.

New Testament: In Chronological Order.
It is important to know which writings preceded other writings. This shows the progression of ideas and actions. Paul's writings are the earliest and John's writings are the last.

PAUL: Paul's letters should be read first because they present the teaching of Jesus in its least developed form.

Saul, who later became known as Paul, was converted suddenly from a rabid hater and persecutor of the followers of Christ to a fervent and zealous follower. His temperament or personality did not change. He was a man of sudden and violent likes and dislikes. He was domineering, interfering and adamant. If he did not like someone, as in the case of Mark, he got rid of him and he did not lose his antagonistic attitude with time.

Fortunately for Paul, Luke, a Greek physician of the times, became his doctor and constant companion of Paul. He not only worked with Paul but he became his secretary. This was fortunate for all of us.

Paul would fire off a letter in a fit of anger or hurt feelings and then Luke would edit it and tone down some of the animosity. Many of the beautiful doctrinal passages in Paul's letters very probably are the result of the work of Luke. Paul had the ideas but Luke put them in flowing Greek and erased a lot of the angry hurt feelings of Paul.

FIRST THESSALONIANS: Parousia: Jesus appears in glory and fulness.

SECOND THESSALONIANS: Courage and perseverance.

FIRST CORINTHIANS: LOVE: A many-splendored gift.

SECOND CORINTHIANS: Work for invisible, unending glory.

PHILIPPIANS: Jesus glorified; every knee shall bend,

GALATIANS: Son of God ... Heirs of Christ.

ROMANS: FAITH (AMEN): The just person lives by faith.

COLOSSIANS: Full growth in Christ. (61-63: Captivity).

EPHESIANS: BODY OF CHRIST: Members of Christ and each other.

PHILEMON: Love all Christians.

ONE TIMOTHY: Unbroken line of authoritative teaching.

TITUS: Speak with love, kindness, and authority.

TWO TIMOTHY: Swan song of Paul: soldier, athlete, believer.

GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK: The Proclamation or reason.

JAMES: True religion: help all who are in need and remain unspoiled in the midst of the world. 1:27.

ONE PETER: Chosen race, royal priesthood, consecrated people. Have ready always the reason for the hope that is in you.

TWO PETER: Beware of false teaching.

JUDE: Beware of false teachers.

GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE: Health and salvation.

      BREATH OF NEW ADAM: working and sharing.

      KINGSHIP: Being a King and spreading the kingdom.

REVELATION: The wedding dress of the bride - the Church; good deeds of all the saints.

HEBREWS: Jesus Christ, Our High Priest.

1-2-3 JOHN: LOVE: “Cannot love God and hate your neighbor.”

GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN: SERVICE: Love is being completely at the service of each other.

Who Wrote the Gospels?
The answer is easy. We do not know who actually wrote the Gospels as we have them now. We know the source or where each Gospel came from but who actually wrote it down is not known.

The Greek uses the preposition “kata” which means “according to” rather than the preposition “dia” which means “by.” The choice was deliberate. In Greek, if you say a writing is “by” a person, it means that this work, exactly as it is, came from the pen of the person named. Whereas if you say that it is “according to” a person, it means that the ideas are in harmony with his ideas but not necessarily in his exact words. So “according to” is telling us the ideas go back to this person as the source of their authority but he did not necessarily say or write them as they are gathered here.

Brotherhood of Man because of the Fatherhood of God.
With these ideas, we are now ready to read the Bible, Old and New Testament, to trace the development of the brotherhood of man because of the fatherhood of God.