Recently a friend of mine shared an article about 9 things every Christian should know to understand the Bible. It got me thinking so here is my list. Whether you are a Christian, casual reader, or Atheist, these 11 simple ideas will help you understand what the Bible is really saying. Understanding what it meant when it was written is essential to knowing how or if it can be related to today’s issues.
- What is Jamnia? I went through Bible school and Jamnia was never brought up. Really? It wasn’t even in my text-book! I want my money back. (At least some of it.) Jamnia was the council in 90 CE that kicked the Christians out of Judaism. Up until then Christianity was simply some weird sect of Judaism. So if you read a book taking about church structure or leadership… It was written after Jamnia.
- Know something about history. The New Testament was written during the early Roman Empire and this influences the authors. They have been through several horrible emperors like Nero, Caligula and Domitian. The philosophy of that era was Hellenism from the Greeks. Romans liked to steal ideas from cultures they conquered and make it their own. The Old Testament was written in several different era’s. They are the Late Kingdom period, the captivity period, the new Temple period and the apocalyptic period. Learning about the times of the Old Testament is a bit harder because of this but not impossible.
- Forget chapters. These books and letters were not originally with chapters and verses and many people tend to stop reading at the end of a chapter and believe a new thought is about to happen, when it isn’t. For instance, Genesis Chapters 18 and 19 are one story in which we are supposed to compare and contrast the actions of Abraham and his dealings with strangers and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and they way they dealt with strangers. Instead they are taught as if they have nothing to do with one another.
- Know the author. Forget tradition when it comes to authorship. Many traditions say that Moses wrote the Torah and disciples wrote much of the New Testament. The Torah was written by at least 4 or 5 separate people or schools of thought and none of the disciples could read or write. Only about five percent of the world could read and write at the time the New Testament was written and they were not fisherman. They were the wealthy and the elite. So just because 1 Peter says “This is from Peter” does not mean it is from Peter the disciple.
- Know why the book was written. Each book or letter was written for a specific reason and the content of that reason is for that reason. For example, the book of Romans was written because certain members of the Romans church were complaining about “sins” of other Christians in Rome. They are listed in Romans 1. Oops forgot, get rid of chapters. Those sins are listed at the beginning of Romans. Then Paul basically says in the next section, but you also have sins and here they are. That is why later Paul says, “For all have sinned and fallen short…” Paul was saying, don’t judge them take care of yourself, or get that “plank out of your own eye” etc…
- Who was it intended for? The books of Matthew and Mark were mostly intended for a Jewish audience so understanding the background of Judaism would be good. But much of the New Testament wasn’t. It was written to Gentiles and they had little knowledge of the Old Testament or ways of the Jews. The book of Leviticus was written to people of the late kingdom period or during the exile. Either way it is saying to be holy you must follow these rules and God will take care of you.
- Learn the types of writings. Especially true of the Proverbs and Psalms. They are NOT to be taken literally. The Psalms are like taking our favorite Hymns or choruses and making a book out of them. They are our Casey Kasems Top 150! They are the authors’ feelings and thoughts about the struggles they are going through. Nothing more. Proverbs are just that. Simple sayings that are most of the time true. So when we say “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 22:6. It is not a promise it’s just that most of the time this will happen.
- Prophetic books are not about the future! Prophecy has come to mean that there is something that is going to happen in the future. That is not what these books are about. They are about telling the people to get their act together. A Prophet is one who speaks the word of God. In other words they tell the people what God needs them to do to live a Godly life. They are not trying to tell a person about something that will happen at the end times. The book of Revelation is about the Roman Empire and it’s persecutions on Christians and how God will take care of those who are pure and have the “right to the tree of life”.
- Understand the meaning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the late 60’s there was a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. In 70 CE the Romans destroyed Jerusalem laying waste to the city. The temple was torn down and destroyed. Up until that time the Christian thought was an imminent return of Christ. Then things changed. No Jerusalem to come to, no soon return. You start to get ideas of if Christ should wait 1000 years it’s ok, it’s like a day to god.
- Understand the tension between the authors. Some authors love Grace and the equality of everyone. (Paul) Some authors want people to live by the rules that they are laying out. (Timothy’s and Titus) It’s the same tension today between the right and left wing of the church. Some want us to follow their rules to make it to heaven and some believe God’s taken care of that already, just love one another.
- Question everything! Jesus questioned the authorities and so should you.
Hope this will help you understand the Bible a little better.