Understanding the Bible, Book Summary
Chapter 1: The Purpose of the Bible
The author laments that people normally ask varying questions and employ diverse strategies to read the Bible. Others, he asserts, give up Bible reading altogether or never start reading because they cannot see the relevance of accounts of people in the distant part for them today. However, Christians believe that although the Bible has a wide variety of human authors, there is a single unifying theme for a divine Author. It is perhaps most succinctly presented by Paul to Timothy in I Tim. 3:15-17. The apostle brings together the origin and object of Scripture. The writer investigates the nature of the Bible’s usefulness and analysis three words used Paul – salvation, Christ and faith.
Stott presents the central idea that the supreme purpose of the Bible is to instruct its readers for salvation, implying that Scripture has a practical purpose which is moral than intellectual. Since this is neither scientific nor literary, the Bible could be rightly seen as a book neither of literature nor of philosophy, but of salvation. He notes that salvation, in addition to forgiveness of sins, includes the entire sweep of God’s purpose to redeem and restore mankind and indeed all creation. The main thrust is God’s love for the rebels who deserve nothing but judgment.
God’s plan, originating in His grace, bibel einfach erklärt, took shape before time began. He made a covenant of grace with Abraham, promising through his prosperity to bless all the families of the earth. The rest of the Old Testament tabulates His gracious dealings with Abraham’s posterity, the Israelites. Although they rejected His Word, He never casts them out. In the New Testament, the apostles emphasize that forgiveness is possible only through Christ’s sin-bearing death, and a new birth leading to a new life only through the Spirit of Christ. The New Testament authors insist that though people have already in one sense been saved, in another sense their salvation still lies in the future. Conceived in a past eternity, achieved at a point in time and historically worked in human experience, it will reach its consummation in the eternity of the future.
Stott’s hypothetical argument is that if salvation is available through Christ and if Scripture concerns salvation, then scripture is full of Christ. Christ’s assertion was that in each of the three divisions of the Old Testament, the Law (the Pentateuch/First five books of the Bible), the prophets [history books or former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and latter prophets (major-Isaiah to Daniel- and minor prophets- Hosea to Malachi)] and the Psalms (writings), there were things concerning Him and all these things must be fulfilled. Discovering Christ in the New Testament is not strange. The gospels, acts, epistles and revelation vividly portray Him. In the latter for instance, He appears as a glorified man, a lamb, majestic rider on a white horse and a Heavenly Bridegroom. The survey of the two testaments demonstrates that we must turn to the Bible if we want to know about Christ and His salvation. The writer puts faith in its right perspective after lamenting its misuse.
Chapter 2: The Land of the Bible
Stott observes that some knowledge of the historical and geographical setting of God’s people is absolutely necessary to put the study in perspective. The reason for the recording of God’s dealing with Israel in general and individuals in particular is to teach us (Rom. 15:4; I Cor. 10:11). Scripture refuses to conceal the faults of great characters in the Old and New Testaments.
The writer dismisses the claim that Jerusalem was the centre of the earth as a sheer geographical nonsense even though Christians would defend it theologically. However, Christians believe in the providence of God whose choice of Palestine cannot be an accident. An obvious feature is that it acts as a kind of bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa. Strategically, therefore, God set Jerusalem in the centre of the nations (Ez.5:5).
When God told Moses that He’d bring the Israelites out of Egypt into Canaan, He described it as good and spacious. Joshua and Caleb, unlike the other spies, confirm that the land was exceedingly good. Several popular expressions were used to refer to the whole country from north to south. The commonest simply is from Dan to Beersheba. Stott suggests that perhaps a simpler way to remember Palestine is to visualize four strips of the country between the sea and the desert – the coastland, the central highlands, the Jordan valley and the eastern tableland.
Stott affirms that God’s revelation as the ‘Shepherd of Israel’ was natural because of the intimate relationship which grew over the years between the Palestinian shepherds and the sheep since the latter were kept more for wool than for mutton. Jesus further developed the metaphor, calling himself the Good Shepherd. Though many Israelite farmers kept livestock, even more cultivated the soil. The three main products of Palestine (grain, new wine and oil) are normally grouped together in many biblical passages (Deut. 7:13; Joel 2:19). The writer notes the tremendous importance of the early (autumn) rain and the latter (spring) rain to harvest. Without them the corn would remain thin and desiccated. God Himself linked the rain and the harvest together and promised them to His obedient people. Three annual festivals had an agricultural as well as a religious significance. In them they worshiped the God of nature and the God of grace as the one God, Lord of the earth and of Israel. They are the Feast of the Passover, the Feast of the First fruits/Harvest and the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles/Ingathering. The observance of these was obligatory. They commemorated the signal mercies of the covenant God of Israel who first redeemed His people from their Egyptian bondage and gave them the Law at Sinai and then provided for them during their wanderings in the wilderness. From another standpoint, they are all harvest festivals marking respectively the beginning of the barley harvest, the end of the grain harvest and the end of the fruit harvest. Stott’s use of three maps showing the Fertile Crescent, the historical and natural regions of Palestine clearly puts the study in perspective.
Chapter 3: The Story of the Bible – Old Testament
Stott observes that Christianity is essentially a historical religion and that God’s revelation is an unfolding historical situation, through Israel and Jesus Christ. The writer forcefully argues that biblical historians quickly sank in the quicksand of subjectivity since they were writing ‘sacred’ history, the story of God’s dealings with a particular people for a particular purpose. They were selective in their choice of materials and in the eyes of the secular historian, unbalanced in their presentation of it. Other regions were only included if they impinge on the fortunes of relatively unknown Israel and Judah. Great heroes were either scarcely mentioned or introduced obliquely. Christians believe that Christ’s advent is the watershed of history, dividing time into BC and AD and the Bible into the Old and New Testaments.
The order of the thirty nine books is dictated neither by the date of their composition, nor the date of the subject matter but their literary genre. Broadly speaking, the three types of literature in the Old Testament are history, poetry and prophecy. The historical books (Pentateuch) and then twelve more tell a continuous story. After these come five books of Hebrew poetry or wisdom (from Job to Song of Solomon) and finally the seventeen prophetical books [five major prophets (Isaiah to Daniel) and twelve ‘minor’ prophets (Hosea to Malachi)]. Stott describes the creation, observing that God was not a national mascot. He observes that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘homicid’ seem to have existed previously for thousands of years and believes Adam was the first ‘homo divinus’. The writer highlights the call of Abraham, the groan of the Israelites under Pharaoh and their eventual release. Subjectively dismissing the Red Sea crossed by the Israelites as probably some shallow water, he observes that the miracle lay in the fact that God sent it as the moment Moses stretched his hand. At Sinai, God gave Israel three precious gifts – a renewed covenant, a moral law and atoning sacrifices.
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and none of the adult generation which brought a negative report – except Joshua and Caleb – entered the promised land. God appointed Joshua to succeed Moses. Israel’s history was a cycle of backsliding, oppression and deliverance. God raised judges who combined several functions. The greatest was Samuel who remonstrated with the Israelites and warned them that future kings would be oppressive. They did not listen and Saul became the first king, ending the theocratic state ruled by God directly. David was designated heir to the throne of the disobedient Saul. As king, David unified Israel and devoted himself to God. His son Solomon, who succeeded him, did not love God with all his heart. The kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah after his reign.
Stott highlights the Babylonian captivity which lasted for fifty years. The hardest trial was religious for the Israelites felt spiritually lost in their separation from temple and sacrifice. Ezekiel was among them as a guide. Israel had to wait for another four hundred years before the Messiah was born. Throughout the uneasy period of Maccabean rule, important movements were developing in the Jewish community which later hardened into the various religious parties of our Lord’s day.
The writer, in addition to end notes, arranges dates in chronological order at the end of the discourse.
Chapter 4: The Story of the Bible – New Testament
Stott observes that it is an account of the words and deed of Jesus of Nazareth. The gospels, strictly speaking, are testimony and not biography, bearing witness to Christ and the good news of salvation. He highlights five reasons why the gospels would be approached with confidence and not with suspicion. Four evangelists were Christians, honest men to whom truth matters. They give evidence of their impartiality. Thirdly, they claim either to be themselves eye-witnesses of Jesus or to report the experience of eye witnesses. Jesus seems to have taught like a Jewish rabbi. Lastly, if God said and did something absolutely unique and decisive through Jesus, it is inconceivable that he would have allowed it to be lost in the mists of antiquity. The gospels tell the same story, yet differently. The first three are usually known as Synoptic Gospels because their stories run parallel and present a synoptic – that is, similar- account of Jesus’ life. Every reader of John’s gospel is immediately struck by the differences between it and the synoptic gospels in subject matter, theological emphasis, literary styles and vocabulary. Commenting on the birth and youth of Jesus, each evangelist begins his story at a different place. Mark plunges almost immediately into Jesus’ public ministry, heralded as it was by John the Baptist. John goes to the other extreme and reaches back into a past eternity to the pre-incarnate existence of Christ. He was brought up in Nazareth in Galilee. The only incident from His boyhood recorded in the Gospels took place when he reached the age of twelve and was taken up to Jerusalem for the Passover. He eventually noted that His duty is to spend time in the Father’s house. Growing in wisdom and stature in favour with God and man, the evangelists did not give a strictly chronological account of the Lord’s public ministry which appears to last approximately for three years. The writer refers to the first year as the year of obscurity, the second year of popularity and the third the year of adversity.