The Bible Project

This month my church (during evening services) is going back to the basics of studying the Bible. We are watching a video series on Old Testament Survey, as presented by Dr Kevin Peacock. The series is very much like an online college course, without the academic textbook reading or the writing and research assignments.

Last week the website The Bible Project was mentioned and my pastor looked into it. And yesterday he showed two clips from the site on Genesis (chapters 1-11 and 12-50). The clips are interesting and informative. As each major aspect of the book is talked about, they are drawn out and demonstrate how each one is connected to the others.

This is definitely a resource that I fully intent to use as we continue studying the context of the God’s Holy Word.

Take a look at The Bible Project. I’d love to hear what your thoughts on it are.

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God’s Holy Word, In Context

Keeping the Bible in context is not necessarily an easy task to do, for we are thousands of years removed from when they were originally written. We will be using contexts to examine each passage of God’s Holy Word: historical, cultural, literary, theological and personal. For most of the Books of the Bible these will be looked at in umbral terms, meaning the context does not change from chapter to chapter. While other contexts will be examined passage to passage, depending how the story or section is divined.

For this study you will need a Bible commentary, a study Bible, and/or other reference material. Personally, I favour the New American Commentary for two reasons: 1. I have half the series in my personal library, and 2. it is a good balance of in depth word-study format and easy to read for laypersons. It does not matter which commentary or commentaries you use, the information we will examine should be found in most is not all series.

Last June, in the post “Keeping God’s Holy Word in Context“, we briefly looked at the contexts as layout by Dr George Guthrie in his study Read the Bible for Life, (published by LifeWay). We will look at what each type of context means, plus I will briefly explain what you can expect in regards to each context.

  1. Historical Context – This is regarding the history of the events in the passage and of its writing. This includes the timeline of events as it relates to the rest of the Bible and today; the original audience, (traditionally excepted) author, place and time of writing; and the world in and around the place in the passage. I will post several timelines in these sections: AC (After Creation), BC & AD (Before Christ & Anno Domini),  and BP (Before Present).
  2. Cultural Context –  This context is related to historical context in that it not information that we can necessarily get out of the passage itself, but we need to look at the broader picture of archeological finds and other texts from the era in which it was written. This includes things like: the social structure, practices, politics, home life, communal life, even what they believed and why.
  3. Literary Context – While each book of the Bible is found in a specific section does not mean that it is necessarily similar to the other texts in the same section. For example: the book of Lamentations is found in the section Major Prophets but it is poetic lament over the fall of Jerusalem. Similarly, a passage within a book can be a different literary genres. Each passage (or group of passages) will be examined in light of its literary genre, the genre of the book, and the section of the Bible the book is found in. Patterns, and repeated words or phrases, will also look at for they give us a hint at what is important in the passage, what the author wants to convey to the original readers/hearers.
  4. Theological Context – This one is linked to the previous context. Each passage in God’s Holy Word is filled with theological truths. Several major categories of truths are: God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation. How the passage fits in with the “Big Picture” of the rest of the Bible and how it fits in with God’s redemptive story are essential aspects we need to discuss before we can look at the application of the passage.
  5. Personal Context – Bringing the message home is what all true Christians desire. The trick here is to examine the first four contexts before looking at ourselves. One statement that I have heard over the years is “Reading the Bible is like reading someone else’s mail”. While this is true we should never allow it to hinder us from reading and studying the Holy Scriptures that have been passed down to us for the millennia. Instead of reading the Bible through the lens of our twenty-first century culture and norms, instead of looking for what we want the passage to say, we need to prayerfully look at the passage for what the Holy Spirit wants us to see in light of the above contexts.

Remember, the Old Testament was first the Holy Bible of the pre-Christ Jewish communities in Egypt, the Levent and ancient Babylon and Persia. Along with the New Testament, the Holy Bible first belonged to the early Church. The books of the Bible were first written for them. But it is still God’s Holy Word for us today.

The Law & The Prophets in God’s Holy Word

As we are going through Dr George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life we see God’s Holy Word is full of stories. Even the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) are full of human characters dealing with the main character, God. But these two parts of the Bible have so much more than just stories. For many people, and this is also true for Christians, these two sections of the Bible are the most difficult to read and understand. Why is this so?

We all have are own reasons. Some people I know don’t like reading for the sake of not wanting to read, and others don’t read because they don’t understand or don’t want to be challenged in any way. I pray these aren’t your reasons when it comes to God’s Word.

The phrase “The Law and the Prophets” is found ten times (in various forms) in the New Testament (according to HCSB). In Jesus’ days this was how the Bible of the Jews was referred to as. In other words, it was the Bible Jesus read and it was the only Scriptures the early church used. One might ask, “What relevance do books written thousands of years ago have for us today?”

The main reason to read the Old Testament Laws and Prophets is what they have in common with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17, HCSB).

For us to understand why Jesus had to come in the first place, we need to read the Old Testament. To understand the significants for His ministry and the Church, we need to read the Old Testament. The idea of covenant has been around since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3), and instituted by God through Abraham (Gen. 12) and re-established through Moses in the Book of Exodus.

The whole idea is living in covenant with the One True and Living God. How does this relate to the Gospel message? Here are a couple of passages to consider:

“In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.'” Luke 22:20.

“By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear.” Hebrews 8:13.

The Word of God is full of covenant talk–living faithfully on our part; love and justice on God’s part.

We need to remember to keep the Bible in context, the people the Law was originally written to live in the distant past. What can we gleam from the Law for ourselves today? Righteous and faithful living! The Law gives blessings and curses as God’s promised responses to His chosen peoples, the Israelites. The Prophets are calling the people of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to return to the Covenant.

So, how does this all relate to Christians today? As I have already mentioned, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and the New Covenant is now in effect. Whereas the Law brought the Old Covenant and the Prophets called people back to God in Covenant, Jesus brought the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit is calling people to join the Covenant.

The importance of the Law and the Prophets is the Covenant. To understand Jesus’ ministry and the Gospel more fully we need to understand what He came to fulfill and what living ‘in covenant relationship with God’ means.

Old Testament Stories in God’s Holy Word

The Bible is full of stories of people, their triumphs and their failures. Although they lived thousands of years ago we can still learn from them. But what about those of pre-Christ era? How can the Old Testament be relevant to us today? There are many answers I could give you, but I’ll focus on three main reasons. In my opinion these are the most important ones.

The first one is “who we are” and “who they are”. As mentioned above God’s Word is filled with tales of triumphs and failures of God’s people. We are all humans and so were the folks in the stories. How often do we think before we act? Or try to do something our way instead of God’s way? These are but a few traits we have in common with the ancient Middle Eastern tribes and nations.

The essence of who we and they are is this: we are all human and we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, HCSB). The reason we need to read and study the Old Testament stories is to understand that the problem of sin was just as ramped back then as it is today.

But what is its importance to the Gospel message? Can’t we just learn from the Apostles and the New Testament churches?

That’s possible, aren’t we then missing out on two-thirds of God’s Word?

This brings me to the second reason. If we want to learn from the New Testament churches or be like them (as a new trend in today’s church circles claims) then we need to read the Bible they had. The writers of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as well as the Apostle Paul all knew their Scriptures, the Torah, what we call the Old Testament, quite well.

The Old Testament is the backbone of God’s Story. How can one understand the reason for Jesus Christ’s first coming? Or many concepts found throughout the New Testament: temple, sacrifice, glory of God, etc. Many times the gospel writers speak about fulfilment of Scriptures. “But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56, HCSB). The backbone of the Gospel message is the history of God’s people and His creation.

God. He is the third and most important reason for anyone devout Christian to read and study His Holy Word. Who shows up in every book, in every chapter of the Bible? (Esther and Song of Songs we see God indirectly. These are the only two books where God is never mentioned.)

“In the beginning God…” (Get 1:1a).

God saw the Israelites, and He took notice,” (Ex 2:25).

“What more can David say to You? You know Your servant, Lord God,” (2 Sam 7:20).

The main character is the entire Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is God our Heavenly Father. What more reason do we have to read the stories that the first church would have read? God is the protagonist; the humans are the supporting cast. This reason is this: by reading the Old Testament we can see God’s character being revealed. To know the Bible is to get a better understanding of Who our God is.

So why should we read the stories of the Old Testament? 1. The supporting cast are dealing with sin and struggles just like we are in today’s culture. 2. The early church only had the Old Testament as their religious texts. 3. It’s God’s Story. He is the same throughout and it is part of “God’s Holy Word”.

Keeping the Bible in context while we study each passage is important. And when we understand Who the passage talks about and what  commonalities we have with the secondary characters then we have a better grasp of personal context that we looked at last week.

The reason why we read the Old Testament can vary from person to person. But we need to keep God at the centre of the Bible and allow Him to do likewise in our daily lives.