The Bible, incomparably the most widely circulated of books, at once provokes and baffles study. Even the non-believer in its authority rightly feels that it is unintelligent to remain in almost total ignorance of the most famous and ancient of books. And yet most, even of sincere believers, soon retire from any serious effort to master the content of the sacred writings. The reason is not far to seek. It is found in the fact that no particular portion of Scripture is to be intelligently comprehended apart from some conception of its place in the whole. For the Bible story and message is like a picture wrought out in mosaics: each book, chapter, verse, and even word forms a necessary part, and has its own appointed place. It is, therefore, indispensable to any interesting and fruitful study of the Bible that a general knowledge of it be gained.
The Bible is one book. Seven great marks attest this unity.
1) From Genesis the Bible bears witness to one God. Wherever he speaks or acts he is consistent with himself, and with the total revelation concerning him.
2) The Bible forms one continuous story-the story of humanity in relation to God.
3) The Bible hazards the most unlikely predictions concerning the future, and, when the centuries have brought round the appointed time, records their fulfillment.
4) The Bible is a progressive unfolding of truth. Nothing is told all at once, and once for all. The law is, "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn." Without the possibility of collusion, often with centuries between, one writer of Scripture takes up an earlier revelation, adds to it, lays down the pen, and in due time another man moved by the Holy Spirit, and another, and another, add new details till the whole is complete.
5) From beginning to end the Bible testifies to one redemption.
6) From beginning to end the Bible has one great theme-the person and work of the Christ.
7) And, finally, these writers, some forty-four in number, writing through twenty centuries, have produced a perfect harmony of doctrine in progressive unfolding. This is, to every candid mind, the unanswerable proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible.
The Bible is a book of books. Sixty-six books make up the one Book. Considered with reference to the unity of the one book the separate books may be regarded as chapters. But that is but one side of the truth, for each of the sixty-six books is complete in itself, and has its own theme and analysis. In the present edition of the Bible these are fully shown in the introductions and divisions. It is therefore of the utmost moment that the books be studied in the light of their distinctive themes. Genesis, for instance, is the book of beginnings-the seed-plot of the whole Bible. Matthew is the book of the King, & etc.
The books of the Bible fall into groups. Speaking broadly there are five great divisions in the Scriptures, and these may be conveniently fixed in the memory by five key-words, Christ being the one theme (Luk_24:25-27).
PREPARATION: The OT
MANIFESTATION: The Gospels
PROPAGATION: The Acts
EXPLANATION: The Epistles
CONSUMMATION: The Apocalypse
In other words, the Old Testament is the preparation for Christ; in the Gospels he is manifested to the world; in the Acts he is preached and his Gospel is propagated in the world; in the Epistles his Gospel is explained; and in the Revelation all the purposes of God in and through Christ are consummated. And these groups of books in turn fall into groups. This is especially true of the Old Testament, which is in four well defined groups. Over these may be written as memory aids:
I, II Samuel
I, II Kings
I, II Chronicles
Song of Solomon
Again care should be taken not to overlook, in these general groupings, the distinctive messages of the several books composing them. Thus, while redemption is the general theme of the Pentateuch, telling as it does the story of the redemption of Israel out of bondage and into "a good land and large," each of the five books has its own distinctive part in the whole. Genesis is the book of beginnings, and explains the origin of Israel. Exodus tells the story of the deliverance of Israel; Leviticus of the worship of Israel as delivered people; Numbers the wanderings and failures of the delivered people, and Deuteronomy warns and instructs that people in view of their approaching entrance upon their inheritance. The Poetical books record the spiritual experiences of the redeemed people in the varied scenes and events through which the providence of God led them. The prophets were inspired preachers, and the prophetical books consist of sermons with brief connecting and explanatory passages. Two prophetical books, Ezekiel and Daniel, have a different character and are apocalyptic, largely.
The Bible tells the Human Story. Beginning, logically, with the creation of the earth and man, the story of the race sprung from the first human pair continues through the first eleven chapters of Genesis. With the twelfth chapter begins the history of Abraham and of the nation of which Abraham was the ancestor. It is that nation, Israel, with which the Bible narrative is thereafter chiefly concerned from the eleventh chapter of Genesis to the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The Gentiles are mentioned, but only in connection with Israel. But it is made increasingly clear that Israel so fills the scene only because entrusted with the accomplishment of great world-wide purposes (Deu_7:7).
The appointed mission of Israel was,
1. to be a witness to the unity of God in the midst of idolatry (Deu_6:5; Isa_43:10);
2. to illustrate to the nations the greater blessedness of serving the one true God (Deu_33:26-29; 1Ch_17:20-21; Psa_102:15);
3. to receive and preserve the Divine revelation (Rom_3:1-2); and
4. to produce the Messiah, earth's Saviour and Lord (Rom_9:4). The prophets foretell a glorious future for Israel under the reign of Christ. The biblical story of Israel, past, present, and future, falls into seven distinct periods:
1) From the call of Abram (Genesis 12) to the Exodus (Exodus 1 - 20);
2) From the Exodus to the death of Joshua (Exodus 21 to Joshua 24);
3) from the death of Joshua to the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy under Saul;
4) the period of the kings from Saul to the Captivities;
5) the period of the Captivities;
6) the restored commonwealth from the end of the Babylonian captivity of Judah, to the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70;
7) the present dispersion. The Gospels record the appearance in human history and within the Hebrew nation of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, and tell the wonderful story of his manifestation to Israel, his rejection by that people, his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The Acts of the Apostles record the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the beginning of a new thing in human history, the Church. The division of the race now becomes threefold-the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God. Just as Israel is in the foreground from the call of Abram to the resurrection of Christ, so now the Church fills the scene from the second chapter of the Acts to the fourth chapter of the Revelation. The remaining chapters of that book complete the story of humanity and the final triumph of Christ.
The Central Theme of the Bible is Christ. It is this manifestation of Jesus Christ, his Person as "God manifest in the flesh" (1Ti_3:16), his sacrificial death, and his resurrection, which constitute the Gospel. Unto this all preceding Scripture leads, from this all following Scripture proceeds. The Gospel is preached in the Acts and explained in the Epistles. Christ, Son of God, Son of man, Son of Abraham, Son of David, thus binds the many books into one Book. Seed of the woman (Gen_3:15) he is the ultimate destroyer of Satan and his works; Seed of Abraham he is the world blesser; Seed of David he is Israel's King. "Desire of all Nations." Exalted to the right hand of God he is "head over all to the Church, which is his body," while to Israel and the nations the promise of his return forms the one and only rational expectation that humanity will yet fulfil itself. Meanwhile the Church looks momentarily for the fulfilment of his special promise: "I will come again and receive you unto myself" (Joh_14:1-3). To him the Holy Spirit throughout this Gospel age bears testimony. The last book of all, the Consummation book, is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev_1:1).
The five books ascribed to Moses have a peculiar place in the structure of the Bible, and an order which is undeniably the order of the experience of the people of God in all ages. Genesis is the book of origins-of the beginning of life, and of ruin through sin. Its first word, "In the beginning God," is in striking contrast with the end, "In a coffin in Egypt." Exodus is the book of redemption, the first need of a ruined race. Leviticus is the book of worship and communion, the proper exercise of the redeemed. Numbers speaks of the experiences of a pilgrim people, the redeemed passing through a hostile scene to a promised inheritance. Deuteronomy, retrospective and prospective, is a book of instruction for the redeemed about to enter that inheritance. That Babylonian and Assyrian monuments contain records bearing a grotesque resemblance to the majestic account of the creation and of the Flood is true, as also that these antedate Moses. But this confirms rather than invalidates inspiration of the Mosaic account. Some tradition of creation and the Flood would inevitably be handed down in the ancient cradle of the race. Such a tradition, following the order of all tradition, would take on grotesque and mythological features, and these abound in the Babylonian records. Of necessity, therefore, the first task of inspiration would be to supplant the often absurd and childish traditions with a revelation of the true history, and such a history we find in words of matchless grandeur, and in a order which, rightly understood, is absolutely scientific. In the Pentateuch, therefore, we have a true and logical introduction to the entire Bible; and, in type, an epitome of the divine revelation.