This past weekend, one of my aunts sent me a link to a website devoted to a “new” translation of the Bible. She was seeking my opinion about their discussion on setting the dates for some of the historical events described in the Bible.
My response to her was that the people who made the website are completely missing the point. The Bible isn’t the recording of a sequence of historical events, to be analyzed in the manner of a history textbook. It is the written part of divine revelation, of God’s revelation of himself to us. Any analysis of the Bible needs to have as its foundation our relationship with God. Without that, we will miss the point of what we read and start our analysis with a grave error.
The message of Christ is often treated in this way. Many people read the Gospels and say that Jesus was a great teacher or a good example to follow. That’s part of the truth, but not the substantive truth. The substantive truth is that Jesus is our savior. He came not to give us a philosophy to live by, or a path to follow. He came to deliver us from bondage, to free us from the suffering of sin that we bring upon ourselves daily by our defiant wills.
If I read the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew, I can analyze it all day long. I can find historical references to clever meanings behind Jesus saying to turn the other cheek, or carrying a burden two miles instead of one. I can parse the Beatitudes and come up with any number of interpretations for some of them. But if I do all of that without considering Jesus to be our savior, to be God making himself one of us to allow us to better understand how we are supposed to be, then I have failed.
Always keep that in mind when reading the Bible. The books that comprise the Bible were not written to give a historical record of events. They were not written to describe a particular way of living. They were not written to entertain. They were not written to outline a moral code. That may be at least part of what we get out of the books of the Bible, but that is not WHY they were written.
The purpose behind all 73 books, regardless of their literary genre, is to lead us to and then develop more deeply a personal relationship with Jesus. They go about it differently; poetry is different from parable, after all. But that relationship with God is the purpose.
We read the Bible to learn more about God, about Jesus in particular. Through learning more about Jesus we also learn more about ourselves, about who God made us to be.
If you don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, start with the Gospels. The rest of the books only make sense in light of the ministry and teaching and example and sacrifice of Jesus.