“Scripture” is a Latin word that means “writings”, while “Bible” is a neutral Greek plural meaning “books” (from biblíon = book, document, scroll). Today, however, in all languages, the word “Bible” is understood as a singular one, meaning Holy Scripture. This word describes what may be the most influential book known to human history—a book which has unsurprisingly attracted some controversy over the years. So what is the Bible? Is it really a collection of sacred writings of God’s Word, or is the entire book a fictional flight of fancy.
The books of the Bible
While we often view the Bible as one large book, the reality is that it’s slightly more complicated. The Bible consists of two collections of books:
1) the Hebrew scriptures, which existed long before the Christian era;
2) the Greek Christian scriptures, which were written in the second half of the first Christian century.
After the apostolic age, Christians conventionally named these two collections according to theological grounds: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament, which is the largest collection of the Bible (and is often called “the Hebrew Bible”), is not old in the sense of outdated, or obsolete but in the sense of ‘former, primordial’: the First Testament. For Jesus and the early Christians, the collection of Hebrew scriptures was the only Bible and had absolute authority.
This collection had long been divided into two sections: the Law of Moses which outlined God’s Law for his people, and the Prophets which were messengers chose to reveal God’s plan and judgement to God’s people (this distinction is discussed in Isaiah 8:20). In the first century, there was already a new three-section division that remained standard in Judaism: the Law, the Prophets, and the Scriptures (Luke 24:44). Christians have sorted them in a different order, but they are the same books. Many Christians have considered some of the non-canonical Jewish writings, inherited from the less strict Alexandrian Jews, as part of the Old Testament. However, official Judaism has never recognized them as holy scriptures, despite their Jewish content.
The number of Old Testament books fluctuated during ancient history, as the editorial division into books was being done on practical or conventional grounds. One book that was too large (Kings) was divided into two (Samuel and Kings), and then into four biblical books (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings). Initially, Ruth seems to have been the last part of Judges. Chronicles was a single book. The Pentateuch seems to have originally been a single book, which was later divided into five, for practical reasons.
The New Testament is the collection of Judeo-Christian scriptures, which is comprised of the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death and ressurection (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistles, or Pauline Epistles, addressed to converts from paganism (local/provincial: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians; pastoral: 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), the Epistle to the Hebrews (addressed to Jewish Christians), “Catholic”/universal epistles: (official ones, from some of the general representatives of the church: James, Peter, John, and Judas) and the Revelation of John, which is a provincial epistle that contains the account of a series of prophetic visions about the future of the church.
The authors of the Bible, both the “Old” and the New Testament, were overwhelmingly Jewish. The non-Hebrew authors of small sections are mentioned in the OT: Balaam (Numbers 22:5; 23:7), Agur and Lemuel (Proverbs 30:1; 31:1;), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), and in the NT: Luke, from which we have the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The Jewish nature of the Bible, the origin and essence of Christianity, cannot be overstated. Jesus said, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). So there is a close relationship between Judaism, the knowledge of God, Christ, and salvation. Anti-Jewish Christianity means anti-knowledge and anti-christism.
As for the canonization of the Bible, which is often questioned, popular perception imagines that at some point the synagogue and then the church decided to select the books they each deemed appropriate from a multitude of different books, if they met certain theological criteria. This scenario is purely imaginary and untrue.
In reality, the holy books are those that have been known throughout generations as having an accepted origin (from Moses, prophets, the apostles, and so on), and the inviolability of the text was not ensured by an autograph but by the broadest possible multiplication of the writings, ever since their appearance. The so-called canonization appeared as a need to reconfirm traditional texts in the face of historical challenges.
Who could have written such a book?
There is no need to question and resolve all disputes concerning the character of the Holy Bible. Their relationship with the supernatural is affirmed but also disputed. The most common objection to the divine authority of the Bible is that “it is written by people”, so presumably it has a human nature, in which truth and fiction supposedly intertwine to serve various interests. It is argued that the presence of human authors has lead to God’s message in the sacred text being co-opted by humanity.
Written by priests?
It is often said that the Bible is the product of institutionalized religion. To a large extent, the statement is true. Great Bible writers, such as Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, probably Nathan, Ahijah, Shemaiah, and Malachi, were priests or at least Levites. Moreover, most New Testament authors were at the same time church leaders (apostles and Presbyterians/pastors).
Therefore, we would expect the Bible to favour the clergy. But while defending the legitimate rights of religious representatives, the Bible is very critical of them when it comes to abuses and violations of moral and religious principles. Much of the Bible’s text condemns the sins of the clergy (see Exodus 32, Leviticus 4:27-28, or Matthew 16:21 for a few of the literally dozens of examples).
The Bible does not in any way reflect the group interests of the Israelite or Christian clergy.
Was it written by aristocrats and political leaders?
It is also said that the Bible was written by the rich, in order to protect their interests. However, anyone who has read the Bible knows that it has many curses and imprecations against exploiters of all kinds, against abusive leaders, against corrupt magistrates, against despotic kings and unbelievers.
Such a scripture could not have been written by biased political leaders or their trusted people, even if some of the authors were civilian leaders (Joshua, King David, Solomon, and Nehemiah). Moreover, those guilty of civil or religious abuse have not escaped the impartial pen of the inspired author—even if the scripture praises them elsewhere.
Written by scholars and sages?
Some believe that the Bible is the product of anonymous, very clever scribes. For what purpose? Reputation? Money? Or just to promote culture, encourage thinking, develop imagination, or moralize?
It is true that some of the sacred authors were wise and learned: Moses, Solomon, Daniel, Ezra, Paul, and Luke, to name a few. Yet the philosophers and scholars of the world promote either secular or mystical spirituality, while learned Bible authors insist on a deep moral and religious spirituality, with respect for truth and horror for entertainment literature. They condemn scholars who narrate myths, legends, and biased or entertaining stories. Often, the greatest critics of the sages are the sages themselves.
Written by some evil Jewish Elite?
Strange as it may seem, some people think that way. We do not doubt that the Bible was written by Jewish authors. However, the idea that a Jewish Kabbalah would have conspired to make the Bible in order to control the world is the product of a biased imagination.
Nowhere in the Bible is there any idea that Israel had or will ever have the power to control the world. The world was controlled by superpowers hostile to the Jewish: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, the Empire of Alexander and the Diadochi, the pagan and then Christianised Roman Empire (continued by the Christian world).
Jews have had major economic or cultural influences since antiquity, and some of them have had political influence. But no matter how much we stretch our imagination, the Bible cannot be the product of the nationalism or materialism attributed to the Jewish people. If it were so, how can we explain the fact that the Bible is so critical of the Jews?
Although it is a “Jewish product”, the Bible has a supranational perspective, often critical of the Jews, and primarily targeting the elite. Still, non-Jews are not the Bible’s favourites either.
The biblical God is universal, even in the Old Testament. And the New Testament further emphasizes this universal character of saving truth.
Written by charismatic people?
One might think that the Bible is the product of paranormal personalities, such as prophets and thaumaturges, who have sought psychological control, fame, or other gains. All Bible authors are indeed charismatic, and most are called “prophets” in a special sense, which involves supernatural revelations and communications. It appears that some Bible prophets have been in the royal service (Gad, Nathan, and Isaiah), and others were court prophets and served human interests.
However, how can we explain that the Bible is so virulent in its criticism of false prophets and all those who use the paranormal to achieve their own ends, serving foreign “deities” or confusing charisma with their own dreams and delusions? The hostility of Bible authors to counterfeit charisms disproves the assumption that the Bible is a reflection of paranormal concerns pursuing certain interests.
Written with the help of aliens?
This one is the most fabled suggestions. If the Bible was dictated or influenced by aliens in order to control our world, we should enjoy such control. At least we would feel that we are not alone, at the mercy of political systems, which are visibly interested.
There is an entire universal cult today, with hopes and fears about other worlds in the universe, not to mention “ufolatry” (a portmanteau of ‘UFO’ and ‘idolatry’). The historical and scientific knowledge of the world contains many gaps and mysteries, and some believe that they can solve them by attributing them to outer space. This view is far from the realms of reality because the Bible authors and heroes have often witnessed theophanies or experienced epiphanies that today might be called meetings with another ‘kind’.
Superhuman entities contributed directly and indirectly to the writing of the Bible. However, the Bible discriminates between these superintelligences. Not all aliens are ambassadors of legitimate authority in the universe. Some of them, which are called heavenly rulers and cosmocrators of darkness,are evil beings who have been handling our world and ourselves for thousands of years. The opposition between the two categories of astral intelligence in our world adds to the credibility of the Bible. The identity of the Bible is clearly marked by its relationship with the unseen world, which is very different from the imagination of UFO cultists and scholars.
The book of God
The Bible is a textual reality that cannot be ignored. It has several human aspects, and yet it didn’t turn out to be a mere product of the human spirit. In this case, aren’t its repeated statements about the control of God’s Spirit over its authors even more credible? Whether they were priests, kings, rich, poor, Jews, non-Jews, famous scholars, or ordinary people with paranormal or normal abilities does not matter, because the Bible cannot be the product of a class or a group of human interests.
The Bible was written by various people, but they are called “people of God”, that is, people in a special relationship with the Godhead, people through whom God communicated and manifested superhuman and supernatural powers. Their interest was to promote God’s interests.
The Bible is asserts universal ethical principles, which include the love of God and the love of fellow people.
It has a historical nature, but its pedagogical purpose goes beyond Herodotus’ craft. It does not reveal to us the whole truth that we would like to know in certain fields (natural sciences, mathematics, history, philosophy, etc.), but it does tell us the truth that we need to be saved through faith.
The Bible often has a paradoxical character, because some of its statements may seem contradictory, although they are only complementary. Also, everything concerning the understanding of God’s nature, of the truth and of God’s relationship with the world has a paradoxical and secretive character, which is revealed to us with great pedagogical frugality—conditionally and gradually. The Bible was not given to us to make us smarter, or turn us all into theologians, even if that is what it actually does. It was given to us for us to find our way back to God, and the salvation He offers.
Of course, even the human nature of the Bible is admirable; the literary beauty, the rhetorical and structural strategies of the writers, the poetic craft, its open and popular nature, the scent of ancient culture, the small technical imperfections, and even the silence of many of the authors’ personal perspectives. It is a valuable historical and philosophical source. One hundred percent human, but also one hundred percent divine.
Unlike all the other philosophies, sciences, and religions of the world, the Bible gives us a purpose, hope, and a philosophy of life. The psychology of the biblical text, the authority with which the Bible speaks with us, are unique. Beyond the miracles within the Bible, the miracles it produces are no less. It has the power to recover lost lives and has had a huge influence on culture and civilization. Despite human sins, which have developed even through organized religion, in all three religions that more or less reflect the biblical truth (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the Bible’s principles affirm a universal ideal that transcends all human imagination.
“There’s no point in being able to read if you have never read the Bible.” And don’t let anyone else feel the Bible’s spiritual therapy for you. You may lose something here and there if you read it, but if you do not read it, you will likely lose everything.
Florin Lăiu is an author for ST Network, the European version of Signs of the Times. A version of this article first appeared on their website and is republished here with permission