It is thought to be the most printed, sold and read book in human history. The complete Bible has been translated into over 500 languages (and parts of it have been translated into over 2,500 languages including over 50 sign languages).
It includes ancient stories, historical accounts, legal discussion, words of praise, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, records of visions, four accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus (including his famous parables, his death and resurrection), details of how the early Church developed and letters from some of the early saints (mainly St. Paul).
It has given us some familiar phrases: we speak of someone having "feet of clay", being "a good Samaritan" or a "Prodigal son"; we talk of a "thorn in the flesh", "an eye for an eye" and a "wolf in sheep's clothing"; and many will ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?" or announce that, "No one can serve two masters," or (wisely) base their marriage on "Not letting the sun go down on your anger" - without realising that all of these phrases come from Scripture.
Everyone has their favourite Bible verse or passage! Here are a few that many find speak deeply:
|Genesis 1 verses 1-2 (the first words in the Bible) which reassure us that from the very beginning God has been present and active in the world.|
| ||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. New International Version (UK)|
Joshua 24 verse 15 where Joshua challenges the people of Israel.
|Joshua said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." New International Version (UK)|
Psalm 23 which brings comfort whatever our situation.
|The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.|
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, or you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. English Standard Version
Psalm 46 verses 1-2 reassure us of God's support and care.
|God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.|
So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
New Living Translation
Isaiah 53 verses 5-7 prophesy Jesus' death on the cross (and are familiar from Handel's Messiah)
|He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities ... All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth ... as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.|
King James (Authorised) Version
Matthew 5 verses 3-12 (part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount) contain the famous 'Beatitudes' or "Blessed are ..." sayings
|Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.|
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. New International Version (UK)
Three statements of Jesus from John's Gospel:
|For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. |
(John 3 verses 16-17)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13 verses 34-35)
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14 verses 1-3)
New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised)
Luke 23 verses 46-47 tell of Jesus death on the cross and one on-looker's response
|Then Jesus shouted, "Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!" And with those words he breathed his last. When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, "Surely this man was innocent." New Living Translation|
Mark 16 verses 4-5 tell what three women found as they visited Jesus' tomb
|The women entered the tomb and saw a young man wearing a white robe and sitting on the right side, and they were afraid. But the man said, "Don't be afraid. You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who has been crucified. He has risen from the dead; he is not here."|
New Century Version
1 Corinthians 13 verses 4 - 7 and 13 - St. Paul writes of how God's love is, and our love for others should be
|Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ... And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.|
New English Translation
Revelation 22 verse 21 (the final words of the Bible)
|The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. King James (Authorised) Version|
The Bible is not just for use in services. Many Christians find it very helpful to read the Bible each day, maybe following a 'pattern of readings' or using some daily Bible reading notes (see Helps and Notes below). Others enjoy being part of a Bible study group, reading and sharing its insights together (see our groups page for details of our Bible Sudy Group and Explorers Group).
In common with all ancient texts (Aristotle or Tacitus, for instance) no original manuscripts survive: however there are a surprising number of copies that were made in ancient times and - for the most part - they have very few significant variations. The oldest known fragment of a New Testament text is a piece of a copy of John's Gospel (shown right) dated c125 AD (quite possibly less than thirty years after the original was written) which includes Pilate's question of Jesus, "What is truth?".
The Bible was not originally written in English! The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew and the New Testament in ancient Greek (both languages are quite different from their modern derivatives).
Soon after the exact contents of the Bible had been agreed in the fourth century, a translation was made into Latin (called the Vulgate, meaning 'in the common tongue') and this version served the European (Roman) Church for over 1,000 years.
The first English translations were made during the fifteenth century and, following the English Reformation in 1537, it became compulsory to read the Bible in English in our Churches. A major new translation was produced early in the seventeenth century and authorised by King James in 1611 and - with printing now well established - this became widely distributed. This 'Authorised' or 'King James' Bible was used in Churches and homes almost exclusively for the next 300 years or more.
Huge advances have taken place in biblical scholarship over that period including the discovery of better ancient manuscripts and the development of a greater understanding of the biblical languages. The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran (left) in Israel in 1946-56 was one of the most notable contributions and continues to extend our understanding.
Therefore, following the Second World War a large number of new English translations have been produced, each with its own merits and drawbacks. Some concentrate on 'exactness', others on 'readability' or 'suitability for reading out loud'. Some reflect the concerns of a particular denomination or view-point, others seek to be more universally acceptible. And of course there are also now versions of the Bible for specific groups (eg. children, teenagers, students etc.)
Here is one tiny example of how different translations reflect a Bible passage. There is a well-known text in Isaiah 40, verse 3 which foretells the coming of God's messenger. In Hebrew (with a literal translation under each word) it reads: (remember Hebrew reads right to left!)
This verse is quoted in the New Testament and applied to John the Baptist in Matthew 3 verse 3. The Greek text (again, with a literal translation beneath) reads:
The Authorised King James translation of this verse (in Isaiah) is:
|The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, |
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
which we can understand, but is clearly different from modern English.
Two modern translations give the same verse as:
A voice cries out:
New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised)
Someone is shouting:
Contemporary English Version
These are both easier to understand (to modern eyes) but note that the one on the left has sought to retain the tenor of the older translation (and so may seem more familar) whereas the one on the right is has used what might be regarded as 'common parlance'.
It is always important to remember that, whichever translation we may be using, the (no doubt prayerful and dedicated) work of the translators will inevitably have allowed their own presupositions and preferences to colour the thoughts of the original author. Therefore, when choosing a version for daily reading and devotions it is important to pick one with which you are comfortable. And, when in doubt about what a particular passage means, try to look at it in several different versions to see how different translators have approached it and rendered it.
Most Christians believe that God inspired the original authors of the Biblical texts (though his Spirit) so that they wrote his words. However, in our (very different) culture and situation, and reading in a different language, we have to work out (again with the help of his Spirit and prayer) what God is saying through them to us. This process of interpretation is difficult and demanding and will sometimes lead different people to different conclusions.
The Qumran scroll of Isaiah on display in the Shrine
of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Some suggested techniques to use when interpreting the Bible are:
|always pray when reading or trying to understand the Bible, asking God's Holy Spirit to reveal his meaning;|
| ||start by trying to understand what the original authors meant and what their original readers would have understood (bearing in mind also what type of text we are reading - eg. a historical narrative will need to be read in a different way to a poem or a parable); |
|only then try to understand what it might mean today allowing for the difference between their situation and ours;|
|don't concentrate too hard on individual verses or sentences without paying attention to their context (ie. the passage in which they are set);|
|always seek to read Scripture 'in the round' - that is, look at all that the Bible has to say on a particular topic rather than focussing on any particular passage;|
|don't be afraid to seek help, either from some of the various Notes and Helps that are published (see below) or from respected Christian friends or Ministers;|
|be cautious of any interpretation which seems peculiar - very often the generally accepted ('traditional') understanding will have great merit; new 'unorthodox' conclusions should be treated very carefully. |
Helps and Notes
A number of organisations publish and distribute notes, devotionals and commentaries to help us understand and interpret our Bible. A selection of websites offering such materials is given on our Links page.
If you have questions about the Bible or what it might mean, any of our clergy will be very happy to help (see our Contacts page for details).
In Britain we are very blessed: we can find copies of the Bible for sale in many high street book shops, they are available in specialist Christian shops (eg. The Olive Tree near Spilsby, The Ice House in Grimsby) or they can be purchased from online retailers. They are also often available in hotel rooms (courtesy of the Gideons) and there are a number of websites where passages of Scripture may be downloaded. The websites of a selection of organistations that sell or download the Bible are listed on our Links page. Or, if you prefer, ask us (see our Contacts page) and we will give you one!
The most important thing to remember is this: owning a Bible is only the start; reading it regularly is what allows it to influence and transform our understanding of God and his will for our life. The words of Psalm 105 verse 5 say of God, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Amen.