Reading the Bible

It is good that you are ready to read the Bible. Perhaps you have the whole Bible or perhaps only the part that tells about Jesus. Christians call this part the New Testament, and the other part the Old Testament. These names have a very important meaning. God enters into agreements (testaments) with men throughout history. He shows Himself to them in various ways and commands them to respond with obedience and trust.

The first thing to explain about the Bible is that it is quite different in its form from the Qur'an. The Qur'an Shareef is presented as the direct speech of God. Of course it came through Muhammad, but he is thought of as the channel through which water flows without affecting the taste in any way.

The Holy Bible, on the other hand, was written not in a few years by one person but over many centuries by many different people. In it God often speaks directly, but sometimes through the thoughts and words of holy people. He also speaks through history, and most importantly, in the Person of Jesus Christ.

When reading the Bible we need to understand this difference if we are to receive anything from God's Word. If we are expecting the Bible to be like the Qur'an we will be disappointed. However, if we read the Bible with an open heart and mind, we may be surprised to find God speaking to us in a new and very powerful way.

The main subject of the Bible, unlike the Qur'an, is not God's Laws. Of course many passages do speak of the greatness and power of God. The Bible begins (Genesis chapter 1) by showing us God as the great Creator of the world. Soon we see His holiness and purity, as Adam and Eve sin and lose their close relationship with Him. We read in the "historical books" how the people of Israel felt His judgements both on themselves and on their enemies. We see how He gave them laws of conduct and especially the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).

Still, these are not the most important parts of God's character revealed in the Bible. No, it is His faithful love to men; a love that was so patient with the sinful people of Israel. A love that chose certain men like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, David and others to know Him in special ways.

In the Old Agreement we see how often God came to His chosen people and how often they turned away from Him and failed to obey. So God finally brought in a New Agreement to fulfill and extend the old one men had broken. This time He established it not on the obedience of sinful, weak human beings, but on the Saviour from Heaven, the Messiah. This Messiah had been mentioned many times in prophecy. Now He arrived, in the form of a carpenter born in a poor home in a backward part of the great Roman Empire. Yes, God is glorious and powerful, but sometimes He hides His power and glory so that we can recognise Him without being consumed.

In reading the New Testament, we need to be careful not to have wrong ideas in our minds If we say, "Jesus was a human being and a Prophet only", we shall misunderstand Him completely. He is shown in the Bible as more than a Prophet and more than a human. Do not make up your mind what you think of Him until you have read all that the New Testament says about Him. Pay attention especially to what He said about salvation, and what His appointed representatives said about Him. For the purpose of the Bible is not just to give us teaching about God's laws, but to introduce us to a Person Who can do for us what we can never do for ourselves.

This Person, Jesus Christ, is the main subject not only of the New Testament, but in a way, of the Old Testament too. Though the Old Testament was written many centuries before He appeared on earth, it contains many references to Him. We can see pictures of Him in the life of Joseph, for example. The sacrificial system of Israel showed the need for a substitute to take the punishment of our sins. The prophets also spoke of the coming one who would suffer for men, but would lead His people to final victory and give them a part in His eternal and spiritual Kingdom.

All this is fulfilled in the New Testament. It has a four-fold account of His life, (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Then there is the story of the first followers (Acts of the Apostles), followed by their teachings (the rest of the New Testament).

Yes, the Bible is different from the Qur'an. Its history is different, its purpose is different. Its main subject is different. But this library of books from different ages is one Book, for it speaks with one voice, the voice of God. May it speak to you! Pray to Him as you read, "O God, show Yourself to me." He will answer this prayer if you are sincere.

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