- I was first introduced to the Bible as child. My parents, and the culture they lived in, favored the literal-history treatment of all Scripture.
Some parts of that treatment made a lot of sense, and others seemed questionable.
Many years later, I learned of several very intellectual men who were followers of Christ who didn't insist on that interpretation. One of them lived in the 20th Century, the other lived in the 5th Century.
I'm mildly-agnostic about the historicity of the Bible. But I'm not agnostic about the nature of God as described therein.
- The ancient tradition of separating the Bible into "books" is due to the fact that these writings were not drafted as a cohesive whole. Most of the books were written separately, and later gathered into a collection of sacred writings.
- The tradition of referring to Chapter/Verse numbers is much more recent, dating from approximately 700 years ago.
- Speaking of subdivisions and names...
As far back as Saint Jerome, the collection of writings known as the Christian canon was titled Biblia Sacra Vulgata. Literally, The Holy Book in the Common Tongue.
(I've sometimes tried to convince people that this was the "dirty-words" version, but that usage of Vulgata doesn't correspond well with the current English usage of "vulgar".)
In the English language, the word Biblia has mutated into Bible.
- I grew up on the Protestant canon. I've since learned of the Catholic canon, which includes some Jewish writings that are not in the Jewish canon. And I think the Ethiopian Orthodox church has a larger canon than the Roman Catholic church.
- My parents were readers, and they liked reading books to the children.
Thus, we read sections of the Bible together in the evenings. Until my parents starting home-education, and they shifted to Bible in the morning as part of the regular schedule, while reading other books in the evening.
I think this gave me an awareness of the types of storytelling in the various sections of Scripture. There are pieces that feel like myth-expressing-deep-truth, other pieces that feel like old family history that's been told and re-told. Then there are biographies, dynastic histories, prophecies, and letters.
- I sometimes get the impression that I know Scripture better than many of my fellow believers. This knowledge, by itself, was once simply another kind of geekery. (How many people in Scripture fell out of a window to their death? Three that I can remember. How many times did the family tree that leads to Jesus almost die out? Either two or three times, depending on whether the story of Ruth is reckoned as such an event.)
But when learning about and engaging in communion with the Creator, I find that this knowledge of Scripture is always bubbling up in my mind. By that process I receive encouragement, wisdom, and rebuke from God.
- More subdivisions: the Jewish scriptures, as used by Christians, are in five big sections.
- The five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
The first books begins with a story of Creation, and progresses from there into a history of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob is given the name Israel, though Abraham is once referred to as "the Hebrew".
The rest tell of Moses, the descendants of Jacob leaving Egypt, and Moses laying out religious rituals and civil laws. They also tell of many of the events between leaving Egypt and the preparation for conquest of the Promised Land.
- The histories: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.
The first two books tell of the taking of the Promised Land, and the span of time between that conquest and the first king who could unite the entire region.
The book of Ruth gives a short introduction to the woman Ruth, and her place in the lineage of David.
The two books of Samuel tell of the prophet Samuel, and his interactions with Kings Saul and David.
The books of Kings tell of the history of David's dynasty, and the split of his kingdom into two pieces. It ends with a deportation of many to Babylon.
The books of Chronicles is a re-telling of the story from David to the end of his dynasty, largely ignoring the northern half of the split kingdom. It has a different emphasis than the book of Kings, spending much more time talking about the Temple and worship in Jerusalem.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah deal with different elements of the return of the people from Babylon, and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The book of Esther tells of a few events in the court of a Persian monarch, and how the people of Israel were almost wiped out under an imperial decree.
- The poetic writings: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes.
The tale of Job is a "what-if" study. Chronologically, it is likely as old as the sections of Genesis that deal with the family of Abraham.
The Psalms are a collection of poetry (or songs), mostly used in worship of God. About half are attributed to David. Many more are attributed to Asaph. However, they range in age from the time of Moses to the time of captivity in Babylon.
The Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes are attributed to Solomon. One is a book of wisdom, one is a love poem, and one is a metaphysical work questioning of the meaning of life.
- The writings of the major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel.
These are ordered, roughly, by their length. (With Jeremiah's book of Lamentations over Jerusalem being the exception.)
The two later books, Ezekiel and Daniel, are full of incredible visions. These are sometimes called the apocalyptic prophecies.
At least one of these vision sequences can be used to sketch the history of Jerusalem from the time of the rebuilding of the the Temple to the time of Roman occupation. I don't know if that was the intended by the author, or was the intention of the inspiration given by God...but I find it very interesting.
- The writings of the minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
These writings are considered a single book in the Jewish canon. They are called "minor" mostly because of their brevity with respect to the major prophets.
These are ordered roughly-chronologically, but their chronology overlaps with the chronology of the major prophets.
- Christian writings come in four sections also, though two of these sections contain only one book.
- Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
The first three are very similar, and draw from a similar pool of stories about Jesus. Matthew emphasizes Jesus as a Jew and descendant of David, Mark presents Jesus in a very concise way, while Luke is detailed and thorough.
John focuses much more on a different side of Jesus' ministry.
- Church history: Acts. Though most Bibles place the gospel of John between Luke and Acts, the book of Luke and Acts ought to be read in sequence. Both were written by the same author, and have the appearance of being intended to be read together.
Acts tells of the growth of the body of believers, focusing mostly on apostle Peter. Then it focuses on Saul of Tarsus, who later takes the name Paul.
- Letters by Apostles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude
The letters are grouped by author, and then sorted roughly by size.
Paul is the author of most of the letters (up to Hebrews), though the sort-by-size method put them in almost reverse order.
The author of Hebrews didn't sign his letter, and tradition offers several candidates for authorship.
The remaining apostolic letters weren't addressed to specific churches. Thus, these apostolic letters simply bear the names of the authors.
The letters are on a mix of subjects. Some are warnings about false teachers, some are advice and encouragement to specific churches, some are advice and encouragement to specific church leaders. One is a plea for kindness for an escaped slave.
- An apocalyptic prophecy, the book of Revelation.
Much like the Old Testament apocalyptic prophecies, this is full of mind-blowing visions and prophetic proclamations.
Weekend Reading: step back for an overview
My reading of the Bible is going much faster than these weekend comments. Though I'm looking forward to resuming the story, I've also gathered a list of notes which might be worth mentioning.