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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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Jews of New Testament times had a collection of sacred writings (now known as the Old Testament) which they referred to as the Scriptures. That is, they believed these writings originated with God and, although written by ordinary people, carried with them the absolute authority of God (Matthew 21:42; Matthew 22:29; Luke 4:21; Luke 24:27; John 5:39; John 10:35; Acts 8:32; Romans 1:2; Romans 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:15-16; see INSPIRATION). During the time of the early church, Christians recognized the writings of Jesus’ apostles and other leading Christians also as Scripture, and therefore as having equal authority with the Old Testament writings (1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Timothy 5:18; 2 Peter 3:16; see CANON).

Unity of the Scriptures

It is possible to become a Christian through only a very small portion of the Scriptures, but to grow as a Christian requires much more. If Christians want to know more about the character of God and the kind of life that God requires of his people, they will need all God’s Word, both Old Testament and New (see INTERPRETATION).

A better translation of the word ‘testament’ is ‘covenant’. (For the biblical meaning of this word see COVENANT.) The Old and New Testaments are the books of the old and new covenants. The Old Testament shows how, under the old covenant, God chose the nation Israel as his people, and prepared it to be the channel through which he would provide a saviour for the world. The New Testament shows that this saviour, Jesus Christ, fulfilled the old covenant, then established a new covenant, by which people of all nations become God’s people through faith.

There is, therefore, an underlying unity to the Scriptures. The Bible is one unbroken story that shows how human beings have rebelled against God, and how God in his grace has provided them with a way of salvation. Readers can understand the New Testament properly only if they understand the Old; and when they understand the New Testament, the Old will have more meaning. (Concerning the New Testament writers’ use of Old Testament passages see QUOTATIONS.)

Sixty-six books make up the Bible. These were written over a period of perhaps 1400 years by a total of about forty writers. The writers were people of different nationalities, languages, occupations and temperaments, yet there is complete harmony within the Bible. Jesus considered the Bible of his time a unity and referred to it in the singular as ‘the Scripture’ (John 10:35). (Concerning the preparation of books and manuscripts in ancient times see MANUSCRIPTS; WRITING.)

Divisions of the Scriptures

Jews divided their Scriptures (our Old Testament) into three parts, which they called the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Often they referred to the Writings as the Psalms, since Psalms was the largest, and possibly the first, book in the Writings (Luke 24:44). They often referred to the Scriptures in general simply as the Law (John 10:34; 1 Corinthians 14:21) or the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:40; Luke 16:16).

The Law consisted of the first five books of the Bible, commonly called the books of Moses (Mark 12:26; Acts 15:21; see PENTATEUCH). The Prophets consisted of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve so-called Minor Prophets) (see PROPHECY). The Writings consisted of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. This arrangement of books is indicated by Jesus’ reference to the first and last martyrs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Matthew 23:35; cf. Genesis 4:8; 2 Chronicles 24:20-21). (For a book-by-book summary of the Bible’s contents see BIBLE.)

Although there were no fixed divisions in the New Testament, the books may be conveniently grouped into three categories: the narrative books (the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles), the letters (of Paul and of others), and the book of Revelation.

Names given to the books of the Bible are not part of the inspired writings, but have either established themselves by tradition or been given by translators. The names of some Old Testament books in the Christian Bible differ from those in the Hebrew Bible.

The order in which the books are arranged, whether in the Old Testament or the New, is simply the result of established practice and carries no divine authority. Also, the original writings were not divided into the chapters and verses that we are familiar with today. The chapter divisions were made in the thirteenth century AD, and the verse divisions in the sixteenth century.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Scriptures'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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