With the many different and varied opinions of the Bible, it would be worth our while to take a few moments to dispel some myths and misconceptions about the world’s best selling book.
The Bible is not a book of Jewish fables, as some have asserted, nor is it a textbook of boring case law or stringent civil law. It was not written primarily to recount heroic exploits from ancient times. The Bible, of course, contains law, poetry, wisdom, history, heroics, and drama, but it is much more than a sampling of ancient Jewish literature passed on to posterity.
It is an intensely personal book written from the heart of a personal God to His beloved creation. When you read it with an open heart and mind Scripture will taste fresh not stale. It does not read like a static textbook on religion but a dynamic life-changing message. That’s because it is not abstract philosophy to baffle the mind, but truth with heart, hands, and feet. It is not speculative theology espousing lofty but useless ideas, but profound truth & practical wisdom for everyday life. In its pages you will not find the dark clouds of mysterious eastern riddles, but the bright light of revealed answers for humanity! It carries a timeless message revealed within the bounds of human history by a God whose abode is beyond space and time. He is the eternal Spirit who loves what is good, hates what is evil, and speaks what is true. And what He speaks, He speaks in the Bible. The Bible, then, can be wholeheartedly embraced and trusted.
The drama of the Bible is set on the stage of human struggle: blood, sweat, and tears, and the full range of life emotions. It tells of the joys, sorrows, triumphs, defeats, and everyday life of the human condition. Its truths can make you sing exultantly or burst out in tears for deliverance. Its message is so simple a child can comprehend it, yet so profound a sage will never fathom its depths.
What is this eternal message from beyond the universe? What does this written corpus of divine truth convey?
The best way to introduce you to God’s revelation of Himself is to survey the message the Bible communicates.
The Bible contains 66 books and 1189 chapters! That’s a lot of ground to cover in a survey. Though the Bible is a very large book, taking some 70 hours to read out loud, and though it is a series of messages given over a 1500 year period of time, it communicates a simple and unified theme. Though it covers thousands of years of human history, and hundreds of persons down through history have encountered God and had these accounts recorded (people like: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, Hannah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Josiah, Elijah, Esther, Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, Timothy, Lydia), it tells a unified story from creation to consummation about a holy, yet loving God, his contrary creation, and His loving action to bring that creation back in harmony with himself. Its theme is the rule of God over creation through his special creation – man- particularly one perfect Man – Jesus of Nazareth, who saves a people for Himself and God’s glory!
Here is a survey of the “mountain peaks” of God’s intervention in human history and their meaning. From these vantage points you will be able to see how the rest of the Bible hangs together. We start at the beginning …
The message of the Bible necessarily starts with creation. Without creation and a solid understanding of it, nothing else in the Bible will make sense. With a comprehension of creation everything begins to fit together.
The first book of the Bible is Genesis, and its first words in its first chapter are, “In the beginning God Created the Heavens and the earth.” That’s where everything starts in our exploration of biblical truth. That first phrase in the Bible is one of the best known statements in the world because the Bible continues to be the best selling book in the world, and this is its opening sentence.
Genesis 1:1 launches God’s revelation of Himself and His work. It truly is the genesis for understanding life on this planet. As one ponders its seven simple words (in Hebrew – ten in English), its truth immediately sheds light on a number of the fundamental questions we have about life. It is God’s communication about the origin of all things, and thus eliminates a number of false worldviews people hold today. It’s an education all in itself. So it is a great place to begin, and it is where God begins to tell His story — and our story.
These opening words of the book of Genesis let us know the following crucial realities about life on this planet:
- First, there is a Creator God. He has to exist to be able to create. His existence is presumed as the only adequate explanation for everything we see, touch, and study. The effect of creation demands the fact of God as the only satisfactory cause. There must be something greater than the universe to cause the universe. This is powerful truth in itself! There is a God! We know there is a God because we know there is a creation. The creation testifies to His existence everywhere and all the time. No explanation but Almighty and All-knowing God can adequately account for the universe.
- Second, God existed before the universe. The universe does not preexist God and is not coequal with God. The universe came after God. There was nothing before God. God is the first cause. This also is extremely helpful to dispel wrong belief. Nothing else existed except God, for all was made by God and all comes from God.
- Third, nothing exists that God did not create. There is not another creator. Nothing that exists is outside of His creative acts. There is no eternal duel parallelism between the good force and the evil force. Everything that exists does so because He created it. It is all derived from and dependent on Him.
- Fourth, nature is not eternal but had a beginning. This is required through the concept of creation “ex nihilo” (out of nothing). The verses which follow in Genesis describe God creating, not by taking some preexisting material and fashioning it, but merely by speaking and calling things which do not exist into existence. Nothing existed except God. Then God brought all things into existence.
- Fifth, nature did not make itself. Nature is not its own cause. Nature did not design itself or form itself. Nature and all of its laws are dependent on the Creator both for existence and for continuance. Since natural process can only exist if nature exists, the supernatural is required to create the natural in the first place. Thus the existence of the supernatural is not to be questioned, but is to be accepted – even required as the only adequate cause for nature. There could be no nature without “super nature” for nature cannot produce nature. Therefore nature is not to be worshiped.
- Sixth, God is not made but is the Maker of everything else. God is described as merely being there, with no explanation how He could be there. That is because there is no explanation for His existence outside of Himself. God was not born, made, fashioned, or called into existence by another being or by other forces. Never did God start. He just is. If there were an explanation for God outside of Himself, that explanation would be greater than God and thus be God itself. So He alone is the eternal first Cause. He had no beginning, for even time was created by Him.
- Seventh, the Creator-God is a person not a force. Only a powerful person with intelligence could be the adequate cause for the creation of other intelligent persons. A mere unintelligent force could not conceive of animals and humanity. It took a cause greater than our personality to make us. God is that personal Creator!
- Eighth, any other extant beings in the universe are lesser beings than God. Whatever may exist in the universe is subservient to their Creator. There may be many physical and spiritual beings which God called into existence, but there is a vast gulf between that-which-is-God and that-which-is-not-God. No other being arises to the status of God for they are all created by God.
Do you see already how incredibly insightful the Bible is to our understanding! It is a bright light that answers the toughest human questions, and does so succinctly even in the first few words. No other writing accomplishes so much, and it does it in so few words!
Yet there is so much more in Scripture. We are only getting started.
What the first few words of the Bible do not tell us is what this God, who created everything, is like. We read of Him creating and exerting immense power, but we only behold Him from a distance. That’s why the rest of the Bible was written, to introduce us to God, the rest of His purpose and activity, and how we fit in with it all.
The rest of the creation narrative in Genesis goes on to detail what God made and the order in which He made it. It shows us that God is infinitely powerful, orderly, and tuned to detail. God also is wise for He made everything with purpose and intricate design. Ocean, land, vegetation, sun, moon, and stars were brought into existence immediately with an exercise of omnipotent energy. Incredibly diverse animals and plant life emerged immediately as God simply spoke them into existence. Mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes, were formed instantly by unimaginable creative power. Gravity, light, electricity, and even the smallest particles all perform their Creator’s purpose.
Yet in this exercise of infinite power God never grew tired. He demonstrated great design but did not exhaust His creativity. He fashioned a world of abundance but did not drain His generosity. The Genesis account even shows that all God made was good. It worked, and it worked in harmony. Again we learn, God is concerned with goodness, beauty, aesthetics, harmony, and functionality. He is constructive not destructive. His creation was devoid of any death or destruction, and thus was well-pleasing in His sight.
This same creation account includes a fascination on God’s greatest creation – humanity both male & female. Naturally we have multiple questions about the human race, and rightfully so. A religion which cannot explain humanity’s purpose or the function of the sexes is not worthy of our time and trust. Both man and woman were distinguished from the rest of creation as the crowning act of His magnificent work. The man, Adam (meaning “of the earth) was made first, and the woman, Eve, was made from the side of the man to complement and complete him. Therefore the woman was the crowning jewel of God’s creation and equally formed in the image of God. She was given to Adam for companionship. The two sexes were created equal but different in strengths and roles. God designed the man to watch over the woman and the woman to support and strengthen the man. Neither did the other’s job well; both did their own job perfectly. Both were co-rulers over the rest of creation.
As the crowing act of creation, God invested personhood in humanity conveying upon mankind a dignity above all other life. This personhood reveals that God is no mere force or an unknowable fate. He is a person who has a mind, emotions, and a will. He makes other persons in His image. Man, both male and female, is made in God’s very own image and together were told to rule over the other life forms on the planet. Therefore humanity is divinely blessed and given the important task of reigning responsibly over the rest of creation.
As an expression of God’s generosity, the man and woman were given a pristine garden – a paradise in which to live, work, and rule together. God designed the world for their delight. Their work was not tedious or onerous. He also gave them freedom and a wealth of resources to unleash their latent creative power. There was much to discover in this vast, fresh world. God did not consign them to some skimpy, meaningless, or unstable environment. Man’s world was not an evolutionary dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest environment. Everything in that original paradise was idyllic and perfectly choreographed.
With this incredible privilege and lofty position on the planet God also gave limitations! Man was not made a god, but what he remains today – a creature, a product of divine activity molded from the ground. The man and the woman needed to understand their identity as created beings mirroring and reflecting their Creator. Man needed to know that his existence was not independent. He had not made himself, but was continuously dependent upon his Creator. Man was not his own master or sustainer. He did not evolve by chance. Luck did not invent him. Man was not the origin of himself or the measure of all things. Man was a creature – a lofty creature – but a creature nonetheless.
As a reminder of their creaturehood, and as a test of their loyalty to their Creator God, one restriction was given to the newly made couple – one and only one: Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the garden-paradise. “For the day you eat of it you will surely die.” In this statement the good and gracious God emphasized to the human couple that they did not have life in themselves. Only God had life in Himself. Their life and livelihood were derived from God. They were dependent upon God for sustaining life. They could lose their security, paradise, and even their lives if they did not take seriously that one restriction God gave them. If they were disobedient to the word of God, if they violated His commandment, if they launched out in their own direction, tragedy would surely follow.
God gave the couple a genuine choice. They were moral beings with a will of their own. They were not made like stars or mountains or lakes which have no moral responsibility. As moral beings made in the image of their Creator, ruling over the planet, their decisions would have vast consequences for good or for ill.
Obviously upon reading the wondrous opening two chapters of Genesis, and then thinking about how messed up the world is today, readers of the Bible will want to know how things deteriorated from paradise to perdition. This is why the biblical account graciously continues with the unfolding of human history – not the way our textbooks tell it today, man being no more than an evolved animal, but the way it actually happened. Evolution is a theory foisted on moderns without proof and with much science which denies it. No one should shackle their minds to the chains of a dying theory. Humanity never evolved. We were made as we are. Science (biology, and paleontology) is confirming this.
We don’t have revealed to us all the details about what happened in early human history, but we do have recorded the pinnacle events which shaped our world. One of the most important, and clearly the saddest, was the fall of mankind into evil.
Many consider the account of a talking serpent, a forbidden fruit, and a subsequent curse to be the things of early myth. Prejudiced readers of the Bible approach it with an evolutionary bias. That is not wise. This event, like all the others in the Bible, is presented as true history. It is not a myth to decipher but a monumental event which happened.
Sometime shortly after the original perfect arrangement, the account introduces a strange character. It informs us that another personal being from a spiritual realm came to interact with the human couple. A Tempter came to tempt the man and the woman to do exactly what their loving Creator forbade. As a spirit, he arrived in the garden, indwelt a beautiful animal, and enticed the couple to disobey God’s express command. This tempter craftily manipulated the situation by taking advantage of the free choice given the two humans.
By this temptation he introduced a discordant message. He directly attacked the veracity of the words of the Creator and led Adam and Eve to violate God’s restriction. The innocent couple, first the woman due to deception, then the man due to rebellion, ate from the forbidden tree. Their eyes (understanding) were immediately opened to know for the first time both good and evil. They were no longer holy and innocent. Now they experienced for the first time fear, guilt, shame, disharmony, lies, insecurity, and confusion. Gone was their peace, joy, and righteousness.
This is our first encounter in human history with evil. The reader of the Bible at this point immediately recognizes evil for what it is – opposite all that is good and damaging to life. Evil is cast as undesirable and regretful. Though not a created thing or an entity in itself, evil emerges as a blight on that which is good. Evil does not come from the creator but the creature. It emerges when the moral creation itself makes a choice to depart from the goodly design of the Creator. So evil is a perversion of creation, a twisting of truth and noble living. Evil is like rust, corrosion, or decay. It ruins! It mars! It demolishes. It destroys! Evil is not from God and does not build up or create. Evil contains no admirable qualities.
Whence did this evil come? The origin of this Tempter is not immediately explained in the biblical text. It is revealed later in the Bible as coming from a fallen, malevolent spirit in the realm of the created spirits. Because God is not part of the physical created universe, the Bible makes clear that things which are seen are not the only things in existence. There is an alternate universe, so to say, one with beings who are not made of flesh but some other substance which humanity cannot study or define. In this other mode of existence, these limited beings can move in and out of our physical universe undetected. The Bible calls these beings spirits, and it calls the location of their origin “heaven.”
The account of the actual fall of these spirits from good into evil, and the time of their fall is given in later revelation. One of these spirits, a very powerful, beautiful, and intelligent Cherub, made a decision to lead a rebellion against God. It appears that in his lofty status, he became infatuated with his beauty and power. He fell from God’s favor due to his pride. So he became the leader of other spirits who chose to rebel with him. All these spirit beings are categories as various orders of “angels” or angelic creatures.
In their rebellion they decided to take on the role of attacking God’s creation. They set out to ruin what God had made. Since God was pleased with his creation, this spirit called Satan (the Adversary) or the Devil (The slanderer) or the Evil One, wanted to ruin it. He temporarily succeeded through trickery and slander, and the man and woman were led into disobedience and destruction.
Though the fall into evil was tragic, another thing we learn about God is that He was not caught off guard. God set into motion a plan through which to teach his creation even more about himself. Through the fall into sin we learn more about God and His plan for humanity. We learn that God cannot be outsmarted. He cannot be out maneuvered. God is all knowing. He also is holy and does not approve of sin or the violation of His rules in His universe. God detests disobedience and evil. God severely punishes evil because He knows it ruins everything that is good.
The disobedience the man and woman acted out is called sin, evil, perversion, iniquity, and the like in Scripture. It is morality that has gone astray and missed its mark. This sin led the holy God to curse the planet, pronounce consequences on each of the offending parties, and commence the decay process leading to man’s physical death. God’s judicial curse spawned of the process of decay and entropy. The many negative consequences we still live with today are the results of this judgment. The man and women were also driven out of their paradise. They lost their perfect home.
In fact, they seemed to have lost everything, but God left a ray of hope! Through the fall, we also learn that God is not vindictive or hateful. He has a vast ocean of love and mercy in HIs heart. Due to God’s merciful and loving nature, all was not lost! The human couple was still permitted to live for many years upon earth, and have a measure of joy in this life. God immediately provided undeserved grace to sustain life in this world and to continue to show His goodness in the midst of the evil. Though labor was now tedious, and though the woman’s pain in childbearing was increased greatly, God still let them procreate and enjoy the fruit of their labor. Their children, though, were born to them apart from their original, good (innocent) nature received at creation. Now every one of their children had the principle of evil in their being and were bent away from a desire to know, love, and worship God. Each human child would no longer naturally seek for God or perform the will of God.
Because they were no longer good in nature, this led to a host of intertwined problems. As people began to multiply over the face of the earth, (God had designed from the beginning for the early human race to multiply from the children of the first couple) their sinful disposition led to divisions, distrust, jealousy, hatred, envy, lusts, arrogance, selfishness, strife, insecurity, slavery, injustice, anxiety, divorce, abuse of women, sexual promiscuity, etc… Man’s inner heart and thinking were now tainted with the desire to do more sin. Their very nature was subject to evil.
This is graphically illustrated in the firstborn son of Adam and Eve – Cain – murdering his younger brother Abel. Cain’s jealousy of Abel’s better sacrifice to God led to hatred, murder, a cover up, and eventually judgment. It served a sufficient picture of multiple other evil acts in early humanity. Man was not a sinner because he committed acts of sin. It was the other way around. He sinned because his very nature was now corrupt.
Cain’s murder of Abel was not an isolated event, but one which sprung from the ruined nature of the children of Adam. As man multiplied and spread throughout the world, violence did not abate but steadily increased. Though man could still use his intellect and willpower leading to the invention of many earthly things, (music. technology, buildings, weapons, etc… ) it was now bent in the direction of evil and independence from the Creator. This resulted in a most pathetic life situation. Man was estranged from God and at odds with his fellow man – all because of the entrance of evil into the world.