Description of the Holy Bible – Part 11
There are no new lists of commandments in the New Testament, though some regard the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as the new law for Christians. The standards set out there are even more difficult to achieve than in the Old Testament law. Some Christians, therefore, regard these as ideals to be aimed at, even if they can never fully attain them. Paul has much to say about the law (and uses the word in different ways), but basically, he teaches that while it is good, it is limited. This is because people can never earn God’s love—it is given freely.
A Special Kind Of History
There is much in the Bible that helps us to piece together the early history of the Jewish nation and later, the early church. The history books of the Old Testament are Joshua through to 2 Kings, and I and 2 Chronicles record some of the same events. There are historical passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and parts of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers could be described as history.’ In the New Testament, there are some historical references in the Gospels and Acts.
In the Hebrew Bible Joshua─2 Kings are grouped together and called ‘The Former Prophets.’ This will help us to understand that biblical history is not history told for its own sake, but history told from a particular point of view. It does not tell us everything that happened but only those events, which show how God is at work in His world, developing His plan in the Jewish nation and later in the church. This does not mean that this history is unreliable, for archaeology and comparative studies of other nations show it to be trustworthy.
There are many references in the Old Testament books of history, which show that the writers and editors used older writings and records. For example, Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18 refer to ‘The Book of Jashar’: 1 Kings 11:41 to the ‘annals of Solomon’ and I Chronicles 29:29 to ‘the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer.’ Reference is also made to particular people writing down God’s words: Exodus 24:4 (Moses); I Samuel 10:25 (Samuel). The many family trees (genealogies) were other sources used by the writers. In the New Testament, the writer of Luke and Acts indicates that he has investigated other accounts (Luke 1:3).
Prophecy: There are many prophetic books in the Old Testament and they are grouped together from Isaiah through to Malachi. The popular idea of prophecy is that it is the prediction of future events, but biblical prophecy is much more than this. The prophets announced God’s message not only, or necessarily, about the future, but very often about the present. Frequently, they began with the words, ‘This is what the Lord says.’ They spoke God’s word and that meant that they condemned social injustice and sham worship. They exposed mistaken, cosy ideas about God and His laws and warned the people that God must punish them if they did not mend their ways.
The prophets communicated what they had to say in many different ways: dialogue, narrative, poetry, picture language and drama.
Many prophets have given us accounts of how God called them to their work. Their conviction was that they said what God had told them to say, but how they received those words we do not know.
There are a few references to prophets writing down at least some of their messages: Isaiah 30:8 (Isaiah), and Jeremiah 30:2 (Jeremiah). Jeremiah 36 also tells us that Jeremiah dictated some of his message to Baruch, who must have been his follower.
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