B. Sermon Introduction:
Why Study the Bible?
First edition: Saturday 5 April 2003
Second edition: Wednesday 22 October 2014
People of the Book
Throughout the centuries Christians have been known as the "people of the book". That book is, of course, the Bible. What does our English word 'bible' actually mean? It is derived from a Greek word, biblia, which literally means 'books' or, in a wider sense, 'library of books'. In our language a 'bibliophile' means a person who loves books. This word 'bible' is not, incidentally, mentioned in the Bible itself for which we have another word, 'Scriptures', which literally means 'writings'.
Other 'Bibles' and Gods
They are distinguished from other 'writings' or 'scriptures' by the designation 'Holy Scriptures' and often 'Holy Bible'. The word 'holy' or qodesh means 'sacred' or 'set apart' - they are different from all other writings. And yet other religions have their own 'holy scriptures' or 'bibles' too. So we need to distinguish our own 'Bible' from all the others claiming to be holy or sacred such as the Hindu Vedas, the Muslim Qu'ran, or the Latter-day Saints' Book of Mormon. A useful way to do this is by distinguishing between the gods of these religions which are, respectively, Brahma, Allah and Ahman. The Holy Scriptures we are about to study are authored by Yahweh-Elohim, the Creator of both man and the cosmos in which we live. A perfectly acceptable designation for our Bible might therefore be the Holy Scriptures of Yahweh.
Yahwist, Christian or Messianic?
I am a 'Yahwist' which means that I believe that Yahweh is the One and Only True Deity. I am also a 'Christian' or 'Messianic' because I believe in His Messiah or Christ whom He sent to the earth to complete the work of redemption of mankind. The Name of the Messiah is Yah'shua which means 'Yahweh saves'. So when I talk of Yah'shua, the Messiah, Christ, or Jesus I am talking about a Person whom Yahweh chose to be His representative or ambassador; when I call myself a 'Christian' I am also declaring myself to be a Yahwist as well.
As a Christian, I want to follow Yah'shua (Jesus). This means that I want to do what He said, to go where He leads, to follow His example, and - as my consummate goal - to enter into the everlasting chayim (life) which He offers me. I would like eventually to be able to talk to Him face-to-face as one man talks to another but I know fully well that, in spite of the claims of some, that in this life it is not so easy. To be able to talk to, and know, Him face-to-face means that I must be pure enough to approach Him as Moses did on Mount Sinai. And that, according to the Bible, is a lifelong work. It simply doesn't happen overnight.
Bible Claims & Unbelief
Because this is true, Yahweh has made provision for us. Just as when I am dead and gone I hope that those who want to understand me can read my sermons and books, so Yahweh has produced a written record by eyewitnesses who personally heard and knew the Messiah when He was here on the earth. There are, of course, people who doubt this record and who say that it was either made up or changed by people who wanted to make up a new religion. If the Bible is what it claims to be, and if it is so important for us and our salvation in this world and the next, then they had be better sure that they have good grounds for believing as they do. People reject the Bible for all sorts of reasons. They may simply believe the lies that others tell them and not bother to check it out for themselves. They may have a personal grudge against Elohim (God) and are determined to ridicule His Scriptures at all costs, much as some people attack my writings without ever really bothering to find out what I believe in or what I mean. They may be too lazy and believe they can manage their lives as Christians without reading His book ... which does beg the question as to why Elohim (God) would prepare it in the first place since if one person can get life right without the Bible then presumably everyone else can. There are many reasons why people do not want to know.
Destruction of a Bible
I was once a great sceptic of the Bible. Most of my friends were sceptics and I just drifted with the crowd. I can still vividly remember to this day a friend showing his contempt for the book by ripping one up in front of me. We were about 16, a notoriously unstable age. He was a brilliant mathematician and went on to Cambridge University in England as a scholar. The last I heard of him was that he was a recluse that nobody could get near to.
A Statistical Challenge
It wasn't until I was at Oxford University as a Biochemistry undergraduate that my interest in the Bible was kindled. I went to a lecture on impulse and as a sceptic. I had a superior intellectual view of things and thought that just because the book was 'ancient' that it couldn't possibly be scientifically accurate. Besides, I had been taught that it was full of scientific absurdities. The first of my scientific pillars of arrogance was hewn down that evening when I was shown the statistical impossibility of all the fulfilled prophecies which no amount of ingenuity could have faked. I was later to be satisfied that it was also scientifically accurate, and another pillar of arrogance was smashed. After nearly 40 years study of this book, and much comparative study of other religious books too, I am convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that its truth-claims have stood the test: this is truly the Book of the Creator.
For Intelligent People
I have deliberately omitted all the spiritual experiences that have confirmed its truthfulness to me in order to emphasise that this is a book for thinking men and women. It does not require blind faith to believe it. It is for intelligent people as much as for those who make no claims to be brainy. It is a book for all people.
The Bible makes some extraordinary claims. Yah'shua (Jesus) declared that the Torah or Old Testament was Word-Perfect in the original Hebrew and in the original manuscripts. He also declared that every single letter of it matters, down to the last dots and strokes (Mt.5:17-18). That's how important it is. And whilst we no longer have the original manuscripts (MSS), the Hebrew and Aramaic copies that we do have - of which there are many - sufficiently agree with each other that we may have confidence in what it says. The small discrepancies that we find in the Hebrew copies and Greek translations are not difficult to resolve, and none of them really affects the meaning to an extent that we might be misled into error. Because languages are constantly changing we do have to do some digging and determine the original meaning sometime. Fortunately, there are the works of many scholars we can consult.
A Complete Manual
It is possible for someone to stumble on aspects of the emet (truth) without the Bible. However, aspects are not enough. The Bible presents a concrete, complete, comprehensive, organic plan for the whole of life. A few favourite passages here and there which we may remember from what others have said is not enough. Like a Manual for learning a Computer Language such as C++, the Bible is a manual for life. And just as aspects of C++ will not make you proficient in that language, so aspects of the Bible are not enough. We need the whole course.
Daunting for Beginners
The Bible is, admittedly, a little daunting for those who do not know it or who have been introduced to it for the first time. It's language and history are unfamiliar to our experience. It doesn't contain familiar things to us like TVs, computers, Ipads, cars, and washing machines. And yet as a manual for people it is complete. It gives you all you need to know to be fully human. Which is what Christianity is all about.
Written on the Heart
Christians are 'people of the book'. You can't have Christianity without the Bible, and you can't have Christians without the Bible either ... unless you happen to have memorised it. One of our goals, the navi (prophet) Jeremiah tells us, is to have the Torah (law, Teaching) written on our hearts so that nobody needs to teach us any more, and the Christian life becomes natural, spontaneous, and joyful. That is the aim of all true Bible study.
Springboard to Intimate Relationship
So the first thing we have to come accept to be truly a Christian is that the Bible is authoritative. It's what Yahweh wants us to know as a means to draw close to Him and find personal liberation. The Bible is not just a collection of words. It's a springboard, a way of getting to know Elohim (God) personally and not as some abstract idea or theory. The goal is not that you should just accept what it is written. The goal is to enter into a personal relationship with your Maker just as you would with a righteous earthly father. For Yahweh is our heavenly Father. He is the one who made us and knows us like no one else.
Yah'shua (Jesus) came to earth to do several things. One of them was to reveal to us what Elohim (God) is really like and to remove the false pictures and fantasies we are apt to create of Him. The Bible records the stories of ordinary people, like you and me, who saw Yah'shua (Jesus), heard Him, touched Him, talked with Him, and lived with Him. Unfortunately, we were not there ourselves, and there is no way we can ever know what He was like in the flesh, what He said and did by reading the accounts which the recorded secular histories of the time. Most of these simply tell us that there was a Judean prophet called Yah'shua (Jesus) who lived, preached, ran into trouble with the authorities, and was executed. Their history was second-hand, not original, heard from various people who had personal agendas to discredit Him or who were simply uninterested and had overheard some gossip. One or two mention that a resurrection took place but their accounts are couched in vague language. The only way we can ever know about Yah'shua (Jesus) for real is to turn to the Messianic Scriptures or New Testament. And to understand the background of His mission we need to know the Tanakh or Old Testament too.
All of It is Important
There are many ways we can study the Bible, all of them valid. We can read it right through from Genesis to Revelation. Or we can read selections arranged in such a way so that we don't miss anything out. Or we can read it systematically by looking at various themes. Reading random passages here and there is generally acknowledged by all serious Bible students to be quite useless because we need not only specific knowledge about certain topics but also an overview. If, as Yah'shua (Jesus) said, Scripture cannot be broken (Jn.10:35), and if everything written about Him in the Torah or Law of Moses must be fulfilled (Lk.24:44), then it follows that all of it is important.
What We Need to Know
We would be dishonest if we didn't admit that sometimes parts of the Bible seem a little boring. That will depend on many things. Some of the Bible is just collected genealogies and whilst these may be useful for certain kinds of scriptural study, generally we do not find much use for them. Knowing what the mitzvot or commandmentss are, however, is unquestionably essential. We need to know what we can do and what we can't. We need to know the rules to give our life structure and avoid getting into trouble with both Elohim (God) and men. And for that reason any study of the Bible must include a detailed study of the Torah or 'Teaching', commonly called the 'Law'. These are the foundation of the whole Bible and are found in the first five books of Moses. Without them it is not possible to fully understand the life and mission of Yah'shua (Jesus), one whose purpose was to complete this body of Scripture. Thus everything and anything in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) is connected in some way with the Torah.
The Tanakh (Old Testament) also contains many books of the prophets called the Nevi'im. These are not just warnings about getting our lives straightened out but contain astonishing prophecies about the future and in particular the mission of the Messiah. Finally, there are the Kethuvim or 'Writings', a miscellaneous collection that includes not only the very inspiring Psalms and Wisdom Literature but also (for many) the 'less interesting' genealogies of Israel. The Bible is completed by the 'Messianic Scriptures', more commonly (but slightly misleadingly) known as the 'New Testament'.
Fathoming the Word
The Bible discloses to us the character and person of Yahweh and is necessary because there are many other sources - both written and unwritten - that try to paint Him in a different way. The great teacher and interpreter of the Bible is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and at some point becomes critical in ensuring an accurate and authentic understanding. The human mind alone cannot fathom it. The purpose of the Ruach haQodesh is to reveal the original meaning and intent of Scripture, it being the Ruach who inspired it in the first place. Though the Bible was written by many different men, its writing was guided by the Ruach (Spirit) and not by personal desire or whim. The evidence that this so is the extraordinary harmony of the Scriptures which no human being - however brilliant - could ever have accomplished without divine assistance. The Bible contains many secrets and many surprises and in recent times has been exciting the interest of mathematicians who have no explanation for the complex patterns within it.
The Goal of This Study
The structure of Foundational Studies of the Bible is thematic. It is designed to help you gather many or all the scriptures on a particular topic or theme for intense study. It is not designed to replace personal study and nor does it claim to be the only thematic way of studying Scripture. And no doubt it will pass through several more editions as it is improved. It has been designed specifically for baptised members of the New Covenant Assemblies of Yahweh (NCAY) who are preparing for full membership as confirmants or sons and daughters of Torah, and who are desirous to partake worthily in one of the holiest of the sacraments, the Master's or Lord's Supper or Communion Meal which Scripture commands us not to take lightly. This meal reminds us of the goal of Christianity - to prepare men and women to enter into the very presence of Yahweh Himself and to commune with Him as Moses did face-to-face. It is to that end that this Bible series has been dedicated. Amen.
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