The Bible is a compilation of multiple writings.
In modern times, when people speak of the Scriptures, we often use the term “the Bible.”
People often think of the Bible as a single writing or literary work. This is understandable because the Bible is often printed as a single physical book.
However, it is important that we understand the contents and history of the Bible.
Throughout human history, GOD has interacted with humans in multiple ways. In certain cases, He spoke to them in visions or dreams. Other times, He gave them a direct message, often regarding the future.
As GOD inspired these men, they wrote down the message. Sometimes the message was historical in nature. Other times it was teaching, such as the Law of Moses or the letter of the apostle Paul to the Galatians.
The Bible tells the story of Israel, a nation which arose from the lineage of Abraham. Through this nation came Jesus Christ, the Messiah of GOD who provides salvation from sin.
Some 40 of these inspired men wrote individual messages over the span of around 1,500 years. These messages claim to be directly from GOD and combine to tell the story of how the universe began, how human life began, how and why the evil we see around us began, and how GOD provides the solution for our deepest and most desperate problems. The scope of these writings is Israel, the family and people of GOD.
The Bible’s Compilation
The Old Testament
Moses wrote the first five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These writings tell us how we got from creation to Israel as a nation, with a precise Law and a set of consequences for what would happen if they obeyed GOD and if they disobeyed.
The book of Joshua tells us how Israel entered, conquered, and settled the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. It tells us how the people failed to fully purge the evil Canaanites, thereby disobeying GOD and creating the circumstances that would be their downfall.
After Joshua’s generation, the book of Judges recounts the history of Israel’s lapses into idolatry, followed by GOD’s punishment, followed by Israel’s repentance and GOD’s deliverance through a ruler known as a judge.
Following Judges, we have writings of prophecy, referred to as the Prophets.
The pre-Christ writings are commonly referred to these days as the Old Testament (OT). Jesus referred to the Old Testament writings as “Moses and the Prophets” (see Luke 16:29-31) and “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” in Luke 24:44.
There are many additional Jewish writings which are not included in the Bible but read, studied, held in high regard and even, in certain cases, considered by many as divinely inspired by GOD. Throughout history, there have been significant variations regarding which specific writings were included with certain Bibles. The list of writings which are accepted as divine is known as the canon of Scripture.
For the Protestant Bible canon, there is a substantial time gap (around 400 years) between the final pre-Christ writings close the Old Testament and when the Gospel accounts begin, chronologically.
The New Testament
In the time period now known as the first century A.D.—so named because it is when Jesus was born—supernatural events once again began to occur in Israel.
Eye witnesses wrote the account of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of GOD. These accounts are commonly known as the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many other “gospels” exist but have been rejected and excluded from the canon of Scripture.
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the apostles went into all the inhabited world and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, warning against the looming judgment of GOD and offering an escape from that wrath through Jesus’ blood. The rest of the canon of Scripture contains the writings of the apostles and first century Christians, documenting the history of the spread of Christianity, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians, and teachings for Christian living and cooperation.
The generally-accepted canon of Scripture concludes with the Revelation of John (aka the Apocalypse), which foretold the conclusion of GOD’s eternal plan of salvation, including the great judgment upon Satan and the evil heavenly and earthly forces, the resurrection of the dead, and ultimate reward for the righteous and the wicked.
Christians refer to the collection of writings from the Gospels through the Revelation as the New Testament (NT).
As with the Jewish writings at the conclusion of the OT period, so also there are Christian writings around the time of the conclusion of the NT writings which have been debated as to whether they should be included in the canon. Some of these writings were held in high regard by the early Christians, including being read during church assemblies and even considered divinely inspired by many.
The apostles Peter and Paul explained the creation and origin of the writings of the Bible:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.2 Peter 1:16-21 NIV
Paul wrote this to his fellow worker and “son” in the faith, Timothy:
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:10-17 NIV
So, when you refer to the Bible or think about reading the Bible, remember: You are speaking of a collection of numerous writings compiled over some 1,500 years.