Beliefs and Practices of Christians - WHAT HOLY BOOKS DO CHRISTIANS ACCEPT?
Now, my friend, I will reply to your question regarding our Holy Books. You know that from ancient times Jews and Christians have been called "People of the Book". This title is appropriate and well-deserved, for both Jews and Christians have shown deep concern for the preservation of their Holy Books.
What are the books which Christians consider "Holy"? They are sixty-six in number, and while often bound in one volume which is called the Holy Bible, they may be divided into two parts: usually called the Old Testament and the New Testament. We will discuss these two parts separately.
- THE OLD TESTAMENT
This section contains thirty-nine separate books, all of which are considered "Holy Books" by both Jews and Christians. These books were written in the Hebrew language. They were written by many different authors, over a period of at least one thousand years. The first five books are known as the Torah (Tauarete) or Pentateuch. The material for these was gathered from ancient records and written down by Moses and others under the guidance of God. The first book, called Genesis, begins with an account of the creation of the world by God, and tells of Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Flood. It also relates how Abraham at Gods' command left his home in Iraq about 2000 B.C. and went to Palestine which God had promised to give him. It tells of Isaac and Jacob, and of Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, and who later became the vazir of Pharaoh. The other four books of the Torah tell how God gave strength to Moses to lead the people of Israel, who were the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), out of Egypt about 1300 B.C. to Palestine. These books also give in full all the laws which God gave to Moses for His people Israel at Mount Sinai.
After the Torah come the historical books which tell how the Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, son of Nun, conquered Palestine. They relate how God sent Samuel the prophet to annoint with olive oil David as king of Israel about 1000 B.C. They also tell how David, who was both king and prophet, defeated all his enemies, and how his son Solomon built a temple for the worship of God in Jerusalem. After Solomon the kingdom was divided, and the descendants of Solomon ruled over the tribe of Judah in Jerusalem, until it was captured in 586 B.C. by the armies of the king of Babylon. Many Jews were carried into captivity to Iraq and Iran. Fifty years later Cyrus the King of Persia captured Babylon, and encouraged the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of God which had been destroyed. This they did, but after 586 B.C. no descendant of David ruled asking of the Jews, for foreigners controlled Palestine.
After the historical books of the Old Testament come the poetical books, such as the book of Job, the Psalms of David, and the Proverbs of Solomon and others. Then come sixteen books written by different prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah and Malachi. Most of these prophets lived in Judah between 800 and 400 B.C. It seems that after Malachi (about 430 B.C.) God sent no prophet till John the Baptist appeared (about 26 A.D.).
- 2. THE NEW TESTAMENT
The number of books which compose the New Testament is twenty-seven. These books were written in Greek by about ten different authors during a period of some fifty years following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The term "Old Testament" refers to the covenant which God made with His people Israel through Moses. "New Testament" refers to the covenant which God made with His new people namely, those who believe in Christ. The first four books of the New Testament are called "Gospels", or injil, which is from a Greek word meaning Good News. They were written by four different authors, and are four independent accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. They do not contradict but rather supplement one another, and are like four photographs of one person taken from different positions. Frequently all the books of the New Testament are called injil.
The fifth book of the New Testament is the Acts of the Apostles. It tells the history of the spread of the Christian faith from Jerusalem to Rome during and thirty years after the death of Jesus Christ. It especially tells about the work of the apostles Peter and Paul. Nest come twenty-one letters written mostly by the apostles Paul, Peter and John. These letters were written to groups of Christians in a number of cities in the Roman Empire, or to individuals. they explained what they should believe, and how they should live. The last book which is called Revelation describes the visions which John the Apostle saw. It pictures the punishment which will come to unbelievers, the final victory of Jesus Christ, and the glory of God's eternal kingdom. While both Jews and Christians accept the books of the Old Testament, Jews do not consider the New Testament to be from God.
Probably you now want to ask what Christians mean when they say that these books are "Holy" and are "from God". First of all, we do not mean that God dictated all these books to their many authors as an executive would dictate a letter to his secretary. For when we read the different books we see great differences in the style. David did not write like Solomon, nor did Paul write like John. They all had different personalities and therefore wrote differently. Then, you ask, were the books they wrote only human documents which, like other books written by men, might contain error as well as truth? No indeed! For though these books were composed by men, Christians call all of them the Word of God. It is our belief that God by His Spirit so guided these authors that what they wrote would be true. We believe that God made known His truth and His will to the prophets so that they could give His message to men. In the same way God made His truth known to the men whom He chose to write these books. And so each author, with his own pen and his own human characteristics, under the guidance of God's Spirit wrote God's Word for us. In the Holy Injil or New Testament it is written: "No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2Peter 1:21). Just as they spoke from God, so they also wrote. The Holy Bible is God's written Word. Therefore, we Christians consider the Bible to be different from all other books in the world. We believe that in it is to be found all that we need to know about God, and our duty to Him and to our fellowmen. For this Book tells us of the Savior Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to change sinful men and make the world what God wants it to be. Now may I explain several matters?
1. First, let me say that though there are m any different sects of Christians in the world, all of them accept these sixty-six books as true, and consider them to be the unique guide to doctrine and life.
2. Christians do not think that later books abrogate (tanisk) or replace earlier ones. For example, we do not think that the Injil has taken the place of the Torah. Jesus said, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." (Matthew 5:17). As in school the books used in the tenth class do not contradict or abrogate those of the lower classes but rather complete them, so the later books given by God do not cancel out the earlier ones, but give men a more perfect understanding of God's truth. We Christians, therefore, read all the books to learn all the lessons God would teach us. If a book should be written by anyone which does not agree with what God had said in the Bible, we know that this book is not from God. For God never contradicts Himself.
3. If you have ever heard it said that Christians have changed (tahrif) their Holy Books, and that the books we now have are not trustworthy, I assure you that this charge is utterly false. Christians love their Holy Books, and would never permit evil persons to destroy or make changes in them. Moreover, Greek manuscripts are in existence today which were written by hand more than 1,600 years ago and it is from them that our present translations are made. God gave His Word for all mankind. Christians have endeavored to translate the whole Bible or parts of it into every language in the world, so that everyone may read it in his mother tongue. The Bible or parts of it have been translated and published in more than 1,400 different languages. And, in every language the message is the same. Did you know that more copies of the Bible are distributed each year than of any other book in the world? Surely this would not be the case if it were believed that this is a false book! Moreover, it is impossible that God who gave His Word for the guidance of men would have allowed it to be changed, so that it would mislead men. No, God Himself is the guardian of His Holy Word, and He has kept it for thousands of years from anything that would destroy it. Hence, it is perfectly trustworthy.
4. One of the remarkable things about the sixty-six books of the Bible is that though they were written by many writers over a period of some 1,500 years their message is one. They tell who God is, and what God requires of man, and what God has done to save sinful man. This shows that God is the real Author of all these books and not the men who wrote them.
5. Another remarkable thing about the Bible is that it is easy to understand. Though it was written in ancient languages long ago, it can be translated into many of the languages of the world today, and even people of little education are able to understand its message. I have often heard of men and women in remote parts of the world who, without any teach, just by reading a part of the Bible, came to know God and found forgiveness of (salvation from) their sins. Of course learned scholars have written many books which help us to understand God's Word more perfectly, and councils of the Christian Church have composed statements of doctrine which have guided believers in the way of truth. But usually if one studies the Bible carefully he will find that it explains itself. The Bible tells us all we need to know about God and man. Therefore, every Christian has the privilege and duty of studying the Bible. With the help of other Christians, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he may interpret it for himself. Many Christians have the habit of reading a portion of the Bible every day and meditating on its teaching.
Perhaps you have wondered why I did not say that the Injil was written by Jesus, or was given by God to Jesus Christ. The truth is that as far as we know Jesus wrote no book, and had no book in His hand which had been given Him by God. As I will explain later He was Himself the living Word of God, and God spoke to men through what He was and what He did, as well as through what He said. He Himself was the perfect manifestation of God. Hence, God guided Matthew, John, Paul and others tot write the books portraying Jesus Christ to us. This helps us to see Him, and to hear God's message through Him. Therefore, my friend, you realize from what I have written how very important the Holy Bible is, and how necessary it is for everyone to read it, or listen to its contents. For only from it can one gain a true understanding of the Christian religion and of the way of salvation. I hope you will buy a copy, and read the New Testament first. Then turn to the Old Testament, which you will understand better after reading the New. May God speak to you through every page of His Holy Word!
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