Surveying the Bible
On Wednesday nights I have been sharing a series entitled “The Story of the Old Testament.” Telling such an incredible story does not come naturally. Unfortunately there is not a spiritual gift of Old Testament knowledge. I was forced to know this stuff. If I had not acclimated myself to this story several times, from various viewpoints, I would have failed any and every college and seminary class that had anything to do with the Old Testament.
Surveys of massive books or portions of the Bible do not come easily. In fact it is a more difficult discipline than just interpreting a few verses, because you are covering such vast amounts of material. However, it is a necessary discipline if you want to become a good Bible student. Surveying the Bible provides you a cultural, geographic, and storyline context for interpreting particular verses or portions of Scripture. For example, if you want to interpret Exodus 20 (the chapter in which the 10 commandments are given), your interpretation will gain new life if you have a good grasp on the back story. When you compare the demands of the Ten Commandments to the morality of the gods Israel would have encountered during their wilderness journeys, you will gain clearer insight about the Holy nature of our God and why He demands that we travel through life as a morally distinct group of people. Surveys provide context for proper interpretation.
You probably don’t have the time, nor the nerd capacity necessary to go to Bible college or seminary. Yet, you would really like to know more of the back story of the Bible. Where can you access this type of information?
1. There are several great archaeological websites that contain articles, maps, and photographs about Bible lands, events, and artifacts. The one I use most often is Biblical Archaeological Review - http://www.bib-arch.org/. You may know of others, please share them in the comments section below.
2. Old Testament or New Testament surveys: These books come in varying degrees of detail and reader level (this is code for various weights ranging from 1 to 98 pounds). Go to your local Christian bookstore and they will probably offer a few of the most popular ones. Pick one up, open it to a random page and read it. If it bores you to death, drop it straight to the floor, try another one. Watch your toes. These books will provide you with an outline of each book of the Bible, theological highpoints, themes, and articles that deal with literary issues, various interpretations, and cultural issues. There are loads of good ones out there. Here are a few of my recommendations.
a. A Popular Survey of the Old and New Testaments (2 vols.) by Norman L. Geisler
b. The AMG Concise Bible Survey (this one is very concise and really gives you some good info. quickly) Dr. Harry Adams
c. An Introduction to the Old Testament (this one is probably the most technical of the three, but I have it on my iPad so it weighs virtually nothing!) – Longman and Dillard
d. An Introduction to the New Testament (this one can be very technical when discussing authorship and literary concerns) – Carson, Moo, Morris
e. New Testament Survey – Merrill Tenney (this one is a little old, but so is the New Testament!)
3. Any decent commentary that focuses its attention on one or a few books of the Bible should provide great background material. For instance, this past Wednesday night I consulted the New American Commentaries volume on Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther by Mervin Beneman. All of the NAC commentaries provide great survey material. I would also recommend any commentary in the NIV Application Commentary Series. The background information, as well as the method of interpretation/application is fantastic in this series.
4. You may want to invest in some books like The Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible by J.I. Packer or Merrill Tenney or Holman’s Bible Atlas (this one is awesome)! These books provide great maps, photos, and articles.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)