The Bible is a book that has held a very prominant position in western society for nearly 2000 years, and parts of it were crucial to Jewish society for a further 1000 years prior to that. As books go, it is one that has been treated with great importance for a long period of time. This paper describes some of the aspects of the Bible that give it such an important status, and the opportunities they offer.
The Bible does make its own claim to greatness. Throughout its books, it claims to be the word of the one true God. The book of Peter in the New Testament speaks about the earlier prophecies in the Bible,
2 Peter 1:20.: knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21. for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. NKJV
While any book can make claims about itself without those claims necessarily being true, this passage is still significant. It means that if this is true, it is a very special book.
2. The Promise of Genesis
The Bible itself is composed of a collection of 66 individual books. These books vary in length, author, and age. The first book is Genesis, which means “beginning”. It describes a processs of creation and the early development of nations. Many of the foundations for later themes of the Bible are found in Genesis. Some important aspects are:
- The claim that God is the creator of the world.
- Sin and rebellion of people against God.
- Judgement of God against people for sin and rebellion.
- Promises of God for future hope.
- The growth of the nation of Israel.
The first three chapters of Genesis are very significant because they establish the type of relationship between people and God. This section is also one of the most disputed because of its impact on scientific theories. Chapters one and two detail the creation of the world as we know it over a short time-span. There has been significant debate about the specific form of the creation, because the Biblical account is very brief and explained in simple terms.
The general approach of the scientific community has been to base theories only on observed events. As a result, ideas about the creation of the world have involved formulating processes that require very long time periods, in the order of millions of years. Although differing ideas about creation have made details about the early section of Genesis controversial, the message in it is still important.
If Genesis is authentic, the aspect conveyed in chapters 1 and 2 is one of ownership. According to the record, the world and all that is in it, were created by a God. In particular, all people who have lived are a result of this creation. Gensis describes the creation by God of the first man, Adam.
Genesis 2:7.: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. NKJV
From the point of view of the rest of the Bible, the most important aspect of this was that it was designed and controlled by God. This places God in the supreme position as the creator and the owner of the Earth. In the book of Jeremiah, God is likened to a potter, who has power over his creation,
Jeremiah 18:1: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 2. "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words." 3. Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6. "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! NKJV
The message is that just as the potter has the right to create and destroy his creation, so God has a right to ownership of his creation. The consequence is that the God has a supreme authority and is, by definition, the standard for right and wrong. The book of Romans uses the example of the potter as part of an argument to this effect,
Romans 9:20.: But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21. Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? NKJV
The Sin of Adam
As the record of creation continues, more information is provided about the man. He was given the garden of Eden to live in, and one law that he had to obey. At this stage, there was no set of laws, like the Law of Moses, instead there was just one law, it the penalty for breaking the law was death.
Gen 2:15.: Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17. "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." NKJV
It was the response to this law that formed the course of history. Immediately after the creation, most of the ideas we have about society and the world did not exist. At that time there were no particular set of laws that had to be obeyed. Instead, God first set down a single law that Adam had to obey. This law was that he was now allowed to eat from a particular tree. The punishment for eating was that he would “surely die.” Note that the punishment was nothing complicated, or any form of prolonged torture, but instead the taking away of the gift of life which God had already given. It was simply that he would surely die.
The history in Genesis reveals that Adam did indeed break the law. After being tempted by the serpent, first Eve, and then Adam ate fruit from the tree.
Gen 3:6.: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. NKJV
So after the temptation from the serpent, Adam and Eve ate from the tree, violating the commandment of God. It is not long afterwards in the record that the response of God is recorded. The punishment for Adam and Eve was not simply instant death. Instead they were condemned to die in the future, and in the meantime a number of curses were added that made life more difficult for them.
God told Adam,
Gen 3:19.: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." NKJV
While the nature of Adam and Eve before the sin in the Garden of Eden is not recorded, after the sin they were mortals. The Bible records that Adam had a long life by our standards, but nonetheless he was condemned to death.
At the time of creation, God was in complete contol of the fate of His creation. The opportunity was to make many choices about the properties of the creation, including things such a lifespan, and the environment of the Earth.
Overall, the creation itself was a blessing to those created. This was the opportunity of life that would not have been there without the creator. After the sin of Adam, and subsequent condemnation to death, the state of humans appears reasonably clear. In Genesis, life is shown to be a window of existence, surrounded by non-existence.
Gen 3:19.: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." NKJV
After dying, it appears that it is just like the person never existed.
Eccl 9:5.: For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. NKJV
The hope and destiny of humans can also be viewed from a Godless viewpoint. In this case, scientific and philosophical principles may be applied to determine what people can expect from life. Rules about the length and meaning of life are then established from observation. In terms of observation, the basic case is quite simple. People are born, live for about 70 years, and then die. After a person dies, the only visible things left are memories and descendants. The following generation may observe the legacy of a person, but this has no observable effect on the person who is then deceased.
Both the creation record and natural observation show that the only thing that can be expected out of life is what can be seen. This is normally about 70 years of living, followed by a cessation of living. The Bible shows that God's blessing for the world was the creation itself. Science is a study of observed things, and so only expects what is seen. On this information, there is no evidence or reason to expect any more out of life, or any greater purpose. People do find it hard to accept death, so they say that “there must be more to it”, but this is not a valid argument. We cannot claim immortality exists simply on the basis that we would like it to be true. Furthermore, it cannot be considered a “right”, or something a person is deserves. From the Bible, people are deserving of death as a result of the rebellion of Adam, and from science people have no more right to immortality than they do to walking at the speed of light.
This analysis appears bleak, but only because our society has an expectation for more. There is nothing inherent in the observable design of the world that says that people should deserve any more hope than that. Similarly when considering that the world was created by a God, there is no basis for expecting any specific “rights” beyond those that are stated or observed.
From a human perspective people often expect a particular lifestyle and length of life. If it is shorter, or deemed less pleasant, they feel cheated. If it longer, or more pleasant it is often considered a thing that was deserved. This is based on observation, and the standard being set by the observation of other peoples' lives. From the perspective of the Bible, however, we are blessed to received life in the first place, and even more blessed to receive a long and healthy one.
The Bible does go further than this, however, where in specific cases, an offer is made that goes beyond what is currently observed. One of the first examples of this is recorded in Genesis 12, where a series of promises were made to the man Abraham.
3. The Promises to Abraham
In Genesis 12, a man called Abram (later known as Abraham), was approached by God, and called to make a journey to Canaan (modern Israel). God then gave this man a number of promises that he could expect to receive,
Gen 12:2.: I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." NKJV
Later in Abraham's life, he was again called to act on behalf of God. After testing his faith, God again offered promises to Abraham. This time they went into more detail into how all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.
Gen 22:17.: "blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18. "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." NKJV
Again this promise talks of the prosperity of his descendents, but he also speaks of a particular seed in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Some 2000 years later, just after the time of Christ, the man Paul in his letter to the Galatians, emphasises that this seed was singular, and further claimed who it referred to.
Gal 3:16.: Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. NKJV
So at the time of Abraham, God made the promise of Jesus, and that through him all the nations would be blessed. These promises were re-iterated through history, to Abraham's descendents Isaac, Jacob and the king David. So for some 2000 years before his birth, there had been prophecies about the life and purpose of Jesus.
In the time of one of those descendents, King David of Israel (in about 1000BC), Israel was becoming a prosperous nation. but there was still no temple of God, only a tent called the tabernacle. David wanted to build a temple, but was told by God that the time had not yet come. In response to David's offer to build the temple, God gave a series of promises to David. These are recorded in 2 Sam 7:
2 Sam 7:12.: " When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13. "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. NKJV
In Luke 1:32, Mary was given a number of promises about the role of the promised son,
It was said that:
Luke 1:32.: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33. "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." NKJV
- He will be great,
- will be called the Son of the Highest
- the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David
- he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever
- of his kingdom there shall be no end.
a comparison between the promises given to Mary and to David reveal many similarities.
- The promise to David speaks of a seed whose kingdom will be established in the future.
- The promises about this seed correspond to the promises about Jesus.
- He would be great.
- He would inherit the throne of David.
- He would reign forever.
This shows that the life of Jesus had been promised many years before. In the book of Peter, this is expressed in terms of being foreordained, chosen or foreknown (according to translation) before the foundation of the world,
1 Peter 1:20.: He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21. who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. NKJV
According to the Bible, even though in their natural existence they could expect little more, Abraham, David and Mary were promised a number of great things. Of greatest consequence to the world at large was the promised saviour in Jesus. Not only were the promises for the future generations, however, but they were also for the benefit of those who were promised. The book of Hebrews includes a record of the faithful of old in chapter 11. This includes a description of Abraham,
Heb 11:8.: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. ... 10. for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. NKJV
This shows that Abraham was waiting for more than just the physical blessing he received during his life. In fact, Hebrews goes on to say that the promises to him were not fulfilled by the time of his death.
Heb 11:13.: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. ... 16. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. NKJV
This shows that there is yet to be more to the promise, and that God has prepared this city for him. For Abraham to take advantage of it, there must be more to his life than his previous existance in 2000BC. The Gospel of Luke shows that the expectation was that Abraham would be raised from the dead.
Luke 20:37.: "But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' 38. "For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." NKJV
The fact that Moses understood this to be the case shows that this was an expected part of the promise. From the time of creation, there was no stated right or promise to a resurrection from the dead. The promises originally given to Abraham were a thing chosen of God in response to the belief of an individual. (Romans 4:3 states that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”).
The Future Promise
One of the at least partially fulfilled promises to Abraham was that his descendants would become a great nation. Both the Jewish and Arab nations accept Abraham as their patriarch. In particular, the Bible follows the maturing of the nation of Israel. Most of the Old Testament is about Israel or individuals from that nation. It is within that framework that many other promises were offered.
The Book of Isaiah is a collection of prophecies relating to Israel, and the part of Israel known as Judah. One of the early passages relates to a time known as the “latter days”.
Isaiah 2:1.: The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD's house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3. Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. NKJV
This passage speaks of time that has never yet come on the Earth during recorded history. It may be the dream of the United Nations, but world peace is still a long way from being a reality. This passage promises a time when people will be willingly following the leadership of God, and when nations will be at peace.
Chapter 11 of Isaiah goes even further, detailing a time when there will be no violence.
Isaiah 11:1.: There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3. His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4. But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; ... 6. " The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 7. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. ... 9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. NKJV
The person referred to as the “Branch” is understood to be referring to a promised Messiah. Christians believe that this Messiah is Jesus, while the Jews believe he is yet to appear. Under the just rule of the Messiah, people are promised peace and prosperity.
The Biblical book of Daniel also contains many prophecies and promises of future times. Daniel is a particularly useful book in our times because the prophecies cover a wide range of timescales. In chapter 2, a vision is shown that describes the progression of world empires from 600BC to present times. It identified Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and a divided empire. In the end, however, it described how these empires would be replaced by a kingdom of God.
Daniel 2:44.: "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. NKJV
This kingdom corresponds well with the images given by Isaiah. It is an everlasting kingdom of God with universal acceptance. This is consistent with a promise given in the early days of Israel, while the Israelite people were travelling in the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land of Israel. After the people rebelled against God, Moses asked God for their forgiveness,
Numbers 14:19.: "Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now." 20. Then the LORD said: "I have pardoned, according to your word; 21. "but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD -- NKJV
In this case God was promising that the earth would be filled with His glory, which is consistent with the other prophecies.
These Four prophecies speak only of a promise to the nations of the Earth. The claim is simply that there will come a time on the Earth when there will be peace and happiness. There is no claim in these passages that any particular people will be able to take a part in world described.
4. The Reward of the Faithful
In one of Daniel's later prophecies, details are added to the picture. Daniel 11 is a detailed description of national events that can largely be identified with events that have already occurred. Chapter 12, however, shows a time that has not yet been seen.
Daniel 12:1.: "At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. 2. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever. NKJV
By correlation with other parts of the Bible, the “Michael” referred to can identified under the other names of the “Branch”, the Messiah, and as Christians believe, Jesus. Daniel prophecies of a time when this man will stand up and cause a series of events to occur. There is firstly a time of trouble, “such as never was since there was a nation”. In recent history, there have been upheveals such as the world wars, but even these fall short of such a description.
Verse 2 then speaks of a resurrection, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake”. Both righteous and unrighteous people are said to be raised, with a reward offered to the former, and a punishment to the latter.
Apart from this Old-Testament reference to a resurrection, there are many references to this event in the New Testament. When appearing before the governor in defense of his conduct, the apostle Paul made a claim that he believed in the resurrection from the dead.
Acts 24:15.: "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. NKJV
This agrees closely with the words written in the book of Daniel. There are also some more detailed explanations of the time. One of this is in the letter to the Thessolonians,
1 Thess 4:13.: But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. NKJV
In this case, both a resurrection, and a gathering of people who are alive is spoken of. The dead and the living are joined and then remain with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter with a large emphasis on the resurrection. It is a part of an argument of the apostle Paul to show that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.
1 Cor 15:16.: For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. NKJV
The important aspect from this passage is that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable”. It shows that the promise of resurrection offers a much greater hope than what can be seen in our current lives. As the passage continues, a definite link is made to the kingdom idea from the earlier passages.
1 Cor 15:21.: For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. 24. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. NKJV
Toward the conclusion of this chapter, a link is also made to a change in the bodies of the people raised from the dead.
1 Cor 15:51.: Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." NKJV
This shows that the resurrection is not simply going back to the same type of existance as the mortal life. Instead, the raised receive immortality, that “Death is swallowed up in victory”.
Not all of the promises made are about a pleasant future. Just as Daniel prophesied about a “time of trouble such as never was”, the book of Timothy speaks of unpleasant times.
2 Tim 3:1.: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3. unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4. traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, NKJV
By connection with other Bible passages, these last times must refer to the last times before the “time of trouble”, the resurrection and establishment of the kingdom. The evidence of these elements in the late 20th century is quite clear. The increase of many of these attributes over the past 50 years has been quite clear.
2 Tim 3:5.: having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! NKJV
2 Tim 3:7.: always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. NKJV
These passages aptly describe the humanist and humanist/christian philosophies that are currently gaining popularity. It is re-assuring that the Bible is consistent and accurate in it's promises.
Why Listen to this Promise?
Many religions and life philosophies offer promises and hopes. In this sense the Bible may possibly be treated no differently. The differentiation becomes a matter of the value of the promise. This evaluation of this value is comprised of two parts. These are:
- The worth of the promise itself.
- The probability that the promise is true.
The second aspect can be harder to evaluate. This is the probability that the promise is true. With the case of the five years in prison, it is possible to see that the people do indeed receive the promise, but with future promises, it can be harder to evaluate. In this case, it has to rely on the reliability of the source of the promise. In the case of the Bible, it is a question of the reliablity of the Bible. In the case of science and humanism, it is a question of the reliability of those philosophies.
All of these potential sources of wisdom are a means of modelling our life and environment. They seek to explain how things work, and give an insight into what is beyond the observed. When trying to evaluate the quality of such a model, it is important to evaluate the prediction ability of a model rather than the explaination value. This is one point where many scientific views break down, because they are simply an explaination of observations.
It is very useful to separate the ideas of correctness and worth when considering the Bible. For many years, and in different ways, doubt has been cast on the correctness of the Bible. For this reason people are inclined to see it as less important, and perhaps accept some of its concepts but not others. However, it is either what it says it is, or it isn't. The “shades of correctness” idea is misleading, because the Bible's importance is very black and white. Either it is the message of an all-powerful creator, or it is a lie.
Probability is all about the ignorance of the observer. You might consider there to be a 40%chance that the Bible is correct and important book. All too often confuse this with it being a 40%important book. Under this scenario it should be thought of having a 40%chance of being 100%important, not a 100%chance of being 40%important. It is very useful to be clear on the difference between these two ideas.
This paper has shown the potential importance of the Bible and the promises offered by it. The promises of the Bible are so great that they can make all other things appear insignificant. It is the offer of both life and meaning.
Acts 4:10.: "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11. "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12. "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." NKJV