Now both the Old Testament and the New Testament are a collection of many “books”. These books are different writings by different authors. Some people wrote several books, others authored only one book. Some of the books are long, others are very short. Many of what we call books, especially in the New Testament, are really just letters written to a particular person or to a church.
Books are then divided into chapters, and the chapters are divided into verses. Now the chapters and verses are NOT inspired by God. They are simply instruments we use to help us find and discuss particular phrases or sections of the Bible. When we read the Bible we need to remember that just because it starts a new chapter or verse that doesn’t mean this is a new thought or section in God’s mind or the mind of the human God used to pen His Word to us. Sometimes people are criticized for quoting only half a verse or quoting the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. That criticism is entirely inappropriate. The chapters and verses in the Bible are extremely useful in our studies, but they are not inspired by God. The weren’t even added to the Bible till around 500 years ago.
It is also important to remember, that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is NOT in chronological order. I confess that I do not know how the books were put in the order they are in, but it is not a timeline. The Old Testament is especially repetitive and out of order. So if you find things a bit confusing sometimes, that is natural. Many Bibles have time-lines in them and these can be very helpful. Often at the beginning of a book there is a short synopsis that will tell you about when it was written and what time period it covers.
For more detailed information about the Bible and its divisions, you can click here.
What about all the different translations of the Bible and all the study helps?
There are 2 types of translation “goals”.
1. Try to translate each word or phrase from the original to the desired language as accurately as possible.
These are great if doing serious study or you are researching a particular subject etc. Sometimes they can be hard to read. To truly understand many of the stories or phrases, you need to know about some of the customs, sayings, and lifestyles etc. common at the time and place the book was written.
Examples of this type of translations are:
- New International Version
- New American Standard Version
- King James
2. Try to grasp what the phrase or story meant at the time and bring that point or meaning to the current language.
This type of translation is good for more casual reading and for new readers. They help bring old stories and phrases into a time and language we can relate to. You must realize you are reading the thoughts etc. of the interpreter though, so be a little careful. Don’t use these version to make judgements about serious articles of faith or a particular church’s view
- Examples of this type of translation are:
- New Living Translation (The “Study” version is especially good)
- The Message
- The Way
When confused and it is important to you, go to a website to research and you can read many different translations. Some good websites are noted below.
Also, most bible translations have a “Study” version, or an accompanying study guide. These usually have footnotes to explain things and sometimes have maps and a host of other helpful items. These can be extremely helpful, but again, remember, the footnotes are NOT inspired and they can be misleading.
I must make a personal recommendation here. I am currently using the New Living Translation Study Bible, and I could not recommend it more. It is absolutely loaded with great helps and explanations. It is the best beginner’s Bible I have ever seen and I strongly recommend. I know Bible’s are not cheap, but this one is worth every penny.
Beginner’s Online Bible Study *obbs*
I think it is also helpful to remember that the Bible is first and foremost a book of faith! It’s important message is that it is God’s word, not a historical document or a science book. They are the words God wants us to hear, but knowing some things about the kind of writing and the historical context in which they were written helps God’s words to come through with a clearer meaning for today! Just don’t let the other stuff bog you down……read with faith, and God will speak to you NOW!
I agree – thanks for sharing this insight. I know too often I will read a Bible passage and try to understand it within the context of Scripture and become confused, but when I listen in faith with what our Lord is trying to teach me through the Scripture I can see more clearly. God truly loves to speak to his children through His Word and it is quite amazing how the Bible pertains to so much in our lifes!