ST ANDREW'S UNITING CHURCH
Chapter 1: The Bible
Broadly speaking the Bible records interactions between God the Creator of the universe and human beings in a particular locality and span of time. It shows God being revealed to them in their historic experiences, and how they made sense of that experience. Christians believe that God continues to be revealed today to all peoples.
Although it looks like a single book volume, the Christian Bible is a compilation of individual writings of various genres, in 2 sets, referred to as the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament writings originated in the Hebrew and Jewish culture of the lands we know today as the Middle East, and were originally written in Hebrew mainly, over the period about 1200BCE to 400BCE. Whilst they had been in existence and used for a long time it was not until the first Century CE that they were finally compiled into an agreed set to form the Old Testament. Essentially the Scriptures of Judaism became the Christian Old Testament. Note that Jesus is recorded in the New Testament as quoting from them extensively, and the New Testament can be better understood in light of the Old Testament.
The New Testament writings originated in Palestine and Asia Minor, being written in Greek during the period about 50CE to 100CE, that is shortly after the death of Jesus in about 33CE. However it was not until about the early 4th Century that the final compilation of New Testament writings was agreed.
The genres or types of literature in the Old Testament include myth, history, laws, poetry, prophecy, psalms (hymns & prayers), wisdom writings, and apocalyptic writings (about end times and with hidden symbolism). Because of this variety of kind, content, context and author intention, the proper interpretation of these old writings often needs quite a bit of study by scholars. In the New Testament the genres include biography (the gospels), history, and letters by the apostle Paul and other church leaders. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic.
Because of this variety it is very important in reading a particular passage to be aware of its likely genre. For example it may not be constructive to argue about statements of scientific or historic fact in a passage when the writer was intending to express meaning or truth by means of fable or poetry. Despite these kinds of fine points of biblical scholarship there are plenty of engaging stories and accounts with clear relevance for life, even understandable by children.
Christians understand that the writings were written by human beings, often under divine inspiration.
The Bible is not meant to be read from cover to cover like a normal book. Christians try to read a small portion of it as part of their personal regular devotional and contemplative practice. There are published Bible reading schemes which might cover the main parts in daily readings over about 3 years or so. In Church worship services regular weekly selections from a longer-term reading scheme may form the theme of worship, providing a balanced coverage of all the major themes over time.