Scripture Comments - General
First some general comments regarding the Bible as a whole:
- The book is divided into two sections which Christians call Old and New Testaments -- but in reality are made up of two separate pieces of literature. If you take the book and divide it in half you will come out at the book of Psalms -- which is the old Hebrew hymnbook. If you take the last half and divide it in half you should come out approximately at the book of Matthew which is the first part of the New Testament. In other words the first three quarters of the book are the Old Testament -- that is the original Hebrew Scriptures.
- The Old Testament is a compilation of documents of a variety of sorts -- and can be viewed as a collective journal by a group of people who seem to have picked up their alphabet from the Phoenicians who lived along the coastline at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean sea -- Israel of course being somewhat inland from that.
- The Catholic Bible has some additional material which Protestants rejected as being part of the Bible at the time of the Reformation around the 1500s. Although much of the extra material is very good, Protestants tend to regard it as supplementary, the same way we would regard commentaries about the Bible in today's age. The Jewish form of the Old Testament is pretty much the same, with a few divisions that are different which sometimes throws out the numbering of chapters and verses. This numbering is only a few hundred years old, and was included to make it easier to find our way around -- Shakespeare's plays are often numbered as well for the same reason, although not originally written that way.
- The books are grouped:
- The first five -- referred to in the Hebrew Bible as the Torah or Law -- traditionally regarded as being written by Moses, but actually it is a compilation. For Jews, this is the central piece of literature, and all the rest is commentary of one form or another.
- There are two groups of "historical" pieces -- one group comes from the northern part of the country, and the second one comes from the southern part of the country which existed independently for about 100 years longer, and therefore their material covers a longer period of time. The first group is Joshua to the end of second Kings, the second group first Chronicles through to Nehemiah.
- The next group of books are generally regarded as various types of literature they run from Esther through to Song of Solomon also sometimes called Song of Songs.
- The final group of books are the writings of some of their top thinkers, referred to as Prophets. The order in which they appear use by their length -- and they are regarded as appearing in two different collections by Protestants and Catholics. The first group from Isaiah through to Daniel are referred to as the Major Prophets simply because they are much longer than the others. The so-called minor prophets are a collection of 12 smaller works running from Hosea through to Malachi. In the Jewish Bible these 12 appear as one book or collection.
- All this material of course was at one time written on scrolls which were strips of very thin leather stitched together into a long sheet which was wound up on two sticks for easy access. For this reason the books tend to find more or less equal length in the way that they are divided or combined into a sub-collections.
- The Old Testament starts (Apart from the creation narrative) from Abraham in Chapter 12 of Genesis who is the one who started this particular clan, and who set the tone for that family which exists down to today. These early narratives take place between 1500 and 2000 BCE. The last of the literature to be written was somewhere between 150 to 400 B.C.E.
- the New Testament falls into several collections as well. It is the story of Jesus and his followers and how they took the Jewish revelation (contained in the Old Testament), jumped over the Jewish cultural wall, and shared it with other nations as "salt, light, and leaven" for their cultures -- sort of a stripped-down Judaism-lite for export purposes. Up until then, the Jewish community said if you want to know what we know about God, come and become Jewish. But many people didn't want to change their cultures, they just wanted the goodies to flavor their own cultures. One of the major things that Jesus did was change that flow of information outward to other cultures rather than insist that other people make the cultural jump into the Jewish community. He trained a sub-group of ‘apostles” (cultural boundary jumpers) within his larger following of “disciples” or followers, and just before he departed, took the geographic restrictions away and let them move out into other cultures...(they’d been kept close to home during training)
- The first four books in the New Testament are called Gospels, and they are four accounts of the life of Jesus. The third account, by a physician called Luke, has a second volume known as the Acts of the Apostles which fallows the Gospels. Luke was a doctor who travelled with Paul who seemed to have had some sort of chronic ailment (and was always seeming to get beat up...grin)
- The remaining literature in the New Testament is primarily a collection a letters by this man named Saul, who later became known as Paul, who traveled throughout the Mediterranean area sharing this stripped-down version of Judaism with Greek and Roman communities -- he had background of being both Jewish and Roman citizenship. His letters are arranged again by their length starting with the longest -- from Romans through to Philemon, and mostly take their name from the geographic location to which the letters were addressed.
- The book of Hebrews is a book of unknown authorship written by somebody well acquainted with the Jewish tradition, and contains his attempt to explain or bridge the gap between this stripped down version and the traditional Jewish literature.
- James is a letter from Jesus’ brother to some people. Two letters by Peter, one of the original followers of Jesus, and three letters by John another of the early followers of Jesus. A very short letter by Jude, is followed by a dream/revelation by John, again an early followers of Jesus. This final piece of literature arose during the persecutions and therefore is written in what we would call doubletalk in case somebody got caught with it, and therefore is somewhat obscure, particularly to the casual reader -- but there are some great passages which have always resonated with people undergoing persecution -- for obvious reasons.
- There are two major schools of thought within the Protestant community, reflecting liberal and conservative approaches to life generally. The Conservatives tend to regard the Scripture as literally the words that God has conveyed through an assortment of writers. The Liberals tend to regard the literature as a piece of literature whose value is best assessed by the value of what is said. I find that commentators from both groups have their strengths and weaknesses. The Liberals tend to play fast and loose with any material which they find to be challenging to their lifestyle, and easily write off such passages. The Conservatives on the other hand tend to get a little silly sometimes but at least they start from a position of accepting the text and asking what the challenges might be to their lifestyle. Personally, I find it best to stay open to the insights from anybody who seriously engages this literature, and allowed to speak into my world and my life.
- To me this is a magnificent body of literature, which has been boiled down like maple syrup so that it is very concentrated, and has extremely high quality. Some of the authors and characters depicted in the literature would be magnificent personalities in anybody's community, and once we get a bit of a sense of what they were trying to say, and the context in which they were trying to say it, we often find such passages to be very moving, and often deeply challenging to our lifestyle in the 21st century.
- There are a variety of approaches to the book. In general it's best regarded as being a library rather than a book. Most people "snack" on the treasures that are contained in the Bible, and for many people that is more than sufficient. It's only since the invention of the printing press that ordinary people have had access to the text itself, and the cost of duplication has dropped enough to allow us to have at least one translation, if not several. Another approach to the Bible is to take one section or one book and spend some time actually listening to what's there, with or without a commentary to explain context. Not everybody likes doing this, but as with any literature, it often results in a deeper appreciation of the material and a broader understanding of its relevance.
- In terms of English translations, The King James version was the main one until about the 1950’s and was commissioned by King James 1st of England in 1611, around the time of Shakespeare...so the language is archaic though sublime English. Its publication and wide usage was the main standardizing influence on the English language, eg. Spelling etc. Since the 1950’s there have been an explosion of translations, each with their strengths and weaknesses.
That’s about it in terms of general background.
In terms of the passages themselves, I would add:
When we look at this collection of passages as a whole, half of them come from the Old Testament, and half of them come from the New Testament. However, all except two of the Old Testament references come from Psalms, leaving out the bulk of the Old Testament.
I have no problem with this, because there are such magnificent pieces selected from Psalms. The two additional Old Testament pieces are also very good, particularly when they are viewed from within their subheadings. However, there is a danger always in thinking that the passages which are selected are the best of what is in the Old Testament, and that there really is nothing else there that could be of help. Having spent my life savoring this beautiful piece of literature, I am amazed at the high level of quality throughout most of it, and I would encourage further exploration.
One thing you might do, is Google the same headings and see what other selections people suggest for the same headings. Or else, make up your own headaches and Google them.
Not everybody likes to mark up their bibles, but I do...with comments, dates, passages I find helpful and why, and general info like the above...it helps me find stuff I’d never find again otherwise...it is a huge collection of literature...
Ps. A lot of folks would choke on my description above, but hey, they can write their own, and I’m sure they would be “right”...grin...s.