It is the greatest bestseller of all time and the most popular book in the world. In the last 200 years, 2.5 billion copies have sold. Tens of millions of people purchase copies of the Bible annually. Men and women have labored painstakingly to get it out to the masses: The whole Bible has been translated into over 300 languages, and 2,062 languages have translations of at least one book of the Bible. One international religious organization has placed the book free of charge into millions of hotel rooms worldwide; they claim to place and give away 112 Bibles per minute—a million a week.
Considering all these amazing facts, it is hard to imagine that Bible ignorance is at an all-time high. Yet, surveys prove that people know very little about the Bible and even less of what is inside the Bible.
The Bible is worth knowing—all of it. Few do. This is truly one of the paradoxes of our times!
The lack of Bible knowledge is not new. In 1926, Bruce Barton wrote a book about the Bible titled The Book Nobody Knows. What he wrote then is still true today. Barton recognized a trend that has only gotten worse. The Bible is a book that onlya few know. You may not agree with that statement. Well, let us say something even bolder: Even the very religious don’t know their Bibles. Many people have a Bible in their home as a matter of superstitious necessity. Few actually read it. And those who do will generally admit they don’t understand what they read.
One church numbering in the multiple millions worldwide does not believe that the Bible is sufficient for doctrine. Most Protestant, evangelical and fundamentalist denominations only follow the New Testament, which represents only about one third of the Bible. Religious Jews only accept the Old Testament. Religion is confused about the Bible.
What about the well-educated? How do they view the Bible? The seemingly most-educated minds wholly reject the Bible. The scholarly malign and criticize this book more than any other. No other book in history—not even Shakespeare’s work—is subject to as much scrutiny. Placed under the microscope of scholarly criticism, many view it as unusable in the 21st century. Influenced by evolutionary philosophy, the highly educated say, How can the ancient writings of the Jewish people have any relevance to modern life? Put off by the childish sentimentality of some religious people, most of the educated consider it uneducated to read, study or obey the Bible.
Should you bother to get to know the Bible? Is it relevant to your personal life? Is the book usable as an accurate guide for daily living? You need to search out the answers to these questions.
What Is the Bible?
The Bible is an astonishing book. It is extraordinary. Our English word bible comes from the Greek expression ta biblia meaning the books. That is precisely what the Bible is—a collection of books—a mini library. It is best named the Holy Bible. Why? It is not merely a book of human wisdom or Jewish folklore. The Apostle Paul instructed the Evangelist Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The word inspiration comes from the Greek word theopneustos, meaning God-breathed. This means that God personally coordinated the Bible’s development and directly inspired its writing. The Bible is the authoritative Word of God in print. It is supernatural.
These facts are easily provable to an unprejudiced mind. Let’s look at a few exciting examples.
God instructed Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, to write history, laws and religious instructions into books and preserve them for future generations. Early in Israel’s history, when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites at Rephidim, God told Moses: “Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua …” (Exodus 17:14). After the establishment of the Old Covenant, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the judgments, the Bible states, “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord …” (Exodus 24:4). Just after Israel’s treacherous sin with the golden calf, God instructed Moses, “Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27). Certainly, these statements should give great weight to what Moses wrote. Let’s not be guilty of ignoring the first five books of the Bible.
Moses’s books were not the only ones coordinated by God. Remember, Paul said God inspired all Scripture. This most certainly includes the Old Testament prophetic books. Paul tells us in Hebrews, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). God spoke through His prophets. Their messages are God-breathed.
Some may say, Okay—we accept that, but prophecy is outdated. Is it? Some believe that the Old Testament prophecies have failed. Have they? Did you know that it is for our time that God ensured the prophetic books were preserved? God commanded the Prophet Isaiah, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever” (Isaiah 30:8). The expression “for the time to come” is better translated as the latter days—or our time now! God directed Jeremiah and others to do the same (Jeremiah 30:2).
This is astounding knowledge. The Old Testament prophetic books were meant to be understood by us—today. Recognize that the true Church—true Christianity—is founded on the prophets (Ephesians 2:20). No other supposed sacred book, such as the Koran or Bhagavad-Gita, makes such claims. The Bible is unique in the history of man!
In his book Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote this about the Bible: “God reveals Himself in His Word the Holy Bible, yet almost none has understood it. … The Bible itself is the basic mystery that reveals all other mysteries.”
The Bible unveils God’s answers to the great questions surrounding human life. The Bible alone gives the truth on the subject of origins. Mr. Armstrong often referred to the Bible as “the Maker’s instruction manual.” It explains how the human creation is to operate. It explains why God created man. It lays bare man’s incredible human potential. It also shows the way to achieve it. The Bible explains the way to human peace, happiness and success. In other words, the Bible contains special revealed knowledge that man cannot come to know using his five senses—observation and experimentation. Its knowledge is spiritual.
The Bible is like no other book. Mr. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages: “If one begins reading the Bible continuously from beginning to end, one becomes bewildered. The Bible simply cannot be read like any other book. It is a mystery because it is a coded book. It is like a jigsaw puzzle, with perhaps thousands of various pieces of different forms and shapes that can be fitted together in only one precise pattern.” What fantastic knowledge. The Bible is written in code. It must be decoded. This is the key to understanding the Bible. Few hold this key!
God must unlock the truths of the Bible for each individual. Even this fact is discussed in the Bible. Isaiah wrote, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10). Understanding the Bible comes as a miracle from God.
Why does God unlock the Bible for some and not for others? The answer is plain. God is looking for those individuals willing to be instructed and corrected by the Bible.
Mr. Armstrong commented, “The truths of the Bible are revealed here a little, there a little, scattered from beginning to end, and revealed only through the Holy Spirit within those surrendered and yielded to God, willing to have confessed error and wrongdoing, and yielding to believe Christ the Word of God. Jesus was the Word in person. The Bible is the same Word in print” (ibid.). Bible understanding is only given to those willing to read it with a right attitude—a willingness to be corrected by it—and to those willing to believe what they read.
Through Isaiah, God states, “[T]o this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). The English word trembleth is taken from the Hebrew word chared meaning reverential. It is a matter of simple logic—only those who hold great respect for it will ever understand the Bible.
In the Bible God reveals Himself not only as the Creator, but also as the Educator.
Immediately after Adam and Eve were given physical life, God educated them in their purpose and the way to achieve it. Study Genesis 1 through 3. These chapters contain the knowledge every human being most needs to know.
The Bible is all about education—God’s education—true education. Of course, the Bible does not contain all knowledge. God planned the Bible to be the foundation of all knowledge. The Bible forms the basis by which all other knowledge can be evaluated. History, science, sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics and politics cannot be properly understood without the Bible. This flies in the face of modern education, because the whole system has been built without the Bible. Modern education has been built on the unprovable theory of evolution—the notion of a creation without a creator. What are the fruits? We can send men into outer space, but we cannot solve our tragic human problems. We live daily with the specter of human annihilation. Why? We have educated ourselves on the wrong foundation.
The Bible is the only reliable authority on human behavior. William Lyon Phelps, a prolific writer and professor of English literature at Yale University in the early 20th century, wrote this about the Bible and education: “I thoroughly believe in a university education for both men and women; but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible. For in the Bible we have profound thought beautifully expressed; we have the nature of boys and girls, of men and women, more accurately charted than in the work of any modern novelist or playwright. You can learn more about human nature by reading the Bible than by living in New York.” Can you imagine any 21st-century university instructors making such a statement? They would be laughed off campus. Yet, Phelps’ thoughts reflect the real truth about the Bible.
This holy library explains the real cause of world evils. It explains what sin is. The Bible outlines clearly what is normal and what is deviant behavior. The Bible alone explains the incredible meaning behind the cycles in human history. It explains the course of nations. The Bible shows us clearly what is just ahead for mankind. Will humanity survive? Only the Bible gives the astounding answer. In fact, only the Bible can give us the proper world view.
Decoded for Our Time
Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible was not meant to be understood until our time. In fact, he believed that the Bible was specifically preserved for God’s end-time Church. One specific example of this fact is Daniel’s book. Did you know that God did not give Daniel understanding of the prophecies he wrote down? God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver a message to Daniel about world events that are taking shape as you read this article. But Daniel couldn’t understand the message. What is most intriguing here is that Gabriel didn’t give him the understanding either. Notice these verses: “And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:8-9). Study that scripture again. Be sure you understand it thoroughly. The understanding of the vision Daniel saw was not to be given until this time—the time of the end—when the events are actually taking place. The Bible is not a dull, drab impractical book. It has its fingers on the pulse of present events.
The Apostle Paul confirmed this little-known truth about the Bible. He taught the Romans, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
God has a purpose that He is working out on this Earth. We do not have to be confused about what God is doing. He controls human history to fit His purpose. We are the people living at the apex of a great change coming in human civilization. A loving God has seen fit to record for us centuries in advance what He is working out before our very eyes.
There are many spiritual lessons we must learn in this final generation of man’s rule over man. Only the Bible can teach us those lessons. Paul taught the Corinthians, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Step by step and little by little, God has seen fit to record the histories of normal men and women who have been drafted into His service—for our direct benefit. Through their lives, God has revealed His master plan of salvation. The good and the bad of God’s servants are openly discussed. Why? So we can be even better servants by not repeating the mistakes of the past. We must work in the most difficult of times—yet the most exciting of times. Jesus Christ is returning very soon to rule this Earth and give it everlasting peace and happiness. In the Bible, God has given us all the instruction and encouragement to successfully complete our mission. We must learn to study it and apply it faithfully!
Beware False Prophets
Jesus Christ told His disciples that one of the signs of our times would be rampant religious deceit. He warned, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5). There is a certain reality we must face. Many religious leaders, claiming to represent Christ, have misused the Bible and deceived millions. Dishonest men, feigning spirituality and lusting for power, have twisted the Scriptures to their own benefit. They have exploited the masses of people due to widespread Bible ignorance. You must learn to prove your religious leaders.
The massive problem we see in religion today began in the first-century Church. Peter wrote to the Church, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Here Peter canonizes Paul’s letters as Scripture. He shows that there were unlearned and unstable men twisting Paul’s letters—God-breathed scriptures. The English word wrest is taken from the Greek word strebloo meaning to wrench. Men with little knowledge of the Bible were distorting and misrepresenting what God had inspired. In the process, they destroyed their own and others’ spiritual lives. Recognize that men (and women) are still twisting the letters of Paul today. Many religious leaders and people reject what Paul taught about marriage, family and the role of women in the Church, for example—unto their own destruction.
Many religious leaders today talk much about supposed Bible inconsistencies. These individuals have destroyed the faith of millions. No inconsistencies exist. Jesus Christ—the Word of God in person—said emphatically, “[T]he scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Granted, the Bible has some poorly translated verses. Some unscrupulous men have tampered with the Scriptures, adding uninspired lines and words. But when you consider the fact that God used over 40 different writers from many different walks of life—some were kings, shepherds, farmers and fishermen—over a period of 1,600 years—the Bible stands alone in its harmony and agreement. The Bible is a truly remarkable book.
People have problems with the Bible, not because of inconsistencies, but because of private interpretation. The Apostle Peter warned, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy [Spirit]” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Men must never attempt to interpret what the Bible means. Unfortunately, many do. God designed the Bible to interpret itself.
The best example of this fact is found in Revelation. This book appears to many as the most mysterious in the Bible. It is rich in symbolism. Yet, its symbols are explained.
John writes, “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:12-16). Here John is given a vision of the resurrected Christ as a spirit being. John is being prepared to receive incredible revelation from God the Father concerning end-time events (verse 1). Some of what John sees is full of mystery. God desired that John understand. Christ explains the meaning. He told John, “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (verses 19-20). In the Bible, stars represent angels or human messengers. The candlesticks here represent the seven churches in Asia Minor at the close of the first century—as well as the seven successive Church eras of the Church age. Any interpretation by a man is not acceptable.
Read the Book
You must learn to protect yourself from religious error. The first thing you must do to protect yourself is to find the men Christ is using. These men will be well-educated in true Bible knowledge. Today, God uses His ministers to impart Bible understanding. Paul wrote: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15). If you truly desire to know the truth of the Bible, God will put you in touch with the men who are able to teach you. You must be teachable. Study the wonderful example of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. He wanted to understand the book of Isaiah. He recognized that he needed some man to guide him. God sent the Evangelist Philip to help him.
When listening to Bible instruction, be sure to check it out carefully. Paul taught the Thessalonians, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When it comes to understanding the Bible, never take a man’s word for it—prove what the man says. Paul praised the Bereans for their positive attitude toward Bible study. He wrote, “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:10-11). The Bereans heard Paul preach about the Kingdom of God. Then they studied the Scriptures to prove what Paul said. Notice that Paul called them noble for their approach to the Bible.
The second thing you must do to protect yourself from religious error is simply to study the Bible. You must fall in love with the Bible. Spend ample time daily reading the Book.
Jesus Christ had to continually deal with doctrinal error in His day. He recognized the cause: People just didn’t study the Scriptures. Here is one example. Divorce was rampant at the time of Christ. People were confused on the truth of the matter. To deal with the problem, Christ said, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6). To clear up all the confusion, Christ took the people back to Genesis 2. He directly quoted verse 24 to prove that what God has joined together should not be separated. He was able to speak simply, profoundly and authoritatively because He knew all the Word of God.
What about you? Do you know the Bible? How often do you study your Bible? Is it the solid foundation of your religious beliefs? To help you discover your Bible, we will feature a series of articles about the Bible in the coming months. Prepare for some very exciting study. And prepare to be changed in the process. Paul taught the Hebrews, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).