The History and Structure of the Bible

I. The Bible is a collection of many writings, in many forms, by many hands, from many ages. What is there in these books which has led Christendom to assign to them so high an honour?

1. These books have the venerableness which belongs to ancient writings. The latest of them is probably seventeen hundred years old, and the earliest has been written twenty-seven hundred years; while in the more ancient of them lie bedded some of the oldest fragments of literature known to us.

2. These books form the literature of a noble race.

(1) The Old Testament is a Library of Jewish Letters. The germ of the collection was planted by Nehemiah, when “he, founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts” (2Ma_2:13). This germ grew gradually into its present shape. The Apocrypha belongs to it, and is rightly bound up in our Bibles, for reading in our churches.

(2) The New Testament is the literature of the Christian Church in its creative epoch; the work still, in the main, of Jewish hands, as Judaism was blossoming into a universal religion.

3. This literature of the Jewish nation and of the Christian Church is intrinsically noble. Were it possible to read it in our manhood for the first time, how the blood would beat and the nerves thrill over some of its pages. We should then understand the sensations of a French salon upon a certain occasion. Our shrewd [U.S.A.] philosopher-minister, Franklin, had previously heard the literati wont to gather there ridiculing the Bible, and had guessed that they knew little of it. Upon this evening he observed that he would much like to have the judgment of the assembly on a certain Eastern tale he had lately come across, unknown probably to most of those there present, though long ago translated into their own tongue. Whereupon, drawing from his pocket a copy of the Bible, he had a Parisienne, let into the secret, read in her sweet tones the Book of Ruth. The company was thrown into raptures over the charming tale, which lasted until they found its name! No critic of our age has finer literary feeling, or more dispassionate, judgment than Matthew Arnold; and he has edited the second section of Isaiah as a text book for the culture of the imagination in English schools. In the introduction to this Primer he observes: “What a course of eloquence and poetry is the Bible in our schools.” Goethe shared Arnold’s love of the Bible, and was so constant a reader of it that his friends reproached him for wasting his time over it. Burke owned his indebtedness to the Bible for his unique eloquence. Webster confessed that he owed to its habitual reading much of his power. Ruskin looks back to the days when a pious aunt compelled him to learn by heart whole chapters of the Bible, for his schooling in the craft of speech, in which he stands unrivalled among living Englishmen.

4. This literature has been very influential in the development of progressive civilization. When the writings of Greece and Rome had been buried in the ruins of the Roman Empire, the literature of Israel was preserved by the pious care of the Christian Church. The light of Athens went out, and the light of Jerusalem alone illumined the dark ages. The only books known to the mass of men through long centuries were these writings of the Hebrews and the early Christians. Thought was kept alive by them, imagination was fed from them, conscience was educated and vitalized through them. For a thousand years there was practically but one book in Europe--the Bible. It has continued the best-read book of Western civilization; the only book much read, until of late, by the mass of men; the one foreign and ancient literature familiar alike to the plain people in Germany and France, in England and America; the common wellspring of inspiration to thought and imagination, to character and conduct.

II. The Bible lays a yet deeper claim upon our reverence. These books constitute the literature of a people whose genius was religion, whose writings express the moods and tenses of that development; whose history is the organic growth which flowered in the life of Him who freed religion from every swathing band, and gave the world its pure essential spirit; after whom all races are being drawn as one flock under one Shepherd.

1. Israel’s specialty in history was religion. Patriotism was identified with piety. Her statesmen were reformers, idealists, whose orations were sermons dealing with politics in the light of eternal principles. The nation’s ambitions were aspirations. Her heroes grew to be saints. The divine became to her, not the true or the beautiful, but the good.

2. Israel’s literature became thus a religious literature. Her histories were written for edification. They present the past of the people in such light as to inculcate virtue and inspire piety. The Psalter is the hymnal of the temple choir at Jerusalem. The prophets are preachers of righteousness, personal, social, political.

3. Israel’s literature presents us, in the various moods and tenses of her life, with the various phases of
religion.

4. Israel’s literature presents us with the record of a continuous growth of religion upward through its normal stages.

5. Israel’s literature records the forcing forward of this growth of religion, as by some Power back of man, shaping its ends, rough hew them as it might.

6. Israel’s literature thus presents the picture of a nation’s patient, insistent pressing forward, through long centuries, toward the fruition of its ideal, the realization of true religion.

7. The literature of Christian Israel records the realization of this long-sought ideal, the fruition of this organic growth. The Gospels tell the story of the life of the Founder of Christianity, clearly enough in the main outlines, and embalm many of the words and deeds of the Son of Man. The other writings of the New Testament illustrate the working of the thought and spirit of the Christ in the Church, bodying around Him through the growth of a century. In them we see that the long cherished ideal of Israel, an ethical and universal religion, had at last incarnated itself in the Master whose plans laid the foundation of this new Order; into which men were coming from all quarters, and were sitting down in the kingdom of God.

8. Of the literature of the people through whom came this organic evolution of the keystoning religion of earth, what can we say but that it records a real revelation, coming through genuine personal inspirations from on high! The revelation in the Bible is the Light of God which streams through it, making it “a lamp unto our feet.” The inspiration in the Bible is the life of God breathing through it into man, “and he becomes a living soul.” If anyone asks me how he may know that there is a revelation in the Bible, I tell him to walk in its light, and see what it reveals. If anyone asks me how I know that the Bible is inspired, I answer him in Mr. Moody’s words: “I know that the Bible is inspired, because it ‘inspires’ me.” (R. Heber Newton, D. D.)

The Bible is a book of growth. It is a tree of knowledge. It grows from a seed to a full-sized plant. In this way alone is it suited to man. For as the individual advances from infancy to full-grown manhood, so the race of Adam had its infancy, its boyhood, its manhood, and will have its ripe and full age. Such a progress of the human race required a progressive book of lessons. Hence we are not to expect every truth to be fully revealed in the earliest books of Scripture, but only such germs of truth as will gradually develope themselves into a full body of revealed doctrine, and in such measure as man can receive and may require at each stage of his career. The Bible therefore grows not only in the continual accessions made to its matter, but also in the doctrines which it adds from time to time to the system of sacred truth, and in the more and more developed state in which all its doctrines are presented. The Old Testament is as clearly distinguished in point of matter from the New as in regard to time. The one was closed at least four hundred years before the other was commenced. The former contains an exposition of the dealings of God with man down to the times of Malaki, together with a remarkable series of predictions concerning the destiny of the human race, and especially concerning the coming of the Messiah to accomplish by His own obedience unto death the redemption of man from the curse of sin, and so eventually, by the quickening of His Spirit, raise the objects of His redeeming love to the light, life, and liberty of the children of God. The latter records the fulfilment of this prophecy by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, His standing in the stead of man, rendering a perfect obedience for him, undergoing the sentence of death for him, rising again, and entering upon eternal life, and making all-prevalent intercession on his behalf. It farther indicates the realization of another set of predictions in the calling and qualifying of His apostles and evangelists, and the reconstruction of His Church under these new circumstances in a new form, and with new life and power of expansion. It then opens up with greater clearness in a new series of prophetic announcements the future history of the Church, and especially the second coming of the Messiah to raise the dead, judge the quick and the dead, and so close the development of the present world. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)