Okay, so what's this bible everybody talks about?
The word bible literally means book.
Right. It's a book. So what's the big deal?
The Bible (capital "B") is what Christians call God's word. Sometimes it's referred to as the Holy Scriptures or the Holy Bible. Any authoritative book can be called a bible (lower case "b"), but on this blog, the word Bible will refer to the book containing the Word of God.
Yada yada yada. What makes it so important?
Well, God's word is important.
God is the creator of the universe.
Wait a minute. I thought the universe or world or whatever was created by that Big Bang thing and then "evolution" took care of the rest.
No. In the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:1), God says: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
You said the Bible was a book. Now there's a book of the Bible?
Right. The Bible is made up of 66 books.
That doesn't make any sense. If a book is divided into sixty-six parts, each part is usually called a chapter, not another book.
Generally, yes. Divisions of books are called chapters. However, the Bible is a collection of 66 "books", each divided into numbered chapters and verses.
Verses? Is the Bible some sort of poetry? I don't like poems.
The Bible contains some poetry, but the verses I'm referring to are just numbered units of chapters. The numbers themselves don't mean anything; they are merely a way of locating certain ideas or thoughts. They are numbered so that it is easy to find parts of the Bible that we are looking at or studying. It is similar to finding a person by using their physical address. First, I would need to know what country a person lives in (Country=Bible in this scenario). Then I would need to know the state/province/region to narrow it down (State=book of the Bible). Next I would need the city/town/village (City=chapter number). Lastly, I would need to know the street address or post office box number (Street address/PO box=verse number). In the United States, we rarely label mail "USA", we just use the street address, city, and state (and zip codes). Similarly, when we reference the Bible, we rarely say "Bible" "book" "chapter" "verse". We just say the book's name, chapter, and verse. So when you see something like Genesis 1:1, it means the portion of the Bible I'm quoting is from the book called Genesis, the first chapter and the first verse. I would just say it as "Genesis chapter one, verse one." If you pick up a copy of the Bible, you can find the quote.
Okay, so I found a Bible and looked up Genesis 1:1. Your quote is worded a little bit different than mine. How come?
The Bible was not written in the English language. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The New Testament was written in Greek. When we read the Bible in English (or any language other than Hebrew or Greek), we are reading a translation. Your translation might be worded differently than mine.
Whoa. Hold up. What is a testament and why is one old and the other new? I thought we were talking about the Bible.
We are talking about the Bible. I've already mentioned there are 66 books, each divided into their own chapters and verses. There is another division of sorts. The books of the Bible written before the birth of Jesus are called the Old Testament; the books of the Bible written after Jesus was born (and died, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven) are called the New Testament. A testament is something (in this case, a collection of accounts recorded in the Bible) that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact or event (in this case, God's love and mercy).
You keep saying there are 66 books in the Bible, but the Catholic church says there are 73. Who's right? You or the Pope?
There are many differences between the Pope and I. I claim sixty-six books of the Bible. The Catholic church has additional books that they believe are God's word. Those books are referred to as the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical. The WELS website has articles which mentions this issue here and here. The second link is especially helpful. If either link doesn't work, simply go to wels.net and type apocrypha into the search box.
Yeah, I don't really like to click on links. Just sum it up for me.
The extra books (Apocrypha) were written before Jesus' birth. While Jesus lived on earth, he said "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44). The extra books were not included in that group. In addition, some of the teachings in the Apocrypha contradict the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. In my opinion, the Catholic church is in error by claiming the Apocrypha as God's word.
What does it matter? Who cares if Catholics read extra books?
This brings us back to your earlier question: What makes the Bible so important? I've already mentioned that the Bible is God's word, and God is the creator of the universe. God created you and me, as well. The first man God created was called Adam. God created a helper for Adam, a woman called Eve. He placed them in a garden to live. He gave them one rule: don't eat from that one tree. Eve ate fruit from that tree, and gave some to Adam to eat as well. They broke the one rule they had. When someone breaks God's rules, we call that sin. When rules are broken, there are repercussions; there are consequences to our actions. When Adam and Eve sinned, God kicked them out of the garden (called Eden) and wouldn't let them eat from the tree of life any more. In other words, their punishment was death (a forever separation from God). God loved Adam and Eve, though. He promised them a Savior would come when he said to the serpent/deceiver (aka the Devil): "I will put enmity [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring [unbelievers] and hers [believers]; he [the Savior] will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15, words in brackets added by me). God's word is important. We all die (everyone agrees on this) because we are all sinful. The Bible tells us so. It also tells us of our Savior. The Bible tells us what will happen when we die. Jesus promises those who have faith in him: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) And to those who have rejected Jesus as their Savior, they "will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12) The Bible does two things: 1) shows us our sins, 2) shows us our Savior (Jesus Christ). Any message which distracts from, detracts from, or denies a need for Jesus, is dangerous and puts our life after death in danger of hell.
Whoa. That's way more than I wanted to know.
Sometimes I get a little carried away.
So, I'm not much of a reader and the Bible looks super long. Can't you just tell me about it? Or is there a movie I can watch?
The Bible is how God talks to us. It's important to listen to him. He warns us of danger (sin and its consequences) and tells us how to be saved from danger (Jesus is the way). I could tell you, but how do you know that what I'm telling you is the truth? People will lie; God will not. You can walk into any church you see, but how will you know if they are preaching God's truth if you don't know what God actually says (all written down for you in the Bible)? You can watch movies about Jesus and the Bible. Some of them are true, some are not. The easiest, simplest way to know what God says is by reading the Bible.
Okay, geez. But do I have to read the whole thing?
I'm probably not the best person to ask that question, since I have personally made my way through the entire Bible a couple of times, and I enjoy reading as a hobby. My answer is yes! You should want to read the whole Bible! But do you have to read the entire Bible to go to heaven? The answer is no. You need to repent of your sins and have faith in Jesus' salvation to go to heaven. That's it. I'd like to add that "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17) So I definitely encourage you to read the Bible.
Where should I start? Do I have to begin at the beginning?
The first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are a great place to begin. They each give a perspective of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Some copies of the Bible will use red ink when Jesus is speaking, and that's kind of cool. If you want to begin at the beginning, start with Genesis. If you like music, you may be interested in Psalms. If you're just beginning your exploration of the Bible, you might want to take a look at a children's Bible; it might not seem as intimidating as a regular Bible.
How much does a Bible cost?
Prices vary, but some copies cost less than $10. Salvation Army gives Bibles away free. Other thrift stores might have the Bible at reduced prices. Also, if you have a library nearby, you might check to see if they have the Bible available there. If you have an e-reader, you can download a sample of the Bible and read a little bit of it that way. You can stop by any Christian church and ask to read a Bible; if they don't have Bibles available to read, you might want to check another church. Some churches might not be able to let you take it home with you, but I imagine they would welcome you back as often as you cared to return. You can also find the Bible on the Internet. Thanks to the United States' freedom of religion, the Bible is easily accessible.
I noticed there are a bunch of different translations and versions available. Which one do I get?
I personally enjoy the NIV (New International Version) with the 1984 copyright, but that may be because it's the one I grew up reading and hearing in church. I would recommend you avoid the King James' version (KJV), since it uses outdated pronouns (thy and thou) and may be uneasy to read, but it's really a matter of preference.
Okay, so I'm reading the Bible and I just don't get it. What do I do now?
You might want to buy or borrow a copy of one of the People's Bible series books. I've just discovered these, and they're awesome. Here is a link to Matthew written by G. Jerome Albrecht and Michael J. Albrecht. You can also use the WELS church locator and contact a WELS pastor near you. They have studied the Bible in the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and can help you to understand the issues that might be troubling you.