The Story of the Bible

The story of the Bible is very special. No other story is like it. It tells us about salvation. It tells us that God is loving. But he is also fair. These are both parts of God's nature. And salvation brings them together. This is the way that God has chosen. He changes people. He makes them completely different. And he brings them into his community. Its name is the Church.

The Bible begins with God. It shows him very clearly as the one who created the world. The Bible does not tell us everything. And it never says that it does. God was doing many things in the ancient world. But these things are not all in the Bible. Much was happening to the Jews too. But the Bible does not tell us all about that either. It is history. However, it is more than history. The Bible is the history of God's people. It is special. It shows great truths. They are truths about God's salvation.

The Patriarchs (the First Fathers of the Jews)

God needed a nation. It must be a particular nation. He had a special purpose for it. He wanted to use it to show himself to the world. He wanted to show his truth, his name and his nature to the world. And he decided to choose the Hebrew people for that purpose. They have another name. It is ‘the Israelites’; or people from the land of Israel. Today, we usually call them Jews or Israelis.

GENESIS is the Bible's first book. The word ‘Genesis’ means ‘beginnings’. The book shows events clearly. It describes beginnings. There is the start of the world. Then there is the start of sin. We learn how sin came into the world. We see the very serious effects of sin. And we discover something. It is this. God has the answer to man's problem of sin.

Then Genesis tells us about Abraham. God called him to be his servant. God chose him to be the ‘father’ of the Jews. There are other important events too. And Genesis tells us about them. We learn about two other special people in the book. They came after Abraham. Their names were Isaac and Jacob. There is a name for these three men. It is the Patriarchs.

The Exodus (the time when they left Egypt)

There was no rain for a very long time. So it was hard to get any food. However, there was plenty of food in the land of Egypt. This was because of Jacob's son. His name was Joseph. For many years, Jacob thought that his son was dead. Then he heard some good news. Joseph was alive. And he was now ruling Egypt. Jacob and his family went to Egypt. And the whole family lived there. After many years, Joseph died in Egypt.

Many more years went by. The number of Jews grew. And the Egyptians tried to stop this. (Egyptians are the people of Egypt.) So they made the Jews become slaves. There was much cruelty. But the number of Jews still grew. Then there was a terrible law. All male babies must die.

However, two parents did not obey this law. (You can read about this in Exodus 2.) They hid their baby for three months. His name was Moses. In a wonderful way, God saved him from death. Then he became part of Pharaoh's family. (Pharoah was the ruler of the land of Egypt.) And God chose Moses to be leader of the Jews. Moses would lead the Jews away from Egypt. They would not be slaves any more. God was preparing a land for them. And Moses would lead them to it. The name of that land was Canaan. It is nearly the same as the land of Israel today.

The Promised Land (the land that God promised to give)

God saved the Jews. And he did it in a wonderful way. God was the only one who could do it. The Jews escaped from Egypt. Then they travelled across the desert. They went towards the land that God had promised to give them. Something wonderful happened. It was soon after they started that journey. God showed himself to the people. He did this through Moses. God also made a ‘covenant’ with them.

A covenant is a special agreement. This would often happen in the nations near them. There might be a small nation. But a large nation might be there too. It could also be a powerful one. And the small nation might not feel safe. So they would make a special agreement with the large nation. The name for this was a covenant. There were always rules with a covenant like this. And the small nation must obey these rules.

There was a name for the large nation. It was the ‘suzerain’. It promised two things. It would help the small nation. And it would protect the small nation. The small nation had a name too. It was called the ‘vassal’ nation. And it must also promise something. It was this. It would not make a covenant with any other nation. It would always obey the powerful nation.

In a similar way, God had a covenant. It was with his people. He promised to help them. He promised to protect them. But they must obey his laws. And they must not worship other ‘gods’. The rules for this covenant were very clear. You can read them in EXODUS and DEUTERONOMY. The main points of these rules have a common name. It is The Ten Commandments. They are in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

The Jews should have been very grateful to God. The cruelty of the people of Egypt was so terrible. God was the only one who could have saved the Jews. And they knew this fact. But they still grumbled and complained. They complained against God. And they complained against Moses. It was often like this during their journey through the desert. Sometimes, they even wished that they had never left the land of Egypt.

The Jews came near to Canaan. It was the land that God had promised to give them. They reached its borders. But they were especially bad there. They were determined to do things their way. And they refused to obey God. There were people who were already living in the land. And the Jews must fight them. With God's help, the Jews would defeat these people.

But the Jews refused to accept God's help. So God told them something that was sad. They did not believe in God. They would not trust him. So, they could not go into the land. Many years went by. And all the adult Jews died in the desert. Then their children started the journey again. JOSHUA was their leader. And he led them into the Promised Land. (This was the land that God had promised to give them.)

In the land, the people sinned. They worshipped many idols. Other people were living in the land. They were called the Canaanites. Their religion was very, very evil. And they used wrong sex as part of their worship. But the Jews must not be like them. They must not have any other gods. That was part of their covenant (agreement). But often, they did not obey their part of the covenant.

At first, the Jews’ leaders were JUDGES. They were leaders of tribes (family groups). Later, the people asked for a king. At that time, there was a prophet. His name was SAMUEL. God told him to choose Saul as king. Saul was like some other people in the Bible. He could have been such a good king. He could have done so many good things. Instead, he failed in every way. So God chose David to follow Saul. Then David's son, Solomon became king.

The Kingdom Separates

David's son, Solomon, died. And then there was serious trouble. The Jews split into two groups. One group said that the king must be from David's family. This group became the Southern Kingdom. Another name for this group was Judah. Other people did not want that to happen. And they became the Northern Kingdom. Another name for that group was Israel.

The two groups became two nations. And relationships between them were often bad. The Canaanites were still in the land too. They practised very evil things. And Israel (the Northern Kingdom) often did the same. The people of Israel also copied their worship of idols.

There were several prophets at that time. They were Elijah and Elisha. Then there were AMOS and HOSEA. The prophets wanted the nation of Israel to return to God. The people should have God's values. There was their covenant with God too. They should obey their part of this agreement. And the prophets tried to help Israel to do this. Sometimes, the people did return to God. But it was never for a long time.

[Note: Names that are in capital letters are books of the Bible.]

God wanted the people of Israel to return to him. But he had to use discipline to teach them. And God chose to use their enemies. Assyria was a very powerful nation. And its army attacked Israel. They defeated Samaria. (This was the capital city of the North.) It was a hard lesson for Israel to learn. But their enemy was like God's stick. God called them ‘the rod of my anger’ in Isaiah 10:5. This happened in 721 or 722 BC. And that event was nearly the end of the story for Israel.

[Note: BC means Before Christ.]

But the enemy did not kill them all. Later, many of them married people from foreign nations. Then they would worship the gods of those nations. After some centuries, this group was called ‘Samaritans’. To most Jews, they were enemies. Later, this group had its own temple (large church). It was on Mount Gerizim. Jews hated Samaritans. Some Jews thought that this group was bad. They were just a religious group who believed wrong things.

The Time of Exile

So, the Northern Kingdom ended. And it was the same for the people of Judah. Things were hard for them too. (Judah was the Southern Kingdom.) Some of them thought that they were special. So, they thought that they would be safe. They also had the temple (large church) in their land. And God's temple was their security. Whatever their behaviour, they would always be safe. This was what they believed.

Judah often had good kings. They were loyal to God. And their lives were good. But the people were not always like this. They worshipped God only when they wanted to. And their behaviour was careless.

There were some great prophets. ISAIAH, MICAH and JEREMIAH were three of them. They continued to warn Judah. They must stop worshipping idols. They must turn to God. And they must be really sincere about it. If they refused, God would have to punish them. Most people would not listen to this message. So, God's punishment came.

The armies of Babylon marched into the land. This happened in the 6th century BC (Before Christ). They destroyed many things. First, there was Solomon's great temple (large church). Then they ruined the homes and the farms of the people. One book tells us all about this. It is the book of LAMENTATIONS. There is a lot of emotion in this book of the Bible. The enemies took some leaders from Judah. They took them to Babylon. They made them become slaves there. There was a reason why they did this. Leaders are dangerous. They might get the people to fight. They could lead a revolution. Then Babylon might lose control of the land.

The books of SAMUEL and KINGS tell the story of the Jews. The books of CHRONICLES record the same story. But they tell it in another way. The story starts with Saul. And it ends with the Exile.

The Return

Terrible things were happening. But there was hope. There were 2 prophets at this time. They were JEREMIAH and EZEKIEL. And they had a message for those in exile. It was a message of hope. God is king. He is also Lord of everything. He rules the world. He rules everything that is in space too. He controls events. God has all authority and he has all power.

His people disappointed him. But God still loved them. And he wanted to bring them back to himself. So he did something unusual. God used the king of Babylon. He did not believe in God. And he ruled an evil nation. Yet God used the king to be the judge of God's people. God even called him his ‘servant’. (Read Jeremiah 25:9.) God was correcting his people. Then he would bring them home. But God would use someone else to do that. He would use Cyrus. And Cyrus was leader of Persia. Again, this was a nation that did not believe in God. Yet God called Cyrus his ‘shepherd’ (Isaiah 44:28).

The Jews were in Babylon for 70 years. But God used this time. He corrected his people. He did not want to destroy them. He wanted to improve them. And that bad time ended. The Jews returned to their land. Two prophets tell us about this. They were EZRA and NEHEMIAH. Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jews. They built its walls again. Later, they built the temple (large church) again too. Three prophets had a special message at that time. It was for those who returned to Judah. There was HAGGAI. There was ZECHARIAH. And there was MALACHI.

The Time between the Testaments

The Bible has two parts. There is the Old Testament (OT). Then there is the New Testament (NT). A long period separated them. This period was 400 years. During that time the Jews had no special leader. There was no prophet. So, there were no messages from God. They knew that God's Messiah would save them. So, the people watched for him. They were eager for him to come. They were sure that Messiah would make everything right.

Israel's land was in a difficult position. It was also in danger. Sometimes, two powerful nations were on either side. And they seemed to trap Israel between them. The nations would fight each other for power. And, as they fought, they would both hurt Israel. The lands of Persia and Egypt were like this. Each one wanted to have the most power.

Many years passed. Then the Greeks became the most powerful nation. They had a famous leader. His name was Alexander the Great. He, and several leaders who came after him, were the same. They tried to force everybody to live like Greeks. And everyone must believe the same things too. This meant great problems for Jews. Genuine Jews who were spiritual could not do that. They were trying to love and obey God. They could not live like Greeks. God's laws and Greek ideas could never mix.

Different rulers struggled. They all wanted power. There were Egypt's rulers. They were part Greek and part Macedonian. Their name was the Ptolemies. Then, there were the Seleucids. They ruled the land of Syria. They ruled the land of Babylonia too. So, all this time, other lands ruled Israel. None of them liked Israel's religion. And they all tried to spoil it. It was easy for them to bring in their own religious ideas. Then these ideas could mix with what Israel believed.

Sometimes, the Jews fought hard to stop this. And it was like this in 168 BC (Before Christ). There was a famous revolution. It was called the ‘Maccabean revolt’. The leader was a Jew. He was a great hero. His name was Judas ben Mattathias. He had a Greek name too. It was Maccabaeos. Many genuine Jews died at this time. They died because of what they believed.

But the Maccabees freed themselves. Now, they could obey their own religion. They could rule themselves too. Several High (chief) Priests did this. They had a special name. It was the Hasmoneans. They added two other places to Israel's land. There was Samaria. And there was Galilee. The next world power was Rome. But the Hasmoneans tried to stay friends with Rome.

Something else happened during these years. It was very important. The Old Testament was in the Hebrew language. But some people translated it into Greek. It had a special name. It was called the ‘Septuagint’. It came from a Latin word that means 70. There was a tradition. People thought that it was the work of 72 people.

Then it was 200-300 years before Christ's birth. People wrote more religious books. And they were all made into one book. Its name is the ‘Apocrypha’. This word has a meaning. It means ‘the hidden things’. The book tells about many events, but the main one is the ‘Maccabean revolt’. The Jews suffered very much at that time. But the book shows that they had great courage. They were very brave and strong.

The Coming of Christ

Rome had a large empire. One of its leaders was called Pompey. And he defeated the Jews. This happened in 63 BC (Before Christ). Pompey took control over their land too. So, a foreign nation was ruling the Jews again.

The time came when Augustus had power. He was the emperor or ruler. Then God sent someone special. He sent his only son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus came to save the world. He came to give freedom to the world. He was unique. There could be nobody else like him. For a long time, the Jews had been waiting for their Messiah to come. Now was the very best time for this to happen.

There was a reason why it was the best time. It was this. Roman roads were excellent. And this was very important. It meant that there were good roads ready for Christians. They travelled on them for several centuries. And, as they went, they told the good news about Jesus Christ. The word for this good news is the ‘gospel’.

At that time, there was a common language. The language was Greek. In almost every land the people spoke Greek. And there were Jews in all these lands. Many times, Jews had to leave their homes and move to another country. This was because of persecution. So, Jews lived next to Gentiles. (A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew.) The Jews told their neighbours what they believed. The Gentiles saw their behaviour too. And some of them wanted a better way of life because of this. They became ‘God-fearers’. (This was the name for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews.)

Paul said something important. You can read it in Galatians 4:4. It was this. Christ came at just the right moment. It was the right moment in the history of the world. Jesus was born at Bethlehem. This was in the land of Judea. He was Mary's son. She was a young girl from Galilee. And Mary was a virgin. A virgin has never had sex. But Mary still had a baby. This was not possible. But God made it happen. Mary was going to marry Joseph. He was a carpenter. (A carpenter makes things with wood.) Joseph loved and obeyed God.

The baby was soon in danger. Herod was king of that place. And he was afraid that Jesus would become king. He was jealous of him too. So he made an awful decision. The baby must die. But God spoke to Joseph and Mary. They must take Jesus to Egypt. And they must stay there until Herod's death. Then it would be safe for them to return.

The family returned. Their home was at Nazareth. (Read John 1:46.) This was a northern town in the land of Israel. It was a very ordinary home. And we do not know much about Christ when he was a boy. But we do know one thing. It happened when he was 12. He became a ‘son of the law’. This happened to every boy Jew. He became responsible for his spiritual life. At that time, Jesus certainly knew that God was his father. (Read Luke 2:48,49.) He knew that he had a special relationship with God.

The Special Work of Jesus

The life of Jesus was special. It had a special purpose. And Jesus knew that. He had a cousin. His name was John the Baptist. John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. John was a brave man. He told all the people to repent.

There was no sin in Jesus. He had never done anything wrong. But he still asked John to baptize him. There were two reasons for this. First, it showed that he was human. Every person is a sinner. Jesus was not a sinner. But he was showing that he was a real man. Second, he was showing that this was the right thing to do. (Read Matthew 3:13-15.)

So John baptized Jesus. Then there was a voice. It came from heaven. (Read Matthew 3:17.) It was God's voice. And he had a message. It was this. There was nobody else like Jesus. Everything about him was special. And this included his nature. It included his work. And it included the purpose of his entire life. Jesus was God's Messiah-Son. He was also God's Suffering Servant. (Read Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.)

After that, Jesus was in the desert. And he was there for almost six weeks. During that time, he was praying. And he was preparing for his work. Something else was happening too. The devil (Satan) was tempting Jesus in every way. He tried to make Jesus do wrong. But Jesus was ready for him. The words of Scripture were in his mind. (Jesus’ Scripture is our Old Testament.) And Jesus quoted just the right parts to Satan. So Jesus won this fight with the devil.

Jesus then chose 12 men. They were all different. Jesus wanted them to be his friends. He also chose them to be his disciples. The word disciple means someone who learns. These men stayed with Jesus. And they were with him until the Roman soldiers arrested him. This happened three years later.

So the disciples were with Jesus for three years. They listened to Jesus. And so did thousands of other people. They heard his wonderful talks. We can read what Jesus said in four books of the Bible. These books are called the Gospels. They are MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE and JOHN. The disciples also saw his special power. Jesus had power to change people. And he did this for the entire person. This included the body, the mind and the spirit.

Jesus was a prisoner for a short time. This happened because of some Jews. The religious Jews were his enemies. They did not like many parts of his teaching. But Jesus claimed to be God's only son. And this was the part that they hated most.

So they crucified the Lord Jesus. The word means to kill on a cross. Two criminals also died. Jesus was on the cross in the middle. It happened on a Friday. We now call it Good Friday. The New Testament's message about his death is special. Jesus was carrying the sins of all people, for all time. He was carrying their sins in his own body.

This means that he was taking the punishment that our sin deserves. And something great still happens to each person who repents. God forgives them immediately. He will forgive them for all time. And he will still forgive them when time ends. That Good Friday is the most important day in the history of the world.

That special day ended. They buried Jesus. Then God did something wonderful. He brought Jesus back to life again. It was a miracle. (This means that only God could do it.) God's power proved something clearly. It proved that Jesus’ life was right. It proved that Jesus’ teaching was right. And it proved that Jesus’ death was right.

Different people saw Jesus many times. This happened during the next few weeks. Two people were walking together. And they spoke to him. Several groups of people saw him too. Once, 500 people all saw him at the same time. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.) Jesus really was alive.

The Birth of the Church

[Note: The Church refers to true Christians. It is not the building.]

Jesus often repeated something to his disciples. This happened while he was doing his special work. He said that he must leave them. However, he made a special promise. The Holy Spirit would come. The Holy Spirit would live inside them. He

would make his home in them. He would be their new friend. Jesus himself must leave this world. But all who followed him must wait for a special gift. The Holy Spirit was God's special gift. He would always stay with them. So, Jesus returned to heaven. Then the Holy Spirit came.

In Old Testament times, it was different. The Holy Spirit came on a few people. He always had a particular purpose. It was to help them with a special job. Now, the Holy Spirit would come into people. He would enter each one who believed in Jesus. He would come to stay too. The Church of Christ was born.

Peter was a disciple. He was one of the 12 men who followed Jesus. He completely changed. But it was the Holy Spirit who changed him. Peter spoke to large crowds of people. But he was not afraid of them. Many people were in Jerusalem at that time. They had come from many lands. They were there for a special holy event. It was called Pentecost. About 3000 people listened to Peter. And they became real Christians. So the Church grew fast. But some people did not like this. And they were the religious leaders.

One of these religious leaders was Saul. He was a Jew who was born in Tarsus. He was very clever. He had much education. He was sure that he knew what God wanted. And he would not listen to anybody else. Saul thought that all people must agree with him. They must believe the same things. If they did not, there was trouble. He would try to make them change their minds. So Saul began a very bad time. There was great persecution. Saul put many Christians in prison. He even agreed to the murder of one of them.

A most important time came. Saul hated Christians. So he planned bad things for them. Then, he became a Christian too. Now he had a personal faith in Christ. He became Paul. And he was a famous missionary. (A missionary is someone who tells people about the true God. Often, they will go to a foreign land to do this.) Paul was a famous church leader too. He wrote several of the letters that are in the New Testament.

The story of Christ's Church continued. The years passed. The church grew. It was a time of steady growth. This was the first part of the Church's history. We can read about it in ACTS. Doctor Luke wrote his famous Gospel first. Acts was his second book.

There were other letters and short books. Church leaders wrote them. They were Paul and PETER. There were JAMES and JOHN too. They gave clear details about Church life. This was from the middle to the end of the first century. So, there were the Gospels and these writings. They are the 27 books of our New Testament. There are 39 books in the Old Testament. And all these books are the ‘canon’ of the Bible. The word ‘canon’ means ‘stick’, ‘ruler’ or ‘list’. It is the list of books that people agree about. They agree that these 66 books are God's word. They are true Scripture.