People of the Book
By Doug Gehman
I was eighteen when I rededicated my life to Christ. One of the first things that happened was God gave me an almost insatiable hunger for God’s Word. A starving man was suddenly seated at a feast. I dug in and have never stopped.
I still love the Bible today. Now too, after many years of global ministry among illiterate people, I am acutely aware of the privilege of having learned how to read. Literacy, that human propensity to create written forms of language, is a certainly an endowment from God. Much of the world’s early techniques of writing and reading came through Mesopotamian influences – including the Hebrew people – who showed a great passion for the art of creating script. Early Hebrew texts like the Old Testament were written in these ancient times.
The human propensity to create written forms of language is a certainly an endowment from God.
The New Testament emerged in the same way, as a record of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His life and teachings, written by Jesus’ followers. The early church shared letters written by disciples of Jesus like Paul, Peter, James and John. Later both Old and New Testaments – this great record of God’s story – spread rapidly by Christian leaders and missionaries who, in their zeal, translated the God’s Word into new languages. Frequently they had to also teach people to read and write. In the 1300s and 1400s pioneering Christian men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, who loved the power of the Bible, sought to translate scripture and make it available to the masses. We have the English Bible because of these men.
The entire Bible is the creation of a partnership between God and His people. God spoke, God inspired, and people wrote stuff down. Today, the sixty-six books of the Bible – a composite of history, worship, exhortation, and teaching – is loved and revered by Christians around the world as “God’s inspired Word.”
Christian mission organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators, the SEED Company, Faith Comes By Hearing, and many others are rapidly translating God’s Word into new languages. Their goal: to make the Bible available to every language on earth. Modern audio recording technology now introduces the Bible to people who do not read, in languages that are not yet written.
Christians truly are “People of the Book.”
Christians truly are “People of the Book.” From the time the Ten Commandments were first engraved on stone tablets, God’s people have read His Word. Moses is honored as “The Lawgiver” because of his contribution to the written Word of God that we call the “Pentateuch” – the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
There is one reason all of this is important. There is one reason people down through history have recorded God’s words and acts. There is one reason people have been copying and translating these words for thousands of years. God inspired them to do so. He wanted all mankind to know and remember His great love and work through history. It is a profound reality of our time that you and I have the Bible and are able to read it for ourselves. To sit at this bountiful table of Divine wisdom, knowledge, and history and eat without needing another person to feed us. To connect with God directly through His Word.
Yet, one of the tragedies of modern times is our failure to sit at this bountiful table. The feast is ready, the invitations are in our hands, and the food has been served. We just don’t come to dine. A million things distract us. We linger outside, hungry, sick, and unsatisfied. We know something is wrong, but we don’t come to the table.
One of the tragedies of modern times is our failure to come to this bountiful table that has been prepared for us.
One of my primary assignments as a leader is to invite people to this great feast! To inspire people to enjoy God’s Word. This should be every leader’s goal: to lead people into an intimate relationship with the Bible. There is simply no other way to grow spiritually. In my preaching and teaching, I always put the Bible at the center. Every passage of scripture has a message. My job is to identify it, study and develop it thoroughly, and then deliver the message as accurately and relevantly as possible. A Bible “passage” can be as short as a single verse, or as long as an entire book, but most thirty-minute messages grow from a short selection of scripture – five to twenty verses – maybe one hundred words.
Serious study of the Bible involves two things: Exegesis and Hermeneutics. Simply put, exegesis searches what a text says; hermeneutics seeks to understand what it means. These are technical terms taught in Bible College. But every reader can do exegesis and hermeneutics when we study scripture seeking to truly understand it. Then, we apply what we have learned to our lives. The truth can sometimes be profound, like an epiphany about God’s amazing forgiveness. We apply it be thanking God for His abundant grace. Or it can be mundane, like knowing God is quietly asking me to give up a bad habit or to reach out in kindness to a person in need. We apply it by obedience.
Every day we get hungry and therefore we eat. In the same way we should satisfy spiritual hunger, that deep human longing for meaning and personal connection with God our Creator, by coming to God’s Word, His daily bread.
I encourage new Bible readers to get your hands on a good translation of the Bible. New International Version (NIV) and English Standard Version (ESV) are good examples. Easy reading translations like the New Living Translation (NLT) are also a great place to start. I love the New King James Version (NKJV) for its foundations as a classic translation, yet updated with modern English words and pronouns – like you instead of thee and thou.
Whatever translation you have, start reading! Start with the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then move to the Old Testament and read the first two books of Genesis and Exodus. After that, ask a friend who knows the Bible to help you get a good Bible Reading Plan. Or, download a free Bible app – Bible.is or YouVersion are great choices – as they offer many translations and also many reading plans.
If you are interested in taking a short course (less than one hour), try “The Story of Scripture.” It offers an overview of the Bible’s structure and is FREE from Dallas Theological Seminary. This free course will give you are quick introduction to scripture.