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Understanding the Bible
Part 1. An Introduction

by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

Why the Holy Scriptures are so dear to us

The aim of this and the following booklets about the Bible is to provide the Orthodox reader with fundamental information regarding how, when and by whom the books of the Holy Scripture were written, as well as briefly explaining their contents.

        The Holy Scripture is dear to the Orthodox faithful because it contains the basis of our faith. Despite this, one has to acknowledge that, at a time when many Christians of different denominations are ardently studying the Bible, Orthodox Christians — apart from the some exception — rarely read it, especially the Old Testament. Naturally, since thousands of years separate us from the times when the Holy Books were being written, it is difficult for the contemporary reader to transport himself into that environment. However, once the reader becomes familiar with the historical context of the era and the peculiarities of the biblical language, he will begin to appreciate its spiritual richness. The link between the Old and the New Books will become quite evident to the reader. At the same time, religious-moral questions worrying the reader and modern society as a whole, will become apparent as not problems specific of the 20th century, but a never-ending conflict between good and evil, between faith and unbelief that has always troubled the human society.

        The historical pages of the Bible are also dear to us because they not only truthfully describe events of the past, but place them in a correct religious perspective. In this regard, there is no secular book — old or contemporary — that can match the Bible. This is because the appraisal of events described in the Bible had been given not by man, but by God. Therefore, in the light of God’s word, mistakes or correct resolutions of moral problems by generations gone by can serve as guides in resolving contemporary problems on both personal and societal levels. By familiarizing oneself with the substance and meaning of the Holy Books, the reader will gradually develop a love for them, as repeated readings will unearth new gems of God’s wisdom.

        Consequently, the Holy Scripture is a lifetime study not only for the youthful student but for the greatest theologian; not only for the layman or the newly converted but for the highest ecclesiastical spiritual rank and wisest man. The Lord bequeaths to Joshua, leader of the Israelites and a disciple of Moses: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night” (Joshua 1:8); while Apostle Paul writes to his student Timothy “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).

        For more than four hundred years the Bible has been the best-selling book in the world. An unknown author summed the case for the Bible many years ago when he wrote: “This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the doom of sinners, the happiness of believers... Read it to be wise; believe it to be safe; and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. Christ is its grand object; our good, its design; and the glory of God its end.

        Among all the books ever published, the Bible remains unique. Available in languages understood by at least 97 per cent of the world’s population, the whole Bible has been published in 237 tongues, and parts of the Bible appear in more then 1250 languages and dialects. Even the blind may read Bible in Braille. The Bible is the most universally available publication in the history of mankind.

        The culture of Western man is derived in large measure from the message of the Bible. Western man’s views of reality, of nature and destiny of man, of marriage and the family, of organized society, of the structure of the Church, of standards personal morality, all bear the stamp of the Bible. In most Western nations civil law is based primarily upon the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. Human personality is of supreme value, we say, because of man’s having been created in the image of God, a direct teaching of Scripture. The sense of dignity and worth of man is rooted in the teaching of the Bible that man has an immortal soul with an eternal destiny. The prompting to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless comes from the Biblical message that God loves the entire human race, and all men are brothers. The objective of a more perfect society for which Western man strives comes essentially from the Biblical concept of the Kingdom of God. The public philosophy of democratic societies derives from the Biblical truth that individual man is of supreme worth, and that he must be expected to place the common needs of others above his own personal desires.

How to Read the Bible by Archimandrite Justin Popovich
Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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