What is the bible?

Fr Stephen Wang gives a personal and simple reflection on exactly what the bible is and why it's relevant in our lives today.

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By Fr Stephen Wang

My first book was Where the Wild Things Are. I wanted to be little Max, racing through the forest, and sailing across the magical sea. My first trip to the cinema: Disney’s Fantasia when I was four. I was terrified by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene, when the enchanted broomsticks pick up their buckets and flood the castle. My first concert: Queen, 1982, the Hot Space Tour at the Milton Keynes Bowl. That’s a good one to have ticked off the bucket list…

Books, films, music. These are some of the things that form you over the years. It’s more than just entertainment. It’s the culture in which you live. You learn a whole way of seeing the world. It shapes your heart and mind.

The book that has probably had the biggest influence on the history of the world is almost certainly the Christian bible. It has touched individuals and societies in so many different ways. It has been a source of fascination even for those without faith. But what exactly is the bible?

Well, it looks like a book. You can pick it up, you can hold it in your hands. It’s got a title page and a table of contents. A big section at the front, usually called the Old Testament; and a shorter section at the back, usually called the New Testament.

But really, it’s not a single book, it’s an astonishing collection of different writings from the Jewish and Christian traditions. It’s written by different people, in different places, over many centuries. In effect it’s a whole library, rather than an individual book.

It brings together history, poetry, song, prayer; legal documents, moral codes, religious instruction. But despite all this diversity, there is a common theme. It tells the story of God’s plan for humankind, as it unfolds from the creation of the world to the end of time.

It speaks about God’s love for all people; his special love for the Jewish people; the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the beginnings of the Christian Church. It finishes with an extraordinary vision of heaven.

The most important books in the bible are the four Gospels. Written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they tell the story of Jesus from different perspectives. They are trustworthy, historical documents that connect us with his life and his teaching.

Christians believe that the bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean it dropped down from heaven, fully formed, like a stork delivering a baby; or that God dictated it by speaking into the ears of the authors. No. They were real authors, and the history of the bible is incredibly complex. But God was guiding them and guiding this history, and giving us the truth we needed for our salvation.

The bible is absolutely central to the Christian life and to the Church. Christians believe that God speaks to us through the words and events of the bible. These are not just dead words sitting on a page. They come alive and we are drawn into the reality of these events.

I’m thinking of those amazing pop up books you can buy, when you turn the page and an incredible scene unfolds itself and literally pops up in front of you. You feel like you can step inside. Jesus said that we can make our home in his Word. And a Christian author said: In the Gospels you will find the life of Jesus, but you will find your own life there too.

There is a spiritual power in the God’s Word – with a capital “W”. His Word created the universe. His Word walked among us in Jesus Christ. And his Word has the power to change our lives today. This is why it’s said that Christianity is a religion of the Word, rather than a religion of the Book. We read this book, but we hear the voice of Christ.

I said that my first book was Where the Wild Things Are. In fact, it’s the first book I remember reading. But the first book I actually possessed was a bible, given to me by my grandfather when I was born. I can hardly read the print now it is so small, and the pictures have faded, but I still treasure it today.

This article is adapted from Episode 6 (“The Bible”) of the Sycamore series. Sycamore is an informal course about the Christian faith and its relevance for life today. It gives you space to meet other people, share ideas, explore your beliefs, and think about questions that really matter. Each Sycamore session involves a short film, plenty of time for discussion, and often some delicious food. For more information about the resources and how you can use them in your parish, school or chaplaincy please visit www.sycamore.fm.