Approaching the Bible for the first time can be intimidating. At 66 books, nearly 800,000 words, and numerous kings, prophets, and deliverers, as well as priests and apostles, where should you begin? In what order should you read it? Is there an alternative to reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation?
Explain the history and composition of the Bible for someone new to it.
John Goldingay: The Bible is a collection of writings by lots of different people written over maybe a thousand years, from a number of centuries before Jesus to a century after Jesus. I often like to refer to it as “the Scriptures” (which is the word that comes in the Bible itself), to make that point about it being lots of writings that were originally separate. What these writings have in common is that “the Old Testament” is writings that grabbed the Jewish people; writings that convinced them that they were God’s word to them. And “the New Testament” is writings that grabbed people who believed in Jesus in the same way. So put together, they’re a collection of what Christians need to know about Christian faith.
Why do Catholic and Orthodox Bibles have more books in them than do Protestant Bibles?
John Goldingay: Because the church came to accept some of Jewish writings as scriptures which the Jewish people themselves had not accepted. Then when church people realized what had happened, some of them thought we should take out those extra ones.
Why do you spend time in the book describing the land of the Bible?
John Goldingay: Because the stories and the messages refer a lot to the land where the stories happened and where the teaching was given, so understanding what the land was like helps you to understand the stories and the teaching.
You group the books of the Bible into three categories: the story of God and his people, the word of God to his people, and the people’s response to God. Which books go where and why?
John Goldingay: The story is roughly Genesis to Esther and Matthew to Acts. The word of God to his people is roughly the Prophets and the Letters of Paul and other people. And the response is chiefly the Psalms. They go there because that’s the nature of the thing that they are: stories or God speaking to people or people speaking to God.
What are some of the dominant themes running through the Bible of which the modern reader should be aware?
John Goldingay: That God is real and has been involved with the world and with Israel over the entire story that it tells. That God has been working at a purpose to have a good world. That he’s spoken to people and explained things so that we can understand what he’s been doing and is going to do and can come to understand ourselves. And that he wants to hear from us.
Why do you say, “In some respects, the Epistles are the most surprising part of the Bible”?
John Goldingay: Because you might expect a religious book to be a collection of teaching that looks timeless and designed for everyone, whereas the epistles are letters that address particular people in particular contexts. Of course there’s a sense in which they are timeless—they speak beyond their particular time. And there’s a sense in which they’re designed for everyone—God designed them that way!
How should a person use your book in connection with reading the Bible?
John Goldingay: I guess you could read a chapter about a particular book, then read the book, then maybe read the chapter again.
What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
John Goldingay: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which he has given to you under the sun.” That’s Ecclesiastes 9:9. I like the invitation to enjoy life, to enjoy love, to see life as a gift from God, but also to be real about the fleeting nature of this life. (The word for “fleeting” is the word for a breath.)
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
John Goldingay: I LOVE the online scriptural resources—for example, all the different translations of a verse. I used it to get a translation of that Ecclesiastes verse that I liked. I use them nearly every day.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
John Goldingay: I’m excited about the fact that some people seem to be interested in A Reader’s Guide to the Bible because I’m excited about the Scriptures themselves and I’m sad that Christians don’t read them for themselves. Many people rely on what their Sunday School teacher tells them the Scriptures say or on what their pastor says instead of reading the Scriptures themselves. So if this book helps one or two people to read the Scriptures, I shall be excited!
Bio: John Goldingay (PhD, University of Nottingham; DD, Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth) is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was previously principal and a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at St John’s Theological College in Nottingham, England. His many books include An Introduction to the Old Testament, The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, Reading Jesus’s Bible: How the New Testament Helps Us Understand the Old Testament, Biblical Theology, and Key Questions about Christian Faith. He has also authored the three-volume Old Testament Theology and the 17-volume Old Testament for Everyone series.
Goldingay also serves as priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Pasadena. He holds membership in the Society of Biblical Literature and the Society for Old Testament Study, and served on the Task Force on Biblical Interpretation in the Anglican Communion and the editorial board for the Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies.
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