Every act of Christian worship will involve readings from the Bible. Sometimes there will be a sermon, in which the preacher will explore how the readings relate to contemporary living. The service of Holy Communion falls into two halves, with the Bible readings coming first (the ‘ministry of the Word’) followed by the ‘ministry of the Sacrament’ (experiencing the presence of Christ in bread and wine). Most Christians will also read the Bible at home, often using it as a resource for their prayers.
The reason the Bible has this prominence in the Church and its worship is that Christians believe God reveals Himself through its pages. The Bible tells of God’s saving work in history, gives encouragement and inspiration in Christian living, guides the resolution of moral quandaries, and shapes the worldview and beliefs of Christian disciples. Above all, it tells of the presence of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians read the whole Bible in the light of Jesus, who is described in John’s Gospel as ‘the Word made flesh’ (The Gospel according to John, chapter one, verse fourteen).
Having said this, the Bible is undoubtedly a complex book with many difficult passages. Everyone needs help in understanding it and exploring its riches. The best place to start is not necessarily at the beginning, but with the four Gospels at the start of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mark is the shortest and paciest and can be read in a couple of hours.
The Bible is printed as a single book, but in fact it is a collection of sixty six books that were written over the course of a thousand years, from about 950 B.C to 100 A.D. The first three-quarters of the Bible is the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible): a record of the old covenant between God and his chosen people, Israel. For Christians it describes how God prepared this people for the coming of his chosen representative, the Messiah. The New Testament is a record of how God, going a stage further, implemented a new covenant for the sake of the entire human race, through Jesus Christ.
Amongst the various books of the Bible are a wide range of literary forms such as prose narratives, dramatic poetry, lyrics, ballads, chronicles, songs, proverbs, philosophical meditations, prayers and letters. As well as reflecting the culture of their times (as, for example, in the case of slavery), the words of the different books inevitably reflect the authors’ limited knowledge of the world. Many of the stories in the Bible were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and were not written down until much later. The Church has studied these sacred texts for nearly two thousand years and there is much help to be gained from those biblical writers and scholars of every era. Christian belief and experience is that through all the Bible’s diversity, and the range of human beings involved in its writing, when we study, read and hear the Bible, God is addressing us through its pages.