If the Bible is new to you, or something of a mystery, this page is intended to help. The most important part here is the last part, but hopefully the rest will help.
Bible and Bible References
The Bible is a big book! It's more like a library of books in many ways. To help find our way around it we use references like "Isaiah 40:27-31". This helps you when you know the language, but can make you feel like an outsider if you don't. We don't want you to feel like an outsider, so here's what you need to know. The first part is the book name, in this case "Isaiah". Over time you get used to where to look for each book, but every Bible that I've ever seen has a contents page near the front to help you. Each book has chapters, and each chapter has verses. The numbers after the name are chapter and verse numbers. So the example is: The book of Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 27 to verse 31. If you've got a Bible have a look: it's a great message of hope that God wants to give to people who will look to him in difficult times.
Getting a Bible can be the best thing you ever did. It's helpful to get a modern translation so that it is written in everyday language. Some people struggle with reading an old English version and find it hard going. There are plenty of reliable, well written versions around. You can get some help with choosing by going to a Christian bookshop or asking at church. At church we usually use a version called the "NIV".
You can view Bibles on the internet on several websites. One of the simplest to use to read the Bible and find out about the Bible is at www.ibs.org. This is the website of the International Bible Society, and has lots of helpful information for the beginner as well as those who know something already. If you want to read the Bible in this way look under the online bibles section. Another website if you want to delve further is www.biblegateway.com.
More on the Bible
The Bible is divided into two Testaments: the Old and the New. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.
The Old Testament begins with God's creation of the world and people, he declares that it is good. But people rebel and do not live as God intended. Much of the Old Testament is about God and the people he chose to work through to show what he is like and what living his way would look like. At the centre of this was the nation of Israel. God gave them great privileges and also responsibilities. At times they responded well, often they didn't.
The first 17 books are basically historical, they include the stories of ordinary people and of leaders: Abraham, Moses, King David, for example.
The next 5 books are poetic or are about wisdom. They include the Psalms. The next 17 books are the Prophets. Lots of people with strange sounding names: full of challenges and warnings to who rejected God when they had every opportunity to know better. They also contain wonderful messages of hope.
Throughout the Old Testament there are hints and pointers that God would do something dramatic that went beyond all that he had done in blessing, guiding, confronting and helping people so far.
The New Testament is all about God sending Jesus, and the difference that Jesus makes. The first four books are the gospels, literally the 'Good News' about Jesus. Matthew, Mark (the shortest) and Luke all look at Jesus in basically the same way. They tell us things that he said, what he did, the impact it had on people. John's Gospel is like a viewing the same person from a different camera angle. Close up, and revealing some more detail - especially about Jesus and his relationship to his Father, God.
All four gospels tell us about Jesus' life, but also give a large amount of detail about his death. The next book is 'Acts', or the 'Acts of the Apostles': it gives a picture of life for those who knew Jesus and formed the church. They did this in the light of Jesus' life and teaching, but also his death, resurrection and ascension and his claim that he would dramatically return one day. They faced severe opposition, and sought to live out the life of faith and love that Jesus had called them to. Most of the rest of the New Testament is a collection of letters written by leaders such as the Apostles Peter and Paul to the churches. They deal with issues that arose (and still arise today) about knowing God, following Jesus and living lives of faith and love. The letters have names which reflect who they were sent to or who wrote them.
The last book Revelation is a book that gives a different perspective, it reveals things from a heavenly perspective. Most people would agree that it isn't easy to understand in detail, but it does give a picture of the world as part of a battle between good and evil, God and Satan. It reassures readers that the outcome is not in doubt. God has already won the decisive victory, and one day he will complete it and make it plain for everyone to see.
The Bible is written by lots of human authors, but God inspired and led them to write what they did. It's not just intended to be an interesting book, a description of what happened in the past. It is there to speak personally to us readers about our relationship to God and how that influences the whole of our lives.
Responding to God
The most important single step in this is to come to recognise our need to come to God on his terms: To accept that we can't be right with him, we can't be OK with him without trusting in Jesus. More specifically, we need to trust that the wrong we have done against God by ignoring him, by living as if he didn't matter leads to us being separated from him. The Bible calls it sin and says it leads to death (Romans 6:23). "The wages of sin are death." Death here is especially talking about separation from life and from God. Sin is when I put 'me' or something else at the centre of my life instead of God. The Bible also says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Christians are not people who have lived good lives to earn their way into God's favour or made themselves right with him. Neither are we people who blindly hope 'it will work our OK in the end' as so many people do. Christians are people who realise that we need God to forgive us for what we have done - and what we have said and thought. We have come to believe that in dying Jesus took the penalty for our sin. Sin led to the death penalty, but he took it for us.
Jesus said, "Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).
And that's what he did. The gospels explain what happened, and start to tell us what it means. The letters of the New Testament explain what it means for us more fully. But it's all more than an explanation, it's an invitation. It's written to people long ago, it's written to everyone - and it's written to you. It's an invitation to receive forgiveness, and to live the new life that Jesus offers. It means asking God to help you live the kind of life he wants for you.
It starts with a prayer, asking for forgiveness and this gift of new life. It continues as you respond to God. It's not intended to be a solo journey - that's where church comes in.