To help students appreciate what the Bible is and what it is about.
by Ann Husband
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To help students appreciate what the Bible is and what it is about.
Preparation and materials
- A Bible, preferably a good modern translation that includes the Aprocrypha, such as the New Revised Standard Version.
- 66 books on a variety of topics (plus the Apocrypha, if you choose to include those in your talk).
- There is a lot of material here, and the assembly-giver may be pushed for time, in which case you could omit numbers 9 to 20 below. Alternatively, this material could be used over a number of days.
- Show your audience the Bible and begin by telling them that the Second Sunday in Advent has for many hundreds of years been called Bible Sunday, so today we are going to think about what the Bible actually contains.
- First what do the words ‘The Bible’ mean? Well, the words are the English translation of two Greek words, ta biblia which literally mean ‘The Books’ or ‘The Library’. And that points us to the fact that the Bible is in one sense not so much a book as a collection of books such as you might find when you go into the local library. 66 books to be precise (point out your pile of 66 books) – that’s why Bibles are often printed on very thin paper!
- Try to remember what it was like the first time you visited a library, especially if you were a small child. The sight that met your eyes was that of thousands upon thousands of books stacked up on shelves all around, and, somewhere in the middle distance a desk or counter-top with a number of rather forbidding-looking people sitting behind. These people, you discovered, are called the librarians and they are trained to help people find their way around.
- But the librarians look rather fierce, and you don’t want to make yourself look silly. So you decide to have a look at some of the books yourself first. Well in that case you will waste a whole lot of time looking at books which are of no interest to you at all: because unless you know what you’re doing you won’t realize that the books are arranged by groups and all the books in any particular section will be on the same range of subjects. There will be reference books, books about history, books of poetry, books on science, books on travel, legal books, medical books, besides novels and detective stories and books about people.
- Now the Bible is just such a library; and if you try and find your way about it on your own without any help the probability is that you will get bogged down sooner or later in a confusing mixture of books which seem to bear no relation to each other.
- So let me take you on a guided tour of the Bible. Unlike the librarians we mentioned a few minutes ago, I hope that since you know me quite well by now you won’t find me too daunting.
- The first thing to explain is that the Bible/Library is divided into two sections, called the Old and the New Testaments. Now that’s a rather unhelpful title, suggesting as it does that the Old has somehow been superseded by the New. It would be better to call them Part One and Part Two and explain that the division is roughly between those books written before 150 BC and those written after AD 65. Of course that means that Part One and Part Two are separated by that all-important moment in history when God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, that is between the year he was born (about 3 BC) and the year he was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, which we know for certain to have been AD 30.
- So Parts One and Two of the Bible were written from a different perspective, just like books about life in Britain written before the First World War are very different from those written afterwards. But the fact is that they are all books about Britain and the Old and New Testaments are both about God.
- Part One, the Old Testament, can be subdivided into five main sections: Legends, History, Poetry, Wisdom and Prophecy. Part Two, the New Testament, divides into four sections: the Gospels, the Acts, the Letters, and the end of the world, which is a special book called Revelation.
- Let’s begin then with Part Two, the New Testament. The three sections which concern us here are:
(a) The Gospels or four Good-news Books, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, which describe the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. These were written between AD 65 (Mark) and 90 (John).
(b) The Acts of the Apostles, written about AD 75, is the continuation of St Luke’s Gospel and describes how the Church spread throughout the Roman empire between the years AD 30 and 60.
(c) The Letters or Epistles most of which were written by St Paul between AD 35 and 60, are in some instances by far the earliest of the three sections.
- Now I would suggest that you should begin by reading the Acts. Partly because it’s what might be called a ‘ripping good yarn’, and partly because it’s written in a style which is very easy to follow. St Luke who wrote it was a trained writer and a poet and was therefore able to put things clearly. From there it’s an idea to read St Luke’s Gospel, another easy read, and one or two of the Letters which St Paul and others wrote to newly formed churches. 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter are both good starting points. The former gives a pretty good idea of the sort of difficulties which the Young Churches had in keeping recently baptized Christians on the rails; 1 Peter was written for the benefit of a group of people who were about to take the life-changing step of being baptized.
- Then, for a change I’d suggest that you read some of the Psalms. This is the hymn-book of the Bible and it covers all of human life, from the cradle to the grave, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy.
- Then take a look at some of the history books – try 1 Samuel for example. This is the beginning of the story of how God prepared his people, the Jews, for his coming to earth in the person of Jesus.
- Move on next to one of the prophets, Micah or Amos perhaps, and you will see how God raised up these remarkable men to be his spokesmen when his people turned their backs on him as they were always doing.
- Next take a look at the Book of Wisdom or Proverbs. You’ll find there a great storehouse of ideas for how to cope with life’s challenges.
- (Include this point only if the Bibles your school uses contain the Apocrypha.) Finally, by way of light relief, take a look at two good detective stories: Susanna and the Elders and Bel and the Dragon – two more ‘ripping good yarns’.
- In all of these cases don’t be afraid of skipping if the going starts to get too hard for you. Some books appeal to certain kinds of people rather than others. It’s quite possible to find that what fails to mean much to you now, may suddenly ‘come alive’ when you are more mature.
- Now you may have noticed that I’ve left the most important question till last: Why read the Bible at all?
- Hearing, reading and learning scripture is the way that we discover the hope that is offered us in Jesus. That faith, if it is to do us any good, has got to be embraced or hugged. Now you can’t really hug something that you can’t see and reading the Bible is the way in which people come to see the truth as God has revealed it to us.
- But that hope has to be held fast. It’s only too easy when one fails to keep up with reading the Bible to forget half of the things that one learnt from it. That’s the point of learning and inwardly digesting it. The Bible is like food. It’s not something you can take a fortnight’s supply on board all at once. That would not only give you indigestion but, by the end of the fortnight, you would be starving. You need a regular and balanced diet to benefit from it.
- Well, there it is – a lightning tour of reading the Bible. The next step must be up to you. Nobody can make you do it, least of all God himself. It’s one of those things which, like working, sleeping and taking exercise, needs us to be disciplined. And in the end that’s something which nobody else can do for us but ourselves.
Time for reflection
‘Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Jesus Christ and be saved.’
2 Timothy 3.15
You might like to use ‘The Bible Poem’ by George Rigby, written in 1941. It can be found here: www.andyscouse.com/pages/biblepoem.htm
‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’ (Mission Praise, 48)
The website for Bible Sunday can be found here: www.biblesunday.org