Interpretation

To begin our study, we must briefly discuss the Bible as a whole.  This course is written for people of varying degrees of Bible knowledge.  This unit will discuss the books of the Bible, the two testaments, the time of their writing, and so on.  If you are a regular Bible reader, this will all be familiar to you, and unnecessary.  Instead, please skip this unit and go ahead to a separate section on the Apostle Paul and Race.

The Christian Scriptures are called the Bible, a book composed of 66 separate books, and divided into two sections called the Old and New Testaments.  The word "testament" means "agreement" or "contract," and refers to the Christian belief that sacred history is divided into two parts -- the Old Testament, when God's people were subject to the Law of Moses, and later, the New Testament, when allegiance to the Law was replaced by personal belief in and loyalty to Jesus Christ.  We will discuss each Testament in detail:

        1.  The Old Testament is roughly the same as the Jewish Bible ("Tanakh").  It consists of 39 books written by numerous authors over a period of almost 1000 years.  Traditionally, the prophet Moses is believed to be the author of the first 5 books (called the Torah in Hebrew, the Pentateuch in Greek).  This section of the Old Testament covers the history of the earth and mankind from "the beginning" till just after the liberation of the Jewish people from 400 years of captivity and forced labor in Egypt (this occurred around 1450 BC).  Most important, the Torah contains the revelation of the Law which God gave to Moses on Mt Sinai.  This Law covered not only the 10 Commandments, and the proper ways to worship God, but also the rules by which men should govern themselves.  This included relations to foreigners -- we shall look at these laws in detail later in this course.

        The  39 books of the Old Testament were arranged by the Jews into three groups or literary types: history, prophetic and wisdom books.

        a.  the history books provide a narrative account of heroic individuals (or villains), of battles and migrations, and of acts of God (miracles and judgments).
        b.  prophetic books contain sayings or oracles from special men who were God's spokesmen to their generation.
        c.  wisdom books are men's reflections about life and God in songs and sayings.

        2.  The New Testament is made up of 27 books:  4 Gospels are accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, 1 book (Acts) is the history of the early church, 1 book (Revelation) is a prophetic picture of the end of the world, and the rest are letters by Jesus' disciples to various churches in the Roman Empire.  Unlike the Old Testament, which was written over hundreds of years and spans thousands of years of history, the books of the New Testament were written within 60 years of the death of Jesus (33 AD).

It is important to understand the relationship between the two sections of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments.  In many ways, they are closely connected:  the Old Testament is the foundation of the New, the New cannot be understood without at least a basic knowledge of the Old.  The central person of the New Testament is Jesus Christ, who himself was a Jew raised according to the Law, and who made constant references to Old Testament Scriptures.  Jesus claimed to fulfill various promises made to the Jewish people in the Tanakh -- especially that a king would be born who would rule the entire world in righteousness.

Yet the two sections of the Bible are also separate works that contend with each other: the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as their king, and the Romans killed him on a cross.  The New Testament records that Jesus was raised from the dead after three days by the Spirit of God, that he then appeared to the disciples, told them to spread the Good News of salvation to all mankind (not just the Jews), and that he was then taken up into heaven.  To this day, the Jews do not accept the validity of the New Testament, while Christians believe that faith in Jesus as the divine Savior replaces the older Jewish practice of obedience to the Law of Moses.  In fact, the author of much of the New Testament, Paul, who was a former Jewish leader himself, went so far as to say that the Law was a covenant of slavery that was now surpassed by the covenant of freedom in Jesus.

Despite these disagreements and despite the variety of authors and the antiquity of the books of the Bible, it is the conviction of Christians that the entire Scriptures were inspired by God.  The same Spirit who spoke through Moses, the prophets and Jesus also guided the thoughts and hands of the writers of each of the books.  Where the two Testaments disagree, Christians give pre-eminence to the New Testament.  God's revelation is believed to be "progressive" and partial: in other words, He revealed certain things to some people at one time, and more things to other people later on -- with the most complete and authoritative revelation given in the life and teachings of Jesus.

In the last 200 years, starting in the universities of Europe and America, there has developed a tradition of skepticism and criticism of the Bible and its authorship.  What began in the schools spread throughout society, resulting in major changes in moral standards and civic laws.  The "old morality" based on the Bible was discredited and discarded in favor of more permissive secular standards. We will not cover these issues.   It is the position of this study that the Bible is of divine origin, and that its teachings, WHEN INTERPRETED WITH THE HELP OF THE SAME SPIRIT WHO GUIDED ITS WRITING, are true and eternal.  We are not studying the subject of race relations as a hobby;  on the contrary, if the Bible is God's Word to mankind, and we fail to obey its teachings about how to get along with other races, then we are destined to perpetual and increasing conflict at both personal and international levels.  There is an urgency in our day as never before, to both understand the divine plan for world coexistence, and to behave in accordance with those principles.  That is the goal of this course.