This is a question which arises from time to time. It is phrased in different ways, but this is the basic question: What is the ultimate message or purpose of the Christian Bible? There are many answers, most of them partially correct.
A classic comment on the Bible from a Christian perspective is ‘The Bible is God’s Word’. My dear (older) sister refers to the Bible as ‘God’s love letter to us (humanity)’. These are correct, but are somewhat non-answers due to a vast lack of specifics.
Many people, both Christian believers and non-believers, will say it is a book of how to live one’s life. It tells us to do good things and abstain from evil things. This is also true as far as it goes, but leaves out some of the important basic truths incorporated.
Antagonistic non-believers say it is a collection of ‘fairy tales’, legends of a particular group of people, carefully collected and edited to promote a religious hierarchy intent on controlling followers and everyone else. This is partially true; it is a collection of writings incorporating Jewish oral tradition and history, Christian history of the life of Jesus and the lives and teachings of Jesus’ immediate disciples. It was in fact edited – leaving out spurious writings and claims not conforming to the essential message of God. It is in fact intended to guide – not ‘control’ in a repressive sense – mankind in their lives. This view denies the reality of God and His plan to redeem individuals from the punishment for rebellion. This view also denies the purpose of God in directing the assembly of the Bible texts.
So then, what is the essential message of the Bible? Read on…
First, the Bible introduces God and gives some idea of the identity of God.
God is the Eternal, Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient “I AM” who created the ‘world’. In the languages written, the term ‘world’ implies all of what was created; in modern terms, the Universe. “All that was created was created by Him” says the first chapter of John’s Gospel.
The Bible tells about God in three ‘persons’. The “Father”, who rules from Heaven – an eternal place of vague proportions, existing prior to the creation of the Universe – who is the only God. The “Son” who in the beginnings of humanity walked with humanity in the Garden of Eden, who appeared to Abram following the battle of the Five Kings, who wrestled with Jacob the Trickster and renamed Jacob as “Israel” meaning ‘wrestled with God’ and then was born of human stock and lived as a human on Earth as a man named Jesus. Then finally, the “Holy Spirit” – or as the King James language has it, the “Holy Ghost”; who brooded over the early, formless Earth, who came upon Sampson at times, who spoke with the Prophets of old, and who came after the Ascension of Jesus to indwell and assist those who believe on Jesus and accept the Lordship of Jesus and thereby, God.
Please note, God in His fullness is infinite. The Bible does not fully explain God in the same sense a book on basic arithmetic does not list all the ‘real numbers’. An arithmetic book gives a basic understand of how ‘real numbers’ work, but cannot list them. Likewise, God cannot be fully ‘explained’, but we can get enough of Who He is to deal with Him – if we desire to so do.
The Bible introduces mankind.
“Man” meaning mankind and not just males, was created by God to populate the planet Earth. And perhaps much of the Universe – I don’t know for sure, the story isn’t finished yet. Man was created in ‘God’s image’. Not exact copies of God, man is obviously NOT God. However, we have a limited similarity to God in that we can think, decide, invent (not create), imagine, love, hate, build, destroy and see past ourselves. We are cognizant of our own existence and consciousness and we are cognizant of our own limitations (some more than others) and our own mortality.
Man is also separated into ‘male’ and ‘female’. But both are created in God’s image. We are God’s creation. His property as much as the Universe is His property.
The Bible explains the rift between God and Man.
When man was created by God, man lived in harmony with God and spoke with God on a direct, face to face basis. Then came a time when man rebelled against God by willfully disobeying God’s directions. This is that whole ‘serpent, apple, Eve and Adam’ story. This in Christian theology is known as ‘The Fall’.
Some believe the story of the Fall is literal truth; that the events happened exactly as outlined in Genesis Three. Some believe the story is allegory; a short story or ‘fable’ to illustrate the problem. I submit it doesn’t matter either way: at some point, man rebelled against God’s directions and plan and fouled up the relationship between God and Man. Thereby sin, error, and all the failures of humanity entered the space-time continuum and have flourished ever since. Can anyone argue the world is not as pleasant is it might be?
The Bible then relates what God did – and is doing – to repair the rift and restore the ideal harmony between God and Man.
In the ‘Old Testament’ following the Fall, God sent ‘judges’, ‘prophets’, and the ‘Ten Commandments’ (the Mosaic Law) to re-direct man’s actions toward God. The history of the Jewish People – God’s Chosen People – and the geo-political entity of Israel outline this action. Simply put, God said, “Do thus and so, and all will be well with you”. God instituted sacrifices to atone for man’s failures of various types. This plan required man to ‘do certain things and abstain from certain things’ in order to please God.
It didn’t work.
Man – both individually and surely as a group – cannot perform to God’s standard. Man – both individually and surely as a group – always chooses to ‘do their own thing’. That idea of ‘do one’s own thing’ rather than obey God is rebellion at the simplest form. That rebellion continues to this day – even among believers.
This was not, I say again, NOT a surprise to God. God knew man wasn’t able to live properly and in harmony with Him; God wanted man to understand it as well. That was the purpose of the Mosaic Law, to show man’s inability to ‘do the right thing’ and obey God completely.
God is a loving God. It is from being created in God’s image humanity obtains the concept and (within human limits) practice of ‘love’. This is love in the sense of caring about one another, of loving one’s children, parents, spouse and even the homeless and helpless. So, when we say “God is Love”, we are correct. However, God is also a Just God. It is also from being created in God’s image humanity obtains the concept of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘retribution’ for wrong doing. The idea of recompense for improper deeds and punishment derive from God’s Justice. We might as individuals want to avoid penalty for exceeding the speed limit, no one seems willing to ignore the person who negligently runs over a child while speeding. We might as individuals want to pretend our own adultery isn’t a ‘big deal’, no one wants Adolf Hitler to ‘get away’ with what he did. We want and demand Justice!
Because God is Just, He demands justice for the rebellion of individuals. Because He is Love, He arranged payment for our sin.
Jesus – the Son of the Godhead – came to Earth and lived a perfect life. Jesus never once rebelled against God the Father. Jesus was killed on a Roman cross as the Ultimate Sacrifice for man’s rebellion. This ultimate sacrifice paid for all sin of all people of all time, with a catch: We have to accept His sacrifice for our sin; concurrent with accepting His sacrifice, we must accept His Lordship and sovereignty over our life.
Then the rest of the ‘New Testament’ goes on and fills in some of the details of how to live AFTER accepting the sacrifice for sin. Not to obtain forgiveness for sin, but in response to being forgiven. So, if one denies the need for Jesus’ sacrifice being nice to one another, avoiding dancing, drinking, smoking and going to movies, giving money to the poor, washing behind our ears, not sassing our mothers, paying our bills on time and all the rest will not obtain forgiveness.
And THAT, gentle reader, is the essential message of the Bible.
Please note this essay is a very simplified version of the story. It is however, enough to get the basic idea.