A Survey of the Scriptures: Intro (Genesis-Esther)

A Survey of the Scriptures: Introduction (Genesis-Esther)

INTRODUCTION: It is very important for Christians to get a general overview of the Bible because it is their source of faith and practice. This series is designed to examine the backgrounds and themes of Genesis through Esther.

[This is called a survey because we will hit just the highlights of the books we study, not much in depth. We’ll talk about authorship, dates, some history, etc., and the main themes or messages of the books, but that’s about it. So it will be a kind of “hit and run” series. ]

The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself to mankind. It was written by men who were “carried along” (2 Pet 1:21) by the Holy Spirit so that the autographs (i.e., the original documents) were verbally and plenarily inspired and thus without error. Verbal inspiration means that every word of Scripture is inspired (Matt 5:18; 1 Cor 2:13), not just its thoughts or ideas. The Bible does not merely contain or reflect God’s Word; it is God’s Word in its entirety.


1. The Bible is one book composed of 66 books. It was written over a period of about 1,500 years by some 40 different authors.

2. Each book has a definite purpose or theme. Each writer had a specific message for a certain audience. Our task is to find the theme and then apply the principles of each book to our lives.

[The theme is usually the author’s purpose. I.e., why did he write? E.g., John 20:31]

3. The OT is composed of 39 books. They fit into the following categories:

* Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy; also called the Pentateuch or Torah)

* History (Joshua ? Esther)

* Poetry (Job ? Song of Solomon)

* Major Prophets (Isaiah ? Daniel)

* Minor Prophets (Hosea ? Malachi)

[What’s the difference between major and minor prophets? They are not called the “minor” prophets because they are any less important; they are simply shorter books.]

The Old Testament lays the foundation for the coming of the Messiah anticipating Him as Prophet, Priest, and King and as the suffering Savior who must die for man’s sin before He reigns.

The first five books of the OT are sometimes called the Pentateuch, which means “five books.” They are also known as the books of the Law because they contain the laws and instruction given by the Lord through Moses to the peo­ple of Israel. Moses wrote these books, except for the last portion of Deuteronomy (which tells of Moses’ death). These five books lay the foundation for the coming of Christ. As God’s chosen people, Israel became the custodians of the Old Testament, the recipients of the covenants of promise, and the channel of Messiah (Rom. 3:2; 9:1-5). 1

4. The NT is composed of 27 books.

· Gospels (Matthew ? John): Tell the story of the coming of the long-anticipated Savior and His person and work

· History (Acts): Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Acts proclaims the message of the Savior who has come.

· Paul’s Letters (Romans ? Philemon) and General Epistles (Hebrews ? Jude): Develop the full significance of the person and work of Christ and how this should impact the walk of the Christian as Christ’s ambassador in the world



Prophecy (Revelation, also called the Apocalypse): Anticipates the end time events and the return of the Lord, His end time reign, and the eternal state


Inspiration: that supernatural influence whereby the Holy Spirit caused men to compose and record without error the very words of God’s choosing as found in the original manuscripts (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21). God did this without overriding the individual personalities of the writers in the process. Inspiration technically applies only to the originals (1 Cor 14:37). Copies and translations are inspired to the degree that they accurately reflect the originals. Versions such as the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NIV are accurate, reliable and suitable for personal reading and study.

[Remember that translations and versions are not the product of inspiration per se. The miracle of inspiration occurred only once–when God originally gave the material to the writers. Modern versions are inspired in a derivative sense, i.e., in that they accurately reflect the originals, they are inspired.

Preservation is providential, not miraculous.]

Revelation: the content of God’s communication to man; the facts and ideas that God wanted recorded in Scripture.

General revelation: information that comes to all men generally. General revelation is a universal witness to God’s existence, power and deity (Rom 1:20). All men know God because of creation (Ps 8:1?3, 19:1?6; Rom 1:18?20) and conscience (Rom 1:18?21, 2:14?15). General revelation is not sufficient for salvation. Man is condemned because he perverts and rejects what knowledge of God he has.

Special revelation: information disclosed to a specific individual or group. The Bible is special revelation. Scripture is sufficient for man’s condemnation, salvation, and sanctification (John 17:17, 20:31; Rom 10:14?17; Heb 1:1?2).

Canonicity: the historical process whereby God, through the Holy Spirit, directed His people to recognize and collect the inspired writings. The word “canon” means “standard” or “rule.” A book that is canonical is part of the standard or canon. Only those books which bore the marks of canonicity were included in the canon. Man did not determine which books were canonical (they were canonical the moment they were penned); he simply recognized which ones were. The canon is comprised of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments (1 Pet 3:16; 1 John 4:6; Rev 22:18?19). The canon was permanently closed with the writing of the book of Revelation at the end of the first century AD (Rev 22:18-19). Because the canon is closed, we don’t believe that God is currently issuing direct revelation to anyone.

Tests of Canonicity

Have you ever wondered why certain books were included in the canon? How could the early believers tell that the works of Isaiah, Paul or Peter were inspired and authoritative? They employed several tests of authenticity:

OT: Because of the old age of the OT, what tests believers used to recognize the inspired writings from all others is hard to determine. For all Scripture, the ultimate proof is the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the authority of His own Word in the heart of the community of believers. The OT authors were “holy men of God” who spoke (or wrote) as the Holy Spirit carried them along (2 Pet 1:21). God insured that His people would recognize and receive His inspired Word. God’s people recognize God’s writing. Although we know that it occurred, we may never understand the exact mechanism of this process.

NT: The early church apparently employed the following tests to help them recognize the inspired books from those not inspired:

1. Apostolicity—written by an apostle or the close associate of an apostle. For example, Luke, the author of Luke and Acts, was a close associate of the apostles.

2. Catholicity—universal (the word “catholic” means “universal”) recognition by believers. The book was relevant to all and accepted by all.

3. Orthodoxy—agreement with the faith of the church. “Orthodox” means “straight” or “right.” A book had to conform to the faith that the church had already received.

4. Traditional Usage—customary employment by the church in worship and teaching. Believers found the book to be edifying and used it in their services.

What About Other Books?

Along with both the inspired OT and NT books were written other religious books that most believers did not think were inspired. These books are usually called the Apocrypha. Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox traditions include several apocryphal books in their Bibles that Protestants do not recognize as canonical. Protestants reject the Apocrypha because they do not pass the tests of canonicity listed above, although it may be profitable to read them. 2

Where Is God’s Word Today?

If God’s Word is true and if He has preserved it, it stands to reason that we should be able to obtain a perfectly accurate copy of it. So where is it? In what text is God’s Word perfectly preserved?

Unfortunately, the autographs (i.e., the original documents) no longer exist. Further, because imperfect people have been responsible to copy and care for the text, small errors or inaccuracies have been introduced into it. So it’s impossible to point to one version or one text as the absolutely perfect copy of the preserved Word of God. 3 Where is God’s Word perfectly recorded? In the many existing Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It’s the job of textual scholars and translators to compare all the textual evidence and put together the best possible version. For common use, versions such as the KJV, NKJ, NASB, or NIV are accurate and dependable. 4

Interpretation: the process of arriving at the correct understanding of Scripture. One should interpret each passage according to its grammatical, historical, literary, and theological context. The central message of the Bible is essentially clear (Ps 119:105, 130). 5 Anyone can determine the basic meaning of Scripture through proper methods of interpretation. However, only saved individuals can grasp the significance of Scripture (1 Cor 2:14). Theologians sometimes use the word hermeneutics to describe the art and science of interpretation.


It’s essential for us to learn the central truths of the Bible. But the goal is neither mere academic knowledge nor the accumulation of facts. The goal is to get to know God better, to know ourselves better, and to better be able to serve God. Had God not preserved His Word, it would have disintegrated into the dust of the Middle East long before now. But because God promised that His Word “shall stand forever” (Isa 40.8), we can be confident that we have it in an accurate and dependable form today.


1. How do you find the theme of a book? [Try to figure out the author’s purpose for writing. Sometimes this is stated outright, but normally you have to make an educated guess at why the author wrote. Study Bibles and commentaries usually have such info.

2. What are three names for the first 5 books of the Bible? [Pentateuch, Torah, the Law]

3. Define the process of inspiration. [Inspiration is that supernatural influence whereby the Holy Spirit caused men to compose and record without error the very words of God’s choosing as found in the original manuscripts.]

4. What’s the difference between general revelation and special revelation? [General extends to all people, while special was given to a select group.]

5. What is the canon? [That group of books recognized as God’s word. “Canon” means “rule” or “standard.”]

6. What do we call the other books that are included in some Bibles but that most Protestants do not recognize? [the Apocrypha]

  1. J. Hampton Keathley III, hamptonk3@bible.org, Biblical Studies Press, www.bible.org, 1998.
  2. Interesting note: the 1611 King James Version of the Bible contained the Apocrypha.
  3. There are no two ancient copies of the text that are absolutely identical. Before the introduction of the printing press, creating an absolutely perfect copy was virtually impossible. Small, minor variations always creep in to hand made copies.
  4. While some insist that God has miraculously preserved His word in a particular English version, we believe that preservation is providential and applies to texts in the original languages.
  5. The theological word for this truth is “perspicuity,” which means “essentially clear.”

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