28 Sept 2013

The Structure of the Bible 1: The Background

The year 587 BC was a turning point for the peoples who wrote the bible. The Babylonia Empire invaded their land and Jerusalem fell. Worse, they were taken as captives to Babylonia and treated as slaves.

Until this point the 12 tribes of Israel had had a powerful sense of identity thanks to their oral and written traditions in which they had seen themselves as God’s people. Now, however, they had all ended up as slaves, not as the chosen race. It is easy to imagine that dismay and disbelief set in through this fall from grace. In order to retain their own identity in the midst of slavery they had to reaffirm it. The exiles did this by setting down their beliefs in a book: the Bible.

The core belief of the Israelites was that they had a special relationship with God. It is this link which structures the book they wrote to preserve their identity. The main theme of the book then, became the covenants, or testaments, between themselves and their God. This is what we know as the Old Testament and its purpose was to revise their own history and reaffirm Israel as the people of God.

The first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, were probably written down during the Babylonian exile; others were added after Cyrus, the Persian, released the Israelites from their Babylonian exile in 538 BC.

Recognising this covenantal structure of the Bible allows us to divide the whole book into seven different Covenants: The Adamic covenant; Noah’s covenant; the covenant with Abraham; the covenant with Moses; David’s covenant; the Restoration covenant and finally, in the New Testament, that of Christ.