This article is intended to give the reader a quick overview of the Bible, with a view towards understanding its messages and knowing how to apply it to one's life. It is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of any of these topics raised below, but rather a concise summary.
To start with, there is an Old Testament and a New Testament. The Old Testament has 39 books, the New Testament has 27 books.
These individual books were written by various authors- usually spiritual leaders for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and Christian leaders in the New Testament. The Bible is considered to be inspired by God- that God guided the writers to write truth that would communicate His words and message authoritatively and in a trustworthy way. The nation of Israel and the Christian Church gathered these books into the Bible.
The Old Testament covers the period of time from the creation until just before the time of Jesus Christ. It has four main sections:
The Old Testament books have a few prominent themes:
The New Testament covers the period of time right before the birth of Jesus through the middle to late first century. It has three main sections.
The New Testament discusses several prominent themes:
The Bible books themselves are embedded in human history. The events and teachings discussed happened with real people, who lived in real places at real times. It is just like today-- any communications today are embedded in the people, places and times in which we live.
One important key to understanding the Bible is to understand these times and people. We cannot simply lift the words off the pages of the Bible and remove them from their context. The context is just as important as what is said!
Further, the Bible books are what the theologians call "occasional." This mean that there was some particular occasion or circumstance that led to the book being written. The books just did not pop into existence apart from this occasion. Rather- the occasion is the primary context and basis of the book itself. You can usually determine the occasion of a book by what is said in the beginning and the end of it, and sometimes clues are sprinkled throughout. You can learn to pick up on these clues and references and see how they form the basis of the issues being discussed.
The Bible does not normally present its teachings in the form of rules. There are some exceptions to this, such as the Ten Commandments. But importantly, the teachings of the Bible are embedded in the story of people of faith in the Bible. There are nuances and subtle ideas communicated, and these need to be understood in their context to get the full and correct message the authors intended.
The most important thing to do in understanding the Bible is to understand the context in which the portion under consideration was written. That means considering the Testament, and the circumstances of the writer and readers. The objective is to try to understand what the original writer was saying to the original hearers or readers. In applying that particular passage, to the extent that our circumstances are similar to their circumstances, what is said to them is applies to us.
In math, there are an infinite number of wrong answers to a problem. In biblical interpretation, that same is true. It never ceases to amaze me at the things people do with the Scriptures. Yes, I will agree that sometimes the Scriptures can be difficult to understand and integrate into a belief system, and they sometimes can speak about multiple things at the same time. However, in the vast majority of cases an incorrect interpretation will not stand up to reasonable scrutiny. This is usually indicated by failing to take into account the original context of what was written, or failing to understand critical differences between their circumstances and ours today.