Toward Understanding the Bible
by Georgia Harkness


The purpose of this book is to try to help the ordinary person get a better understanding of the Bible. That there is still a live interest in the Bible is evidenced by the fact that over two and one half million copies of the Revised Standard Version have been sold. That many people fint spiritual refreshment from reading selected parts of it is certain. But that people in general, either within or outside of the churches, find the Bible as a whole to be meaningful is open to serious question. The greatest of all books is a closed book to many who do not understand its historical backgrounds, its diversity of literary form, or the unity in diversity of its spiritual message.

The Bible was written in a historical setting and culture very different from our own. It was written by men who had something from God to say to their times but who had no idea that they were writing Scripture to be read two or three thousand years later. Yet they were men of deep spiritual insight, and through their words God still speaks to us with a timeless message. If this message is to be most fruitfully grasped, whether for cultural enrichment or the deepening of personal faith, we need to understand the Bible’s structure and content.

This little book is not designed to answer all the complex questions of biblical interpretation. It is simply a preparatory statement by which to go to the Bible and see what it says, and its usefulness will largely be determined by the extent to which the reader goes beyond it to the Bible itself. There is little here that is not the common possession of present-day biblical usable form what the big books tell at greater length.

The book begins, accordingly, with a look at the place of the Bible in our culture, then an examination of the crucial question of what is meant by its being the inspired Word of God. The second chapter deals with the geographical, social and religious setting within which the Bible emerged. The next two canvass the stages of development and the literary types in the Old and New Testaments, with a brief look at the main theme of most of the books. The final chapter attempts to show how the great notes in the Christian faith regarding God, man and Jesus Christ are firmly imbedded in the Bible.

What is presented here is drawn from so many sources that there is no use of trying to acknowledge them. The bibliography will indicate what I regard as the most useful sources for further study. A special word of thanks is due to Miss Juanita Brown of the Woman’s Division of Christian Service of The Methodist Church, whose request prompted the writing of the book, and to my colleague Dr. John Herbert Otwell for his careful reading and valuable suggestions.

Quotations from the American Standard Version of the Revised Bible, copyrighted 1929, and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946 and 1952, are used by permission of the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U. S. A. References to these versions are indicated in the footnotes by the initials A. S. V. and R. S. V. I have used these and also the King James Version, selecting in each instance the diction which seemed to me best to fit the point under discussion.

Georgia Harkness