Understanding The Bible
Introduction:  Part 1 of 3


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


Any course in Bible history is an ambitious undertaking because of the long period of time and the multiple events and persons which are involved. It covers three distinct periods of history:

1.    From Creation to Malachi - this is the history recorded in the Old Testament.
2.    From Malachi to the birth of Christ - this is the history of the "400 Silent Years.
3.    From the birth of Christ to the close of the Apostolic Age - this is the history recorded in the New Testament.

Here is a more detailed description of these three periods:

1.    There are two main divisions to period I
From Creation to Malachi:

A.   The Story of the beginning of the world and man.
This is recorded in Genesis 1-11. It is a very brief statement of the creation, fall, flood, and scattering of mankind. It is evident that this story is not the main purpose of Scripture.. for it is told only in the most sketchy manner, and many details which we might like to know are not given.

B.   The story of the Hebrew race (beginning at Genesis 12:1).
This is recorded in the rest of the Old Testament (Thereafter O.T.). It is very evident that this is the main purpose of the O.T. From Genesis 12:1 on. there is much greater detail and one feels. as he reads, that he is being presented with a magnificent epic - the story of the rise and progress of Israel, and through her. God's redemptive purpose for the world. God first revealed Himself to Israel - this is the O.T. story, and then. through Israel to the world - this is the New Testament story (hereafter N.T.).

The O.T. contains three kinds of literature: historical (Genesis through Esther), poetical (Job, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations), and prophetic and sermonic (Isaiah through Malachi). This course will consider the historical books, although there will be frequent allusions to the others.

2.    The period from Malachi's death to the birth of our Lord is called the Inter-testament period or the "400 Silent Years."
As the latter term indicates, it was about 400 years in length. during which time there were no inspired prophets; hence, no Bible books were written. It was during this period that the Apocryphal books were written.

For the student of Scripture, the Inter-testament period is interesting for two reasons (in addition to general historical interest):

A.   Many predictions in 0.T. prophetic literature (especially Daniel) were fulfilled in this period.
B.   It is during this time that many of the institutions and ideas of the N.T. arise
(e.g., synagogue, scribes, Pharisees, tradition, and others). Thus, one cannot understand the N.T. properly without at least briefly studying the Inter-testament period.

The history recorded in the N.T. falls into two parts:

A.   The story of the life of Christ. This is given in the four gospels.
B.   The story of the beginnings of the Church, from Pentecost until the death of the apostles.
This is called the Apostolic Age. While the Acts gives us the main thread of this history, there are also many historical allusions in the epistles which are of great value. This period closes with the death of John, about A.D. 100.

There are three kinds of literature in the N. T.: historical (Matthew through Acts), epistles or letters (Romans through Jude), and apocalypse or prophecy (the book of The Revelation).


It is most important that the student understand the method of procedure before beginning this study. The course attempts to teach in two ways:

1.    By outlines and comments in the syllabus and in class on the history of the 0.T.
The syllabus does not seek to retell the plain narrative of the Bible. Rather, it seeks to place the Biblical history in perspective by referring to non-Biblical sources such as secular history and archaeology. It is hoped that this will make the Bible history more "real" and meaningful to the student.

2.    As for learning the simple Biblical history, there is no method half so good as studying the Bible itself.
To help the student do this, study questions are provided. The answers to these questions are seldom found in the text of the syllabus. Rather, they are to be found in the Bible - the student himself. This will require diligent reading and rereading, and frequently intensive study and thought devoted to the more important passages. While helps such as a reference Bible, dictionaries, etc. may be used, the student is urged to seek the thrill of discovering the answers in the text of the Bible itself. The student who faithfully seeks for the answers to these questions and records them will provide himself with a Bible commentary and study notebook which will be helpful in his future years of Bible study.



To utilize this syllabus of study to the full, it is necessary to use a Scofield Reference Bible* (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917). "SRB" in its frequent occurrence in the syllabus refers to this work. Dr. Scofield's footnotes on the text of Scripture ("n" indicating footnote) will be found of great help. In connection with the course, a syllabus on Typology is also required for the course.

*Special Note on the Scofield Reference Bible

The student will observe that constant reference is made to the Scofield Reference Bible with a view to his profiting by the reading of the excellent notes that appear in this annotated edition. This is fitting since Dr. Scofield was among the founding fathers of our College. However, since copyright privileges have lapsed, Oxford has had a committee at work preparing a Revision. As a result of their extensive work over a period of years, the revised edition will appear in the not distant future. Naturally, the pagination will be somewhat different and also there will be additions to, and omissions and revisions of the previous notes. By following the Scripture passage under consideration the student will have no difficulty finding the corresponding note in the Revision. It would always be helpful to read both the previous and the revised Scofield notes. Some of the differences may well stimulate thought and be helpful. Naturally, any changes would represent the committee's conviction that something else might better express the thought, although the monumental work of Dr. Scofield is held in highest respect by the committee and by the College.

Another tool needed by the earnest student of Scripture is a modern translation of the Bible. Not only does such a translation clear up passages hard to understand in the old King James Version, but the paragraph system of printing the text is one of the greatest aids in understanding the Bible. For this we require the American Standard Version (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1901). Other translations (not required to be purchased) might prove helpful. John N. Darby's A New Translation is helpful, reading very similarly to the ASV. Among the newer versions are the Berkeley Version in Modern English (by Gerrit Verkuyl and others. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), and the Amplified Old Testament (by Frances E. Siewert - The Lockman Foundation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962). The Roman Catholic Confraternity translation of the Bible (now almost completed) is very interesting (Paterson, New Jersey: St. Anthony's Guild Press, 1962).

Other translations of the 0.T. which may be used for extra reading to help throw light on the text are: Rotherham's Emphasized Version, Newberry Bible, Young's Literal Translation, J. M. Powis Smith's The Complete Bible, an American translation, Jewish Publication Society's The Holy Scriptures, and the Revised Standard Version. Although the latter three offer the advantage of modern speech and fluency, it is regretted that the liberal background of the translation leads them to some incorrect and unacceptable readings.

In addition, day school students are required to purchase an inexpensive help in geography, Oxford Bible Atlas, published by Oxford University Press, New York. Evening school students use Hammond's Atlas of Bible Lands.

Other interesting helps are:

A Manual of Bible History, by Wm. G. Blaikie; many editions. Latest edition, revised by Chas. D. Matthews, is regrettably somewhat liberal in spots, but is still the best non-technical outline.

The Old Testament Speaks, by Samuel Schultz. This is a very readable summary of 0.T. history. More up to date and conservative than Blaikie-Matthews.

A good Bible dictionary. The old Davis was an outstanding work (A Dictionary of the Bible.* Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint of T924); Unger's Bible Dictionary, by Merrill F. Unger. Chicago: Moody Press, 1959; The New Bible Dictionary, by J. D. Douglas and others. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962.

The New Bible Handbook, by G. T. Manley. London: Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship, 1947. Usually available in American stores. Conservative and reliable.

Abraham to Allenby, by G. Frederick Owen. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939.

Archaeology and Bible History, by J. P. Free. Wheaton, Illinois: Van Kampen, 1950. One of the best works by a fundamentalist on the relationship of archaeology to the Bible.

Archaeology and the Old Testament, by Merrill Unger. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954. A new and excellent book on this important subject.

Light From the Ancient Past, by Jack Finegan. Princeton, 1946. One of the best attempts at giving a general history of the ancient civilizations, with the literary and non-archaeological light brought to bear on it.

A History of the Jewish People, by Margolis and Marx. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1947. A history of Israel from Abraham to the present. Two hundred of the eight hundred pages treat of the Biblical (0.T.) period. Written by two Jewish scholars; somewhat liberal in its early pages, yet it is the best one-volume publication on the subject.

Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, by Wright and Filson. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1945. Detailed; good descriptive and historical articles. Some unfortunate liberal points of view are expressed.

Students are urged to make a rule of purchasing recommended Bibles and books, as well as required texts, in the College bookstore. Profits from such sales assist the College in meeting its budget and hence in training you.

*The Westminster Bible Dictionary (WBD) is a new revision of the old Davis by Gehman. It is brought up to date on matters of archaeology and chronology, but unfortunately is slightly liberalized, especially in the articles on the O.T. prophetic books.


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