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Explorer's Notes: The Bible Explorer's Notes: The Bible
Finding your way around the Bible

Nick Page
ISBN 9780007217045 (0007217048)
HarperCollins, 2006

Category: Bibles and Bible Guides

Ever picked up a Bible and wondered what it's all about or where to start? Then this handy little book could be what you're looking for: written in Nick Page's typically quirky style, it's presented like a guidebook to a foreign land — and for many, that's exactly what the Bible is.

Did I say quirky? Here's how:

This book is dedicated to my boots, which have taken me on thousands of miles of pain-free exploration. Thanks guys.

Each section begins with a photo of said boots in location — Part 5, Maps and Places, for instance, features them "by a Roman street sign in Ephesus. The sign means 'this way to the brothel'." So you get the picture: there's no fakin' it here — this is an introduction to the Bible that's as down to earth as it gets.

There are eight parts to the book plus an index:

  1. Introducing the Bible
  2. Key Passages
  3. The Bible Book by Book
  4. The Life of Jesus
  5. Maps and Places
  6. People (and other beings)
  7. History and Real Life
  8. Where are they now?

Part 1 asks such questions as Where did it come from? and How is it organised? then offers straight advice on how to explore: "The most important aid to exploring the Bible," we're told, "is a good, modern translation." (p.12) — and "Use your common sense." (p.13).

Part 2, Key Passages, identifies not so much key passages as key themes — amongst others, Creation, the Fall, the Ten Commandments, the Suffering Servant, the birth, death, resurrection and return of Jesus, Faith and Love — with bullet-point sidebars headed "Why is this important?" Reading through this section it soon becomes clear that Page is no detached observer — conservative evangelical spin is mixed in with the facts as he explains Jesus' death in terms of Jesus taking the punishment for our sins:

The New Testament says that we should be punished for our sins, but Jesus took our punishment for us. He was sacrificed in our place. He has served our sentence, paid our fine. We will physically die, but if we have faith in Jesus, we won't suffer punishment because someone has already done that for us. (p.49, author's emphasis)

Although commonly accepted as a theological explanation for Jesus' death, this is a view that has been widely challenged, particularly since Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus sent shockwaves through the Evangelical community a few years ago. It's impossible, of course, in a book of this size to take 2,000 years of theological discussions into account, but disputed questions such as this need to be either examined in some depth or left open (see Norman McIlwain's The Biblical Revelation of the Cross for some discussion of the issues raised).

Part 3, The Bible Book by Book, offers introductions to each section of the Bible, brief descriptions of the different types of literature and snapshot summaries for each book. Each summary includes a boxout "Who and When" section (who's supposed to have written it and when), with shopping-list styled sidebars featuring a key verse and a checklist — "The Sights" — of key passages.

The remaining sections do pretty well much what you'd expect from their headings: introducing Jesus (part 4); an A-Z 'Who's Who' for both the New and Old Testaments (part 6); and setting the biblical story in its geographical, historical and cultural context (parts 5 & 7). The final section (part 8), Where are they now? gives quick overviews of where various places mentioned in the Bible fit on the map today: Israel & Palestine get several pages whilst Turkey, Greece and Italy get a page or two each.

Overall — disregarding the theological digressions — this is a superb little introduction to the Bible: for a real feel for it, be sure to check out the sample pages on the author's website.

Phil Groom, May 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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