Getting Started with the Bible
Bible Text: Luke 1:4; John 1:1–14; John 20:31, 21:24; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16–17
Lesson Focus: The Bible tells the amazing story of God’s love for creation and, specifically, you.
Big Question: What’s the Bible got to do with me?
Key Words: SCRIPTURE, CANON, INTERPRETATION, TRANSLATION
• The Bible is the manger and swaddling clothes of Christ.
• The Bible was written by a large number of people, writing for different reasons.
• The Bible is the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
• The Bible is the word of God and reveals the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
• Jesus Christ is the lens through whom we read the Bible.
• The proclamation of law and gospel is the word of God.
• The Bible is inspired by God.
• Some people read the Bible as literal and inerrant. Some people read the Bible as an interesting ancient text, but not as scripture. Lutherans, and many other Christians, read the Bible as a Living Word using the tools of Biblical criticism.
• For any presentation of a Bible text, it’s important to ask whether it reveals the God of love.
In his preface to the Old Testament, Luther wrote, “Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.” In Holy Scripture, the otherwise ordinary writings of real human beings take on sacred importance as the manger of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Through the Bible, we are able to meet and get to know God.
The apostle John wrote that if everything Jesus did “were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). How did the biblical authors decide what to include? John says that what he wrote is testimony (21:24). Luke wrote his Gospel “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:4). In Romans 15:4 Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” In 2 Timothy 3:16–17 we read, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” These reasons for writing the Bible help us know how to read the Bible.
Jesus Christ is God’s Word incarnate and God’s only Son, who has made God known (John 1:1–3, 14, 18). Jesus Christ—the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)—is the lens through whom we read the Bible.
“Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation. The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.” The Bible—the Old and New Testaments—is “the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of [the church’s] proclamation, faith, and life” (ELCA Constitution 2.02–2.03).
The Bible is the word of God and reveals the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the hope of the world. “Any interpretation of Scripture that weakens or removes our hope and encouragement is certainly contrary to the will and intent of the Holy Spirit” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, XI:92, in Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], 655).
In the 19th century, most North American Protestants read the Bible relatively literally. This was a departure from earlier approaches to reading the Bible (including the medieval allegorical approach) that explored the rich metaphors found throughout scripture. By the 1920s, North American Protestantism was dividing between two main approaches to biblical interpretation, informed respectively by fundamentalism and modern biblical criticism. Both believe in the “inspiration” of scripture—generally put, that it is the word of God communicated by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Fundamentalist Christians regard the Bible as “inerrant.” Inerrancy means that the Bible has no errors of any kind. Others, including most Lutherans, use the tools of contemporary biblical criticism and take scientific, historical, and literary knowledge into account. They acknowledge that the Bible contains internal contradictions and consider the context of the text—historical, linguistic, social, political, economic, literary—as well as the text itself.
Today there are not only numerous print translations of the Bible but also print paraphrases, films, made-for-television productions, and other interpretations of the biblical texts. These are great ways to learn more about the Bible and to share the good news of God’s love. God’s word comes to us in many ways—but be mindful! Remember that all interpretations have a perspective. View and read all interpretations with a critical mind. Whose perspective is represented in this retelling? With whom does this retelling ask you to identify, and how does that relate to the heart of the story? Compared to the actual biblical text, what is missing from or added to this interpretation? Most of all, does this retelling tell the truth that God loves all people and all that God has made? Compare different versions—for example, one translation with another, a movie or paraphrase with an actual translation—and do this with other people.
For more deep prep, and another possible source of inspiration as you prepare this lesson, see pages 15–27 and 1521–53 of the Lutheran Study Bible.
What’s the Bible got to do with me?
Every student brings their own experience and understanding of the Bible along to confirmation class.
Prepare to be surprised: some youth will already have a rich background of Bible reading and study or pick it up quickly and with a gusto you might not have expected. Prepare to be challenged: You may hear students say that the Bible is boring, irrelevant, or just something they’re not interested in. Some students may think the Bible has some good rules and messages for people to live by (“Just follow the Ten Commandments and you’ll be fine”) but think the miracles are pointless and unbelievable. Students may challenge you to explain or defend some of the “texts of terror”—readings that are violent and seem to prescribe and justify violence. Prepare to be patient: Some of your students may never have opened a Bible before. They won’t know the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament; they won’t know how to decode scripture citations to find chapter and verse. For all of these students, you are the guide to discovering that the Bible has everything to do with them: it is where we turn when we need to remember that God made us and loves us just as we are. That message of unconditional love and grace is one that teens, especially, can’t hear enough.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
SCRIPTURE: writing that is sacred to a religious group. For Christians, the books of the Old Testament and New Testament are scripture.
CANON: a list of books that authorities agree is scripture.
INTERPRETATION: the finding, making, and sharing of meaning. It is impossible to read and understand something without interpreting it.
TRANSLATION: the restatement of words from one language into another language. Unless you’re reading it in Hebrew or Greek, you’re reading a translation of the Bible.
Guest Speaker Option: Writing as a Group Project
Invite a writer or editor from a local newspaper (or radio/TV news program) to speak to the class about how a newspaper/news program is assembled. How many people write stories? Who decides what is newsworthy? Who decides which pieces are included and which are thrown away? How does each person’s role at the company contribute to the finished product? Point out the similarities between the canonization process of the Bible and the way a newspaper/news program is put together.
Debrief the presentation with these questions:
• How does having many different writers impact the “voice” of a newspaper or news program? How do you think it impacted the Bible?
• What role do the editors play? Why is this important? Who edited the Bible?
• How do you decide if you’re going to trust or dismiss something you read or see on the news?
Dim the lights in the room and play soft music. Ask students to close their eyes and focus on taking slow, deep breaths, in and out . . . in and out . . . in and out. After a few minutes of meditation, offer some prayer petitions. Instruct the class to respond with “Thank you for this gift” after each petition.
Leader: Lord God, you speak to us through the Holy Scriptures.
Group: Thank you for this gift.
Leader: You inspired everything in the Bible.
Group: Thank you for this gift.
Leader: Scripture gives us hope and encouragement in our journey of faith.
Group: Thank you for this gift.
Leader: Scripture shows us examples of how to follow you.
Group: Thank you for this gift.
Leader: Give us the desire to learn more about you through the scriptures.
Group: Thank you for this gift.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: What’s the Bible got to do with me,
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about how you’ve encountered God’s love in the Bible.
Bring your own Bible to class—choose one with which you have a lot of history and interesting associated experiences. Tell some of the stories of this Bible: How did you get it? Did someone give it to you? What have you used it for? Do you keep papers tucked inside? Have you marked certain passages?
Open the Bible
Spend some time during today’s class looking through and becoming familiar with the parts of the Bible. Have the students take out their Bibles and discuss these questions:
• What is the Old Testament? How many books does it contain?
• What is the New Testament? How many books does it contain?
• What are the names of the four Gospels in order?
Lutheran Study Bible page 1553: Use “A Short Guide to Personal Bible Reading” to teach students how to read and write biblical citations (BookName Chapter:Verse) and how to find chapter and verse numbers in the text. Using this guide, invite students to find John 1:1–14. Guide them to it with helpful questions: Is it in the Old Testament or the New Testament? What other books can you look for to tell if you’re getting close to John? Will you look at the front of the book of John or the end of the book?
Read John 1:1–14 together as a class. Turn back to the Guide on page 1553 and review the “Marking Your Bible” section at the bottom of the page. Turn back to John 1:1–14 and read it again, inviting students to mark their Bibles using the symbols from the Guide.
Look at the Going Deeper questions on page 1553. Read them together as a class and invite each student to choose one that they will have in mind as they read John 1:1–14 again. Have them write the question they chose at the top of the passage in John. After everyone has read the lesson and had time to think, share questions, answers, and thoughts as a class.
Introduce the idea that the Gospels tell many of the same stories of Jesus’ life. Have students flip through the books of Matthew and Mark, paying special attention to the passage headings. Ask these questions:
• What kinds of stories do these Gospels tell about Jesus?
• What passage headings did you see?
• What headings were the same or similar in both Gospels?
• What stories did you see in Matthew that aren’t in Mark?
• Why is it both good and potentially confusing to have multiple accounts of the same story in the Bible?
Next, talk about the letters of Paul. Turn to the book of Romans together. Have the students use their Bibles to figure out who wrote this letter and to whom it was written.
• Why would this letter be something we’d consider scripture?
• What other letters can you find in the New Testament? How do they compare to Romans?
• How were these letters intended to be used?
Have everyone look at the list of Old Testament books in the table of contents. Ask your group:
• What books do you recognize from readings in church?
• What books are new to you?
Have students pair up and choose one of the unfamiliar books and flip through it, looking at the passage headings. After a few moments, have each pair report to the group what they found.
• Which book did you look at?
• What did you notice about the book?
• Was it written in prose, verse, or both?
• Was it in first or third person?
• Did it seem to contain stories, speeches, poems, or something else?
Close with a “Bible Race.” Have one student choose a Bible passage and write the book, chapter, and verse(s) on a whiteboard or chart paper. Then have the class check it together to make sure the format is correct. When you shout, “Ready, set, go,” the rest of the class races to see who can find the passage first. The student who wins reads the passage out loud and gets to pick the next passage for the class to find.
Open the Catechism
Student Book page 305: Ask student volunteers to take turns reading Luther’s explanation of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Have a bowl of water and a small branch (pine if possible) in a central place as you read. Ask your group:
• What are the essential elements of baptism?
• How is the word of God “with, in, and among the water”?
As a class, using resources from Lutheran Book of Worship or Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the readings from the Small Catechism, create a short liturgy for remembrance of baptism and give students a chance to sprinkle their classmates with water using the bowl and the branch (the ancient practice of “aspersion”).
Student Book page 307: Get another set of volunteers to read Luther’s explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar. Remind youth of the Big Question for today: “What’s the Bible got to do with me?” How does Luther’s emphasis on the words “for you” begin to answer that question? How does it feel to hear that the elements of communion—and with them, God’s free forgiveness and unconditional love—are really “for you”? Using previously consecrated communion bread and wine, prepare and present a short celebration of Holy Communion. (You may want to use the service for taking communion to homebound members, and connect students to this as a ministry they can do.) Give students instruction so that they can each serve the bread and wine to the person sitting next to them. For some, this may be the first time they’ve said, “The body of Christ, given for you,” and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” After everyone has given and received communion, discuss how it felt to say and to hear the words “for you.”
Dicussion Option: Found in Translation
Use the following exercise to show students how they can gain insight by comparing several different English translations of the Bible.
Copy the verses below onto a handout to be given to all the students. Have students work in pairs to circle differences they think might be significant.
John 3:3 (New King James Version): Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3 (New International Version): In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
John 3:3 (Revised Standard Version): Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:3 (New Revised Standard Version): Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
John 3:3 (New Living Translation): Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”
John 3:3 (Good News Bible): Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”
John 3:3 (Contemporary English Version): Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!”
Other good verses to use for this exercise are Mark 1:10 and 15:39. (NOTE: Web sites like www.biblestudytools.net and www.biblegateway.com are a good way to look up multiple translations of a verse.)
When the group has had a chance to look at all the verses, discuss the activity with these questions:
• What kinds of pronouns are used in these verses?
• How does the translation affect the inclusion or exclusion of certain persons?
• In John 3:3, where should we be born from?
• What difference do these translations make in interpreting the passage?
Science Option: Look Closely!
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run.
• Assorted pieces of clear plastic
• Sugar and salt
1. Set out several different types of clear plastic, such as plastic wrap, a clear plastic food storage box, or packaging materials. Each piece will need to be several inches square.
2. Have the students put a large drop of water in the center of each piece of plastic. Then have them hold the plastic several inches above their open Bibles. Looking at the text through the water drop, does it appear bigger? Move the plastic up and down to change the magnification, and experiment with larger and smaller drops of water to find the size that works best.
3. Now have the students look at grains of sugar and salt, as well as their fingertips, under the water drop. How does the magnifier work on these things?
A water drop magnifies things when light passes through it. The light slows down and is bent into a new pathway. Since a drop of water is a round shape, the light passing through it bends outward, making the type below it larger. When light spreads out, the image gets larger
Debrief the science experiment with these questions:
• Have you ever reread something and seen something you didn’t notice the first time? Tell about your experience and what you learned. How does that apply to reading the Bible?
• Have you ever discovered a new way of thinking about something after you talk to your friends? Or How does talking to your friends and family about something change your thinking? How does that apply to reading the Bible?
• Has your understanding of the Bible ever been “magnified” by something? What, or who, gave you new insight, and how?
• Magnification is one way to change the way we see things. What might change the way you “see” the Bible over time?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Invite the group into a time of prayer. Have one student read Matthew 6:9b–13. Then offer the following prayer.
We lift up our prayers for ourselves, for each other, and for our neighbors near and far. (Invite students to pray for their prayer partners here.) We pray all this in the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students
• What is the most interesting point on this list?
• What about these points helps you better understand the Bible?
• If you were going to read the Bible after school one day, what would you read? If you were going to read the Bible after a big game at school, what would you read? If you were to read the Bible before a friend’s party, what would you read?
Turn to this week’s activity called “Getting Started with the Bible True/False Quiz.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Does adding “-eth” to the end of words make things sound more Bible-y to you? Why or why not?
The language of the King James Bible is frequently used in praise songs and pop culture references to scripture. Emphasize that this is not the original language of the Bible.
• Try to write a made-up Bible verse and read it to the class. What makes it sound like it comes from the Bible?
The different made-up verses students come up with may reveal their feelings, previous study, and preconceptions of the Bible. Explore these with good humor.
• In popular culture, some of the most famous parts of the Bible are the laws. What other messages do you get from reading scripture?
When you say “Bible,” your students may think, “Thou shalt not . . .” You may begin to introduce the idea of law and gospel here.
Student Book Connection
Student Book page 26: Read “How to Read the Bible” together as a class. Break the students into pairs or small groups and challenge them to come up with a way to memorize the names and order of the books of the Old Testament or New Testament. You may want to be prepared with some songs or mnemonics of your own—you can find examples on the Internet. Or ask the kids to create some mnemonics of their own.
Supply paper and other art supplies to make “Jesus Glasses.” Invite students to decorate their Jesus Glasses with words and images that remind them of what kind of messages to look for in the Bible. Discuss these questions as you work:
• Are some parts of the Bible better than others?
• How can you tell the difference?
Student Book page 28: Split the class into five teams. Have them pull a number (1–5) out of a hat. These correspond with “The Five Biggest Misconceptions about the Bible.” Give each team time to prepare a presentation (skit, song, game, mime, etc.) about their assigned misconception and share it with the whole class. As a class, discuss this question: What have you learned today about the Bible (and how we read it) that surprised you most?
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
For an old book, the Bible is surprisingly alive and meaningful. This week, challenged students to interview three people and ask them about a scripture passage that has special meaning for them. They can jot down these names on their Student Sheet. If you have a story to share about treasured words from the Bible, do so with students to help them get started.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Help them explore on their path to confirmation. After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• What’s the Bible got to do with you? What parts of your life? (school, friends, facebook, family, sports, etc.)
• If there were one unifying theme of the Bible, what would it be?
• Who wrote the Bible? What did they have in common?
• How are we like and unlike the people whose stories are recorded in the Bible?
Lord God, thank you for the gift of the Bible. Help us to read it and study it so that we may know you better. May we always remember that the Bible gives us encouragement and hope on our journeys of faith. Keep us faithful as we leave from this place. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Before students leave, be sure to give each of them the following blessing as you trace the cross on their foreheads.
May God’s word guide your feet and light your path.
1. How many books are in the Bible?
2. Which has the greater number of books?
a. The Old Testament
b. The New Testament
c. They have the same number of books.
3. In a Bible passage listing like “Jeremiah 27:13,” the number 27 refers to the . . .
c. number of words.
d. year it was written.
4. When you see Genesis 23:4, the number 4 refers to the . . .
c. number of words.
d. year it was written.
5. The Bible was first written in . . .
c. Egyptian hieroglyphics.
d. Hebrew and Greek.
6. A good reason for reading the Bible is to . . .
a. make God love you more.
b. enrich your faith.
c. seek information.
d. both b and c.
7. Lutherans believe the Bible is . . .
a. inerrant (without errors).
b. written by God.
c. the source and guide for our Christian living.
d. all of the above.
8. The main purpose of the Bible is . . .
a. to give hope and encouragement.
b. to make us feel guilty.
c. to give us a history lesson.
d. none of the above.
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