The Hope - A Short Overview Course of the Bible

The Hope - Introduction Notes

The HOPE video copyright  Mars Hill Productions Watch on-line at: http://www.thehopeproject.com/.

The notes below can also be viewed on-line by following the introduction links on the table of content for The Hope

See also course index

Introduction:

The HOPE presents a summary of the events of the Bible. The Bible is the source of hope and help for millions of people around the world. The Bible is unique: it is the most quoted, published, and translated book in history. The Bible was written by more than 40 different people. They came from different walks of life and lived over a period of 1,500 years. Yet, as if they were guided by an unseen hand, the Bible tells one, dramatic, unified series of events. From beginning to end, the Bible's history traces a promise that is fulfilled in on one extraordinary person. That person promised to deliver the world from pain and death.

The HOPE was produced in cooperation with motion picture producers and distributors from around the world. Each week, we will watch a short video. Then we will use a  Study Guide. As you go through this series of studies you should get a good, basic understanding of the Bible's incredible promise of HOPE.

To start you can view the introduction to the Hope video.

Note: There is also a full study Guide with additional information including some of the narrative used in the DVD. You will find it at The Hope study guide.

Note: the information below has been modified from these study guide notes.

If you have time you can view the complete HOPE video (80 minute).

A. The Universal Question

The HOPE video begins with these words...

Throughout time people have considered the world in which we live;
the complexity and beauty of nature, the mystery of life and death, the depth of human joy and pain . . .
and they have wondered, 'How did it all come to be?'
Is this world the result of chance . . . or design?
Is there something, or someone, behind it all?
And if there is such a being, then what is He like?
Does He have a purpose for this world?
Does He have a purpose for me in this world?
Does He have a purpose for me beyond this world?

-The HOPE, Introduction

Observe & Consider

These questions from the beginning of The HOPE are not new. People have long pondered the meaning and purpose of their lives, and they have questioned the presence of a divine creator. For many, questions about purpose and the existence of God are inseparable. Even the prominent 20th century atheist Bertrand Russell once said, "Unless you assume a God, the question of life's purpose is meaningless."

Why would an avowed atheist make such a statement? Because purpose implies intent, and intent implies design. And if there is a design to this world, then there must be a designer. Perhaps then, there are questions even more basic than that of life's purpose.

Is there a Designer . . . and is this Designer knowable?

Please understand that it is not the intent of The HOPE to prove God...but rather to reveal Him. As the narrator says at the outset of the video, "for those who seek answers, for those who are listening, there is a voice."

What about you? Are you listening? Maybe you've already made up your mind that God does not exist, or maybe you believe there is a God, but you're unsure about what He is like. For the purpose of our study, perhaps you should ask yourself before you go further, "Am I really listening? Is it possible that there is something about God I've not yet heard or understood?"

In the Bible we find a verse that tells us God has long been speaking, but that man has not always listened to Him or received His message.

Romans 1:20-21

20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

God is not silent. Since time began He has spoken through his creation. And for just as long, rather than simply receiving this revelation and honoring God, people have determined for themselves what they think He is like. As we see from the Romans 1:21, the results of such speculation are futile. If we were to read further in Romans 1, we would see that such speculation is ultimately disastrous.

For the course of our study, will you consider God (or determine to discover more about Him) as He would reveal Himself? Will you listen, instead of holding on to your own ideas or speculations about God? If you will, this study guide could become quite an adventure in faith.

Ask & Reflect

  • Some people hear only what they want (or need) to hear...and some do not want to hear anything at all. Consider a few of the things that might keep someone from listening, and really hearing from God:

    • Pride - the need to be in control
    • Lifestyle - behavior we intuitively know is unacceptable to God, but do not want to change
    • Woundedness - painful experiences from our past that keep us from trusting others
  • What else might keep a person from listening to, and really hearing, the truth of God?

  • How would you answer the question, "What is the purpose of life?" Or more specifically, "What is the purpose of your life?"

Decide & Do

Another Bible verse in the book of Jeremiah reads: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). Regardless of where you are in your journey with God, this verse is for you. You may be asking questions about the existence of God, or you may already consider yourself a believer, but you want to know God more intimately. He promises to be found when we search wholeheartedly for Him.

As you begin this study, be prepared to let God show you who He is, and to discover new things about God and yourself. Determine that you will "search for Him with your whole heart," and write a purpose statement to that effect:

Application: How would you finish this sentence. As I begin this study of The HOPE, I will...

B. The Need for a Reference Point

Observe & Consider

above we considered the question of life's meaning and purpose. We also recalled this line from The HOPE: "For those who seek answers, for those who are listening, there is a voice." (The HOPE, Introduction). And finally, we concluded with the question, "Am I listening?"

Perhaps you are listening for answers to questions about life and meaning. The problem is there are so many competing voices. Beyond the major world religions (i.e. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity), there are hundreds of religions and world views. All of these advocate a particular approach to life. In many cases, each of them claims to be the way to find God. However, none of them fully agree (and most radically disagree) on the nature of God and how He may be found. With so many conflicting teachings, how can a person know which way is the right way? It would help to have a reference point.

Every traveler needs help to find his way through a strange land. Some might rely on a trusted guide - one who has successfully completed the journey and is able to help others do the same. Some might use a map or instructions from one who knows the way. Others have depended upon a landmark or a star as a fixed reference point by which they can know their position and measure their progress.

Like a traveler in a strange land, we also need help to find our way in this journey called life. We need a source of help that has been tested by others and proven to be trustworthy. We need a reference point - something constant and true by which we can set our course. Without such a reference point, we will be like a man in a small boat, in a dense fog, on an infinite sea - lost, drifting...and without direction.

Ask & Reflect

Imagine that you are blind-folded and standing on the goal line of a soccer field. Now imagine that someone points you toward the opposite end of the field and instructs you to walk in a straight line until you reach the far goal. A person in this situation will almost always veer off to one side of the field or the other before he ever reaches the midfield.

This happens because everyone has a dominant leg with which he takes longer strides, causing him to veer in that direction.1 In other words, we are all physically "biased" toward our dominant side. (This is also why people who are lost in the wilderness usually end up walking in circles.)

The basic principle of this illustration can also be applied to matters of the soul. When it comes to how we view the world around us, we are all biased in one way or another by our unique emotional, mental, and spiritual dispositions. Many people walk through life unaware of the degree to which their bias influences their course.

To further complicate things, imagine that as you walk blind-folded on that soccer field, voices all along the sidelines are beckoning you to come this way or that way. The many religions and worldviews of our day are like those voices on the sidelines beckoning you to follow. Your attempt to walk the length of the field would not only be influenced by your personal bias, but by the biased influence of those around you as well.

But what if someone lifted your blind-fold and you could see clearly the goal at the other end of the field? That goal would serve as a reference point by which you could set your course. You could walk in a straight line and not be misled by the voices all around you. Many have set the course of their life toward a goal without ever reaching it; or after reaching it, have discovered that it was not what they thought. Like the traveler in a strange land, in the journey of life we need a reference point that has been tested and proven trustworthy by many others, one that will not disappoint.

  • In your life, do you have a trustworthy reference point for your soul? One by which you can set the course of your life, and correct your direction if necessary?

  • If so, what is that reference point?

  • What are the main influences (voices) that have shaped your views about God, i.e. voices from childhood, family, teachers or educators, friends, role models or heroes?

Decide & Do

In the Bible we find a verse in the book of Proverbs that says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).

Take an inventory this week of the voices in life that have beckoned you their way. Were they reliable, trustworthy, and safe to follow? If not, why did you follow? Take time to process where your views about God have been shaped and by whom.

Today's lesson on our need for a reference point was not just an abstract exercise. It is very true that your perception determines your path, and your path determines your destiny. Take care in choosing the way you will go. Your choice will have significant, eternal consequences.

There is another verse that says that God's Word (the Bible) is "a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). The remaining lessons for this week will offer reasons to make the Bible your reference point as you journey through life. Decide not to rush through these sections. Set aside the time you need to consider carefully what you will read. You'll be glad you did.

See also Chapters 1 & 2 of Song of the Wanderer by Li Cheng (游 子吟-永恒在召唤)

C. The Uniqueness of the Bible - Part 1

Observe & Consider

The Bible is the most quoted, most translated, most published book in human history,1 completely unique in its creation, content, and accuracy. And while the uniqueness of the Bible does not irrefutably prove that it is the revelation of God, when one truly considers the nature of this book, it takes more faith to believe that it was simply written and compiled by humans than to believe that it is a work of God. Let's think about this.

The Bible is unique in its diversity and harmony.

Written over a span of 40 generations and about 1600 years, by more than 40 authors from varying walks of life, on three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), the Bible is unlike any other book in the world. It includes history, poetry, prophecy, law, parables and preaching, and covers a broad range of subject matter (including hundreds of controversial topics) from the nature of God to the origin of man.2

Considering this diversity, one might expect at least some conflict or inconsistency in the content and themes presented in the Bible, and yet . . .

  • the Bible centers around one complete epic story featuring one extraordinary character.

  • the Bible addresses numerous topics and themes throughout the text with incredible harmony and resolution. (For instance, the paradise lost of the first book of the Bible becomes the paradise regained of the last book of the Bible. The access to the Tree of Life, which was closed in the first book of the Bible, is opened forevermore in the last book of the Bible.)

Like the instruments in a symphony, each writer of the Bible is quite different from the others. When you hear an orchestra playing with flawless harmony, you naturally assume that it is being directed by an accomplished conductor. Why should we think any differently in regard to the Bible, which is far more complex in content and scope than any symphonic score?

The Bible is unique in its textual reliability.

Because original manuscripts rarely (if ever) exist for the world's most important ancient literary works, the question must be asked of any ancient book, "Do the earliest copies in existence accurately convey the content of the original document?" Scholars consider several factors when determining what is known as textual reliability. These include:

  • The method by which copies were made

  • The time between the earliest known copy and the original manuscript

  • The number of early copies in existence

  • The comparative consistency of the earliest copies

Measured by these standards, there is no other book in the world that even comes close to the textual reliability of the New Testament of the Bible.3 Note in the chart below4 that those who made the earliest copies of the New Testament were either contemporaries of, or only a few generations removed from, the original writers. Notice also the number of copies that were made within that period of time. The difference between the New Testament of the Bible and other ancient works is astounding.

AUTHOR

When Written

Earliest Copy

Time Span

No. of Copies

Caesar (Gallic Wars)

100-44 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,000 yrs.

10

Plato (Tetralogies)

427-347 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,200 yrs.

7

Tacitus (Annals)

100 A.D.

1100 A.D.

1,000 yrs.

20

Pliny the Younger (History)

61-113 A.D.

850 A.D.

750 yrs.

7

Thucydides (History)

460-400B.C.

900 A.D.

1,300 yrs.

8

Suetonius (De Vita Caesarum)

75-160 A.D.

950 A.D.

800 yrs.

8

Herodotus (History)

480-425 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,390 yrs.

8

Sophocles

496-406 B.C.

1000 A.D.

1,400 yrs.

193

Catullus

54 B.C.

1550 A.D.

1,600 yrs.

3

Euripides

480-406 B.C.

1100 A.D.

1,500 yrs.

9

Demosthenes

383-322 B.C.

1100 A.D.

1,300 yrs.

200

Aristotle

384-322 B.C.

1100 A.D.

1,400 yrs.

49

Aristophanes

450-385 B.C.

900 A.D.

1,200 yrs.

10

Homer (Iliad)

900 B.C.

400 B.C.

500 yrs.

643

New Testament

40-100 A.D.

125 A.D.

25 yrs.

over 24,000

(5,300 ancient Greek, 10,000 Latin Vulgate, over 9,300 other)

Unlike the New Testament, there is no abundance of early copies of the Old Testament of the Bible. So, when one considers the textual reliability of the Old Testament, it is important to understand the method by which these ancient manuscripts were copied.

The copying process5 itself was reserved for a special group of people in Jewish culture known as scribes. Scribes were professional penmen who copied manuscripts using a strict systematic process to achieve the highest accuracy possible. For example:

  • The scribes were not allowed to copy sentence-for-sentence or even word-for-word. They copied letter-for-letter.

  • A scribe had to copy the original page so that the exact number of words on the page remained unchanged. If an original page had 296 words, then the page being copied must contain the same 296 words.

  • <> Each line on a new page had to be the exact length as the line on the old page. If the first line on the original page had nine words, the first line on the copy page had to have nine words.
  • After each page was copied and checked by another, still a third person would check to verify that the middle letter on the copied page was the same as the middle letter on the original.

  • If a single mistake was made, the copy was destroyed.

These steps insured that copies of Old Testament manuscripts accurately conveyed the content of their originals. As is the case with the New Testament, no other ancient manuscript in the world surpasses the textual reliability of the Old Testament.

Ask & Reflect

  • Does the information you have studied today change the way you view the Bible?

  • If so, how? If not, why not?

  • What would it take for you to look at the Bible in a different way, or perhaps to see something you've not yet seen? (This question is for those who are already familiar with the Bible as well as those who are not.)

Decide & Do

Today's lesson was a little longer than most of the lessons in this study. If you didn't feel that you were able to digest all of the information here, set aside some time to come back to it.

D. The Uniqueness of the Bible - Part 2

Observe & Consider

In C above, we considered the Bible's diversity and harmony and its textual reliability - two attributes that make it unique among all the books in the world. Today we will consider two more things that truly separate the Bible from any other book and give it credibility as the most reliable reference point that one could have in the journey of life.

The Bible is unique in its historical accuracy.

Historical accuracy is yet another factor to consider in determining the reliability of an ancient text. In other words, "Do archaeological findings substantiate what is recorded in the text?" In the case of the Bible, the answer is clear.

  • "...it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries." - Dr. Nelson Glueck (Rivers in the Desert, p. 31)

  • "...archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts ... Yet archaeological discoveries have shown that these critical charges ... are wrong and that the Bible is trustworthy in the very statements which have been set aside as untrustworthy ... We do not know of any cases where the Bible has been proved wrong." - Dr. Joseph P. Free (Archaeology and Bible History, pp. 1,2,134)

The Bible is unique in its prophetic record.

Before considering the Bible's prophetic record, it is important to understand what distinguishes the prophets of the Bible from other so-called prophets. According to the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, the test of a true prophet of God was 100% accuracy. If one who called himself a prophet did not pass this test, the penalty was death. Now that is motivation to represent God accurately!

It is amazing to discover that there are more than 1,800 prophecies in the Bible. Many of these prophecies were fulfilled in the lifetime of the prophet who gave them. Still more have been fulfilled since the writing of the Bible. Many prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. To this day, no Biblical prophecy has ever have been proven false!

In the Old Testament of the Bible more than 300 prophecies exist which were specifically fulfilled by Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. In his book Science Speaks, mathematician Peter Stoner calculated the mathematical probability of one person fulfilling only 8 these 300-plus prophesies. The result was 1 in 10 to the 17th power, or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

Stoner illustrates this number by supposing that "we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say "This is it." What chance would he have of getting the right one? The same chance the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man."

When Stoner calculated the probability that any one man might fulfill 48 prophesies, the result was 1 in 10157. That's 10 with 156 zeros after it! Just imagine the improbability of one man fulfilling the 300-plus prophesies that were fulfilled in Jesus. There wouldn't be enough pages in this study guide to contain all the zeros in the probability factor. In reality, without divine involvement, it would be an impossibility for one man to fulfill all of these prophecies on the basis of chance.

Ask & Reflect

  • The statement was made previously that when one truly considers the nature of the Bible, it takes more faith to believe that it was simply written and compiled by humans than it does to believe that it is the work of God.

    Do you agree with this statement? If not, why? If not, how do you explain the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible?

  • In A above we dealt with the question of life's purpose. In B. above we dealt with our need for a reference point to find our way in the journey of life. In C above and D above, we've considered several reasons why the Bible is a trustworthy reference point for life unlike any other.

    If your reference point for life is something other than the Bible, how does it compare with the Bible?

Determine & Do

Recall from Lesson 2 the statement that your perception determines your path, and your path determines your destiny. What you choose to trust in as your reference point in life is critical.

Psalm 119:105 says that God's Word is "a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." If you still have unanswered questions about whether or not you can trust the Bible as your reference point in life (the lamp to light your path and guide your way), then decide today to do whatever is necessary to resolve the questions you are dealing with. Make a list of your questions, and then seek the counsel of a pastor or Bible teacher to explore them further.

For more information on the uniqueness of the Bible see also  "How can we know the Bible is the Word of God?" and Chapters 2 of Song of the Wanderer by Li Cheng (游 子吟-永恒在召唤)

E. The Greatest Story Ever Told

Observe & Consider

At heart, we are storytellers. Most of us have been in situations where a story is told, and then someone else responds by telling a related story of their own, which evokes a similar response from yet another person. And on it goes. We are all drawn to the power of a great story, and even more, we desire to identify with and enter into a story greater than our own.

In fact, some sociologists say that the essential quest of humankind can be understood as a search for "metanarrative" or "metanarra."1 This term refers to a grand story or archetypal account or ideology in which other stories find their meanings. Regardless of culture or rank or station or occupation, man quite naturally searches for some story in which all other stories find their meaning . . . a story in which we ourselves find our meaning.

Throughout time people have derived meaning and purpose from stories handed down to them through culture or religion. But in the late 19th century a worldview called modernism emerged, claiming that those kinds of traditional "metanarra" are no longer relevant to our modern world. Modernism sought to replace the "old" religious values and stories with the arguments of reason or the findings of science. These, the modernists said, would define for us the meaning and purpose of our lives, thus creating the new "metanarra."

Modernism, however, has failed to deliver a grand story from science or reason, and we now live in a world that is often called "post-modern," a world which denies the existence of any grand story at all!

Still, even in our post-modern world, people are drawn to stories that give meaning to life. Having bought the post-modern lie that there is no grand story, many people settle, instead, for lesser stories. These lesser, personalized stories bear titles like, "The World According to Me," or "What I Need to Live Happily Ever After." They center on an individual's family or career, and how these areas of life should be lived out. In our world, there are as many smaller stories as there are different kinds of people. This endless fragmentation contributes to what we call "relativism," the idea that truth is simply whatever is true for you.

Many people view the Bible simply as 66 separate books containing wise writings and good stories (loosely connected at best), which may or may not reveal something about God and His involvement in the affairs of man. But the Bible is so much more. It is in fact The Grand Story by which every other story is defined. It is not only the story in which humankind finds its meaning and purpose; it is the story in which you and I can find our meaning and purpose.

Ask & Reflect

Think about your story - the story you envision for yourself.

  • Who is the main character? What happens? What is the point of the story?

    Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a story that we inhabit. It is why we get up every day and do what we do. Perhaps you envision a long story that plays out through the rest of your life. Perhaps you can only envision a story for this day.

  • What is the story you envision for yourself in order to be fulfilled in life? Is your story part of a greater story?

  • How would you describe the greater story? How much control do you have over the outcome of your story?

Determine & Do

Suppose two people viewed a beautiful sculpture in an art museum, and they each studied the sculpture from a different angle. If they were to describe what they saw, their accounts would naturally be different, even though they were looking at the same sculpture.

We have looked at the Bible from many different angles. We've seen it as a book unlike any other in terms of its composition and public impact. We've seen it as a book that can, without a doubt, be trusted as our reference point in life. And we've considered the Bible as The Grand Story in which you and I can find our meaning and purpose.

There is yet one more angle from which to view the Bible.

The Bible book of 2 Timothy says that the entire Bible is "inspired by God" (2 Tim. 3:16). The word "inspired" is translated from the Greek word "theopneustos" in the earliest manuscripts. This word literally means "God-breathed." According to this verse, the Bible is not just a book about God; it is the very word of God. It claims to be God Himself speaking . . . to you and me.

In light of this claim and all that we have considered about the Bible so far, ask yourself, "What if God were to appear and speak to me tonight? Why would He even take the time to do that? How would I respond? What would I be inspired to do or be?"

God is speaking to you, through the Bible. How will you respond?