In the last year, since I got baptised, my entire historical and spiritual worldview has been challenged and rebuilt. Some things I had wrong because I hadn't actually thought them through properly. Other things were wrong because my first exposure to the bible was through the child friendly versions in picture books. And other things were off simply because of traditional church teachings that aren't actually found in the scripture if you read it properly.
This is list of some of the things that I finally came to understand that completely reshape how I'm now perceiving God and the story of bible. Let me know in the comments how many of these secrets you already knew and share this article so others can be more prepared before they enter the arena of biblical history and bible study.
#1. When the text reads "the LORD" in capital letters this is really a placeholder for God's actual name.
I found out after I had already grown up in Church that the God we were singing praise songs to actually has a name other than 'God.' It's Yahweh. This name is literally translated "He Is" and it is the form of God's name that he told Moses to refer to him and to tell the Israelites to refer to him. God calls himself "I Am" but Moses recognised that this would be awkward and so God agreed that we should call him 'He Is'.
At the very least it makes better sense in this passage from Exodus 3;
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”... “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers...has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.
If Yahweh is the name people are to call him for all generations and was originally written in this verse then it should probably include that name but it's usually not there and replaced by LORD.
#2. God was in the story as a human all along.
When John writes his intro to his Gospel of Jesus he says a few things that aren't so easy to understand without being immersed in the biblical view of theology and instead exposed first to the limited church tradition's explanation of who is being referred to.
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
This is the weirdest thing to say if you didn't know already that the word is a person. But that's what you see in the old testament.
God saying things to people in the old testament was hardly ever a loud voice from the sky but that's the picture I had for a long long time. The Lord often showed himself as a person and sometimes they called him Yahweh, sometimes the Angel, sometimes the Word.
#3. Verse & Chapters were Added for Reference; They are Not a Quote Guide or Reading Plan.
When I was studying for my degree I took three research papers that went into extreme detail about how to appropriately quote text from another author in your own writing. This has helped me see that the verses and the chapters in the bible are not inspired, not part of the literary design that the biblical writers intended, and not perfect quotes of spiritual truth to be removed from the surrounding context. The numbers were added by a man named Robert in the 1550s. And knowing these things I am set free from the rules I believed surrounded quoting the bible.
Anyone should feel free to quote any part of the text they wish to in whatever way they like. The verses in the bible may make the text look like its already cut up into perfect quotes and is suggests that you cannot cut them smaller by only siting half a verse. They also make it look like you can't paraphrase a section or quote seperate lines that aren't usually written one after the other with an ellipses to link them, but that's how any other text is allowed to be quoted in formal and informal writing.
The verses and chapters are a convenient universal way of letting someone else know where you found the quote you might be sharing, but when you actually read the bible you should try to pretend those numbers are not on the page at all.
4. People's names tell important details of their character.
Have you ever wondered how the first humans came up with names for their children? I have. They didn't have a book of baby names to choose from; they had their language. They named their children using words, often referring to their birth story or identify something about who they are.
Check the footnotes or a concordance for the meaning of biblical names because this can tell you important secrets about certain characters and and their family story. It can open a world of interesting details you wouldn't have otherwise realised.
5. The Manuscripts have a Few Differences.
The english bibles that exist today are only possible because their were copies made of the first publications of the biblical texts. In the time of Jesus all synagogues each had a copy the law, wisdom literature, and writings of the prophets. The Samaritans also had copies. And before Jesus time, there were copies made for those who spoke Greek. Later copies were made in Latin. The scrolls would have become so warn out as they were read every day by so many people who didn't have their own copy at home, and this encouraged continual copies to be made. The threat of losing the bible should conquering nations destroy them was another reason more copied were made.
Along the way a few simple errors were made by the scribes and other differences between particular copies have been so drastic that there are theories of intentionally changing things. Of course these differences are not big enough to cause you to doubt that we still understand what the original Hebrew bible really said, but there are still a few things that remain that translators have to decide what version they believe is the version they should print today. Good bibles will include what it otherwise says in different manuscripts, and I actually find it fascinating to see what people are still arguing over.
6. Translation From Another Language is Misleading when we Don't have Equivalent Words.
In English birds, beasts, and fish don't actually include all types of animals in modern scientific classifications, while for the Hebrews they only had three categories based on where the animals live. This is why Jonah was able to be swallowed by a fish that was a whale; because the Hebrew language has a word only for all things that swim in the see while today mammals include dolphins, bats, and sheep who live in all three places.
So when something doesn't make sense in english you can check the translation for yourself with a Hebrew or Greek dictionary. It should be more widely understood that the best selling book in the universe is a translation from dialects that nobody speaks anymore. This is why there are a multitude of verses that you have to take with a grain of salt, but understand that your translation won't be far off, it'll be in the ball park of what the original author meant.
7. Divine inspiration isn't the Holy Spirit Taking over.
All scripture is divinely inspired, that is why we claim it can be authoritative and why it gets twisted to say it was written by God. But God isn't the author, he entrusted humans to communicate his ideas in their own way. Inspired by the Holy Spirit still means the authors can express their own interpretation of the revelation with whatever language style and literary devices and metaphors that they wanted. God also knew their vocabulary before he untrusted them with his message. It is still a human book along with it being God's word.
8. The Bible is Edited.
The way that the books are structured is intentional and meant to provoke thought for its meaning. Not only did the authors write and record what they were lead to record, they have often put specific stories together to teach a lesson or make a point. This is what it means to study the bible to find the layers of meaning that has been intwined by the biblical authors and the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes the message is found in seeing similar stories one after the other; Daniel includes a story of Daniel and his friends' faith being tested, followed by a story of the friend's faith being tested, and finally a story of just Daniel's faith being tested.
Sometimes the message is found in stories being paired that completely contrast each other; Numbers 11 intertwines the story of some people being judged for speaking against the Lord while others are blessed, given the spirit of the Lord to do their work that was for the Lord.
Other times there is a theme that links stories in seperate parts of the bible using a certain phrase or a number; any time the number 40 shows up in the text you should understand it is a time the Lord had set apart for his people to be tested.
What helps is knowing that these things are actually there so you can look for them. The version that became the bible probably wasn't the first draft and because of this we should respect the work that Moses and the other writers put into creating the biblical texts by searching for all the 'easter eggs' that they put in there.
9. The Bible explains there is power behind other religions.
The reality of lesser gods apart from Yahweh and their power is a necessary part of seeing the stories about witchcraft and worship to other gods make sense. All the talk about idols and other gods is reference to the real entities; fallen angelic beings. Even the legends of demi-gods in Roman and Greek traditions come out of the giants who were half human, half angel, while their mothers became sirens according to the Hebrew mythology laid out in the book Enoch.
I used to believe the Romans fully plagiarised the legends of the Greek deities because they were so similar; but actually they just had different names for the same gods and these cultures were in agreement with the existence of these beings. I took classics in high school and this should have been made clearer by my teacher. I also should have read my bible more so I would have recognised those gods as they are also referenced when the Israelites abandoned their worship to Yahweh to chase after Baal, the Queen of Heaven; Ashteroth and these very "deities" later became known as Zeus and Hera.
There was power behind these other legends and Moses knew it was because at the time the nations were scattered from the city and tower of Babel. Deuteronomy 32 isn't even Moses' own words; that was one of the actual times when an author just dictated something God himself wanted to compose for the book.
Also it means, more than ever, that there is a kingdom of darkness that I shouldn't touch.
10. Yahweh's Marriage Proposal to His People is Very Intimate.
This leads out from number 9 because it shows God's heart for his people that he wanted to get them out of Egypt, not only where they were treated as less than animals but where the spiritual powers had authority over the geography. He had to bring them to a place where the land was not already allotted other gods, a place that was clear and safe from spiritual attack and the coercion of other lying spiritual entities (I'm guessing, but this is based on the work of cosmological geography that Micheal Heiser presents in his books)
Then when finally God had rescued these people he asked them to be his people, asked to be their God and if they say yes he will live with them and be close to them; this is very personal and there's supposed to be a way that you can see this is incredibly romantic. He's the God of love and at times he can be a big softy. However this means whenever his people later go and worship other gods it's really very heartbreaking that they break their promises, their vows, and Yahweh's jealousy is completely justified. That rejection is real, and that feeling of being replaced when other beings receive the worship of his people... it's devastating, and he has every right to be upset. Thinking about Yahweh being jealous and being made in the image of God is one of the ways we can see he's not distant from our suffering, we can relate to him a lot.
11. Salvation was Available Before the Cross.
I was 'saved' more than ten years ago and that was because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I knew his dying in my place was enough to cover all my sin and allow me forgiveness and relationship with the father. But for those who lived before Jesus' life time they wouldn't have heard this so how could they be 'saved'?
I knew a lot of people at least assumed that Adam and Eve would be in Heaven because they would be the only ones without bellybuttons, so I wasn't worried for the people in the old testament. However; Why? How do they get to go to Heaven if they didn't accept Jesus sacrifice for them? The answer is sacrifice. Believing on the life and blood of a lamb and believing that the Lord would see it as enough to cover their sin. But this was all symbolically pointing towards a future sacrifice that would really be enough to do that.
Adam and Eve accepted God's sacrifice of a lamb to cover their sin. Noah made sacrifices of a lamb. Abraham too. There was salvation before the cross because these were a symbolic foreshadowing to the future sacrifice of the Son.
12. & 13. The Israelites spent less time in Egypt than you think, while the decedents of Noah had children later than you think.
The numbers are wrong in a lot of our modern bibles. Yes, I'm aware that anybody saying "the bible is wrong" sounds crazy but there are a number of good reasons this looks to be the case. Three of the main manuscripts; the greek septuagent, samaritin pentituke, and latin valgatesay in Genesis 11 that Shem's son Shela, his son Heber, his son Peleg, his son Reu, his son Serug, and his son Nahor had their children 100 years later in their lives than another manuscript describes. That more recent manuscript, the Hebrew Masoretic is believed to have been changed intentionally by Jews who didn't like Jesus, and so they cut 650 years out of the biblical timeline between the flood and the building of the tower of Bable and it actually cuts out the time that is necessary to allow the population to have grown enough for there to be a sufficient number of workers to build that city.
This later manuscript is also the reason why movies today will say the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but there isn't allowance for that in the real historical timeline. That number is actually taken from the warning that was given to Abraham; "your descendants will be mistreated for this long,' and it started with his own son Isaac when his older brother was laughing at him. Thus begins the clock the 400 years ended when Moses was an 80 year old, third generation Egyptian immigrant. The actual slavery was for a fraction of that time.
14. The nephiliem were a consistent problem and the reason for the flood.
Here's a paraphrase in the Hebrew words in Genesis 6 to more accurately explain what was going on:
The nephilim came to be because fallen angelic beings had children with human women. Continued inter breeding meant the people were only capable of absolute evil and it was distressful and miserable for those living on the earth. Yahweh was heartbroken over the ruin of his creation. He wanted to wipe the earth clean of this corruption. Yahweh's grace fell upon Noah. Noah wasn't totally evil; apart from those of his generation he was complete in his humanity, and he had relationship with God. 1'066 years after the first nephilim entered the gene pool, the earth was fully corrupted and violated. God said to Noah "I am bringing an end to all of this, so build an ark for you and your family to escape this..."
Do you know what is not in the bible? The people who were later destroyed being given the chance to come on the ark and mocking Noah for suggesting that it's going to rain when they had never seen rain before. That idea was taught to me in a book that told the story of the flood with pictures of the people taking the time to laugh at Noah while he was building his ark.
That idea is completely made up by people who think that those who were destroyed were just being a bit naughty yet were redeemable and should have been extended the opportunity to repent. No, they were absolute savages. Their existence was a plague to the human race. They were murderous, cannibals and rapists and if you're going to make assumptions about them interacting with Noah while he was still building the ark then imagine them trying to kill Noah and his family. It's not mentioned in Genesis anyway so it's more likely that they just didn't give a stuff about what Noah was up to because they were so busy violating God's good creation. And it wasn't rain that God promised to send. He said flood waters. It was an earth shattering explosion of water from beneath the surface of the earth and a huge out pour of water from the sky. That's not what rain looks like. Rain doesn't come from the ground and lift boats above the heights of mountains.
That's really not a story for kids. But, what a salvation of the Lord! That he would be heartbroken over the corruption of his earth and need to start all over with the one family who remained capable of having human offspring. The dread I used to feel needing to justify why God would destroy all the humans on the earth; but he didn't, the humans were saved while those who were destroyed were physical and genetic threat to the human race.
15. God is the main Character of the bible.
If the bible was a play, then Yahweh has the most lines. He's in the most scenes and has the most monoluges and rants. He is involved in the story most. His decisions drive the plot and he's the most important figure.
If you ever thought that the point of reading the bible was to somehow identify with the human characters then let me remind you, it's not top priority.
The main thing you are meant to get from it is understanding God and his character, his heart and his plans for the world. Cheering for him when he is victorious and heartbroken when people reject him.
You might not have noticed this before because he never goes through any character development; he's immutable and has always been perfect so he doesn't need to grow. But as I read his story I fall in love with him and understand him better.
You will be the one who changes as he pulls you along.