Characters of the Bible

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Biblical Figures
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There are many stories of people in the Bible that give insight into history and culture and life. The central figure in the Bible is God who was revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God revealed himself to Abraham who is a key figure in Genesis. He revealed himself to the Moses who delivered the Israelites out of slavery, and to David whom he made king over Israel. There is much to learn from every character in the Bible.


God is the central figure of the Bible. The Bible opens in Genesis 1:1 with the words that God created the universe. The following chapters and books then focus on God's revelation of himself to the world and their acceptance or rejection of him. In the New Testament it becomes apparent that God himself became the man Jesus. As John puts it in John 1:1, Jesus (the Word) was God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Early Genesis

The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis give an account of some of the first humans beginning with the first man Adam, his wife Eve, their children Cain, Abel and Seth and Seth's descendent Noah. Many Christians accept that these people were actual real figures in history. Some Christians however believe that these stories are more like parables that explain the human condition and point to one God who created everything.

The Patriarchs

The second half of Genesis describes the story of the Patriarchs. The Patriarchs were the fore-fathers of ancient Israel and include Abraham, Isaac. Jacob and his 12 sons. The patriarchal period refers to the time from Abraham (around 1,800 BC) to Joseph, the son of Jacob.

Moses and the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan

The Book of Exodus records that the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years following the time of the Patriarchs. Their rescue from slavery was predominantly through God's amazing intervention through the work of one man Moses. Following their exodus from Egypt the people invaded the land of Canaan led by Joshua, the successor of Moses.

The Time of the Judges

Following the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites, the people were led by judges such as Samson and Gideon. A biblical judge (not to be confused with modern day legal judges) was a person that God called to be a deliver to the people of Israel in a time of need.

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Following the time of the judges, Israel was ruled by kings. The first king was Saul who was succeeded by David and then his son Solomon. After this the kingdom broke up into a northern half and southern half, both of which continued to be ruled by absolute monarchs.

The Prophets and the Exile and Return

During the time of the kings the people of Israel and Judah continued to fall away from God into pagan beliefs and practices. God raised up men such as Elijah and Isaiah to call the people back to him. These men were known as prophets. Ultimately, as the books of the kings explains, the people did not respond and God brought about the invasion and exile of first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom. Around the time of the exile, prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel continued to call on the people to repent and turn to God and brought God's promise to return the people of Judah back to their homeland - something which eventually happened under Cyrus, ruler of the Persian Empire.

Following the return, Jerusalem including its walls and temple were rebuilt under the guidance of leaders such as Nehemiah.

Jesus, the Apostles and the first Christians

After the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Bible is quiet on the state of Israel and its people until the coming of John the Baptist who announced the way for Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels and book of Acts describe the earthly life of Jesus and describe his followers. His closest followers were known as the 12 apostles and include men such as Peter, John and Paul, all of whom were instrumental in the early church. The apostles and the early Christians stories were recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the first book to follow the Gospels in the New Testamant.

Traditional Beliefs of the 12 Apostles and Early Christianity

  • Thomas. According to tradition, the apostle Thomas traveled to India and brought the Christian faith the country. The community is today called St. Thomas Christians.[1]
  • Mark. In the faith and traditions of the Coptic Church, the apostle Mark is said to have introduced Christianity to Egypt.[2]
  • Matthew and Bartholomew. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has the tradition that they introduced Christianity to the Ethiopian people.[4]
  • Philip. The Acts of Apostles has the narrative of Philip converting to Christianity an Ethiopian treasurer who was visiting what is now Israel. There is some reason to believe Christianity may have first been introduced to Ethiopia with that event:

Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian.

This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure.

(Acts, 8:26–27)

  • James. According to Spanish tradition, he brought Christianity to Spain. He is the patron saint of Spain.[5]
  • Peter. Peter was Patriarch of Antioch, in what is now Syria.[6]
  • John. According to tradition, John worked with the first Christians in Ephesus, in what is now Turkey.[7]
  • Andrew. According to tradition, Andrew brought Christianity to what is now modern-day Ukraine, along the coast of the Black Sea. It was is held that he travelled up the Dnieper River to what is now Kiev. He is the patron saint of Ukraine and Russia.[8]
  • Simon. Simon the Zealot was claimed to have brought Christianity to Great Britain.

Nikephoros I of Constantinople wrote:

Simon born in Cana of Galilee who for his fervent affection for his Master and great zeal that he showed by all means to the Gospel, was surnamed Zelotes, having received the Holy Ghost from above, travelled through Egypt, and Africa, then through Mauretania and all Libya, preaching the Gospel. And the same doctrine he taught to the Occidental Sea, and the Isles called Britanniae.[9]

  • Matthias. After the suicide of Judas Iscariot, Matthias became the 12th apostle. According to tradition, especially among the Greek Orthodox, Matthais brought Christianity to the mountainous region of what is now Central Turkey.[10]

The missionary work and introduction of Christianity to different parts of the world by the apostles is composed a great deal by traditional beliefs in individual Christian communities that trace their knowledge of Christianity to different apostles. However, the beliefs are not required beliefs for the entire Christian community













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