If you are a serious student of the Scriptures you probably own one. It’s certain there is one in your pastor’s study, and likely in the church library. It is regarded as one of the ‘must have’ resources for any student of scripture. But how did it come to be? It’s not a long story, but it’s one worth telling.
In 1898 Henry Hampton Halley was ordained as a pastor and quickly developed a reputation as a meticulous scholar. Whenever he entered the pulpit he could be seen to carry with him a sheaf of notes that he would follow diligently as he delivered his sermon for that day. After preaching in this manner for a number of years he was forced to take a number of years off from full time preaching because of ill health.
As his health returned he was asked to preach at the church of a friend and fellow pastor. He eagerly agreed to do so but in his eagerness to get back into the pulpit, found himself standing there on the fateful day without his notes.
What to do? After a moments thought he remembered the promise from Isaiah 55:11, “...so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” With this thought in mind he simply began to recite scripture. Not just a few verses, but whole passages, entire chapters, complete stories from the Bible told word for word just as they appeared in scripture. [Author’s aside: Those of you who know me as a Biblical storyteller now know why I find his story interesting.] It seems that during his prolonged period of illness Henry had occupied his time by memorizing large portions of scripture. It has been estimated that he could recite scripture passages for upwards of 25 hours before running out of material.
The response over-whelmed him. They invited him back to recite more passages. Other churches also invited him. Before reciting a passage, he always gave an explanation of its context. You see, Henry Halley didn’t just study the Bible, he studied everything he could about the Bible; geography, customs, rituals, traditions and habits, everything he could find that would help him to understand the context of the passages. People tried to jot down what he said. One pastor even went so far as to hire a stenographer to take notes. But Henry found her typing and shuffling so distracting that he decided to create and hand out his own notes wherever he appeared.
The first set of notes were 16 pages long. The second 24 pages. They grew from there, with more and more pages being added as his storehouse of knowledge grew. By his 90th birthday the notes numbered almost 1,000 pages. Halley’s Bible Handbook became a published work, available to any who desired it. It became an immediate best seller.
Most historians agree that its popularity was owing not only to its usefulness--it featured maps, outlines of Bible books, archaeological discoveries and much more--but to the honor it accorded to God. Henry Halley always emphasized that the Bible is God's word, that "every Christian should be a constant and devoted reader of the Bible..." His handbook was designed to make sure its readers received the maximum benefit from their reading.
The other reason for its popularity is that it bears no denominational, or interpretational ‘bent’ whatsoever. Henry stuck to the facts he could discover about that Bible and left his own opinions out of it. His handbook was "not designed as a textbook, but rather as a handy, brief manual of a popular nature, for the average Bible reader who has few or no commentaries or reference works on the Bible." For this reason pastors, preists, scholars, teachers, and everyday Bible readers could benefit from Henry’s work regardless of what their own belief about the Bible’s meaning might be.
After Henry Halley died in 1965, he was buried in Lexington, Kentucky. New editions of the Handbook continued to be issued by his family.
The creator of Halley’s Bible Handbook was born on Aril 10, 1874 — 133 years ago this week.
Other events that happened this week - April 8-14
April 8, 1546 - At its fourth session, the Council of Trent adopts the Vulgate, Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible, as the only authentic Latin text of the Scriptures. It became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. Jeromes translation was completed in 405.
April 9, 1906 - In Los Angeles, Holiness minister William Seymour and several associates experience what they called the "baptism of the Spirit," marked by speaking in tongues. This launched the three-year "Azusa Street Revival," considered the first major public event of Pentecostalism.
April 11, 1506 - Pope Julius II lays the foundation for the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Builders delayed its completion until 1626 (120 years later) due to its immense cost, size, and numerous disputes with a number of popes. Indulgences sold to fund the construction drew criticism from Protestant reformers, most memorably Martin Luther. In was in response to these indulgences that Luther first posted his 95 Thesis.
April 12, 1204 - The Fourth Crusade sacks Constantinople, an allied city they were actually sent to save. The attack virtually destroyed the Byzantine Empire and ruined any hope of reunifying eastern and western Christians.
April 13, 1742 - Handel's famous oratorio Messiah premieres in Dublin's Fishamble Street Musick Hall and is met with critical praise.
April 14, 73 - According to Jewish historian Josephus, 967 Jewish zealots committed mass suicide within the fortress of Masada on this last night before the walls were breached by the attacking Roman Tenth Legion. (Two women and five children survived by hiding in a cistern, and were later released unharmed by the Romans.)