Brandon's Notepad

March 12, 2010

Sacred Scripture: Bible Overview

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 12:00 am

Home > My Research > Christianity > Sacred Scripture > Bible Overview

Serious Bible study means reading commentaries. Commentaries – at least modern ones – are often written by authors who feel compelled to cover a basic set of Bible fundamentals before actually commenting on specific scriptures and themes. I feel compelled to comment on the commentators’ fundamental materials, especially when differing viewpoints are presented. For now, this information will be summarized and commented upon in FAQ format.

What is Sacred Scripture? Sacred Scripture is the Word of God put in writing. Jews understand the Word of God in terms of laws that must be obeyed for fear fo God. Christians interpret the Word of God in terms of obedience for the love of God. Historically, both Jews and Christians operated from teachings, both oral and written. The oral teachings are called Sacred Tradition to set them apart from Sacred Scripture. Both are considered to be inspired by God and free from error, except by those Christians who denounce Sacred Tradition and operate on Scripture alone (sola scriptura).

What is the Bible? This is actually a different question than the one above. The Bible is the collection of various Scriptures, usually in a single volume, and based on an official list of writings that a particular group agrees to be authoritative.

Where is the original?

When were the scriptures written? This is a topic of much debate. Most books have a traditional date associated, but modern Bible scholarship has challenged these dates. Here are links to the date information I have compiled so far:

Who wrote the scriptures? Man physically wrote the scriptures; however, it is commonly accepted that what man wrote was divinely inspired by God. For Jews, this means the Lord as he was revealed in the Old Testament. Understanding what was revealed in the New Testament, Christians believe that the Holy Spirit provided the inspiration and that the authority to record and teach the Word of God came from Christ, the Son. Theories regarding the actual participation of man in this process vary greatly, from a blessed protection from error in writing their own words to holy dictation by which man had no real contribution other than applying ink to paper.

Who decided which books were inspired? The short and correct answer is that the Church did. More detail to come…

What criteria were used to determine which books were inspired?

What is a canon? As stated above, a Bible is a collection of writings based on a list. This official list is also called a ‘canon’. Biblical canons are now considered closed by all major Judeo-Christian sects, making them fixed and unchangable, either by decree of a convened council (e.g. Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism) or publication of a stement by an authoritative person or body (e.g. most Protestant groups). The Wikipedia articles on Biblical Canon, The Development of the Old Testament, and the Books of the Bible contain some good information on this topic.

Why is the Bible used by Jews & Protestants shorter?

Why is the Bible used by Eastern Orthodox Christians longer?

What does “deuterocanonical” mean? This term means “belonging to a second list”. With regard to Scripture, it is a specific reference to the books or sections thereof that differ between the Catholic OT canon of Scripture and the Protestant OT canon. Incidentally, the first list is called “protocanonical”.

What does “apocryphal” mean? Today, this term refers – exclusively, it would seem – to the deuterocanonical books described above. This label was applied by Protestants to imply, under the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that these books are of little or no value to Christian doctrine. The etymology of the word is much more forgiving, however. The Greek word ‘apokryphos’ simply means ‘hidden’. Ok, hdden from what? We’re not sure. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains what the original connotation may have been, and that it may not have always been negative. It goes on to name and describe several works that are considered apocryphal, and then distinguishes between those that are of Catholic origin and those that are Judaistic or heretical. In other words, this term covers a large spectrum of works in terms of usefulness in teaching the faith, and the one thing these works have in common is that they are not part of the canon. Over time, the negative connotation has dominated, so much that the Merriam-Webster dictionary synonymizes ‘apocryphal’ with ‘spurious’ and ‘fictitious’.

Why are there multiple translations?

Which translation is correct?

Which translation should I read?

Why should I read the Bible? This is the ultimate question, to which the only answer is to seek the Truth (as in “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; Jn 14:6). The OT prefigures Christ, giving us types and shadows by which we should recognize him. The NT tells us about him manifest, the fulfillment of those types and shadows. Thus, reading the Bible helps us come to know and understand God, and only then can we have a relationship with him.

How should I read the Bible? Cover-to-cover in one sitting. Just kidding. It’s important to remember that the Bible isn’t just one book (albeit a single physically-bound volume), but an anthology of writings, different books written for different purposes and in different styles (or “genres”). Each book of the Bible can be read individually, and in my experience, not without some preparation so that the reader understands what they are about to encounter. Without foreknowledge of culture, historical setting, genre, and other important factors, reading the Bible can lead to more confusion than benefit. This does not mean that you have to be a professional historian or expert on the Hebrew and Greek cultures, but it does mean that you should be open to reading and revisiting cultural book-knowledge in order to get the most out of the Bible, and realize that this book-knowledge is subject to variation because the real historians and experts don’t always agree with one another.

What should be my primary focus? The Bible can be read differently depending on what you are looking for. I particularly like author Steve Mueller’s breakdown, easily remembered using a self-evident acronym [S.Mueller-1, p. 8]:

Basic beliefs (theology)
Information (history)
Being Together (community, tradition, worship)
Life Guidelines (both moral and practical)
Expressions of Our Relationship to God (prayer)

Trying to focus on more than one or two of these at a time can lead to burnout, discouraging the reader from continuing to read (and re-read for that matter).

Should everything in the Bible be taken literally? Many people base their faith on a strictly-literal interpretation; however doing so contradicts two things already discussed. First, we know that the books of the Bible are written using different literary genres, some historical, some allegorical, some even poetic. Viewing all books as historical means ignoring or blatently denying this basic fact. Second, by over-emphasizing the historical aspect of Scripture, it is easy to lose other perspectives and to possibly miss out on important theological truths.

Does the Bible contain any errors? The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us in writing, so in that regard, no, the Bible contains no errors. The Bible, however, is not a science, math, or history textbook. A passage that contradicts a known scientific fact can be attributed to the limited knowledge of man at the time.


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