The Bible

 

What is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by at least 40 different authors over a period of about 1500 years.  It is divided into two parts. The first of the Bible is called the Old Testament. It tells the story of how God revealed himself in the life and history of the nation of Israel. The father of the nation was Abraham. Generations later, God revealed himself to Moses and gave to Israel the laws on which the life of Israel was to be based, notably the Ten Commandments. Over the following centuries the stories and messages of leaders, kings, prophets, poets and heroes were preserved and committed to writing in Hebrew.

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Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew who inherited this great national tradition.The accounts of his life – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are the foundational documents of the second part of the Bible, known as the New Testament. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’ because this is how the the first Christians thought of the story and message of Jesus. Also included in the New Testament is the book of Acts, which tells the story of the growth of the early Church, and various letters written to encourage and teach the first Christians by the leaders of the church (known as Apostles), notably Paul, John and Peter. The various books that make up the New Testament were written in Greek. Most historians accept that all the books of the New Testament were written within the same century Jesus lived.

Luke begins his his account of the life of Jesus: 

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Whilst none of the original manuscripts survive, historians generally accept that the original writings were copied carefully so that the ancient manuscripts that do survive preserve the words of the original writings fairly accurately. The oldest surviving complete copy of the New Testament is found in Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from about 350 AD. However, many fragments of the New Testament dating from as early as 2nd century AD survive.

 
How was the Bible formed? 

 

During the history of Israel and of the early Church, many religious documents were written about the life and faith of God’s people. Only some of these documents came to be regarded as scripture inspired by God. Over the centuries, a kind if sifting process took place. The list or ‘canon’ of books regarded as being sacred or holy by the Jews was settled more than 100 years before the time of Jesus. The Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament – had been accepted for many centuries. The Christian literature regarded as scripture inspired by God was settled at the Synod of Hippo in 393AD. However, the four gospels and the letters of Paul had been regarded as scriptural and authoritative from earliest times in the Church.

 

What do Christians believe about the Bible?

 

Throughout the history of the Christian Church it has been accepted that scripture – the sacred writings that are included in the Bible – is inspired by God. That means that God worked in the hearts and minds of the various authors of the Bible to ensure that what was written is what God wanted to be written in order to teach and instruct future generations.  In a letter written by the Apostle Paul – that itself came to be regarded as part of scripture in due course – it says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Christians refer to the Bible as ‘The Word of God’ because it is ‘God-breathed’ or inspired by God. To affirm the inspiration of scripture is not to deny that the Bible reflects the personalities, views and limitation of the various human authors.

Along with believing in the inspiration of Scripture, Christians believe in the authority of Scripture to determine Christian beliefs and practices.

 
Interpreting the Bible.

 

All literature, including the Bible, requires interpretation. The various genres or styles of writing included in the Bible affect how it is interpreted. The Bible includes historical narratives, but also fictional storytelling, poetry, law, letters and mythology. Christians regard Jesus Christ as being the heart of scripture.  The Bible must be interpreted in the light of Jesus, and individual verses must be interpreted in the light of the whole of scripture.  Christians also have a centuries old interpretive tradition to draw upon to help in understanding the Bible today. 

Biblical fundamentalism is the tendency of interpreting the Bible literally, failing to take account of the different genres that make up scripture.  Fundamentalism also tends to have a very narrow interpretive tradition that is resistant to re-thinking and modifying points of view. 

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