Thursday, September 30, 2010

What really is the Bible anyway?

There has never been a more controversial book written in the history of the planet. To some it is holy, to others it is simply a book of fairy tales and stories that the world would be better without: The Bible. It has also sold more copies than any other book in history and probably a large percentage of homes have at least one copy, or at least a portion of it in them.

In the light of the news this week that Westboro Baptist Church is taking their court case all the way to the US Supreme Court, I thought it would be an appropriate time to talk about what the Bible ACTUALLY is---and what it is not. And what about all these cliches that Christians throw around? What does it all actually mean?

Let's get some definitions out of the way at first. What is meant my "The Word of God"? Did God actually write it? The Sacred Scripture was written by men, but by men that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. What we as Christians believe is that God, through His Holy Spirit directed these men on what to write. Why written? Throughout all history, religions have been passed down by two means: oral traditions and written Scriptures. The two have worked together to bring the fullness of faith to His people.

First, let's look at the historical background of Scripture. The Bible is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is a history of the Jewish people and how God revealed Himself to them over several thousand years, from the beginning of time until the time that the Hebrews were returned to the Promised Land after their exile. Right off, what many people fail to recognize is that to fully understand the Old Testament you must correctly understand Hebrew literary style and Jewish History. When you look at this, what you find is that the Old Testament was not written in a Western mind's eye and there is tons of symbolism in the Old Testament; therefore, it cannot be taken literally: word for word. As an example: Was the earth created in 7/24 hour days? I don't think so. Hebrew history was written in very much an elliptical method, to describe concepts and ideas, not definite periods of time. So I personally side with a very old earth science. Millions of years? Billions? It is all within possibility. In our current western culture we are so used to writings that describe things in a literal chronological time period and this is not the case with the Old Testament.

So what is the purpose of the Old Testament? As Christians, we believe that there are numerous purposes, but the primary purpose to the Old Testament is that is draws a picture for us--a structure so to speak. Through the Torah, we can see the order in which God wanted to set for His people, a people that were to be set apart for Him. He knew, however that these people would never be able to live up to the standards he set. We can see how God hates sin and how it must be purged from our lives. The Old Testament is not just a historical book, is a foreshadowing of things to come--most importantly the coming of the Messiah when the Law of God would be brought to completion.

The validity of the Old Testament is held by the Jewish faith and lasted throughout the centuries and into the time Christ. The Tanach is broken down into two parts: Torah--The Law and Nevi'im--The Prophets all of which are almost identical to what Christians call the "Old Testament". During the time of Christ, this was Scripture, and is referred to multiple times in the New Testament.

What is very interesting about the New Testament is several things. First of all it is the history of the Christian Church and it appropriately begins with the birth of Christ. Secondly, there is very little that is actually devoted to the life of Christ and if you read through what Christ actually taught, we will see that Christ never did actually write anything personally and neither did he command anything to be written. What is also interesting is that he never did denounce the Tanach, nor did he say it was invalid. It was several years after his ascension when the apostles began to write of his teachings and we believe that the earliest writings of the New Testament began somewhere around 55A.D. with the book of Mark being the first book. As Christianity was spreading throughout the known world, the Apostles of the Church would send written letters to the fledgling Christian Churches to instruct them in their new found faith. these letters were meant to build their faith under severe persecution, to correct errors in doctrine and to teach the leaders of the local Churches. Over the next several years, there were many books that had been written, including many of which which we don't have or recognize as "inspired". The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Philip and several other are most of them. But what happened to them? Why weren't they included?

From the time of the ascension of Christ until the late 4th Century (approximately 400 years) there was NO "Bible". Teachings were taken from the Old Testament and also from these smatterings of writings. It wasn't until 393 A.D that the Council of Hippo declared which of these books were actually inspired, and the decision was repeated in 397A.D. and 419A.D. at the Councils of Carthage. At that point of history, it is of important note that there was only one Christian Church in existence: The Catholic Church. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit these men determined the books that would be included in Holy Scripture. It is also interesting to note that the Old Testament that was canonized included 6 additional books in the Old Testament: 1&2 Macabbees, Sirach, Judith, Tobit, Wisdom and Baruch. These books along with portions of Daniel and Esther were removed after the Reformation. Why?--that is another long story.

One important point to make here is that though Scripture does refer to valid historical events, it is not to be taken as a sole historical book. And conversely, it is not to be looked at as a sole source of historical events. There is so much more out there from valid historical and Church source that allow us to frame Scripture in context and history.

"Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ"--St. Jerome

As Christians, however we do believe that Scripture is more than text. There is life to us as Christians in Scripture. It should be read, absorbed and lived. There is something very special that transfers to us from the reading of what God has to say to us.

So what does all that mean to us today? What it means is that the Bible is a "family book". It is a book that is designed to speak to the people of God and to inspire faith and to draw us closer to God. Unfortunately, many Christians today have taken this book and have used it as a sword to the world. They put it on poster boards and bumper stickers as if the simple quoting of these verses to non believers as a magic formula will automatically change their minds and draw them to Christ. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. If I were to give a word of wisdom to Christians, I would say one thing: Don't quote Scripture to non believers. Why? The majority of the time, for people that are not Christians, Scripture is useless; it means nothing to them. Yet we quote it as if we know more than them and are superior to them. At the same time you are quoting Scripture, you are lying on your expense reports, cheating on your wife and beating your kids. Living your life in the manner of Christ and showing ALL PEOPLE the love and respect of Christ will do so much more for anyone than trying to preach Bible verses at them. As with any rule, there are exceptions and there are times when Scripture is appropriate..and for those times, you should always be ready and willing to use it, but always with love and respect.

1 comment:

Gardenia said...

Interesting post, Allen.