Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Biblical Faith: Notes from Dec. 17

The Bible – Fasten your seatbelts: We are doing a tour of the Bible from 40,000 feet. 
You will also find on the posting from tonight a list of biblical resources, and a homework assignment.

Here we go....

Tonight we will discuss the origins and history of the Bible. This is a lot of information that will come your way, some of it very basic. Consider tonight as foundational to all the rest we do in this course:

The word: Bible:

English derived from Old French bible, based on Latin biblia, and Greek biblios. All mean “books” for that is what the Bible is – a collection of books, an encylopedia of the relationship between God and God’s people.

The Christian Bible has Old Testament and New Testament.

Three religions lay claim to the OT, each with their own way of organizing an interpreting it. Judiasm and Christianity have evolved on parallel paths, neither is the same religion they were 2,000 yrs ago. Islam also considers Bible sacred, and the Koran draws from both the new and old testament – there is even in the Koran a story of the virgin birth of Jesus.

The Old Testament is the Christian name for the Hebrew Scriptures, which contains 24 books written primarily in Hebrew and a few passages in Aramaic, which was a common street language in Biblical times, the language of Jesus.

The Hebrew Scriptures are organized differently than the Christian Old Testament. The Hebrew organization reflects a ranking of the importance of the books:

The Law (torah)
The Prophets (nebi’im)
The Writings (ketubim)

The Hebrew letters are often used as a Hebrew abbreviation for the whole thing, hence you will see Jewish bibles labled “Tanakh”

Greek Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) – Paul used that; was organized differently

The Christian OT organized differently

Chapters and Numbers
For quality control in copying, the copiers would count the letters. The count had to come out exact or they knew they forgot something.
Eventually chapters and verse numbers were added for quality control
Do you memorize a favorite “verse” from Hemmingway? That was not the purpose of the chapters and verses.


Organized into three sections:
Gospels – “Good News” of the life of Jesus
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles (Part II of Luke)
Epistles – or letters of Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude and unknown authors
Apocolyptic – Revelation of John

NT organization essentially reflects the importance of the documents (gospels first, Revelation last) and the length within each section (Romans the longest Paul letter, so it goes first).

Emphasize: The documents are not arranged chronologically – the first NT document written is probably 1 Thess and it is in the middle of the pack. The first gospel written is in all likelihood MK.

Please notice: Nothing in the NT is called “The book of…”


OT is written in Hebrew
Problem: To save space, they left out the vowels. So we don’t exactly know what all the words are; plus, in Jewish piety, don’t ever say or write God’s name – so YHWH;
Several names for God; they are translated differently in English bibles; for example YHWH is translated as LORD (in capitals) in English bibles.

NT is written in Greek
Problem: To save space, they smushed all the words together (in capitals) and left out the punctuation

Greek is a dead language. Translation problems: “Epiousion”
Translated usually as “daily”
But it appears only once in Mt and Lk in the Lord’s prayer
Origen said it means “bread that we need”
Jerome said it means “super-substantial” – implies Eucharistic bread

German problem
English bibles borrow from German bibles (Luther)
“Jesus” is Germanized from Latin “Jesu”
“Jesu: is from Greek Ιησος which is from Hebrew Jeshua, or “Joshua”
So you’d be accurate to say “Joshua Christ” although no one would know what you are talking about.
Christ, by the way, is from Χριστο, or “anointed one” – Christ is not his last name; so “Jesus Christ” translated literally means “Joshua, the anointed one.”

Biblical Canon
What was accepted as authentic, or “canon” in the Bible was a long and complex process; it took 1,000 years or more of development.

Probably by the end of the First century AD (time of Jesus) the 24 Hebrew books were accepted by Jews as canon; in Alexandria, development near that time of Greek version; important to Jews as they were dispersed to have some accepted set of books accepted as authoritative.

But it is impossible to know what Jesus would have considered authoritative.
Paul used the LXX; the only “Bible” Jesus and Paul would have know would have been the Jewish bible.

Early church had a smattering of books; there was an explosion of early Christian testaments and “gospels.” Meanwhile, Hebrew books also coming on scene – Ben Sirah (or Eccesiastes), known as “Apocryphal” (meaning “outside” books) or “intertestamental” in contemporary parlance. RC and Eastern churches accepted these while Jews generally rejected.

There was NO canon of NT books until middle of second century. Everyone doing their own thing, each church with their own gospel and letters. For example, Alexandria had Mark while Antioch heard Matthew.

It became imperative to have a canon because of Marcion heresy – Marcion held that only his version of Lk and 10 letters of Paul were canon – all else, including OT, were rejected.
So, the early church fathers needed to settle the question – what was the bible?
We’ll talk more abt that in NT segment – but foretaste: Revelation widely considered over the top, Gospel of John barely made it.

Councils at Hippo 393, Carthage 397 recognized a 27 book canon, but unanimity was never fully achieved; Syrian church went with 22. The 27-book canon is the list of Athanasius of Alexandria in 367.

English Bibles
The English Bible was hard-born, the product not of objective translators sitting in a sanitary laboratory, but of the product of a long and sometimes violent history.

IMPORTANT: Those who controlled the Word of God controlled how people perceived God, and those perceptions matter a great deal to the institutions of churches, and in turn, to public order and governments. It is naïve not to see the Bible as a politically charged document.

What for us is the Bible?

• History of God’s people.
• History of the perceptions of God by a particular people at a particular time; it their story, they wrote it in their language with their imagery.
• A set of laws about living in relationship to God and to each other.
• Advice for living a “good life.”
• A dialogue – sometimes even a debate – about the nature of God and the wisdom of sticking with conventional ideas for life.
• “Good News” of salvation brought by Jesus.
• A series of “proofs” about Jesus.
• Doctrines.
• A prayer book – It would be totally dead without it being part of the conversation between humanity and God.
• And more…

Why we read the Bible in church:
The story of salvation. The story of our ancestors and how Goid saved them. We read the story to make it ours. Hebrew concept of remembering.

Bible is written to be heard in the context of worship corporate or as individuals in private.
Oral document – meant to be heard, not read.

Written to tell us about God. It is not just about us, that makes it tricky as human history. Sacred document, sacred texts, should not be tested the same way.

That makes the Bible more than the sum of its parts, but a sacred document that is in dialogue with the reader/hearer. It is our Bible, as much ours as those who wrote it, because it is our story we hear, not just the story of long ago.

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