The Bible has come a long way. In the beginning was the Word, but it took
a while for the hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible to be composed,
written down, painstakingly copied, preserved, passed around, tested, accepted, collected together, bound into book form and translated to give us the Bibles we have available to us today.
Its use, status, standing and influence have waxed and waned across the centuries. The Bible was once trusted and read far more widely in Western society than it is today. It has been a book of great significance in shaping thought, the arts, literature, systems of government and so on. English literature and art alone are difficult to fully appreciate and understand without knowledge of the Bible. As Marilyn Robinson writes:
The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those
of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know. Works of literature are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical—indeed, even when they are unintentional — they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition. (1)
But while it is generally believed to be the most published, distributed, read,
and influential book in history, it is being increasingly sidelined—even by
Christians. Some estimates suggest that as few as 20% of Christians read
the Bible regularly. (2) There are many possible reasons for the reduction in the
importance of the Bible as part of daily life, including crowded lives, competing
philosophies, and challenges from science. But as well as the pressures of
life and other distractions, there are some who have lost faith in the Bible as
a reliable book and struggle to see it as relevant. We hear constant references to
the failures of the Bible, most recently from the New Atheists.
James Pietsch in his article on the relationship between critical thinking and Christianity, addresses the importance of facing such doubts and challenging them head on as we persevere in the faith. One approach to restoring confidence in the Bible is to combat the ignorance that exists, even within the
church, about the Bible: Where did it come from? Is it genuine? Who wrote
it and when? How early and reliable are the oldest copies? How consistent is it
with other sources from antiquity? Why are there so many different versions? Is
there any coherent unity to its diverse elements? This issue of Case aims to
shed a little light on some of these issues as it explores the Bible’s story.
Andrew Shead addresses the question of the biblical canon: How and why did various texts come to be included in or excluded from the Bible over the centuries? Staying with history, archaeologist Karin Sowada looks at what archaeology can — and cannot — tell us about the people, places and events recorded in the Bible’s pages.
Turning to the story within the Bible’s pages, David Höhne examines the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. He concludes that the writers of the Bible shared the understanding that they were writing different chapters of a single unified metanarrative: the story of God’s love for the world he had created, and the salvation of his lost people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We have also included brief accounts of the holy books of the other two great Abrahamic faiths—Judaism and Islam. Old Testament scholar, George Athas, explains what constitutes the Jewish Tanakh, and how it relates to the Old Testament and other sacred Jewish texts, such as the Talmud and Mishnah. Samuel Green from ‘Engaging with Islam’ (3) does the same for Islamic texts, explaining the origins, nature and structure of the Qur’an, and its relationship with the Christian Bible.
Our ‘Books and Ideas’ segment also includes a review and excerpt of Into the
World of the New Testament, providing Bible readers with background know-ledge of the context in which Jesus lived and the New Testament was written. The excerpt examines the different strands of religious thought around at the time of Jesus, including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Samaritans.
The segment closes with a review of a collection of writings by previous Case author, Edwin Judge: Engaging Rome and Jerusalem.
I hope you enjoy this issue. ©
E N D N O T E S
1 M. Robinson, ‘The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible’, New York Times, 22 December 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
2 GSI Report, NCLS 2006, February 2011; P. Hughes, & C. Pickering, Milk to Meat Bible Engagement Report (milktomeat.com.au, 2010); and Bible Engagement among Young Australians: Patterns and Social Drivers,
unpublished research report initiated by the Bible Society and other partners.
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