Friday, 4 September 2009

what’s in your Bible?

Interesting article in Bible Study Magazine comparing different canons of the Bible. The comparison is presented in a helpful chart which can be seen by clicking the icon below.

What's in Your Bible? Find out at

My own upbringing in a family from Protestant Belfast meant that the Apocrypha was something I always viewed with suspicion and I guess that subconsciously I didn’t think that Bibles which included it were actually Bibles. Though I read the Apocrypha for academic theological study I don’t use it for devotional study and still balk if I see an Apocryphal passage as a set reading in a service. This raises the whole question of what we mean when we say ‘This is the word of the Lord’ in worship? My conviction is that the average worshipper doesn’t have a clue what they mean by this proclamation.

On our diocesan Course in Christian Studies we encourage everyone to use a modern translation of the Bible. The one we recommend is the NRSV with Apocrypha because one of the issues we explore is the formation of the canon and why some books are seen as part of scripture and others not.

The question of what we regard as scripture, which parts we would include and what we would rather wasn’t there is as old as the writings themselves. A few years ago I received a letter from a vicar, circulated to all the clergy in our Episcopal area, calling for the removal of large sections of the Bible and urging that other ‘sacred writings’ be included. Nothing new there, good old Marcion was up to something similar in the second century.

Recently the Ship of Fools ran a forum to find the ten worst passages in the Bible and announced the results at the Greenbelt Festival. The list can be found here. What is fascinating about this list is the questions it raises about those who suggested the verses. How do they read scripture and in what way are they interpreting these verses (hermeneutics)? There is a helpful critique of the list offered by Peter Ould.

So, what’s in your Bible? More importantly, what difference does reading it make to your life?

H/T @SteveFouch on Twitter.


Yewtree said...

The Bible (especially the King James version with its sonorous poetry) is - or used to be - part of our culture. OK, so I haven't read Leviticus or some of the obscurer prophets, and I skipped all the lists of who begat whom, but I have read most of the rest of it, and I still think it is part of our culture. It inspired loads of art and music, the legal system is based on it, and so on. Apparently a huge percentage of young people have no idea what happened at Easter.

I think people should be aware of the beliefs of the world's religions, at least in outline. Hmm, must get around to reading the Koran and the Guru Granth Sahib etc. I have read the Tao Te Ching (highly recommended).

Much more credit should be given to William Tyndale's version, as much of the text of the King James Version is based on it. And look at all the everyday phrases people use which come from the Bible - "land of milk and honey", "the meek shall inherit the earth" and so on. AS Byatt wrote a short story about this, bemoaning the loss of these phrases from our speech. The one I particularly remember her quoting was "Here is the butter in a lordly dish" - apparently from the story of Jael, who killed her husband with a tent-spike (after bringing him the butter in a lordly dish). There's also a painting of Jael in the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth.

There are inspiring bits in the Bible (Song of Songs, Beatitudes, etc), but I definitely would not go around taking it all literally. I think it's a good idea to have a couple of translations to hand, and to be aware of the context in which the text was written.

I am not a Christian (I am Unitarian and Wiccan), but I regard the Bible as one of the great books of the world. When I do read it, I do so with all my critical faculties on full alert, and try to keep in mind the great books of other traditions, to see where there are parallels.

Philip Ritchie said...

Yewtree, thanks for your comments. I agree about the place of the Bible in our culture and history and blogged about this a few months ago.

However, I would want to go further. Christianity is centred on faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. The primary source for discovering what God has done for us through Jesus is the Bible and so the Bible is much more than a cultural artefact. I do not see it as just one of many sacred texts to be compared and contrasted in a relativistic way, but the key text which informs my faith as testifying to the One through whom God has revealed his purposes for the world.

I agree that we should not abandon our critical faculties (they are a gift from God) when reading the Bible nor take it all literally. By that I mean that we recognise the literary forms of scripture and seek to discern how they are to be read and applied. However, there is a sense in which the witness of scripture is 'foolishness to the Greeks' and challenges the rationalistic and scientific reductionism of our age. The classic example of this would be the resurrection of Christ. Reason may argue that this is an impossibility but faith responds and the Bible testifies that all things are possible through the God and Father of our Lord jesus Christ.

Anyway, thanks again for your comments.