Sacred Writings

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The Bible

  • The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word ‘Biblia’ meaning a collection of books.
  • The Christian Bible is split into two sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament
  • The word ‘Testament’ comes from a Latin word which means ‘Covenant’ – an agreement
  • Christians believe the covenant between God and humanity was renewed in the death of Jesus hence the terms old and new

The Old Testament

  • The Old Testament contains the same books as the Hebrew Bible – The Tenakh
  • The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew
  • The first five books of the Bible are traditionally ascribed to Moses and are referred to as the Torah
  • The Old Testament contains different types of writings:
    • Law
    • Prophecy
    • Poetry
    • Liturgy
    • History
  • The Torah contains the early history of the Israelite, their relationship with God and the giving of the Law

The Septuagint

  • By the 4th century BCE the Jewish community had dispersed throughout the Greek speaking world
  • Many Jews could no longer understand Hebrew
  • Tradition says that a Greek translation was made by 70 translators which became known as the Septuagint
  • The Septuagint was used extensively in synagogues where Greek was commonly spoken Christian missionaries in the first century would have been familiar with this translation

The Apocrypha and Deutro-Canonical

  • The Septuagint contained an extra 15 books that were not part of the Hebrew canon (official list of books)
  • When the Bible was translated into Latin they were included as part of the Old Testament
  • When Martin Luther had the Bible translated into German he noticed that these books were not included in the original Hebrew Bible
  • Some Protestant Bibles do not include any of these extra books. Other Protestant Bibles contain them but group them together in a section between the Old Testament and the New Testament called the ‘Apocrypha’
  • ‘Apocrypha’ is a Latin word meaning ‘that which is hidden’
  • The Catholic Church acknowledges that these books are of secondary importance and so refers to them as ‘Deutro-Canonical’
  • Catholic Bibles include these extra books in the main body of the Old Testament The order and number of the books in the Old Testament differ in Catholic and Protestant Bibles

The New Testament

  • The New Testament was written in Greek
  • It contains the writings of the Early Church
  • The canon (list of books) of the New Testament was not agreed by the Church until 367 CE
  • Gospels and letters which were not included in the canon are referred to as ‘Apocrypha’

Genre in the New Testament

  • Different types of writings include:
    • Gospels
    • History of the Early Church
    • Letters
    • Apocalyptic Literature
  • The earliest parts of the New Testament are St Paul’s letters to the various churches
  • The Gospels tell of the life and teachings of Jesus
  • The History of the Early Church is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and was probably written by Luke
  • The Book of Revelation contains strange visions of the future and is also known as the Book of the Apocalypse

The Gospels

  • The word ‘Gospel’ comes from the Old English word ‘godspel’ meaning ‘Good News’ and is a direct translation of the Greek word ‘euanggelion’ from which we get the modern word ‘Evangelist’ – a bringer of good news
  • Before the Gospels were written down they were passed down by word of mouth – this is known as ‘oral tradition’
  • The Gospels probably weren’t written down because the Early Church believed that Jesus would return within the life time of the Apostles
  • Mark’s Gospel is probably the earliest as it is though it was written in Rome by Mark, a disciple of St Peter, during the persecution of the Church by the Emperor Nero (c. 68 CE)
  • The first three Gospels take a very similar view to the events of Jesus’ life and are therefore known as the Synoptic Gospels
  • Only Matthew and Luke have stories about Jesus’ birth
  • John’s Gospel is very different from the others with long discourses

The Synoptic Problem

  • The Synoptic Problem is basically a question of who copied off whom
  • Most scholars agree that Mark was the first followed by Matthew and then Luke
  • Some scholars think that there was a lost source document which they called Q
Two Source Theory
  • Other scholars think there is no need for this Q source if Luke was able to copy off both Mark and Matthew
Single Source Theory

Bible Translations

  • St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 5th century – this is known as the Vulgate and was the standard text of the RC Church
  • Martin Luther wanted people to read the Bible in their own language and so had the Bible translated into German
  • There were many attempts to translate the Bible into English. King James VI had the Bible translated into English in 1607 (KJV)
  • Today there are many modern translations in English e.g. Good News, New International, New Jerusalem, Amplified Version

Interpretation of the Bible

There are several ways in which the Bible is interpreted:
  • Literalists believe that there is no room for reinterpreting the Bible. Literalists believe the world was created in six twenty-four hour periods
  • Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is completely inspired by God, and cannot contain errors. When the writer of Genesis mentions God creating things in a day, we can understand this as meaning a period of time e.g. could be a thousand years.
  • Conservatives believe the Bible was inspired by God. The Bible is not a scientific text. In Creation story the important point being made is that God is the Creator of the world.
  • Liberals believe God guided the writers of the Bible but they could make mistakes. The Bible contains the God's Word but needs to be interpreted. For a liberal the creation story in Genesis is a myth composed to illustrate truth i.e. the nature of evil, the basic goodness of the Creation.

Use of the Bible in Private Worship

  • Many Christians find it helpful to follow a set of readings for the day.
  • Others many attempt to read the Bible a book at a time, using a commentary to help them understand difficult passages.
  • Others may want to study a particular theme and use a concordance to look up certain words.
  • Many people find reading the Bible difficult to understand and therefore may join a Bible study group, which meets weekly to discuss a particular passage.
  • Many Christians use the Bible as an aid or as part of their daily prayer. They may meditate on a few words of scripture at a time, allowing God to speak to them

Use of the Bible in Public Worship

All Christian denominations use the Bible in their services. Particular passages are read from the Bible in not only the weekly celebration of Holy Communion but also during services which mark special events in people’s lives. For example, at a baptism it is not uncommon for the account of Jesus’ own baptism to be read, whilst at a wedding the account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana and the story of the resurrection may be read at a funeral.

The Bible is also important for weekly services. In a Catholic Church, for example, the first part of the mass, called the Liturgy of the Word, consists of the following:

  • A reading from the Old Testament
  • A psalm (which is read or sung)
  • A reading from one of the letters in the New Testament
  • A reading from one of the Gospels

Respect for the Bible in the Catholic Church

  • Readings from the Bible are contained in a special book called a ‘Lectionary’ where all the readings for the day are grouped together for ease of use.
  • The congregation may follow the readings in a ‘missal’
  • The Lectionary may be processed in front of the priest at the start of the service
  • The Lectionary is placed on a lectern
  • The congregation listens to the readings in silence
  • Only a priest or a deacon may read the Gospel
  • The Gospel is greeted with an acclamation
  • The congregation stand facing Gospel
  • The Gospel may be incensed before it is read
  • The priest proclaims the Gospel e.g. ‘A reading according to the Gospel of Luke’. The congregation respond with ‘Glory to you Lord’
  • The congregation may bless themselves, making the sign of the cross, on their forehead, lips and heart
  • After reading the priest may kiss the Gospel

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