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which Bible?

What's in Your Bible? Find out at BibleStudyMagazine.comSo you say: “I believe everything in the Bible”.

Which one? Which Bible? Does that include everything in 2 Esdras? What about Judith? Ummmm… Tobit? What about that book so popular in the early church: Ecclesiasticus (even called by a churchy name)?

“Ummm…”, says Average Christian, “just a minute, let me look them up…”

“Hey, they aren’t in my Bible… What were they called again?”

So why do you believe everything in your Bible?
“Because the Bible says it is all true.”
[Just attach this argument to a dynamo and generate your home electricity supply - even better: generate my home electricity supply].

Jews and Christians throughout the centuries have produced bibles that vary in content and organization. This chart above is a sampling of the different bibles used today (you need to click it and then use your back button to return here).

Vincent Setterholm remarked in his article “What’s in Your Bible?” in Bible Study Magazine:

Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther doubted the canonicity* of the Apocrypha*, but when Luther prepared his translation of the Bible into German, he did not remove the Apocrypha; he simply moved those books to an appendix. This tradition continues in many European bibles.

The English were the first group of people to remove the Apocrypha altogether. In 1599, an edition of the Geneva Bible was published without the Apocrypha. In 1615, during the reign of King James the First, George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the penalty for printing a Bible without the Apocrypha to be a year in prison! But over the next three centuries the growing influence of Puritans and Presbyterians over the populace, the government, and the British and Foreign Bible Society led to a strong tradition of printing bibles containing only 66 books.

The situation today reflects this bifurcation. The bibles used by many European Protestants, as well as the Anglican Church, still include the Apocrypha. Most other English-speaking Protestant churches have bibles without the Apocrypha.

The early Christians used the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the First Testament. It included the Apocrypha.

The original translation of the Authorised Version (King James) cross-referenced 12 New Testament passages to the Apocrypha:

Mt 6:7 Sir 7:14
Mt 23:37 4 Ez 1:30
Mt 27:43 Wis 2:15f
Lk 6:31 Tob 4:15
Lk 14:13 Tob 4:7
Jn 10:22 1Macc 4:59
Rom 9:21 Wis 15:7
Rom 11:34 Wis 9:13
2Cor 9:7 Sir 35:9
Heb 1:3 Wis 7:26
Heb 11:35 2 Macc 7:7
Jude 1:15 Enoch 1:9

Yesterday I was listening in to a Roman Catholic debating with a Protestant. “We haven’t added seven books into the Bible – you have taken seven books out!” I mentioned that in comparison to Orthodox, Syrians, and Ethiopians – Roman Catholics had taken several books out as well (click the chart at the top of this post).

Epistemological* question: how do you know what is in the Bible and what is not? Do you just leave it up to the binder/publisher to decide? Those who follow a “Bible alone” approach to biblical truth get stuck here: the Bible doesn’t tell us what is in the Bible and what is not.

If you find this helpful/challenging/intriguing, have a look at the series:

Textual Criticism
The Septuagint (LXX)
Hebrew vowel pointing
The canon
Translation
Continuity problems
Social Cultural Historical Geographic context
Setting a trajectory
There’s also been a related post, “the pope says…

*canonicity: in the biblical canon.
*apocrypha: of questionable authenticity. [Tobid, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus...]
*epistemology: the study of how we know stuff.

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9 Responses to which Bible?

  1. I’m reminded of an aggressive fellow who cruised around our old neighborhood in a rusty old car, proudly displaying a bumper sticker that read, IF IT AIN’T KING JAMES, IT AIN’T BIBLE. On the other side of the bumper was a sticker that read KENNESAW…IT’S THE LAW. We can infer that he liked a helping of firearms with his Scriptures.

    I traded my childhood King James in for an Oxford many years ago. But there was a problem. As I grew older and crankier and my eyesight began to get dodgy, I missed that old King James because it has thick paper and nice, big twelve-point type. It also has a flexible leather cover, and it smells nice. (I don’t know why after all these years.) My response was to head over to St. Bede’s Books and have a nice, heart-to-heart chat with the owner, Beth McNamara, who happens also to be an Anglican priest. She had just the thing and sent me happily home with an NRSV full of notes and annotations, with nice, big twelve-point type and flexible leather covers. It even smells nice. The King James has been carefully preserved, the Oxford is on the shelf in case I ever need it, and the new NRSV is on my nightstand and gets read most days. I’m pretty happy, but I’m not a scholar, either.

      • That’s the one! And I prize it highly. It’s wonderful to be able to look up this or that point right then and there, and I occasionally allow myself to be lured away on biblical snipe hunts.

        There are a LOT of Bibles in this tiny apartment. For some reason, I am the Keeper of the Sacred Relics, and I have treasured Bibles going back three or four generations. What to do with them? Many are too fragile to read. I also have a lot of (male) ancestors who were Episcopal priests–no women yet–and so have their Bibles with handwritten notes, underlines, and what-have-you. I have Books of Common Prayer that pre-date 1928, several of which were carried by brides on their wedding days. What to do with all of them? I keep them on a shelf and dust them fondly, even though in several cases their owners died years before I ever got here. I’m a librarian of precious, sacred texts. But I do love and enjoy my new Bible.

  2. I’m going to quote this incorrectly, but my American Episcopal priest used to say that in seminary they were essentially asked to uphold the belief that “the bible contains everything necessary for salvation.” I always took that to mean that you DON’T have to adhere to a literalist, every-word-in-my-bible-is-true dogmatic approach. Instead, you take the bible for what it is and find in in the means of salvation. Personally, my favorite translation is “The Message”.

    In the end, I’ll never convince a hard-core literalist to see it my way, but I do think that years of studying the historical bible and its origins have led me to see it as a flexible, nuanced document –I’m okay with or without the apocrypha.

    • In a comment above, Jonathan, I lauded NRSV. If, alongside that, people were looking for a second English version, The Message would probably be the one I would suggest :-) This is my vow:

      Bishop: Do you believe that the Bible contains all that is essential for our salvation, and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?

      Candidate: Yes, I do. God give me understanding in studying the Scriptures. May they reveal to me the mind and heart of Christ, and shape my ministry.

      Blessings.

  3. Its clear Enoch since it is quoted in the New Testament as Scripture. Unfortunately I can’t find a decent modern English translation that includes it.

    I agree with you that there may be more books in the bible than the average evangelical knows about. Why should that stop me saying “I believe everything that is in the bible “. I don’t know everything that is in the book of Leviticus, but I accept its authority. So although I do not yet know what is in the book of Jubilees, if the earliest Christians regarded it as the Word of God, who am I to disagree ?

  4. ‘I don’t know everything that is in the book of Leviticus, but I accept its authority.’

    authority for what though? It’s not an acceptable modern code to live by is it.

    I may feel I have moral authority to judge someone in my heart and say their behaviour is not for me through teachings in Leviticus…but I don’t have authority to stone them to death through those writings- nor would I want to live in a society where that is an acceptable norm.

    Jesus was very clear about that particular scenario.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.