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The Bible says 4

This is the fourth in a series attempting to nuance the statement, “The Bible says…” I encourage you to read the story so far:
Textual Criticism
The Septuagint (LXX)
Hebrew vowel pointing

The canon

If you say, “The Bible says in Matthew 5:6, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.'” you are probably a Christian.
If you say, “The Bible says in Genesis 1:5, ‘God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.'” you could be a Christian, or a Jew, or a Samaritan.
If you say, “The Bible says in the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1, ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.'” you could be a Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican.
If you say, “The Bible says in the Book of Enoch 1:8, “the just he will give peace, and will protect the chosen, and mercy will abide over them, and they will all be God’s, and will be prosperous and blessed, and the light of God will shine for them.” you are probably Ethiopian Orthodox.

And so on. And so on.

The point is, the “Bible” is a library of books, “works”, scrolls. Different communities bind together different collections of such scrolls and call it their Bible.

Some people put significance upon the order in which the scrolls are bound together – interpreting the latter in the light of the former, for example. But the order in which books are bound varies also.

Some people treat the conclusion of the scroll of Revelation as if the author is referring to the whole collection of books now bound together in one binding (a codex): ” I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev 22:18-19) Obviously the author was making no reference to bound together scrolls, codices, nor had any idea where this scroll would be placed in any ordering of scrolls.

The categories into which works are bound together also varies. The 39 Old Testament Books of protestantism are arranged as 24 books in the Jewish Tanakh. There are 66 books in the Protestant Bible. There are 81 books in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. Christians list Joshua, Judges, Kings, and Samuel amongst the historical books, while Jews place them in the Nevi’im, the prophets.

We do not agree about what is in the Bible, nor by what criteria, nor in which order, nor in which categories. We say, “The Bible says…” with some care, and some humility…

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4 thoughts on “The Bible says 4”

  1. Hi Bosco,
    I appreciate the point (I think) you are making in these posts: ‘the Bible’ is not quite the monolithic, universal, unchangeable book that the phrase ‘the Bible says’ implies. I also appreciate that you are not saying we should not say ‘the Bible says’ but that we should say it with care.

    I wonder, however, if the point is all that important!

    (1) Are there any important doctrines which are at stake here?*

    (2) Do not the differences boil down to differences in the extent and the underlying text of the Old Testament?

    (3) Since Christianity’s scriptural base to its doctrines is not merely ‘the OT and NT’ but also ‘the OT viewed through the lens of the NT’, is it possible to speak responsibly ‘the Bible says
    providing this means ‘as understood in respect of the OT’s voice being filtered through the NT’?

    I am not asking you to answer these questions by posting them, but offering them as a response to your posts.

    *To be clear on one implication: I do not understand the Virginity of Mary to rest upon the distinction between ‘young woman’ and ‘virgin’, cf. LXX/MT of Isaiah.

    1. Thanks Peter for your contribution.

      To clarify this post: many tend to treat the Bible as a single book. It is not. It is a collection of scrolls; and in giving this particular collection of scrolls, bound together in this particular order, certain authority we are implicitly giving authority to the process and people and community that did the selecting. That realisation and acknowledgment changes our relationship with the scrolls and with that community and allows for the possibility of other such processes.

      Whether any particular “doctrine” is “important” can be subjective. I had not thought of your example of the virginity of Mary as being affected by accurately translating the MT, but it is a good example of differences about what is “important”. Some will regard this as a “very important doctrine” whilst others will not regard it as significant at all.

      I do not want to become distracted from this thread (other commenters please note) by starting debating individual doctrines here, but an obvious one that springs to mind is praying for those who have died (Sirach 7:37; 2 Maccabees 12:43-46). Some denominations must, some may, and some must/may not. Again whether someone finds this “important” or not is subjective. It might have helped if the scriptures had had a list ranking doctrines from most important to not important at all.

      Many Christians argue circularly from 2 Tim 3:16 that their particular collection of scrolls is inspired. Putting aside the different possible translation of this verse (“all scripture is inspired…” or “all inspired scripture…”), the verse appears to refer to the Old Testament, the very collection of which you highlight Christians are in disagreement about.

      The scriptures are much, much more than merely a source for “doctrines”. If that were the case, why didn’t God organise them more clearly and coherently? Bible-alone Protestantism agrees on the canon but increasingly fragments over disagreements about doctrine.

      IMO the bishops meeting at the Second Vatican Council said it well:

      The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).

  2. The Holy Bible alone OR The Holy Bible Plus Oral Tradition?

    Matthew 23:2-3 – chair of Moses; observe whatever they tell you (Moses chair was a prefigurement of the chair of St. Peter.)
    Mark 13:31 – Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words won’t
    Mark 16:15 – go to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature
    John 12:25 – not everything Jesus said was recorded in Scripture
    Acts 20:35 – sayings of Jesus were not recorded in the Gospels
    Romans 10:17 – faith comes from what is heard
    1 Corinthians 11:2 – commends them for following Apostolic tradition
    1 Corinthians 15:1-2 – being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached
    2 Thessalonians 2:15 – hold fast to traditions, whether oral or by letter
    2 Timothy 1:13 – follow my sound words; guard the truth
    2 Timothy 2:2what you heard entrust to faithful men
    1 Peter 1:25 – God’s eternal word equals the word preached to you
    2 Peter 1:20 – no prophecy is a matter of private interpretation
    2 Peter 3:15-16 – Paul’s letters can be difficult to grasp and interpret
    St. Athanasius (360AD) – let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian…. (Four Letters to Serapion of Thmius 1, 28)
    Origen (230AD) – “The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession, from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as truth which is in no way in variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.” (Fundamental Doctrines 1, preface, 2.)

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