What is the “Bible”?

The Rev. Jim Richardson, Priest-in-Charge

The English word “Bible” is based on the Latin biblia and the Greek biblios. The word means “books” for that is what the Bible is – a collection of books, an encyclopedia of stories, laws, biographies, histories, prophetic visions and even novels and satires.

Two religions lay claim to the Old Testament, each with its own way of organizing an interpreting it. Judaism and Christianity have evolved on parallel paths, and each religion organizes the Bible differently.

The Old Testament is the Christian name for the Hebrew Scriptures, which contains 24 books written primarily in Hebrew and a few passages in Aramaic, which was a common street language in Biblical times, and the language of Jesus. What was accepted as authentic, or “canon” in the Old Testament was a long and complex process; it took 1,000 years or more of development. It had many authors and many editors, and there is no single manuscript considered an authentic original.

The New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire. The early Church had an explosion of early Christian testaments and “gospels.” But there wasn’t accepted canon of New Testament books until the fourth century. The councils at Hippo 393 and Carthage 397 recognized a 27-book New Testament, but unanimity was never fully achieved. The Syrian church went with 22.

As I have taught biblical studies, I’ve always asked participants what the Bible represents to them. Here is a partial list that we’ve come up with:

  • The history of the experience of God by particular people at particular times
  • A set of laws about living in relationship to God and to each other
  • Advice for living a “good life”
  • The “Good News” of salvation
  • A series of biographies about Jesus
  • Doctrines
  • Letters meant to solve practical problems
  • Visions of the Holy
  • A prayer book – It would be totally dead without this.

What is the Bible for you?