We recently had our monthly Men’s Prayer Breakfast. There were some new men attending so I decided to have them all go around and introduce themselves and share their favorite Bible verse, or a favorite Bible story. That seemingly simple introduction led to a lively discussion about the Bible itself.
The Bible. A word that means library. A collection of writings that span 1,000 years of human history. The Rule of Faith for Christians. The Old Testament is actually the Hebrew Bible, and almost did not become part of the Christian Bible. The debate among Christians over what constituted Scripture lasted until the late 4th Century when Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria issued an Easter letter that named the 27 books of the New Testament.
Very few people owned a Bible until the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century. This new technology led to, among other things, the Protestant Reformation. Bibles were being printed in several languages by then, and in 1604 the work began on an English translation of the Bible that concluded in 1611. The King James Bible is probably the most popular Bible today.
Two 20th Century discoveries rocked the world of Biblical scholarship, the first, discovered in 1945, was a collection of early Gnostic Christian writings in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The second, and better known, is a collection of Jewish writings we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1946-1947 and 1956. Among the Nag Hammadi writings were several gospels that are not in the Bible, including the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of Jesus’ sayings.
There are no autographs of the Biblical writings. That is, there are no originals that we know of. There are only copies of the scriptural texts. The earliest full copy of the New Testament is in the British Library in London. It is called the Codex Sinaticus and is dated to around the middle of the 2nd Century.
By far most of the texts we know of are written in Greek. Which make some sense when we realize Alexander the Great conquered the entire region some 300 years before the birth of Jesus. The Greco-Roman influence was everywhere.
The work of translation from this ancient language (it is not the Greek spoken today) as well as some texts written in Coptic and/or Hebrew is ongoing. In fact, the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament, the authority used to translate into English and other languages, is in its 28th revision. Which means Biblical scholars are still seeking the most accurate translation of the ancient texts. The 28th revision.
This is some of what I’ve learned as I have studied the Bible for over 50 years, including five years of advanced Biblical studies in seminary.
The reason I wanted to share all of this is my hope that some of you who might not have read a Bible for some time, and even for you who, like me, read it every day might engage the Bible again for the first time.
For me, reading the Bible is a practice of faith, and not of reinforcing certainty. The Bible challenges me, encourages me, and leads me to question things about how I live my life, why some things matter and others do not.
The Bible is theology, a compound word that means words (logos) about God (theos). It has authority for those who have faith in it. It is not some kind of idol that we set on the coffee table and somehow worship. The Bible is the story of God, of God’s love for all creation, especially for the human family.
And that love is more powerful than even death.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.