Where did our Bible come from? Part 1: An Introduction
My previous (Unannounced) Mini-Hiatus
So you may have noticed that I took a few days off from blogging following Resurrection Sunday because, quite frankly, I was a little worn out and couldn’t keep my energy level up well enough to do my work at school, be a good father, and keep posting at the pace I had finished during the last two weeks of Lent. So I took a break from the blog for a few days (Monday’s post was a “non-post”) and am feeling refreshed. I don’t know if I’ll go back to posting every weekday, but I probably won’t be doing a 6 post a day type thing (at least not of the length I was posting) until I get settled into a full time job after completing my current studies, whenever and wherever that may be. Enough about me, let’s look at today’s post:
I’m answering a question over the course of the next few posts. Here is the question from my friend in Birmingham, Chris: “Lately I’ve been attempting to locate resources on the actual history of the bible. By that I mean biblical development, selection of content, writing, etc.” I’ve decided to expand that a bit to really look at the substance of what our bible is, why it’s different from other “bibles” and include a history of the bible. Chris mentioned that it might be helpful to have a few sources to which he (or others) could refer as well. I’m going to have to come up with a list later on in this mini-series of posts. For now I will offer one recommendation, with a caveat, and one warning.
First the standard book on the history of the New Testament is The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration by Bruce M. Metzger, New Testament Scholar and textual criticism expert. Metzger is pretty conservative with regard to his support of the New Testament and the book does a good job laying out his theory (which is widely accepted now) of the history of the New Testament (about which there is more controversy than the Old Testament). However, some readers find it a bit too technical at times. That being the case, I’ll have to see if I come across any other studies that are more geared toward the “laity” (i.e. those with no background in textual criticism of Greek) or if I can find a source about the whole bible’s history (if you know of one, please recommend it in the comments).
The warning I have is to avoid anything by Bart Ehrman. The reason I issue this warning is threefold. First, his books are readily available and carried in a number of bookstores, from independents to the bigger chains like Barnes and Noble and in the popular religious section of Amazon.com. One his most popular titles to date is Misquoting Jesus which is terrible on both theological and (on some level) scholarly points. Second, Erhman does not respect the bible at all. He grew up an evangelical Christian and even studied under Metzger, but eventually became an agnostic and operates from the assumption that those purporting to be orthodox in the history of the early church actually actively altered the biblical text (a claim for which he has incredibly flimsy support). Third, his popular works tend to be a dangerous mix of good and bad scholarship. In particular Misquoting Jesus offers a good introduction to textual criticism on one level, but is not of a high enough scholarly level to allow the reader to address the “problems” Ehrman brings up later in the book. Further the overwhelming majority of support he gives for his position on these “problems” is from himself. That’s just bad scholarship and even in a popular book there is no excuse for that (and he should know better). Self-citation in a book that has the pretense of a scholarly rigorous study (even if written popularly) should only be used sparingly because it’s not really arguing a point beyond your own previous study. So that’s what I’ll say about that. Onward to the substance of the question
Answering the Question part 1: An Introduction
Well there are a few options for answering this question. The first one is to say that we have the bible in its present form because of divine providence. God wanted us to have the bible as it is now and that settles it. While it’s not wrong to say that God preserved his holy Word throughout history, it’s not necessarily the whole story either. The truth is that the bible is not only a divine document, but a human document: it’s both. As such it was produced by God, but in the context of a partnership with people. While that statement assumes something about the nature of inspiration (namely that the human authors were more than mere scribes), it nevertheless seems to find support from God’s actions throughout the history of Israel and the early Church. Our God (YHWH) is a God who delights in making our efforts part of his overarching plan.
In order to fully answer the question of how we arrived at the bible we currently have from the human side, we need to do a number of things. First we need to define which bible it is we are talking about, things like its structure, division, etc. Second, we need to look at the historical acceptance of various books over time, along with the resulting rejection of others. This latter half will need to be divided between Old Testament and New Testament because the reasons we have arrived at each section, while they share certain commonalities, were arrived at from completely different historical situations. Further, we also need to say a brief word about textual criticism, sometimes termed “lower criticism” of the bible.
Since this post is already pretty long, I’m going to try to lay out specifically what the different options are for what we accept as the bible to be addressed in subsequent posts. Next week I’ll continue to look at “defining” what we mean by the bible, including examining each of these different options (given below) before looking at the historical process of what we now call “canonization” of Scripture. So we’ll be looking at, over the course of a few posts these different options: the King James Version only advocates; the Roman Catholic version of the bible; the versions used by the various Eastern Orthodox Churches; the protestant version of the bible; the Jehovah’s witness version; the Mormon version; and the “spiritualism” movement version. I’ve chosen to limit my discussion to these groups because 1) it could just too unwieldy if I open it up to too many other groups and 2) many of the versions I have chosen not to include are either a) not used by anyone alive today or b) do not share the same basic presuppositions about the bible that most of these other groups do (i.e. I’m not going to talk about the “Atheist Bible” except to give a brief statement towards the end of the “spiritualism” section). With that said, the next post will begin with a look at the (arguably) smallest group, who is also one of the most vocal, particularly in the American Southeast: the KJV only group, if there that doesn’t go on for too long, we may look at some of the other groups as well.
Question to you: Have you found any resource particularly useful in doing this kind of thing? Any recommendations to use or avoid? Do you have a favorite version of the bible? What other questions would you like to see addressed in this blog?