What is the Bible?
May 1, 2010
A little ditty from my childhood. Sadly, unorthodox (the “alone” part specifically):
The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!
Elsewhere on the internets I was recently accused of “believing the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true.” This was humorous because some of my Protestant friends accuse me of the opposite; not believing the Bible or believing things that are contrary to the Bible. Sometimes you just can’t win!
But back to that assertion about believing that the Bible is true. For the Protestant I think this would be a pretty tricky question to address. Protestants in general take the view that the Bible is “self-authenticating” which to me personally seems like a pretty meaningless and contrived explanation. For the Orthodox Christian there is another way to address this question:
How could the Church discern what was true Scripture from what was not? The answer is to be found in the fact that the Bible was not the starting-point of the Christian faith, but a resumé of it: not the whole revelation, but a part: not the foundation of the Church, but its product. The Church preceded the Bible; indeed, we would be at a loss to explain the existence of Christians in the early years after Our Lord’s ministry and resurrection if, as many modern Christians insist, the Scriptures are the essential groundwork of the faith! As Fr. Alexander Turner puts it, the “Christian church had been a going concern in full operation, with its established procedures, organization and sacraments” for two decades before the first of the New Testament writings, St. Paul’s epistles, were composed. (The Bible and the Church by C.G. Pallas)
But what about the “many contradictions” that to some suggest the Bible is not reliable? Again, for the Protestant this is tricky, because the Bible is supposed to be inerrant in every sense of the word. For the Orthodox, though:
It is the faith of the Orthodox Church that the Bible, as the divinely-inspired Word of God in the words of men, contains no formal errors or inner contradictions concerning the relationship between God and the world. There may be incidental inaccuracies of a non-essential character in the Bible. But the eternal spiritual and doctrinal message of God, presented in the Bible in many different ways, remains perfectly consistent, authentic, and true. (The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko)
The Orthodox definitely have a different take on the Bible, but this in no way diminishes the Bible. In my experience as a Protestant, the focus of one’s devotion of God is mostly expressed through reading and studying the Bible (and also through church attendance, where at least half the time is also spent in reading and studying the Bible). In Orthodoxy however, the focus is much more on one’s prayer life and communion with God through the Eucharist. Does the Bible come into play here? Absolutely! But instead of only reading God’s word, we’re also focused on literally experiencing and communing with Him.