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Where did the Bible come from?


PERHAPS THE DAYS ARE GONE when very many people have the impression that the Bible was somehow mysteriously written in the English of the King James Version (KJV), all ready-made and bound in a book, at some unknown point since the days of the apostles. Certainly, such a notion would be hard to find amongst Orthodox Christians. But in the society in which we live, perhaps many Orthodox folk included, there is often a "that's the way it is" attitude, attached to whatever concept of "the Bible" one happens to have.

A truly Christian understanding of the Scriptures, however, must be founded in Truth... not in a thoughtless acceptance of the "received" notion in one's own circle... be that circle Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. But Truth is a harsh master. If relentlessly pursued, it often forces dramatic changes in one's preconceived notions, religious or otherwise... and therefore, in one's whole life. Perhaps this is the reason for which it is so seldom pursued!

When we speak of "the Bible," we speak of a collection of books. The earliest of these existed in oral form long before they were written down, but attained a written form many centuries before the birth of Our Lord. The latest of these books were written many years after His Resurrection... the very latest, probably, as late as the end of the first century, some 60 or more years after the Resurrection. The former, of course, comprise the Old Testament, and the latter the New Testament. When St. Paul speaks of "scripture," it is to the Old Testament that he refers... few of the New Testament books had even been written yet, and complete agreement in the Church as to which books comprised the "New" Testament was yet several centuries off.

The Church existed for nearly 500 years before anything identical to what we now call "the Bible" could have been printed.

Yes... the Church existed in all her majesty and glory for nearly 500 years before anything identical to what we now call "the Bible" could have been unquestionably printed (had there been any printing presses). In fact, the many individual books, of both Old and New Testaments, existed first in papyrus scrolls, then later in hand-copied huge volumes containing one or a very few books on vellum or similar material. A complete "Bible," had it been possible to assemble one, would have occupied a good-sized set of bookshelves.

But the contents of those shelves would have varied considerably from place to place, as we shall see. In this regard, however, the history of the Old and New Testaments differ considerably. Curiously, nonetheless, the notion common amongst many protestants that "Catholics" have a "different Bible" from that which they acknowledge (and therefore, presumably, Orthodox Christians as well) pertains exclusively to the Old Testament. This question, that of the "different Bible," is likely to be one of the first to arise in any fundamental conversation between Orthodox Christians and Protestants.

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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