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
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.
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