Disclaimer before I begin: this is not meant to be an incredibly detailed document – it’s just a brief outline. There are hundreds of books and articles out there on the subject. You might not agree with some of what’s written. That’s OK. As Christians we don’t just have to blindly obey the teachings of our ministers and churches – we have brains and are expected to use them. This may provoke more questions – I freely acknowledge I may not have the answers. I am not a professor of Theology or anything similar. And some answers we have to discern for ourselves. That’s what faith is about. It cannot just be based on fact. It’s based on heart, soul and relationship as well.
As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, written down to tell us the story of his people, to teach us and to guide us. The format of the Bible as we see it today was finally decided upon at the Council of Carthage in 397CE.
The Bible is not just one book, but a series of books, written over a number of centuries. The oldest written portion of the Bible is probably from the 8th Century BCE. All of what Christians call the Old Testament was probably written down by the end of the 4th century BCE. Note these are the dates they were written down – they were probably passed down through the oral tradition for generations before being captured on paper.
The New Testament was written down between 45 – 120 CE – again, there was probably an oral tradition before the words were pinned down on paper. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible for more information).
Not all books in the Bible are the same type of book – some are story, some are history, some are law, prophecy, poetry, letters, gospels. When you are reading the Bible, it’s wise to keep in mind the type of book you are reading. It’s also very easy to read into the Bible what you want to read.
Take, for example, the creation story in the Book of Genesis chapter 1. You probably know it. It had God creating the world in seven days. For some Christians, this is a black and white issue – the Bible says 7 days, so the world was made by God in that timespan, in that order. That’s one viewpoint. This account of the creation of the world is also found in some ancient Babylonian literature.
But if that’s all you’ve ever know about the creation story in Genesis, carry on reading. You’ll find that in Genesis chapter 2 there is a second story of creation. The order of creation is different; the timing is different. Yet both are in the Bible. If you are treating Genesis as a scientific text, this may cause slight problems for you.
For me personally, the creation story in Genesis is story. I think the point of the story is often lost in the debate ‘is it true?’. For me, the key issues it tells me are that a) God made the world and b) it is good. Whether you believe in the big bang theory, evolution or some other theory altogether it’s ok. I have no problem with believing in a God as creator. For me, one of the deciding factors of faith was discovering that it would take several billion coincidences to create one strand of DNA – I decided I couldn’t logically believe in that level of coincidence. I also have no problem with the idea of evolution. I just believe that God was in it at the beginning – that in fact, God was the beginning.
Other Christians will have different viewpoints and other ideas. Divisions in the church have occurred over the issue. Some will see the book of Genesis as a matter of historical fact or science. They are entitled to that faith. Some will say I am not a ‘proper Christian’ if I don’t believe God made the world in seven days (NB – definition of Christian ‘someone who professes Christ as Lord’ – that’s fine, I do!)
But for me it is not a key factor. God as creator is. (If you want to explore this more, there are various websites and resources that look at it. Try this one for a start : http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_bibl2.htm ; http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_st.htm )
Below is a chart that tells you as what type of literature each book has been classfied as.
Books of the Bible
|Old Testament BooksStory: Genesis
Esther Poetry and Wisdom Literature:
Song of Solomon
|New Testament Gospels: Life of JesusMatthew
JohnHistory of the Early Church: