Question b - Scripture

Bible Overview

W-4.0404 b.  Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

Image of the books of the Bible on a bookshelf

The Bible is an amazing anthology of books with contributions from different writers, representing different time periods, utilizing different genres, and reflecting different cultures. But the Bible is more than being a self-contained library of ancient writings. It is a sacred conversation. As Karl Allen Kuhn writes, scripture can be understood as an “ongoing dialogue between God and God’s people, and of God’s people with one another, as they sought to know God.”[1] We join this sacred conversation every time we encounter God’s word in scripture.

Old Testament

The Protestant version of the Bible begins with the five traditional books of the Torah, or law of God: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This set of biblical writings is also known as the Pentateuch (“five scrolls”).

Most Bibles label the next section “History.” This section contains what we often refer to as the work of the Deuteronomic Historian: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. While some aspects of these accounts can be verified in other ancient sources, it’s important to remember that this is different from contemporary historical writing. Ancient writers tended to extract stories and details that serve to make the theological points that they were seeking to communicate. This section of the Old Testament also contains Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles (products of the Second Temple period that followed the defeat of the Neo-Babylonians by the Persians) and Ruth and Esther, novellas probably from the same era.

These are followed by the books of poetry that include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Many of these texts are referred to as “Wisdom Literature” and reflect a tradition of both passing on advice on how to live a moral and productive life, and the exploration of the big questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “what makes life worth living?”

The next group of books contains the major prophets, each large enough to fill an ancient scroll: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; Protestant Bibles also include Lamentations (traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah) in this section. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are large collections of poetic oracle and narrative. Isaiah includes writings from at least three different time periods in Judah, the first being during the period of the Divided Kingdom, before the Northern Kingdom was captured by Assyria with the latter being the years following the return home of the Babylonian exiles. Jeremiah was mostly written during the final days of Judah existence before the Neo-Babylonians, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and then continuing into the period after the exiles were taken away from the perspective of one left behind. Lamentations is a book of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel appears to be prophetic writings by a prophet in exile to a people in exile. Daniel is a text that may be better characterized as Apocalyptic Literature, likely dating from the time when Antiochus IV ruled Judea prior to the Maccabean revolt.

The final section of the Old Testament is referred to as the 12 minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi), all of which will fit on one scroll due the brevity of their texts. All of these, except the narrative folktale of Jonah, are varied prophetic texts that speak about immoral behavior, inappropriate worship, and the judgment of God.

New Testament

The New Testament begins with the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). “Gospel” means “Good News.” Mark is believed by most scholars to be the first written, and a source for both Matthew and Luke. John is the last written and the most different from the others, emphasizing the divinity of Jesus. The Gospels are followed by the Acts of the Apostles and is written by the same author that wrote the Gospel of Luke and carries many of the same literary themes with the apostles Paul and Peter, instead of Jesus, being the primary protagonists.

Next follows the thirteen epistles ascribed to Paul, who according to modern critical scholarship, appears to have unquestionably authored at least seven of these (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon). Scholars debate Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, as well as the pastoral letters of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Additional epistles and one sermon that are not ascribed to Pauline authorship follows (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude).

The final book of the New Testament is another example of Apocalyptic Literature, titled the Revelation (or Apocalypse) of John.

For Reflection and Discussion:

What parts of the Bible do you know best? With which are you less familiar? Which biblical books have most shaped your faith and relationship with God?

Identify a time that you have relied on Scripture. How has it given you comfort? How has it challenged you? What questions do you have?

[1] Kuhn, Karl Allen. Having Words with God: The Bible as Conversation, Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2018).