The question of how to interpret the BibleThe Greek term biblia means the “books.” Bible is used in both the Jewish and Christian traditions to refer to the book which gathers together their sacred writings. The Hebrew Bible includes the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—a collection re... lies at the heart of many controversies in ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church. today. The Christian Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, begins with the story of creation in GenesisThe first book of the Humash or Five Books of Moses, Genesis (or Bereishit, meaning ‘In the Beginning’) details the Jewish understanding of the creation of the universe, from the seven days of creation, through the Garden of Eden, ending with the even... and stretches its vision to the apocalyptic imagery of the book of RevelationRevelation is the gift or disclosure of knowledge, insight, or instruction from God to the human. The term is used in the Jewish tradition to refer to the revelation of Torah, the law; in the Islamic tradition to refer to the revelation of the Qur’an, t.... It is not a seamless story, however. The various books of the Bible were written over the course of many centuries and in different languages—HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written., AramaicAramaic is the language of the Talmud, and core parts of the liturgy used by Jews to this day. A famous teaching expressing the uniqueness of Aramaic says that even the angels do not understand Aramaic, and so when Jews pray in Aramaic, the prayer goes di..., and Greek. They were written in many different genres: sagas and histories, stories and parables, lyrics and poetry, sermons and letters. And there are multiple stories; for example even the central story of JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE... is recorded in four GospelsGospel means “Good News” and refers to the central message of the Christian tradition: the good news of Christ’s life and message of redemption. Gospel refers more specifically to the four books that tell the story of the Christ event and became par..., all differing somewhat in their perspectives. There are even differing versions of what is to be included in the Christian Bible. The Roman Catholic ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... and the Eastern OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. churchesThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... include a section called the Apocrypha, which consists of seven books not found in standard ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... versions of the Bible.
A 2007 Gallup Poll found that 30 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “The Bible is the actual word of GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. and is to be taken literally, word for word,” while 49 percent agreed with the formulation, “The Bible is the inspired word of GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. but not everything in it should be taken literally…” Others, in smaller numbers, said that it is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”
So how do Christians understand the Bible? This very question is itself controversial. Some Christians, largely from fundamentalist and evangelicalThe Greek word euangelion means “good news” and an evangelist is one who proclaims and shares the good news of Christ. Evangelism is the preaching and witnessing to that good news. Evangelicals are Christians who emphasize the personal experience of G... traditions, insist that the Bible is literally true, using the term “inerrancy” to convey that stance. A 1974 statement called the Lausanne CovenantA covenant (or brit) is a mutual promise or compact between two parties. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, covenant is of deep significance in describing the mutual relationship of God and the people of faith. The major covenants in Jewish scripture... put it this way: “We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New TestamentThe New Testament is the collection of a body of writings the early Christian community came to accept as authoritative: the four gospels, the Book of Acts, the letters of Paul, several other letters or epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Scriptures in their entirety as the only written Word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
Other Christians do not make the claim that the Bible is “infallible” or “without error.” Its truth is affirmed to be religious truth: essential truth for living, but not “scientific” truth. The Bible is to be read not for the “truth” of each and every statement and verse, but for its long record of the relationship of God with humankind, in covenant and forgiveness, in justice and love, and in the life of Jesus Christ. Such Christians affirm the Bible as a trustworthy guide to faith and practice, inspired by God, but necessarily interpreted by faithful Christians of each century, including our own. Some would go further and insist that the focus on the “inerrancy” of the Bible is a form of Bible-worship that might be construed as unfaithfulness to the Christian witness that “the Word became flesh.” With Christ, the “Word of God” is a living word, embodied in a person and not captive to the particular words of scripture.
For all Christians, however, whether they think the Bible is “literally” true or “inspired,” the question of interpretation remains. Precisely because the Bible is so important to Christians, how are its meanings to be understood by Christians today? Many Christian interpreters would maintain that these writings need to be seen in the historical context of the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world in order to understand what they had to say about such issues as the roles of women and men, the practice of slavery, or the question of homosexuality. Without understanding them in their own times how can Christians begin to grapple with what they might mean for the churches today? Such “historical criticism,” in the view of Biblical scholars, does not diminish the significance of these texts for people today, but brings them to life and enhances Christian insight into what they do and do not mean now. More fundamentalist Christians, however, insist that the Bible transcends the culture it originally addressed and speaks directly and clearly beyond the centuries to Christians today.
There are other forms of study as well. There are those who look at the various textual manuscripts of the Bible and those who study its literary forms and genres in relation to the literature and rhetoric of the periods in which the books of the Bible were written. More recently, some Christian scholars have insisted that the meanings of texts, including the Bible, are shaped not only by the context in which they are written, but the context in which they are read. The presuppositions, the experiences, the political views of those who read the Bible influence what it is they hear. These scholars would argue, for example, that the poor and politically oppressed hear the GospelGospel means “Good News” and refers to the central message of the Christian tradition: the good news of Christ’s life and message of redemption. Gospel refers more specifically to the four books that tell the story of the Christ event and became par... with a different awareness from that of the rich and powerful. They would suggest that unless Christians are careful, the Bible might cease to challenge Christians and become merely a mirror of their particular cultural, economic, and family values.
On both sides of every controversy within the Christian church today, people quote from the Bible as an authoritative source for their views. This itself is further evidence that the issue of what constitutes the proper study and interpretation of the Bible is a vital one for Christians.