What Is The Bible?

Jun 2, 2009 9:02 PM

by binsar

What is The Bible?

Bible Study for XRDS Custodians

Text Reading

Mark 8:14-21

The reason why I choose this theme in our first Bible Study together is because I found it crucial to exchange our understanding of the Bible. Our future meetings will be on the Text itself and therefore to see it as a whole is an important first step.

The writing of the Bible took place over sixteen centuries and is the work of over forty authors. It contains 66 books with different styles; i.e. poetry, narration, fiction story, history, law, and prophecy; which were written in a specific context and time. Only in the year 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as what we now call the New Testament. The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.

We will not go into the endless debate on the history of the bible; rather, we shall discuss the meaning of the Bible to ourselves. Interestingly, there is never a common agreement on what is the Bible, whether it is the Words of God; or the Words of God through the Holy Spirit; or the story about God; or the story about a saving God; or history of human encounters with God; etc. The complexity and the richness of the Bible made it “the Book that reads us (Elisabeth S. Fiorenza).”

The function of the Bible is also different for every person. Hippolytus, a patriarch of the Church says, “The oars of the ship are the churches. The sea is the universe (kosmos). At the center she has the passion of Christ …The two steering oars are the two Testaments.” Personally, I like his metaphor of the Bible because he tries to connect Christ, the Church as community of believers, and the Scriptures. However, this was not easy to implement. How do you know that at a certain point Christ is leading through revelation of the Spirit; or God is showing you the truth through the church; or you see God’s presence in the community? What if they all are showing different signs?

We have so many questions that can be explored, but tonight I will focus on how can we understand the Bible? To understand the Bible means that we have to know the real message of the Text. This is not easy because not all of us come to the same result even while reading the same text. Therefore, we shall see some approaches to Biblical Hermeneutics and try to locate ourselves.

1. Hermeneutics approach: deals with the linguistic history of the text using grammatical-historical exegesis. This approach does not really recognize the cultural and historical conditioning of the perspective of the author of the text. Since the Holy Spirit is the sole author that inspires many biblical authors; then the Scripture is believed to contain an underlying theological and philosophical unity. The Scripture is a coherent and systematic theological system. The Scripture shows its meaning to a systematic, inductive analysis and does not necessarily presuppose faith to be understood. (Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield)

2. Historicism approach: the scripture is treated in the same way as any worthy literature of a given cultural tradition. Historical approach tools are applied to find out what the author intended to say in that particular historical cultural context. The aim is the historical reconstruction of the text (Sitz im Leben). Historical research should be able to procure the meaning of the Word of God. (Ernst Troeltsch, Adikf von Harnack, Will Marxen, John Dominic Crossan).

3. Existentialist approach: does not deny the role of historical research but considers it incapable of giving us the significance of the salvific events for human existence. This approach assumes that history can only be understood by the historicity of existence; instead of looking for informative statement of a particular time, it tends to look for the formative power of the text; in other words, the experience is also important in understanding the text instead of just historical facts. (Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard Ebeling, Fritz Buri).

4. Christological hermeneutics: Donald Bloesch, an American Evangelical Theologian says, “God only reveals himself fully and definitely only in one time and place, viz., in the life history of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the primary witness to this event or series of events.” In short, every story in the Bible has to be seen in the interest of the story of Christ.

These approaches are different yet they seemed to have good explanation to be trusted. Nevertheless, my main goal tonight is for us to realizing that we have different opinions on what is the Bible. Hopefully by being open and aware of other perspectives, we can enrich and complete each other.


1. What is your definition of the Bible? Think of a metaphor that describes the importance of the bible to you!

2. Which hermeneutics category suits you, and why?

3. What are the new questions/feelings that emerge from our discussion?

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