I graduated from a private, non-denominational high school. At the time I attended Woodward they still had a bording program. Students from all over the United States attended my school as well as many students from foreign countries including France, England, Iran, Aruba, Brazil, and Germany. There were also many immigrant students from China, Vietnam, and India. Needless to say it was not only a diverse student population based on country of origin, but it was also quite a diverse population based on religion as well. I learned many things about Judaism, Hinduism, Buddism, the Muslim religion and various denominations of Christianity.
While all of this exposure was a great thing to broaden my base of knowledge in relating to people with cultural and religious viewpoints that differed from mine, there was one aspect of my education that really challenged my personal framework of beliefs. I took a required course regarding the history of the Bible. The course was taught by our school chaplain. It was not meant to be a course that would entice students to convert to Christianity. It was to be an overview of the Bible as a source of literature and history. Looking back on it now and based on what I know about the delivery of curriculum the chaplain did a great job, and I really did enjoy all of the information I learned about the Bible during the course.
What bothered me and what really made me wrestle for quite some time regarding what I believe about the Bible was the fact that for all of my Sunday School attendance, and for all of the Godly people in my path growing up I was astounded that I didn’t know more of what I was learning in my Bible course. New knowledge of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Gnostics confused me. I was shocked Jews couldn’t agree on what they believed. I learned about the Bible specifically from how it was put together over many hundreds of years, and how over time certain things were included and certain things were left out that had at one time been counted as scripture by Jews and early Christians alike including the Apostle Paul.
It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that a group of men hundreds of years ago had sat around a table and had decided for me what I would read in my Bible and what I wouldn’t. They decided what fit and didn’t fit. I was amazed to learn that the Bible as I held in my hand didn’t just appear one day all written, all together, for men to read, learn, and enjoy. Now put my feelings of shock and awe next to the context of what was going on in the United States at the time……the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and an ever growing distrust of anyone in authority….and you can understand why in my young mind I felt a conspiracy of some sort had transpired.
During the Bible course I learned about the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Geneva Bible. I learned that before the printing press was in use scribes would print out the Bible by hand and often some scribes would make a mistake or include an addition of text that was not there previously. I learned that for approximately the first three hundred years of the Christian Church there was no standard Bible like I have today, and the main purpose for Paul’s letters was an attempt to encourage and instruct various churches that might have misconceived ideas regarding Christianity. There was no uniformity and over time some pagan practices were remixed, revamped, and repackaged into Christian tradition.
By the end of the course I had new knowledge, but the new knowledge had greatly confused and clouded my old knowledge. As many do I could have just left it at that and decided that the Bible was just some form of manipulation the Church used to control a group of people. I could have left things alone and bought in to the belief that the Bible is just a manmade compilation of myths and fairytales. I could have taken the idea that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is nothing more than a historical record of a particular people attempting to create an indentity for themselves on the world stage.
I didn’t though.
It took me several years and quite a bit of study to make sense of historical facts and myths to arrive at what I believe today.
The other day at church we got into a discussion regarding II Timothy 3:16 which states, All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in rightousness. Memories of my confusion and angst regarding my beliefs came back to me. No, I no longer have doubts. I do believe as Paul stated that all Scripture (Old and New Testament) are inspired by God meaning that the Lord breathed the words through the author’s bodies.
Many scholars confirm that at the time Paul wrote II Timothy he was in Mamertine Prison in Rome. They also agree that when he refers to Scripture he is not referring to the Bible I have in my possession. The approximate date of writing for II Timothy was A.D. 67 and there was no established New Testament being handed out on street corners. In fact, it would not be until the year A.D. 393 when the Council of Hippo, one of many, many Church synods, approved an official canon of Scripture that included Old and New Testament writings. The Scripture the Council of Hippo approved parallels with the Roman Catholic text known today and included the Apocrypha. There were synods before the one at Hippo and many, many more in the years that followed each one setting precident regarding church doctrine, Scripture, etc.
In his letter Paul reminds Timothy to harken back to his childhood and hold fast to the Scripture he learned at the side of his mother and grandmother. Based only on a historical timeline Paul had to be referring to the Old Testament and in particular the Septuagint which included the Pentateuch or Torah and books that are referred to as the Apocrypha which are now included in the Roman Catholic canon but not the Protestant. The Alexandrian text was widely used by the time of Jesus and afterward for study and worship. It would not be until around A.D. 100 when Jerusalem rejected the Greek language of the Septuagint, the Apocryphal books, and the books of Daniel and Esther as well. As a student of Gamaliel, Paul would have been very familiar with the Septuagint and the Hebrew text as well. However, I have found no scholarly mention that Paul ever quoted from any book included in the Apocrypha even though those books were considered to be Scripture at the time Paul was writing his various letters. Protestants do not include apocryphal books in their canon for many reasons, but the main one that works for me is the writings are not referenced by Jesus, Paul, or any other New Testament author such as James or Luke, even though some of them were known.
So, does this mean because the New Testament was not yet in use it cannot be included in Paul’s description of inspired scripture? I don’t believe so.
The other day I was helping my daughter with her American Government homework, and we were looking at the Preamble of the Constitution. In particular we were discussing the word posterity within the line … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. I was explaining to my daughter that of all the language written in the Constitution those words stir me the most because our Founding Fathers were inspired enough to look forward two hundred , three hundred, dare I say five hundred years into the future knowing that Americans would still be using the Constitution for guidance and as our government playbook. Not only were they thinking of themselves as they tried to work their way out of the mire the Articles of Confederation had caused they also were thinking of me, my grandchildren. They were thinking of future generations.
Paul addressed the letter to Timothy and even pointedly gave him specific instructions, but Paul knew that Timothy would read the letter to his church and knew that the letter would be recopied and passed along to other groups. Since I believe that Paul was divinely inspired I know that he had to realize his letters would become missives that would be passed along from Christian to Christian, from church to church, and over time would be available for posterity by becoming part of Scripture….Scripture that is indeed inspired by God.
The painting with this post is called St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt. It was painted in 1627.