1. What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of texts in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament comprises the sacred scriptures of the Jewish people at the time of Christ. These writings formed the authoritative scriptures of the earliest Christians. Alongside the Jewish scriptures, writings from within the early Christian community, which came to be known as the New Testament, took on a similarly authoritative role. Among these writings, the gospels bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The epistles, or letters, help to spell out the centrality and the significance of this for a Christian way of life within the developing Christian movement, and also address practical problems faced by the early believers.
The biblical texts provide a 'normative record of the authentic foundation of the faith. To these the Church has recourse for the inspiration of its life and mission; to these the Church refers its teaching and practice.' (ARCIC Final Report, p.52). Because scripture is uniquely inspired it conveys the Word of God in human language.
It is likely that from an early date, when Christians gathered together for worship, they read from such writings of their own as well as from the Jewish scriptures. The Church continues this practice with readings from the Old and New Testament in its worship.
2. Do all Christians share the same Bible?
All Christians recognise the same twenty-seven early Christian writings as belonging within the New Testament. There are some books which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard as part of the Old Testament but which the Protestant Churches do not. Protestant Churches generally refer to these books as the Apocrypha, that is, the 'hidden' books.
These include, for example, Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon and the books of the Maccabees. The Church of Ireland considers the Apocrypha as worthy of reading by the Church 'for example of life and instruction of manners' (Articles of Religion; 6), but not for establishing doctrine.
3. Is the Bible historically accurate?
While there is very considerable historical accuracy in scripture, the experiences of Jews and Christians through the ages bear witness to the truth of the Bible at a deeper level than its recording of data alone. As well as history, the Bible includes poetry, prophecy, parable, story and other types of literature. In their different ways these continue to convey the truth of God.
4. How should the Bible be interpreted?
The Bible tells of God's relationship with God's people through the centuries. This record always needs to be interpreted in the context of the church's faith, prayer and worship, and in such a way that what scripture said for its original audience is faithfully re-expressed for the modern world.
5. How does the authority of the Bible relate to human reason and the church's tradition?
Christians must keep returning to the Bible as they continue to explore the truth of God, for scripture 'containeth all things necessary to salvation.' (Articles of Religion; 6). The Church of Ireland believes that the church's teaching must be founded on and consistent with scripture. We also have a responsibility to use our reason in understanding the Bible in the context of tradition, which is how the church's interpretation of scripture has developed.
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© 2002 APCK