Christianity’s Religious Text
Christianity‘s Religious Text combines the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament to form the Christian Bible, which followers refer to as the Holy Scriptures. There are many noncanonical texts in the Christian religion as well. Some Christian denominations have additional or alternate holy scriptures, with authoritativeness similar to the Old Testament and New Testament. In addition to main scriptures, some denominations have liturgical books for guidance to worship and prayers. Various Christian denominations have religious texts which define the doctrines of the group or set out laws which are considered binding. They are believed to be interpretations of divine revelations.
Christianity, like other religions, has adherents whose beliefs and biblical interpretations vary. Christianity regards the biblical canon, the Old Testament and the New Testament, as the inspired word of God. The traditional view of inspiration is that God worked through human authors so that what they produced was what God wished to communicate. The Greek word referring to inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16 is theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed”.
Some believe that divine inspiration makes our present Bibles inerrant. Others claim inerrancy for the Bible in its original manuscripts, although none of those are extant. Still, others maintain that only a particular translation is inerrant, such as the King James Version. Another closely related view is biblical infallibility or limited inerrancy, which affirms that the Bible is free of error as a guide to salvation, but may include errors on matters such as history, geography, or science.
The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”) is a collection of religious texts or scriptures sacred to Christians, Jews, Samaritans, Rastafari, and others. It appears in the form of an anthology, a compilation of texts of a variety of forms that are all linked by the belief that they are collectively revelations of God. These texts include theologically-focused historical accounts, hymns, prayers, proverbs, parables, didactic letters, erotica, poetry, and prophecies. Believers also generally consider the Bible to be a product of divine inspiration.
The books of the Bible accepted by the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches vary somewhat, with Jews accepting only the Hebrew Bible as canonical; however, there is substantial overlap. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions, and of the councils that have convened on the subject. Every version of the Old Testament always includes the books of the Tanakh, the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic and Orthodox canons, in addition to the Tanakh, also include the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament. These books appear in the Septuagint, but are regarded by Protestants to be apocryphal. However, they are considered to be important historical documents which help to inform the understanding of words, grammar, and syntax used in the historical period of their conception. Some versions of the Bible include a separate Apocrypha section between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament, originally written in Koine Greek, contains 27 books that are agreed upon by all churches.
Modern scholarship has raised many issues with the Bible. While the King James Version is held to by many because of its striking English prose, in fact, it was translated from the Erasmus Greek Bible, which in turn “was based on a single 12th Century manuscript that is one of the worst manuscripts we have available to us”. Many scholarships in the past several hundred years have gone into comparing different manuscripts in order to reconstruct the original text. Another issue is that several books are considered to be forgeries. The injunction that women “be silent and submissive” in 1 Timothy 2 is thought by many to be a forgery by a follower of Paul, a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 14, which is thought to be by Paul, appears in different places in different manuscripts and is thought to originally be a margin note by a copyist. Other verses in 1 Corinthians, such as 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 where women are instructed to wear a covering over their hair “when they pray or prophesies”, contradict this verse.
A final issue with the Bible is the way in which books were selected for inclusion in the New Testament. Other gospels have now been recovered, such as those found near Nag Hammadi in 1945, and while some of these texts are quite different from what Christians have been used to, it should be understood that some of this newly recovered Gospel material is quite possibly contemporaneous with, or even earlier than, the New Testament Gospels. The core of the Gospel of Thomas, in particular, may date from as early as AD 50 (although some major scholars contest this early dating), and if so would provide an insight into the earliest gospel texts that underlie the canonical Gospels, texts that are mentioned in Luke 1:1–2. The Gospel of Thomas contains much that is familiar from the canonical Gospels—verse 113, for example (“The Father’s Kingdom is spread out upon the earth, but people do not see it”), is reminiscent of Luke 17:20–21—and the Gospel of John, with terminology and approach that is suggestive of what was later termed Gnosticism, has recently been seen as a possible response to the Gospel of Thomas, a text that is commonly labeled proto-Gnostic. Scholarship, then, is currently exploring the relationship in the Early Church between mystical speculation and experience on the one hand and the search for church order on the other, by analyzing new-found texts, by subjecting canonical texts to further scrutiny, and by an examination of the passage of New Testament texts to canonical status.
Main article: Catholic theology of Scripture
In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. The Alexandrian interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while the Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meaning (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.
Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual.
The literal sense of understanding scripture is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture. The spiritual sense is further subdivided into:
- The allegorical sense, includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a “type” (sign) of baptism.[1 Cor 10:2]
- The moral sense, which understands the scripture to contain some ethical teaching.
- The anagogical sense, which applies to eschatology, eternity, and the consummation of the world
Regarding exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation, Catholic theology holds:
- The injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal
- That the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held
- That scripture must be read within the “living Tradition of the whole Church” and
- That “the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome”.
Qualities of Scripture
Protestant Christians believe that the Bible is a self-sufficient revelation, the final authority on all Christian doctrine, and revealed all truth necessary for salvation. This concept is known as sola scriptura. Protestants characteristically believe that ordinary believers may reach an adequate understanding of Scripture because Scripture itself is clear in its meaning (or “perspicuous”). Martin Luther believed that without God’s help, Scripture would be “enveloped in darkness”. He advocated for “one definite and simple understanding of Scripture”. John Calvin wrote, “all who refuse not to follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light”. Related to this is “efficacy”, that Scripture is able to lead people to faith; and “sufficiency”, that the Scriptures contain everything that one needs to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life.
Original intended meaning of Scripture
Protestants stress the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture, the historical-grammatical method. The historical-grammatical method or grammatico-historical method is an effort in Biblical hermeneutics to find the intended original meaning in the text. This original intended meaning of the text is drawn out through examination of the passage in light of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre, as well as theological (canonical) considerations. The historical-grammatical method distinguishes between the one original meaning and the significance of the text. The significance of the text includes the ensuing use of the text or application. The original passage is seen as having only a single meaning or sense. As Milton S. Terry said: “A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.” Technically speaking, the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is distinct from the determination of the passage’s significance in light of that interpretation. Taken together, both define the term (Biblical) hermeneutics.
Some Protestant interpreters make use of typology.
Religious Text of Christian denominations
The Bible (the Old Testament and the New Testament). The Apostolic Churches (Catholicism and Orthodoxy) also include the Deuterocanonicals.
- Bible – any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity.
- Old Testament – Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians, and which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism.
- Law (The Torah)– first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
- Writings (Ketuvim)– third and final section of the Hebrew Bible.
- Prophets (Nevi’im)– second of the three major sections in the Hebrew Bible.
- Deuterocanonical books – term used since the sixteenth century in the Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity to describe certain books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the Hebrew Bible.
- New Testament – second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first division being the Old Testament.
- Antilegomena – written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed
- Book of Mormon – sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200 BC to AD 421.
- Notha – works rejected by the early Church.
- Gospel of Thomas – well preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library.
- Authors of the Bible – Few biblical books are regarded by scholars as the product of a single individual; all have been edited and revised to produce the work we read today.
- The Bible and history – Bible from a historical perspective, includes numerous fields of study, ranging from archeology and astronomy to linguistics and methods of comparative literature.
- Bible chronology – Bible (Tanakh / Old Testament) measures the passage of time and thus gives a chronological framework to biblical history from the Creation until the kingdoms of Israel and Judah through various genealogies, generations, reign-periods, and other means.
- Coptic versions of the Bible – There have been many Coptic versions of the Bible, including some of the earliest translations into any language.
- Genealogy of the Bible – There are various genealogies described in the Bible.
- History of the English Bible – Partial translations of the Bible into languages of the English people can be traced back to the end of the 7th century, including translations into Old English and Middle English.
- List of burial places of biblical figures – list of burial places attributed to Biblical personalities according to various religious and local traditions.
- List of artifacts significant to the Bible – list of artifacts, objects created or modified by human culture, that are significant to the historicity of the Bible.
- Syriac versions of the Bible – Syria played an important or even predominant role in the beginning of Christianity.
- Bible Translations
The contents of Christian Bibles differ by denomination.
- The Canon of Trent defines a canonical list of books of the Catholic Bible that includes the whole 73-book canon recognized by the Catholic Church, including the deuterocanonical books. (In versions of the Latin Vulgate, 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh are included in an appendix, but considered non-canonical).
- Most Protestant Bibles include the Hebrew Bible’s 24 books (the protocanonical books) divided differently (into 39 books) and the 27-book New Testament for a total of 66 books. Some denominations (e.g. Anglicanism) also include the 15 books of the biblical apocrypha between the Old Testament and the New Testament, for a total of 81 books.
- Greek and Eastern Orthodox Bibles include the anagignoskomena, which consist of the Catholic deuterocanon, plus 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Esdras; The Fourth Book of Maccabees is considered to be canonical by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is authoritative.
- The Church of the East includes most of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament which are found in the Peshitta (The Syriac Version of the Bible). The New Testament in modern versions contains the 5 disputed books (2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation) that were originally excluded.
- In Oriental Orthodoxy, the biblical canon differs in each Patriarchate.
- The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church has at various times included a variety of books in the New Testament which are not included in the canons of other traditions.
- The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (and its daughter, the Eritrean Orthodox Church) accept various books according to either of the Narrower or the Broader Canons but always include the entire Catholic deuterocanon, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Ezra, 4 Ezra, and The Book of Josippon. They may also include the Book of Jubilees, Book of Enoch, 1 Baruch, 4 Baruch, as well as 1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan (no relation to the Books of Maccabees). The New Testament contains the Sinodos, the Books of the Covenant, Clement, and the Didascalia.
- Some Syrian Churches, regardless of whether they are Eastern Catholic, Nestorian, Oriental or Eastern Orthodox, accept the Letter of Baruch as scripture.
- Christian Scientists
- The Bible
- Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. This textbook, along with the Bible, serves as the permanent “impersonal pastor” of the church.
- Nag Hammadi library and other Gnostic texts (not from the Bible)
- Some books of the Old Testament and New Testament
- Cerdonianism and Marcionism
- Only the Gospel of Marcion and selected Pauline epistles accepted
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- The Bible (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is their preferred translation.)
Latter Day Saint movement
- The Bible
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) uses the LDS edition of the King James Bible for English-speaking members; other versions are used in non-English speaking countries. The Community of Christ (RLDS) uses the Joseph Smith Translation, which it calls the Inspired Version, as well as updated modern translations.
- The Book of Mormon
- The Doctrine and Covenants. There are significant differences in content and section numbering between the Doctrine and Covenants used by the Community of Christ (RLDS) and the LDS Church.
- The Pearl of Great Price is authoritative in the LDS Church, rejected by Community of Christ.
Native American Church
- The Bible (among Christian-leaning factions only)
- The Bible (Ethiopian Orthodox canon)
- the Holy Piby
- the Kebra Nagast
- The speeches and writings of Haile Selassie I (including his autobiography My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress)
- Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy
- The Bible
- The writings of Ellen White are held to an elevated status, though not equal with the Bible, as she is considered to have been an inspired prophetess.
- The Bible (several books omitted)
- The works of Emanuel Swedenborg (not considered equal to the Bible)
- The Divine Principle
- The Bible as illuminated by more recent revelation
Liturgical books are used to guide or script worship, and many are specific to a denomination.
- Catholic liturgical books
- Books of the clergy
- The Roman Missal (The pope, archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons editions)
- The Book of the Gospels (evangeliary/evangelion)
- The Lectionary
- Sacramentary (for bishops and priests)
- Pontifical (for bishops)
- Cæremoniale Episcoporum (for bishops)
- Breviary (Hours/Divine Office)
- Gradual (Roman gradual, antiphonal, cantatory)
- Liber Usualis (Book of Common Use/Gregorian chants)
- Roman Ritual (baptism, benedictions, blessings, burials, exorcisms, etc.)
- Roman Martyrology (saints/The blessed)
- Books of church attendants:
- Missal (pew cyclical editions)
- Missalette (pew seasonal editions)
- Hymnal (pew hymnbook editions)
- Books of the clergy
- Protestant liturgical books
- Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (ELHB) 1912
- The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) 1941
- Lutheran Book of Prayer (LBP) 1941
- Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal (SBH) 1958
- Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) 1978
- Lutheran Worship (LW) 1982
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) 2006
- Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 2006
- Numerous hymn, service and guide books (varies by church)
- The Sunday Service of the Methodists
- Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)
- The Book of Hymns
- The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Church)
- The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) (United Methodist Church)
- Book of Discipline (United Methodist) (John Wesley-1784, United Methodist Church-2016)
- Numerous hymn, service and guide books (varies by church)
- Southern Baptists
- Baptist Hymnal
- Numerous hymn, service and guide books (varies by church)
Doctrines and laws
Various Christian denominations have texts which define the doctrines of the group or set out laws which are considered binding. The groups consider these to range in permanence from unquestionable interpretations of divine revelations to human decisions made for convenience or elucidation which are subject to reconsideration.
- Doctrines such as the Trinity, the virgin birth and atonement
- The Ten Commandments (עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת, Aseret ha’Dibrot), also known in Christianity as the Decalogue, are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship.
- The Christian Science textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, along with the Bible, serves as the permanent “impersonal pastor” of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
- Seventh-day Adventists hold the writings of Ellen White are held to an elevated status, though not equal with the Bible, as she is considered to have been an inspired prophetess.
- Swedenborgianism is defined by the Biblical interpretations of Emanuel Swedenborg starting with Arcana Cœlestia
- H. Emilie Cady‘s 1896 Lessons in Truth, A Course of Twelve Lessons in Practical Christianity is considered a core text of the Unity Church.
- In Catholicism, the concept of Magisterium reserves matters of religious interpretation to the church, with various levels of infallibility expressed in various documents.
- Infallibility of the Church is applied to:
- To the decisions of ecumenical councils in Catholic, some Orthodox, and some Protestant denominations, though the non-Catholic denominations only accept certain councils as genuinely ecumenical.
- The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine
- Transubstantiation and Marian teachings in Roman Catholic theology. The department of the Roman Curia which deals with questions of doctrine is called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- The distinctive Calvinist doctrine of “double” predestination
- The Methodist Church of Great Britain refers to the “doctrines to which the preachers of the Methodist Church are pledged” as doctrinal standards