What is The Bible?
The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books that together tell the story of a group of people bound by a common faith in God. It is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament containing 39 books originally written primarily in Hebrew, and the New Testament containing 27 books originally written primarily in Greek.
For Presbyterians and others of the Reformed tradition the Bible is the means by which Christian believers come to understand how God has been present with humanity since the beginning of time and is present in our world today. By studying the scriptures we can begin to know of God’s faithfulness, constant love and eternal goodness.
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people. It is regarded as sacred scripture by both Jews and Christians.
The New Testament contains four accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the account of the earliest Christian churches and other writings from the early Christian era. It is considered sacred scripture by Christians.
The Bible has been translated from its original languages into the languages of people throughout the world. The first translation into English was by John Wycliffe in the 14th century. Since that time, there have been a myriad of English translations. One of the most familiar, the King James Version (KJV), was commissioned by James I of England and published in 1611.
Although the language of the King James Bible reflected the everyday speech of England in the 17th century, changes in speech patterns and the meaning of certain words have made it more difficult to understand than more modern translations. Since the 1950s, there have been many translations of the Bible into contemporary English. Translations frequently used by Presbyterians in their worship services include the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). (Our congregation uses the NRSV in worship.) Both are considered excellent translations that are faithful to the original texts insofar as scholars can determine.
The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Presbyterian worship.
From the Confession of 1967:
The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
The New Testament is the recorded testimony of apostles to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Old Testament bears witness to God’s faithfulness in his covenant with Israel and points the way to the fulfillment of his purpose in Christ. The Old Testament is indispensable to understanding the New, and is not itself fully understood without the New.
The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that he will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture.
God’s word is spoken to his church today where the Scriptures are faithfully preached and attentively read in dependence on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and with readiness to receive their truth and direction.
From The Book of Order:
The session shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the particular church. (Book of Order W-2.2001) Leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be expected to affirm that “… the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments…[are]…., by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [them].” (Book of Order W-4.4003)