Friday, May 7, 2010

What is the Bible?

I begin my Introduction to New Testament Studies course by asking the class to give serious consideration to the question "What is the Bible?" and determine some type of class definition as a starting point. The consensus was that it is a book written that contains history and is the basis of faith for certain religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

I just finished grading the final exams. One of the questions on the exam asked the students to reflect upon the original question and discuss their understandings of the bible in light of the knowledge that they gained in the course.

One student's response leapt out this year and I want to share it:

"In the beginning of the course, the bible seemed easy. I really thought I understood what it was and where it came from. In my opinion, it was a book with largely fictitious stories that formed the basis of faith for various religions, in particular Christianity. Now knowing the complex history of how the bible was created and all the nuances of how it is interpreted have changed my opinion. The bible is not a simple matter as I previously thought. Now I believe the bible to be a living and breathing text which is constantly being changed to reflect the values and beliefs of those who read it. The text has survived and found relevancy for thousands of years. What does a modern person have in common with an ancient Roman Christian? Really, absolutely nothing. But the bible was/is found relevant to both. The bible is transformed to suit the beliefs of its users...Particularly interesting was how the bible can be interpreted to encourage certain beliefs. Amazing how it is used to support suppression of women and even to support slavery."


Anonymous said...

"What does a modern person have in common with an ancient Roman Christian?"

I beg to differ. When I read ancient literature I reflect on the myriad ways we are exactly the same. Am I more different from a 1st century christian than i am from a 21st century Russian?

Patrick G. McCullough said...

Thanks for sharing, April. It's great to see when students are really working these issues out.

Bruce J. Martin said...

Any chance to get a copy of the syllabus reading list for this course?

Roadscholar said...

Yes, I think time has led to a complete revaluation of the original Christian values. Those who in America today claim to be the most faithful Christians also strongly identify themselves with the Republican party, whose platform, it seems to me, is completely anti-Christian. Jesus was for giving charity to the poor, Republicans are for the wealthy and for limiting welfare and other government programs. Jesus was for paying taxes, Republicans are rabidly anti-taxation. Jesus was against money ("You cannot serve money and God") Republicans seem to be obsessed with it. Jesus was for peaceful resistance and turning the other cheek, Republicans seem to love nationalism and war-mongering. And as for the "Christian" tendency toward limiting sex education and birth control, and outlawing abortion? Well, perhaps these people, who believe that "Jesus is coming soon", should heed the only thing he ever said that can be taken to apply here, "How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women." Matt 24:19 After all, our planet is rapidly being destoyed by two things--greed for money and the over-population of humans--and Jesus' overarching promise was that he would "save the world". John 12:47 I feel confident that God would rather reap souls sustainably at the rate of 3 billion per generation than have it peak at 9 or 12 billion and then have it all come crashing down for those last generations-- our own children and grandchildren--who will be condemned to suffer a hell on earth. Oops, sorry, I forgot than many "Christians" do not believe in global warming, and habitat distruction and industrial-scale resource depletion are a good thing. Drill baby, Drill, and Spill, Baby, Spill!

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Daniel Graves said...

Obviously, when you read a student's reflection such as the one above, it must be very gratifying to know that not only have they done some learning about Christian origins, but also that they have begun to engage their critical thinking skills. My wife is a teacher and all too often it seems as if all the work is for nothing. These little moments are precious indeed. Give yourself a pat on the back. Carry on with courage in the important work you do as both a scholar and educator.

With much admiration,

Fr. Dan Graves

Stephan Huller said...

Q Scott F. 'Am I more different from a 1st century Christian than I am from a 21st century Russian?'

A: Yes, you can hold hands and watch Dancing With the Stars with a 21st century Russian.

Q: What is the Bible?

A: An attempt to make the case that the Law and the prophets had not been rendered useless by the advent of the one prophesied in various parts of Deuteronomy (especially chapter 32).

dialecticsoup said...

"Now knowing the complex history of how the bible was created and all the nuances of how it is interpreted..."

It is wonderful to see that the complexity of the bible is being appreciated and taught and how rewarding and enlightening studying *about* the bible (as well as the bible itself) can be. Thank you for the work you do Dr. DeConick!


R.Eagle said...

if one fails to realize the will in studying the bible, i think any other concerns matters little...but that's my experience, and not that i do not glean from all things, but again, it is "the will" which matters most

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