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Christianity - A World of Bible Readers

This GCSE RE 'A World of Bible Readers' quiz takes us into quite a specialised field of Biblical understanding and application, by way of Hermeneutics and Exegesis ~ two terms which, while subtly distinct, refer to the ways how scholars who analyse Biblical texts tease out the layers of meaning, so that believers can better appreciate and apply the point of the Scriptures to their own daily lives.

There are (as you will probably have seen, in some of our other quizzes or elsewhere) many branches of the overall worldwide Church, not least since the schism between the Western and Orthodox ~ almost half the Christian era ago, in 1054 ~ and the Reformation, which brought the Protestant churches into being, in the 16th century, which in turn covers pretty well exactly the latter quarter of Christian history.

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Along with other more detailed refinements of Christian belief and practice, these divisions have both sprung from, and encouraged, active and divergent approaches to what the Scriptures are ~ and what should be regarded as their message.

For instance, does a given branch of the church accept and reprint the Apocrypha (otherwise known as the Deuterocanonical books)? What do they adopt into their Creed, and what do they reject, for whatever reasons? What teachings do they abide by which may have grown up alongside the Bible, rather than from directly within it?

We are, of course, assuming that all those making the key decisions are sincere believers within their own traditions, even if (ultimately) they are all fallible human beings. Anyone from outside the Mormon tradition might, for instance, happen to find it hard to accept how that church’s version of the Scriptures came to take the form that it did. But it can be instructive in itself to discover something of how differing versions and circumstances can bring fellow-Christians to hold so deeply to varying understandings of, and from, what ought ~ presumably ~ to be their ‘core text’.

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  1. The Schism ('split') of 1054 marked a divide between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches ~ principally over the significance of just one word in the Nicene Creed, the interpretation of which threatened to upset people's understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Spirit). An Alexandrian teacher named Arius had been proposing that ... (which of the following?) ...
    The dispute was over the Latin word 'filio-que' ('from the Son as well'); the Aryan heretics ~ a group of people who seemed to believe something radically at odds with Church tradition ~ were claiming the Spirit came principally from the Father, and thus to a lesser extent from Jesus, and hence in turn that Jesus did not have joint and equal power with the Father (so destabilising the notion of the Trinity).

    Once the Crusaders had sacked and looted the Eastern spiritual capital of Constantinople in 1204, during one of their missions to the Holy Land, there could be even less commonality between the two sides of the church, even since the (western) Pope and (eastern) Patriarch had effectively excommunicated one another at the time of the Schism.

    In early 2016 their successors met for the first time in many centuries, to deplore the maltreatment of all or any Christians by others in the Middle East, and to seek other more positive common ground. We can but wish them well!
  2. The monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) first began having doubts about then-existing Catholic doctrine while preparing lectures on a Bible passage where St Paul discusses 'justification by faith': i.e. that no believer can earn their way, by however many 'good works', to salvation and eternal life ~ since these are an outright gift from Jesus, to be accepted in faith. At that time Pope Leo X was seeking to fund some works on St Peter's in Rome by selling 'indulgences', encouraging people to believe that money they handed over could buy 'pardons' not only for themselves, but for others, including already-dead relatives.

    In which Bible book by St Paul had such issues been raised?
    Chapter 5 of Romans (addressed to believers living in the money-conscious centre of the known world, of Paul's day) turned out to be a 'trigger' ~ as we'd now say ~ for the Reformation some 1500 years later.

    The relevant words fit neatly in modern English since the gist of Paul's argument is: 'Not by WORKS but, by GRACE, through FAITH are we SAVED' (all key 5-letter terms). For modern clarity one might substitute DEEDS in place of WORKS, and perhaps also MERCY in place of GRACE ... but the aide-memoire would still work!
  3. Another, perhaps surprisingly 'un-minor' long-running debate has concerned Paul's principles regarding the wearing of hats during worship (at church, as most of us would now understand it). In his 1st letter to the Christian community at Corinth (situated on the isthmus, at a strategic 'crossroads' of travel routes; hence, potentially, of pivotal influence in the early church network), Paul tried to address the dispute that had already arisen. From what he wrote, what would appear to have been his recommendations?
    Paul refers to women not having their heads uncovered ~ but in context this could be taken to mean that they already wore more hair than closer-cut men, in which case they already had a natural covering distinct to their gender.

    Your author can well recall a typical suburban Anglican parish of his childhood, where in particular the older women congregants (themselves quite probably born and raised as Victorians) unfailingly wore various hats both to and during worship, rather than perhaps taking them off once they were inside the building (as a man might have done, had be been wearing a hat in the first place; but by the 1960s, few men still ever did).

    The splendid Stilgoe & Skellern song 'Mrs Beamish' comments on various changes in worship and behaviour in the later decades of the 20th century, from the supposed perspective of rather such an old lady; early on, when the 'brand new vicar' is described, we are also told of Mrs Beamish's dismay that 'the women don't wear hats, but the young men quite often do' (presumably caps, woolly and otherwise, which have been in and out of fashion). The whole song, available (carefully) on YouTube, casts a lot of church practices into kindly but coruscating perspective!
  4. Around the centrality of the Eucharist (communion) in Christian observance, there is a major divergence of understanding, chiefly between Catholics and Protestants, regarding the exact nature of the 'elements' which the communicant receives.

    At the Last Supper, speaking presumably in Aramaic (the local sister-language to Hebrew), Jesus invited His followers to consume the bread 'as [His] body' and the wine 'in remembrance, as [His] blood'. While most believers are spiritually happy, in their modern services, to consider the bread and wine as direct and potent symbols, in the context of an invited and explicit comparison, Catholic doctrine holds that during Mass these items miraculously become, to every intent, the flesh and blood of Jesus.

    Whatever your own stance on this pivotal matter ... by what official name is this doctrine known?
    The original material 'changes substance'; with such a key feature of the ritual, it is not enough merely to accept that it might do, or to pretend so. Without delving into a deep and long-running debate, suffice it that there would appear to be some space to interpret Jesus' original words ~ in their original tongue, and in context ~ as inviting an analogy (i.e. 'Whenever you break bread together, remember My broken body') rather than explicitly stating a categorical fact or order ('Wine = blood' as it were, or maybe weren't).

    In various major modern languages it would be enough merely to appose the ideas and suggest a link, because the 'be' verb either doesn't exist (as such) in the language, or wouldn't be used in any such situation. Very early in 'Teach Yourself Russian', for instance, you would be taken in your imagination to a hi-falutin' party in Moscow, and introduced to people in such terms as 'Boris: cosmonaut' and 'Svetlana: ballerina' without any explicit clarification that this is what they are or do.

    In the case of Transubstantiation (or not ~ if, for instance, you are a Protestant) the weight of words that may never have been spoken is indeed great. The 'miracle at every Mass' (our phrase rather than Rome's) is a key stumbling-point for ecumenism; it does not seem wholly unfair, prayerfully to rue the irony whereby supposed sincere fellow-Christians can't even quite accommodate one another's divergent understanding of the very rite that defines their faith (i.e. commemoration of the sacrificial death of Jesus, from which He would then return triumphant at the Resurrection) ...
  5. Jesus had offered His followers a prayer that we, ever since and therefore, know as The Lord's Prayer ('Our Father ... '), as a model of how ordinary everyday believers could directly address God; Protestants were keen that ordinary everyday Europeans, some 500 years ago, should be able to do what He commanded in their own native language. What was the official policy on this until the Reformation?
    It had technically been an offence to say 'Our Father (etc)' instead of the Latin 'Pater Noster'.
  6. From within and beyond the Protestant movement came the Puritans, who (as their name suggests) urged for even simpler ~ 'purer' ~ forms of life and worship. Which of the following did the Puritans do?
    It was the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed on the 'Mayflower' in 1620; King Charles I was executed early in 1649 and was later known as 'the Martyr' ~ there is a church named in his honour at Tunbridge Wells, where your author was baptised (his parents having been married there a year beforehand). The Puritans were certainly both believers and achievers, in their way ... !
  7. It was another Scripture passage which gave initial impetus to the Wesley brothers in 1738, on Whit Sunday, when they began the Methodist movement within the Church of England. John had apparently been at a meeting when this passage came up, and when he went to tell Charles, Charles was already feeling similarly moved. What was the 'trigger text' in that instance?
    200-odd years after the Reformation, this text ~ along with Luther's own Preface to it (see Question 2, earlier) ~ prompted the Wesleys to found a keen new movement within the established Church of England. John Wesley (who had already been to America and back) reportedly then embarked on preaching travels amounting to not far short of half-a-million kilometres, giving over 40,000 sermons to large audiences, many of these in the open air. One might feel that Paul himself, as a seasoned missionary traveller, would have regarded him with a measure of pride and admiration ( ... except that of course, Paul made it a principle never to 'do pride')!
  8. The Methodists aimed to go right back to the Bible: and if you look in many of their churches now, you will notice from the layout at the front end that there is greater importance given to reading and expounding the Bible than, even, to holding Eucharists (communion services ~ though they certainly do these too). Their early followers were still seen as shirking off going to 'proper church' ... until Wesley was able to achieve an officially recognised system of licensing for their Chapels.
    What does the Bible meanwhile have to say about believers' obedience to 'earthly authorities'?
    Paul (in Romans, yet again!) also recommends people to submit to others whom God, in His wisdom, has set over them.
  9. Even people with only a passing involvement in Christianity, might at least be willing enough to accept the Christmas story as the start of Jesus' 30-odd years amongst us on earth. Alongside the shepherds (themselves full of symbolism, which we might consider elsewhere), 'everybody knows the baby had a visit from three kings' ~ whose pilgrimage was also prophetic.
    Where in the Bible are the Three Kings, as such, mentioned?
    We are told that they were 'wise rulers' (presumably learned and leisured enough to be studying the sky for signs; and to be able to take protracted leave, with deputies securely in charge, for as long as an investigative trip might need); and that they brought along three distinct gifts with them, from which it is tidy enough to assume that this meant one substance each. But our 'Three Kings', whose camel-borne images faithfully adorn countless seasonal cards each year, are never identified by that precise term in Holy Scripture.
  10. Translating the Bible into other languages, for target cultures very different from those around the 'Mediterranean basin', can sometimes bring very specific challenges ~ not least if the target language is entirely oral and has no form of written script. Which, if any, of the following stylistic difficulties has NOT been known to arise in translation?
    Most of us involved in this quiz would probably, at least, accept the broad premise of the Bible offering God's Word for all and forever. But within that God's world there is a marvellous array of different peoples and cultures who can only fairly be addressed in terms that will make immediate, clear and cogent sense to them.

    Another missionary-related story concerns a previously remote Pacific island in whose language nouns belong to any one of three genders (grammatical groups that determine how they 'behave' within sentences, and which in most Western languages are traditionally referred to as Masculine, Feminine and perhaps also Neuter). In this particular language, a different system had developed: its noun-class groups were based on whether the thing in question was animal, vegetable or mineral (e.g. sea-shells, coconuts or sand, respectively). The missionaries touched down in their seaplane, pointed to it and said 'plane'; the local people, never having seen one close-to before, enthusiastically took on the word 'plen' ~ adopting it into their vegetable gender. Why so? Because the only man-made vehicles they already had for prior example were dugout canoes made of logs ... which are, of course, vegetable.

    Isn't the diversity of God's world marvellous?

Author: Ian Miles

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