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Christianity - Biblical 'Truth' and Authority

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz takes a look at Biblical 'Truth' and Authority. For Christians the Bible is the bedrock of their faith, through whose words down the centuries God has guided His believers ~ though they may well also experience guidance in complementary ways, through circumstances, opportunities, discussion and preaching from others in their lives. Clearly, such people ~ who mean well, and are unlikely to commit their way of living to the influence of a book they do not feel they can trust ~ must satisfy themselves that it is ‘true’ (or at least, that they can accept it en-masse, even if some passages may require a lifetime’s faith and study to reach a fuller understanding).

One of the great debates of the past century-and-a-half has been over whether the Genesis account of creation should be taken as literally true.

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A fair Bible reader needs to be aware which parts of Scripture should be taken literally, and which figuratively (e.g. when the Psalmist finds himself in a bad place and declares ‘I am a worm, not a human being’ ~ which clearly cannot be taken at face value).

Then again, these days more than ever before there are alternative translations available which should tell broadly the same message, yet in subtly different ways, such as being more ‘inclusive’ (i.e. not insisting by traditional default that people in general should be referred to as ‘he’). Well might an outsider wonder at what point any version of the Bible stops being genuine.

There is also the matter of modern dilemmas which time-honoured Bible texts never address directly, such as the ethics and opportunities of the internet (though we can fairly reliably infer its view on the issue of ‘temptation’ towards such dishonouring pursuits as adultery and irresponsibility with one’s money).

How do Christians, generally and variously, validate their study of the Scriptures?

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  1. We rarely hear the word 'testament' in any other context in modern English usage, with one conspicuous exception. What does it mean?
    When someone dies, or is preparing for that eventually to happen, they write their 'Last Will and Testament'. The Old Testament of the Bible effectively lays out the contract or 'deal' between God and His chosen people (Old Testament, conveyed through Abraham, Moses and others), and, in the New Testament, the latter arrangement is introduced by which believers can be restored to direct communion with God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
  2. What makes up the Holy Bible is broadly agreed across the Christian spectrum, but the principal difference is probably that the Catholic church (and various others) include a third significant division in between the Old and New Testaments. What is this called?
    Catholics themselves usually refer to these as the Deuterocanonical Books.
  3. At time of writing, we have been approaching the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the longest-reigning British monarch ~ among whose many titles is 'Defender of the Faith'. At her Coronation in 1953 she was given various emblems of her monarchy (orb, sceptre etc.) along with a Bible which was formally described as ... (?)
    This was the epithet used within the formal Order of Service. It has been interesting to see recently how the Queen ~ as a very public figure, yet a private person in many other respects ~ has 'opened up' somewhat about the faith which has sustained her in her duties over an eventful two-thirds-of-a-century or so.
  4. To try and summarise the influence of the Bible over many centuries of human thought and affairs, within such a context as this quiz, would probably be somewhat presumptuous ... but we ought perhaps to have a try! The following is an edited quote from eminent Biblical scholar and commentator John Riches, of the University of Glasgow. One section is false, in that we have distorted or even fabricated it: all will become clearer once you have picked your option among the answers. Which is the wrong-'un here?
    It would surely not be fair to say 'the Bible has led' anyone to do evil. Individual humans, not least influential ones, may have turned selectively to its pages to seek apparent justification for such barbarities as the torture of the Spanish Inquisition or the (then well-intentioned) arrogance of the Crusades; but it would be wrong to 'blame the Book'. (Even the Devil tried that tactic, selectively misquoting one of Jesus' favourite Psalms during the temptations in the desert.

    Answer 3 was completely fabricated and never the opinion of John Riches. The rest of the quotation comes from 'The Bible: A Very Short Introduction' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; ISBN 978-0-19-285343-1) page 134.
  5. After the Gospels come three further sections, two of which contain only one (but very important) book in each. In what order do these sections appear?
    The 'early church history' book is usually titled The Acts of the Apostles, in English, and is a sequel to Luke's Gospel by the same author. Early Christian correspondence comes next, and Revelation surely belongs at the end ... how could it possibly be followed by anything else?
  6. Many world faiths pass on their traditions and wisdom through a pairing of their scriptures with custom and 'case-lore' as time goes by, and may well be the richer for it. But when Protestants broke away from the church of Rome at the Reformation, around 500 years ago, they were particularly keen to strip away any beliefs or practices that had grown up without any clear Biblical warrant. What was their Latin slogan for this principle?
    This holds that the teachings of the Bible are true and sufficient for a Christian life to be lived by, without recourse to other sources (though a good, approved Bible commentary might not go amiss for the more abstruse passages).
  7. The Old Testament consists of 39 books which are shared and revered between Judaism (whose entire official holy writings they comprise), Christianity and Islam. In what order do its three main subsections appear?
    The Old Testament traces the story of God's dealings with His chosen people through Abraham, Moses and others, and considers both holy and worldly matters through the eyes of a series of divinely-inspired prophets. In original Jewish practice the order is as in Answer 4.
  8. People looking in on Christianity from outside or beyond, might still query what objective proof there is for the claims of the Bible. Plenty of well-intentioned individuals have claimed to find key relics such as wood from the cross on Calvary, Noah's Ark or whatever; but it would be very hard to prove their absolute authenticity (or otherwise).

    One such, wholly unique and very startling, object is the Turin Shroud ~ which purports to have been what, exactly, with reference to the events of the original Holy Week?
    Controversy continues over the authenticity, or otherwise, of this few metres of ancient cloth. You may wish carefully to pursue your own researches about it ~ but whatever your view, we believe you will find it intriguing.
  9. Christians honour Jesus as God made man, and hence that there can be no finer example of godly living. What was His catchphrase when He referred to Jewish scriptural sources such as the Psalms and Prophets?
    To Jesus Himself, Scripture as he knew and honoured it was the ultimate guide; His followers since should surely follow this example and include His own precepts in their devotions and decisions.
  10. The New Testament begins with four complementary versions of the Gospel, which scholars now believe to have been written around 40 years after the events they describe. Three of them are known as 'synoptic' since they 'see with a similar eye', and contain plenty of narrative detail with the ring of eye-witness accounts through much of the story.

    Which is the non-synoptic Gospel?
    Mark was written by an author who would have been a young man at the original time: it is the briefest and fastest-paced; Luke was a doctor (and Paul's travelling-companion) who wrote stylistically-balanced, thoughtful accounts and investigated such episodes as miracle stories as best he then could. John, on the other hand, opens with the splendid sentence 'In the beginning' [echoing Genesis here, no less!] 'was the Word'; only he features the famous 'I am ...' sayings of Jesus, and only he gives that lapidary summary of the whole Gospel: 'God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16).

Author: Ian Miles

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