Christianity - The Bible in the 21st Century

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz asks questions about the Bible in the 21st century. It has been almost 2,000 years since the last book in the Holy Bible was originally written, and many centuries since its overall contents were broadly agreed across and within the Christian traditions. In the 21st century we inhabit a world in which people are still working and worshipping, raising families, coping with life’s joys and sorrows etc., but there are many developments that the Bible writers ~ for all their gifts of prophecy, in many cases ~ were unable to foresee.

Some of these issues are technical, but many of them also have a moral dimension, such as those involving humankind’s newfound scientific abilities to preserve, extinguish or adapt the life of organisms ~ including both living humans and embryos.

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Others include how God’s ‘chosen people’ (Jews or Christians, singly or en masse) should cope in an age of worldwide communications that they share with millions of followers of other faiths.

Matters of interpersonal conduct and relationships can also be viewed in a Biblical perspective: not least such intimate issues as homosexuality, and indeed of gender and the priesthood (i.e. ‘should there be female ministers?’), on which various branches of Christendom will have divergent views ranging from ‘the Bible wouldn’t stand for it’ to a ~ perhaps ~ more moderate model of Christian tolerance.

Amid all this, who nowadays has the authority to interpret Scripture and tell others whether their sincere urges or initiatives are (or are not) God-given? How far can Biblical texts fairly be summarised or adapted to offer apparent support for a case? In an age where there seem to be more offshoot versions of Christianity (not to say ‘cults’) than ever before, and when virtual communities can exist across the internet who never physically meet as a traditional congregation would, there are many possibilities for the traditional faith to be distorted, diluted and even perverted. This quiz will review some recent instances and consider what may be learned from such experiences.

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  1. Each human life ~ ordained and beloved by God, so Christians believe ~ ostensibly begins at birth, though effectively it starts at the moment of conception (preferably, itself, within the context of a loving and stable parental relationship rather than a casual encounter). As such it is of course deeply precious.

    Catholics and various others have very strict beliefs about the sanctity of life, based on the Commandment 'You shall do no murder'. What is their outlook on abortion (the stopping of the life of the unborn baby)?
    Even ~ especially ~ in an age when society and medicine are sensitive to such considerations, an absolute Biblical standard should apply, in the view of believers from these traditions.

    Within living memory, time was when (usually) young unmarried mothers-to-be would be hustled away to an institution where they would be away from awkward questions, but work to pay their keep, such as the infamous (and long-since-closed) Magdalene Laundries. At least these days there is less stigma attached to a woman being pregnant outside the context of a formalised relationship.
  2. On somewhat the other face of a similar coin, other couples may be trying yet failing to conceive a child: modern science can achieve 'in vitro fertilisation' (the first example having been 'test-tube baby' Louise Brown almost 50 years ago). Catholics and some others are not only generally wary of this, but believe it is tantamount to 'playing God' and therefore unacceptable in Biblical terms, however plangent the circumstances. On what grounds?
    One can only imagine the heartbreak of couples who have enjoyed trying, yet never succeeded. There is, however, the alternative option of adopting children: the opening of an 'expectant' home to give fresh hope to another young person is in itself a wonderful example of charitable love in action.

    If ever you have watched 'Long Lost Families' on Channel 4 (British tv) you will have seen plangent anecdotal evidence of the strength of the bonds and yearnings between people separated in the 'bad old days', when unmarried mothers were unable to keep their children.
  3. Applying Biblical principles to modern situations is one matter, but debates meanwhile continue about what the Bible and its writers were actually saying, or meant. Which of the following is a FALSE 'explanation' of how the text should be approached?
    Despite the similar term, this refers not to cathedral canons, but to the Canon of Scripture: i.e. which books were determined by the early Church to be worthy of inclusion in the Bible as we now have it.
  4. What discovery in the mid-20th century, since minutely researched with the help of emerging technologies, has provided direct evidence of Bible writings from New Testament times and earlier (rather than the previously oldest extant materials, which were copies dating back only about half as far?)
    These documents, and fragments, discovered in the years shortly after World War 2, brought to light the existence of the ancient Essene community at the Wadi Qumran. For a while it was widely believed that Jesus of Nazareth had been a member of this community, possibly during the 'lost years' between His childhood and ministry. At any rate, this trove has yielded far more, older and genuine copies of Old Testament texts than any other before or since. A judicious search for this topic online would probably be of interest to you, and is recommended.
  5. It might very broadly be said that societies in Bible times (Old and New Testaments) were very 'patriarchal', i.e. based on sweeping assumptions about the roles of men and women; and that Women's Liberation ~ as we now know it ~ has since been a very recent development in terms of social history, perhaps over only about the past century or so (a handful of human generations, at most). Bible study and interpretation has had to accommodate major changes within a relatively short time. Which of these would perhaps have been the LEAST major concern for sincere Bible followers with a feminist leaning?
    We have covered issues around women and priesthood elsewhere, but these wider matters are certainly and rightly open to discussion now as never before.
  6. In our own age we hear plenty about 'sexual and gender rights', not least various statistics about how many % of the world population may be (supposedly) naturally homosexual. It would probably still be broadly fair to regard homosexuals as a minority ~ statistically speaking ~ though certainly not an insignificant one; if most of the population were homosexual, for one thing, the birthrate would probably be rather lower than it is. (We make no implication nor blame in any quarter for pointing this out.)

    So: what does the Bible have to say on this topic?
    This is all angled at homosexuality between adult males; there appears to be nothing much about what we now know as lesbianism, except in one passage of Paul's letter to the Romans (perhaps an unsurprising context). It perhaps bears saying that when, in 1885, British law stood poised to confirm homosexuality ('gross indecency') as a punishable offence, no mention was made of its female form ~ since Queen Victoria would, we are told, never even have believed it existed. All such laws were in any case repealed, after about a century, in 1967 (the same year when abortion was decriminalised).
  7. It may seem ~ from our previous question and elsewhere (by no means only within our own quizzes) ~ that St Paul was overly strict, as we might now consider it, about a number of personal lifestyle issues and choices. Whether or not that is the case, his overall contribution to the spread and understanding of Christianity in its formative earliest years was clearly almost incalculable.

    THREE of the following are direct quotations, or close paraphrases, from a single one of his many letters, in this case the first of two to the believers at Corinth (thus usually known as '1 Corinthians'). Which ONE of the following passages is NOT from this letter?
    Each of these is from Paul's pen, but answer 2 (almost universally used across Christendom and known as The Grace) is the closing verse from his second ~ rather than first ~ letter to Corinth. The first letter includes the institution of the eucharist (answer 1, from Chapter 11), the analogy of the church as comprised of many complementary elements (answer 3; Chapter 12) and the great passage about love, as so often read at weddings (answer 4: Chapter 13) ... and these gems were 'only' from three consecutive chapters!
  8. What is the usual label applied to believers in any faith (not only Christianity) who insist that every word of their scriptures must be literally true ~ rather than open to interpretation in the light of the context of the writer, or subsequent developments in preaching and practice, or in technology and society?
    You might usefully research each of these other terms, but answer 1 is the appropriate one here.
  9. The statistics may well change during the future currency of this quiz; but as of Easter 2016, in approximately how many of the United States is it legal ~ or even compulsory ~ to teach the Genesis account of the creation of the world as word-for-word true fact?
    Wikipedia, as at 5 April 2016, refers in specific detail to 12 of the 50-odd States, so the statistic of 'around a quarter' is probably broadly tenable. We pass no value judgement ~ other than that this potentially means that of the US total population of around 320 million, perhaps not far short of 10 million have been (or are being) educated in environments that encourage literal belief while dismissing scientifically-evidenced evolution as a mere 'theory'. Make of that what you will, in the early 21st century.
  10. One way of looking at the Bible, its purpose and potential influence, would at least be to make it available to every (literate) person in the world so that they could try reading it and make up their own mind about any personal response. The total number of languages spoken in the world is, sadly, shrinking steadily, while the work of Bible translators is bringing the text to more and more of them. As of around 2015, what are the broadly accepted statistics?
    Around 1/3 of these languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers, so these sadly cannot be a priority on practicality grounds.

    According to Wycliffe Bible Translators' website around Easter 2016: 'The full Bible is available in 554 different languages, giving 5,054 million people access to Scripture in the language they understand best. The New Testament is available in another 1,333 languages, reaching another 663 million people. At least one book of the Bible is available in a further 1,045 other languages, spoken by 281 million people.

    'In addition to over 2,267 active projects worldwide, work needs to be done in a further 1,800 languages. There are an estimated 180 million people without access to any Scripture in their heart language. 1.5 billion people are without the full Bible in their first language.'

Author: Ian Miles

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