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Christianity - The Holy Bible

This GCSE RE quiz challenges you on the Holy Bible. The Scriptural bedrock of Christianity is, of course, the Holy Bible: a collection of rather over 50 separate ‘books’ or documents, written by a variety of people over a total span of several hundred years.

Most of these authors would have felt personally impelled by God to commit their experiences, reflections and/or wisdom into written form in an age where quantities of writing materials could be hard to obtain; and while some of them refer to one another (to prior books, such as the Old Testament histories; and, in the case of the prophets, to events yet-to-come historically ~ including the earthly ministry of Jesus), many of the writings were done ‘for the sake of it’ rather than in any awareness that the material might then become ‘canonical’, i.e. formally included for the spiritual edification of generations yet long unborn.

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Some of the material is by way of a public record (e.g. the historical books of the Old Testament, plus the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles); much is more personal, such as the prophecies and the letters of Paul to various church groups.

Precisely which books are to be found in your Bible may depend on who you are: the Protestant churches don’t usually include the Apocrypha, for instance. But Christians’ Old Testament is to all intents the Hebrew Bible (‘The Law and the Prophets’), followed as such by the New Testament (meaning ‘fresh covenant’, or as C20th US history puts such things, a ‘New Deal’) ~ in which Jesus, as God made man, comes to remodel the bond between God and humankind. Some passages seem very clear, others need unpacking in the light of their original cultural context or because they are symbolic (such as the Psalmist wailing ‘I am a worm, and no man’); others again need recognising for what they mean (e.g. when a circular ceremonial vessel in the First Temple is described as ‘3 units round, and 1 across’, this isn’t to be taken as the Bible giving us a precise value of Pi as 3.0; while such phenomena as Noah’s rainbow or the Plagues of Egypt make clearer sense now we know more about optics and biomes).

This quiz will help remind you of the Bible’s structure and how mainstream Christianity, at least, has regarded and handled it for around 2,000 years.

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  1. A quick initial 'analytic': which of these correctly summarises the contents of the Holy Bible?
    There are 39 Old Testament books and 27 in the New Testament.

    As you might expect, there are a lot of numerological features, both explicit and implicit in the Bible, beginning perhaps with the Creation story in which God makes the world in six stages (two sub-cycles of 3 each, if you re-read early Genesis and look for the 'scheme') and then has a rest on the seventh.

    (Going back a further level, there are whole scholarly literatures about how that story itself arose in this form, given that there were no humans on-hand to record it in 'real time' ... but that's already getting rather deeper than we need!)
  2. So far as the majority of Christians are concerned, most of the following assertions / descriptions regarding the Old Testament are broadly true. Which one is NOT?
    Answer 4, obviously enough, is unhelpfully dismissive of a wealth of interesting material!
  3. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, but followers of that faith felt (out of a sense of unworthy respect) that they did not dare read the name of God aloud in their worship. When, as often, they did need to mention Him in order not to leave a blank in the story, how did they name Him instead?
    Their word 'Adonai' is traditionally rendered as 'the Lord' (often with 'Lord' in small-capital type, which our present site appears not to support) in English versions.

    Written Hebrew usually leaves out its vowels, so their actual name for God would normally be rendered as Y*HW*H; the missing two vowels, for reference, are the first two vowels alphabetically in English (puzzle that out, or look it up!).

    Meanwhile, 'hallelujah' (variously spelt, but as in many Jewish &/or Christian worship music ~ not least the famous chorus in Handel's 'Messiah') means 'praise to God', with the last syllable being an unmistakeable shortened hint at His full Jewish name. 'Y*HW*H' also appears as an acrostic within the narrative of the Book of Esther.
  4. Back, for a moment, to the 'numbers game': most of us are probably aware of the Ten Commandments as given by God to Moses (in Exodus 20), but Jewish scholars have picked out many more commands given by God to Moses in other circumstances. How many are there altogether?
    Apparently, 365 of these are negatively framed ('Thou shalt not ...', at a rate of one daily per year for those studying and attempting to abide by them) and 248 positively. Christians could, we hope, be forgiven for being grateful that Jesus ~ among many other wonderful accomplishments ~ came through 'the System' and simplified all this to a bare handful of core principles. In fairness, a great rabbi Hillel had already tried something similar before Jesus' earthly time.
  5. Who definitively established which of the possible material would end up in The Holy Bible, as we now know it?

    (Obviously, believers would hold God Himself ultimately responsible; but which of His human followers implemented the practicalities?)
    Several key denominations, for instance, include the Apocrypha ~ a group of other 'books' ~ between the Old and New Testaments.
  6. Which Book, probably common to any respectable version of the Bible, contains the greatest number of chapters ~ and how many?
    The Psalms, simply put, were the Old Testament equivalent of a hymnbook, with songs to or about God to articulate almost every shade of human experience ~ from elation to despair. These were originally numbered as such (even so, with some relatively minor variations or inconsistencies), but other Books were not marked in any such way, for reference purposes, until much later.
  7. In which Book is the shortest verse in the Bible to be found?
    John 11:35 gets the prize here, describing Jesus' reaction to the reported death of his friend Lazarus (whom ~ so the story goes ~ He then went on to bring back from the dead, in a prefigurement of His own later Resurrection).

    It perhaps bears comparison that when, in the Old Testament, King David was brought the news that, against his direct orders, his own son had been killed during what amounted to a civil war, this great soldier and poet-king was rather similarly reduced to saying almost nothing coherent, even he being too moved to find words. (See in 2 Samuel, perhaps picking up the story towards the back of the 'teen' chapters for context's sake.)
  8. The cultural heritage of Bible stories, and their phrases and images, runs deep within our life and language ~ more so than you might realise. All bar ONE of the following are allusions to significant Bible stories in the traditional English version; which is the false one?
    Answer 2 here is from Shakespeare ('Romeo and Juliet') and is certainly a true encapsulation of human experience. The Bible references were, respectively, from Psalm 127 ('Unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain'); Jesus' teaching in Matthew's Gospel; and the story of Elijah and his servant awaiting the end of the great drought in Israel.
  9. Thinking again of Biblical phrases and indeed about writing in itself, for whom did the 'original' 'writing on the wall' appear?
    The tale of Belshazzar's blasphemous feast comes from the book of Daniel. William Walton wrote a wonderful musical version of the story for soloist, chorus, orchestra and brass band (!) in 1931, which is strongly recommended if you are that way inclined and have half-an-hour or so to experience it; the cover of the printed score (of course) reproduces Rembrandt van Rijn's previous, and also deservedly famous, painting of the crucial moment.

    The message of all this is that nobody should expect to get away with being so breathtakingly arrogant over matters that are so special or symbolic to God. Without wishing completely to spoil the story for any not already famliar with it, suffice it that Belshazzar is shortly struck dead ( ... and in the Walton setting, all the voices ~ perhaps even, also, those of the instrumentalists ~ shout the monosyllable 'slain' rather than actually singing it, which in itself was a technical 'first' for settings of Biblical material)!
  10. After which character, from within the Bible, is the modern organisation named which places copies of the Bible (or at least, the New Testament and Psalms) in public places such as hotels ~ where otherwise lonely or perplexed people may quietly turn to them?
    Gideon's own story is told in the book of Judges (Old Testament) along with the likes of Samson: a picaresque period in the dealings of God and His people. The modern organisation was established and named in his honour by two American businessmen, and now has an active ministry worldwide (Gideons International, which you could research further ... look, for instance, for what emblem they use, that is depicted in stylised form on the jacket of all their copies!).

Author: Ian Miles

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