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Old 01-06-2006, 03:52 PM   #11
Kurgan
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Just to clarify something about the Bible, before somebody else objects. The Bible as we have it today pretty much is thanks to the Catholic Church. However, to avoid any misunderstanding:

The "Old Testament" that we have today was written by the Jewish people before the formation of the Christian Church. The writings that Christians call the OT however are somewhat different from what modern Jews use (called the "Tanak"). The order and division of the books is different, for example. The Catholic Church today accepts a longer OT canon (which includes the "Deuterocanon" which means a second canon, added to the collection later) with books like Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (of Solomon), 1 & 2 Maccabees, etc. The Greek and Slavonic Orthodox churches also accept these Deuterocanonical books plus a few others (like 1 & 2 Esdras, Psalm 151, etc.). The reason for the additional books is that about 200 years before Christ the Septuigint (meaning "seventy" for the 70-72 Jewish scholars who put it together), a greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was in use at the time by Jesus and his first followers, who lived in a Hellenized (Greek influenced) Jewish culture. Hebrew texts were known, but Greek was the trade language and many Jews spoke Greek, necessitating the translation in places like Palestine. The Greek text includes some additional material not found in Hebrew versions, like additions to the books of Esther and Daniel, in addition to the extra books. Some Jews considered these sacred scripture, but others disputed them. In about 90 in Jamnia (Yavneh), a group of Jewish Rabbis were assembled after the destruction of the Temple (which occured in 70) and, according to legend, decided on a Hebrew canon, excluding these "extra" books. Of course they also denied canonicity of the books Christians had become to regard as sacred, such as the Gospels and writings of Paul.

Now there is some disagreement today among theologicans/historians as to what actually happened at Jamnia/Yavneh. Some say the Rabbis merely agreed on what was already a "consensus" of Jewish opinion. Others say they basically made up their own rules and then expected those under them to follow them. Others say that they really didn't agree on anything, and it was later that people looked to Jamnia/Yavneh to establish a historical precedent for accepting only certain books as scripture. The main point though is that by the 2nd Century, the mainstream leadership of Judaism felt that they had a collection of books that were sacred scripture, and that was that.

In any case, Christians had their canon (roughly) of the OT and the Jews had their's. Outside of Palestine however, some Jewish groups continued to use the expanded canon, as apparently some Ethiopian Jewish sects do today.

The King James Version, the most famous English translation of the Bible, used by most Protestants today, at least traditionally, is actually one of the last revisions (there were at least eight of them since the original "Authorized Version" produced under King James I in 1611). So when you dig out that copy placed by the Gideons, it's actually not the last revision, but one of the last. Coming from that you have the English Standard Version and the successors to it, culminating with the New Revised Standard Version.

It should be noted that you can order the original KJV 1611 online, and it included notes on textual variants (as the Masoretic Jewish scribes did in the middle ages, preserving the different alternate bits for comparison) and what Protestants call the "Apocrypha" (the Deuterocanonical books as accepted by the Catholic Church, but not the extra books accepted by the Orthodox branches, usually). The Geneva Bible apparently included the new "Protestant Canon" (which followed the Hebrew Canon, but a different order of books, plus the New Testament), but also the Prayer of Manasseh, which it listed as "apocryphal" (Apocryphal means "hidden" which has traditionally been taken to mean either something spurious that must be hidden away to avoid corrupting people's beliefs, or else something esoteric or difficult to understand, requiring a mature believer or more educated reader to fully grasp).

If you crack open a Bible today, you'll see that the Jewish Bible is the shortest, then the Protesant Bible has a second testament tacked on, the Catholic Bible has a bit longer Old Testament, and the Orthodox Bible longer still. Protestant Bibles that include the "Apocrypha" are re-gaining popularity, especially among academic circles. Many bookstores carry them as well. Christian apocryphal writings and other writings not accepted by anyone as sacred scripture within the main large religious bodies (mostly gleaned from the Nag Hammadi texts discovered in the 1940's and early 50's) are also translated and available to the average Joe reader. Last year I saw in my bookstore the "Gnostic Bible" which is somewhat of a misnomer because there really was never an official "canon" of Gnostic works (Marcion, the famous leader often connected with historical Gnosticism is credited with the first "Christian" canon that only he and his followers accepted, but it included books taken from the New Testament only).

Anyway, sorry to ramble with the history lesson, but essentially what we have today is more or less what they had back in the day, but translated, and the order of books and what books are accepted is disputed between different faith groups.

Without the Catholic Church's preservation of the texts from the time of the first century through the middle ages until the present time, we may not have had a Bible as intact as we did to translate into modern vernacular tongues. The New Testament of course was produced in a time when the Christian Church was united (barring a few heresies that existed within the main church, such as the Gnostics and Arians).

The discovering of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 and their subsequent translation has shown the care with which the texts were preserved by the Catholic Church. Variations exist, but no extensive corruption as some alleged or feared before their final complete release to the public in the 1990's.

It should also be pointed out that non-Orthodox/non-Catholic Christians do not all come from the Catholic Church. Many come from each other, and some were formed independantly in recent times. But as for the Bible, yes, they all essentially owe it to the Catholic Church and the historical foundation also from that Church, whether they wish to admit it or not.

Despite common usage, some Protestant Chrisitans also object to the term "Protestant," preferring the term "Christian" or the name of their denomination. Apparently the term began (as do many labels, including "Christian" and the "Roman" in "Roman Catholic") as something of an insult, but was later adopted as a badge of honor and stuck. Typically most people mean "Protestant" to refer either to a church intellectually connected to the Reformations of the 16th century or simply a Christian who is not Orthodox or Catholic.

Speaking of labels, it can be difficult discussing the things sometimes because people do reject labels. Many fundamentalists label self-identified Christian groups that differ from them "too much" doctrinally to not be Christians. So you get Catholics lumped in by them with groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc. Now I personally object to such lumping since these groups diverged from Protestantism in part and in very recent times (100-200 years ago tops). Not all of these fundamentalists reject Penetecostalism, which also came about fairly recently (150-100 years ago). And even the term "fundamentalism" is problematic as a catch-all term. But if somebody says my Church isn't Christian, I'm inclined to think of them as one, unless they can prove to me otherwise.

It could be said that all Christians, except extremely liberal ones (ranging from former Anglican Bishop Shelby Spong to the Jesus Seminar folks) are fundamentalists to some degree (insisting on certain doctrines to be held to be a Christian) it's just that certain groups have more stringent rules and apply them to those even outside their congregations.

Sorry for the long post, I just thought I'd throw that in there, since religion was tied into this discussion of Evolution. For the most part Christian churches accept evolution, not as dogma or revelation, but as a fairly solid scientific theory that need not conflict with religious faith. Many rank and file Christians probably say they reject evolution, at least according to polls, but evolutionary theory is poorly understood by the general American public, so this is not altogether surprising. Their churches for the most part don't have a problem with it, so long as you still acknowledge that God is the source of all life, and humankind is in the image of God.


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