Protestants tend to think there is only one Bible--theirs.
Actually different religious groups of the Judeo-Christian tradition have different biblical canons.
Different Books ??
Some canons are smaller than the Protestant Bible; others are larger:
- The smallest Bible is claimed by the Samaritans, who recognize only the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch).
- The largest Bible is that of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which has 81 books
The New Testament: Is There Agreement?
Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox Christians agree on the same 27 books for the composition of the New Testament; however some smaller groups of Christians do not. The Nestorian, or Syrian church, recognizes only 22 books, excluding 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes the same 27 books in its "narrower" canon but adds 8 books to its "broader" canon: "four sections of church order from a compilation called Sinodos, two sections from the Ethiopic Books of Covenant, Ethiopic Clement, and Ethiopic Didascalia."
The Hebrew Bible: Old Testament
The Hebrew Bible and the Protestant Old Testament contain the same books but they are arranged in a different order?? Additionally, books that Protestant Christians divide into two parts (Kings, Chronicles, Samuel, and Ezra-Nehemiah) are only one book in the Hebrew Bible.
In terms of the Old Testament, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and other Eastern Christians claim more "inside books".
The books of the "second canon" are considered "inside" by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopic Christians; the latter group adds even more books beyond the deuterocanonicals. Protestants consider the same books "outside" however they give the Apocrypha high status, considering them valuable for instruction and spiritual edification.
The Ethiopian Orthodox church's narrower Old Testament canon includes the books of the Hebrew Bible, all of the Apocrypha, and "Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and Joseph ben Gurion's (Josippon's) medieval history of the Jews and other nations."
Comparative Order of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles
The Hebrew Bible:
The Protestant Bible:
- The Twelve Prophets - One Book Including:
- Song of Solomon
1. Law = 5 Books
2. History = 12 Books
Joshua - Prophets
Judges - Prophets
Ruth - Writings
1 Samuel - Prophets 1 Book
2 Samuel - Prophets
1 Kings - Prophets 1 Book
2 Kings - Prophets
1 Chronicles - Writings 1 Book
2 Chronicles - Writings
Ezra- Writings-Combined w/Nehemiah
Nehemiah- Writings-Combined w/Ezra
Esther - Writings
3. Poetry = 5 Books
Job - Writings
Proverbs - Writings
Ecclesiastes - Writings
Song of Solomon - Writings
4. Prophecy = 17 Books
Isaiah - Prophets
Jeremiah - Prophets
Lamentations - Writings
Ezekiel - Prophets
Daniel - Writings
(Below are contained in 1 Book in the Hebrew Bible)
*Amos (*Order Change)
Note how the two arrangements of the same literature differ.1) First of all the Christian order divides books that are united in the Jewish sequence. Thus there are twelve minor prophets, two books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Moreover, Ezra and Nehemiah are also separated. This division of larger works into smaller ones in the Old Testament was probably caused by the use of the codex to publish the material, whereas the larger volumes of the Tanak would have been published on individual scrolls, for which it would not be convenient to separate similar thematic material. 2) The writings are not only divided differently for technical reasons; they are arranged differently for thematic reasons. The TaNaK has a concentric structure with the content centring on the Torah, which is like a nucleus of a cell. This would suggest that the heart or core of the TaNaK is the Torah and that eveything else is commentary. Consequently scholars speak of the primary importance of ethics in Judaism. By way of contrast, the Old Testament has more of a temporal ordering, stretching to the distant past with books of Law and History, stressing the present with the timeless literature of praise and the gnomic wisdom of proverbs and pointing to the future with the eschatological hope of the prophets. Consequently the Old Testament ship sails off in the direction of the future while that of the TaNaK is firmly anchored to the past. 2) Scholars have also noticed that the Christian Old Testament is arranged on the basis of genre categories while the TaNaK's structure is grouped according to topical or subject groupings. Consequently the historical narrative of Ruth occurs in its natural chronological sequence after Judges in the Christian Bible and the rest of the historical narrative which is found in different sections of the Jewish Bible is found in one place in the Old Testament. Similarly , poetic books are lumped together as are prophetic books. In the TaNaK another principle seems to be at work, such as symmetry and theme. Its second section consists of four historical books matched by four prophetical books, the first providing not only a sequel to the Torah but an historical and thematic context for the prophets. The third section consists of five books matched by five others and introduced by the little book of Ruth, which serves to stress the importance of the Davidic hope, a topic which serves to tie these books, which are quite different generically, together. 3) These principles of arrangement determined different places for Lamentations and Daniel in the different canons. 4) The order of the Twelve latter prophets is different:. [The order of the Christian Bible stresses books arranged according to diminishing size]
OT: Hos Am Mic Joel Ob Jon Nah Hab Zep Hag Zec Mal
TNK: Hos Joel Am Ob Jon Mic Nah Hab Zep Hag Zec Mal
At the same time the canons have important similarities: 1) The first 9/11 books are identical 2) Although some of the books are numbered and arranged differently in the two collections, the content of canons is exactly the same.
1.12 Which canon is the oldest arrangement? There is quite a debate as to which truly is the oldest but it is generally considered that the TaNaK is the oldest of the two. It needs to be remembered though that there was no one book which comprised the Bible but 24 separate scrolls that would have been kept in the temple and synagogue libraries. The earliest evidence for the Old Testament order comes from 5th Century Greek manuscripts which were obviously the work of Christian scribes. This evidence was found in codices which--in contrast to separate scrolls- necessitated a fixed order since the entire content of the scrolls was placed in a book format. There are some scholars who have argued that the invention of the codex around the second century BC placed pressure on the Jewish community to come to a n agreement regarding the order of the scrolls. Although there probably is truth to this argument, it is nonetheless equally true that there is substantial evidence to a previously existing Jewish arrangement of canonical scrolls. For the antiquity of the Jewish order there is the following terminology found in early texts (pre 100 A.D.). The terminology generally occurs in two forms, a short form--a bipartite designation for the canon, and a long form-- a tripartite designation. These can be used alongside each other but they clearly refer to the same content:
Towards the end of the 7th century BC there is the first evidence of book-burning in history. A large scroll was being cut up systematically and thrown into a fire by a high ranking censor who did not want the public to gain access to what he considered as very dangerous information. The scroll contained information that was damaging to the health of the nation as far as the official bureacracy was concerned. It might startle you to know that the book being burned was part of what later came to be known as the Old Testament. It was the scroll of the prophet Jeremiah and the one doing the burning was the king of Judah. Jehoiachin knew what all despots have come to know: the words of the prophets are dangerous! People in authority and power generally dislike them because these words tend to burn them, reminding them of a Higher Power and Higher Authority to which they must be accountable.
The words of the Bible can be censored in other ways too. There are different means of control. In the modern world we are familiar with the book-burning thought control type of censorship popularized in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. We are probably not sufficiently aware of a more subtle type of censorship which is described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. In the Orwellian World information external to the person is rigidly controlled and censored; reading is strictly limited. In the Huxleyan version the person is stimulated so much that there is no interest in reading. Reading becomes unimportant. Truth becomes trivialized.
But there are even further ways to censor. Texts can be so laden with a system of interpretation that their original meaning can be distorted or even relegated to unimportance. Soren Kierkegaard lamented this situation in his own time:
Imagine a country. A royal command is issued to all the offfice-bearers and subjects, in short to the whole population. A remarkable change comes over them all. They all become interpreters, the office bearers become authors, every blessed day there comes out an interpretation more learned than the last, more acute, more elegant, more profound, more ingenious, more wonderful, more charming, more wonderfully charming. Criticism which ought to survey the whole can hardly attain the survey of this prodigious literature, indeed criticism itself has become a literature so prolix that it is impossible to attain a survey of criticism. Everything became interpretation but no one reads the royal command with a view to acting in accordance with it.
The Danish philosopher realised there were respectable ways to avoid the bare meaning of the text. To truly understand the Bible one of the requirements is that you will have to read the text itself in its purest form and wrestle with the bare meaning as much as possible. To be sure there is a textbook--interpretation. But this is simply to aid in understanding, not to mask it. Every effort should be made to bring you into contact with the text itself so it can do its dangerous work.
There are ways in which the text is censored simply by reading it through the lens of our own time and place without being conscious of this fact. Thus the medieval paintings depicted the ancient world in the garb of the Middle Ages; modern westerners read the ancient text through the eyes of people with middle class western values and find that Abraham is much like them. The context of the 20th century is collapsed with that of the 20th century B.C. and many times the message of the Bible become muted or censored. Thus for Abraham to leave his family is nothing much for a highly mobile, rootless culture living at the turn of the 3rd millennium AD. But for Mesopotamian culture living at the turn of the 2nd millenium BC, the decision is stupendous. Not to appreciate the radical significance of Abraham's action is not to understand it. Similarly, westerners who swim in a sea of information know very little about the use of words invested with power such as the blessing and the curse. Failure to understand this is to fail to understand texts such as Genesis 27 which are filled with life and death significance, as souls are tormented over the failure to receive blessing. Similarly, the stories of Baalam, are momentous stories in the text for ancient listeners as the destiny of the Israelites hangs on the very words of the ancient prophet.
Scott Peck cites a contemporary example of cross-cultural miscommunication which illustrates the dangers involved in misinterpretation. Two marines stationed in Okinawa completely misinterpreted the reaction of a young mother by assuming her reaction to a near tragedy would be the same as an American's. The soldiers had just missed killing her young child who was playing on the road when their jeep drove recklessly by. They stopped to see if he was all right and his mother rushed out from a nearby house laughing hysterically, picked up her child and retreated laughing uncontrollably into her house. The marines returned to their jeep in disgust at how the natives had such a low regard for human life. Peck makes the point that they had completely misinterpreted her reaction. Laughing hysterically in Okinawan culture is an indicator of profound grief and shock. As faithful interpreters of scripture, the student must necessarily learn about the biblical culture so that similar misunderstandings may not occur. This means not only paying attention to the text but also to any information which helps elucidate the culture in which the text received its first expression. This means reading other texts from the same general time period and culture: inscriptions, epics, letters, seals, creation stories, disaster stories, etc. It also means paying attention to artifacts unearthed by archaeologists from the culture: pottery, art, buildings, monuments, aqueducts, etc. This can help shed light on the culture and help flesh it out for understanding. So we not only need to listen to the biblical text, we must listen to in its own particular historical and cultural context in order to make any sense of it.
- There are some interpreters that would censor the text by stressing the last point to the ultimate degree. They would say that there so much distance between modern culture and the culture that produced the Bible that communication is inherently impossible. We must remember, however, that human beings in many respects are the same. There is a consistent human nature: joy, grief, catastrophe, ecstasy were the experience of ancient Mesopotamians as well as modern Westerners. Ancient idolatry took one form; who would deny that modern idolatry takes another? Whether one murders with the arrow, the catapult or the atom bomb, all these actions are united by the desire to kill. Whether infants are sacrificed on the altars of Moloch by being burned to death, or sacrificed on the altars of Sexual Pleasure and Convenience by being aborted, the intent is the same. Whether someone helps a victim fallen prey to thieves in an ancient time or helps a victim of loneliness in a modern elevator, there is a consistency that unites the actions. Love and hate can be expressed differently in different eras but they are nonetheless recognized because of the unity of human nature. Never forget that your humanity can help you bridge the distance between the message that is found in the Bible and your own time.
Finally I mention an important factor interpretation that Christians will appreciate, prayer and obedience The Bible claims to be the Word of God. If this is true, then the truth will be uneasily disclosed to a mind that is not humbled by the act of prayer, nor even to the disobedient disciple. To the unbeliever, the secular equivalent to these spiritual disciplines, is an open and enquiring mind, that wishes to learn the truth as much as possible. A king who had a more positive example of what it means to read the Old Testament was the father of Jehoachin, who had burned the copy of the scroll of Jeremiah. When the father read the book of the Torah he ripped his clothes rather than the book and he trembled with fear. He knew that he was not master of the book but rather that the book was master of him. Immediately he began to change his life and the life of the nation. He furnishes an example of a proper reading of the Bible. He was mastered by the text rather than a master of the the text. The literary scholar, Erich Auerbach, furnishes a profound observation about the scriptures that provides a fitting conclusion to this section:
The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality--it insists that it isi the only real world and is destined for autocracy...The scripture stories do not like Homer's court our favour, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us--they seek to subject us and if we refuse to be subjected, we are rebels.