The term scripture refers to sacred writings. For the purposes of this blog I shall be referring to that scared text historically used by Friends, known as the Bible.
“… the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source itself, they are not to be considered the principal foundation of all truth and knowledge. ”
– Barclay’s Apology Proposition III – The Scriptures
“… thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.” – Margaret Fell
“These things I did not see by the help of man nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate spirit and power, as did the holy men of God, by whom the Holy Scriptures were written. Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth; and what the Lord opened in me, I afterward found was agreeable to them.” – George Fox
Below are copies of a few documents that Friends might find valuable concerning the Bible and Friends views on the use of Scripture. These were used for adult religious education and Bible study programs I have given in the past at either my Monthly Meeting or at Yearly Meeting.
What is the Bible?
The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblos, meaning book.
A library of books, written by many people in various styles over a long period of time in Hebrew (more than one form), Aramaic, and Greek. The number, divisions, and order of books depend on which faith tradition you are considering and at what time period.
What is meant by scripture?
Scripture simply means “sacred writings” Therefore, the term is generic to the revered writings of any major faith tradition, Christian, Jewish or whatever.
What is meant by canon?
Canon means “ruler” or “measuring stick.” It is the standard by which scripture is measured or the books generally agreed upon as authoritative enough to be used as a guide by the faithful.
Who approved of the canon and why?
The Bible most of us now use was officially canonized in 393 of the Common Era (CE). However, most of what is accepted as Christian scripture was accepted by 200 CE based upon three criteria:
- The writing was connected to an apostle (follower of Jesus).
- The writing was in wide use within the Christian community.
- The writing agrees with what the Spirit had already shown the Christian community to be true.
The Bible has two main parts or testaments (testament means “agreement”):
“Old Testament”: This is composed mostly of the scripture written in Hebrew and represents the Covenant (ie., “agreement”) God made with the Jews. The Jewish scripture is divided up as follows:
- The Law, Pentateuch (Greek meaning “five-volumed work”) or Torah: These are the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Accepted as canonical in 5th century BCE. Samaritan Jews consider only the Pentateuch to be canonical.
- The Prophets: the historical books (former prophets) of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings; and the latter prophets, consisting of the 3 major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 minor prophets. Accepted as canonical in 3rd century BCE.
- The Writings or Hagiographa: These are “the writings” recognized by most Jews. They consist of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Chronicles. Accepted as canonical approximately 90 CE.
Protestant Christian scriptures have the Hebrew scriptures, in a different order and with some books divided into smaller books, as the Old Testament. Protestant Bibles recognize 39 books as Old Testament, omitting the deuterocanonical (“second canon”) books used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy, calling them Apocrypha (“hidden” or “removed”)
The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox Churches include the following deuterocanonical Old Testament books in the Bible: Tobit, Judith, Greek additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch plus Letter of Jeremiah, Greek additions to Daniel (Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), and I & 2 Maccabees. That makes 46 books.
The Greek and RussianOrthodoxChurches also recognize as canonical I Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Slavonic Bible includes 2 Esdras. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches also include 4 Maccabees.
“New Testament”: This is composed of writings proclaiming the birth, growth, and teachings of the Christian Church, beginning with the life of Jesus. This is sometimes referred to as the New Covenant. These writings date from the 2nd half of the 1st century in the Common Era.
In the 4th century and early 5th century CE, the list of the 27 canonical books of the New Testament was fixed.
- The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- The Acts of the Apostles
- The Epistles of Paul: Romans, I & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & 2 Thessalonians, I & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews
- The General or Catholic Epistles: James, I & 2 Peter, I & 2 & 3 John, and Jude
- The Revelation to John
Among the various Christian churches, the content of the New Testament is much more consistent than the content of the Old Testament. One church, the East-Syrian Nestorian church, excludes 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. The Ethiopic church has the largest Bible, including in the Old Testament not only all of the deuterocanonical books but also Jubilees, I Enoch, and Joseph ben Gorion’s medieval history of the Jews and others. The New Testament canon that the Ethiopic church designates as “broader” includes 8 additional books: 4 sections of church order from a collection called Sinodos, two sections of the Ethiopic Book of the Covenant, Ethiopic Clement, and Ethiopic Didascalia.
What is meant by chapters and verse in the Bible?
The books of the Bible were long ago divided into sections to be able to identify and find passages. The major headings are called chapters and the smaller ones are verses. So, John 15: 15 means the book of John, chapter 15, verse 15 – a famous passage for Friends. Look it up!
How can I find the chapters and verses for particular passages, so I can look them up?
Use a Bible study guide called a concordance, which alphabetically lists key words found in the Bible. For example, if you wanted to find out where the Bible says “Jesus wept” you would look up “wept” and one of the references would indicate John 11: 35. [Note: This is the shortest verse in the Bible.]
What about all the different translations of the Bible?
Yes, there are many, but they basically say the same thing. Read the version that is most approachable to you. Here are some major ones, written in English;
- King James Version (KJV) [Popular English Bible, first published in 1611 CE]
- New American Standard Version (NASV) – formal style, but easier to read than KJV.
- Revised Standard (RS) and New Revised Standard (NRS) – the flavor of the KJ but contemporary.
- New English (NE) – contemporary version
- New International Version (NIV) – very accurate translation and easy to read
- Living Bible – a popular paraphrased version
- New Jerusalem Bible – this is the version used by most Roman Catholics. Great for footnotes and a good source of Apocryphal writings.
Also, there are some historical terms for Bibles you may come across:
- The Septuagint (commonly abbreviated LXX) was the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, first created in the third century BCE in Egypt for Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora (the time of their dispersion). The LXX was used by most early Christians, and was almost always the source of Bible quotes made by New Testament writers.
- The Vulgate is the Latin translation by Jerome, completed in 405 CE. It is still the official scriptural text of the Roman Catholic Church. It was the first book ever printed by Gutenberg in 1456.
- The Tyndale Bible was the first attempt at an English translation of the New Testament. It was published in 1526 and William Tyndale was executed in 1536.
- The Cloverdale Bible was the first complete English translation of the Bible, published in 1535.
- The Geneva Bible (published in 1560) was a very popular complete English Bible, which included the Apocrypha and offered comments on the text, which agreed with radical Protestant theology.
Why should I study the Bible?
There are several reasons to consider reading and studying the Bible. Among them are:
1. Understanding of ancient history and culture. We are who our ancestors have been. Many of the events recorded in the Bible greatly influenced human history.
2. Understanding of our present culture and language. Many phrases, images, and ideas in our daily life and our Quaker tradition come from the Bible. Here are some examples of you may have heard of:
- “Out of the mouth of babes” (Psalms 8: 2)
- “feet of clay” (Daniel 2: 42)
- “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5: 13)
- “wait upon the Lord” (Isaiah 40: 31)
- “I call you Friends” (John 15: 15)
- Images of Inner Light (Matthew 5: 16, several passages in John)
- Images of peace such as the wolf or lion lying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11: 6-9)
3. Moral guidelines and divine guidance. We can look to the Bible for practical and ethical advice. Much of what we understand as good and evil comes from the Bible. [Note: Biblical texts are not meant to be interpreted literally.]
4. Communicating better with other Quakers and Christians. The language and guidance of the Bible is very important to most Christians and Quakers. If we want to communicate with other believers, it’s crucial that we understand this common language of faith.
What do Friends believe about the Bible?
Opinions vary tremendously, but the vast majority of Friends consider themselves Christian and they rely upon the Bible as an important source of God’s Truth. The historical position of Friends can be summarized as follows:
- Primary authority is the Spirit of God rather than anything written.
- The Bible is a faithful declaration of the Spirit containing all the chief doctrines of Christianity. It should be used, therefore, to verify the truth of new revelations.
- The Bible can only be understood when we are in the same spirit which is its source.
- The Bible represents the words of God, but not the Word of God.
What are all the books of the Old and New Testaments, in order?
The order and classification generally recognize by most Christians is as follows, reading down each column from left to right: [Note: this does not reflect chronological order. The date generally agreed upon for the New Testament books are included in parentheses.]
(* Indicates deuterocanonical works, ** Indicates some parts are deuterocanonical)
|Deuteronomy||II Samuel||Song of Songs||Ezekiel|
|I Kings||Wisdom of Solomon*||Daniel**|
Gospels (gospel means “good news”)
History of the early Church
Epistles (meaning “letters”) of Paul
|Matthew (60s, maybe after 70 CE)||Acts of the Apostles (65 CE, maybe after 70 CE)||Romans (56 CE)||Hebrews (64-68 CE)|
|Mark (64 CE)||I Corinthians (54 CE)||James (45-57 CE)|
|Luke (60 CE, maybe after 70 CE)||II Corinthians (56 CE)||I Peter (64-65 CE)|
|John (85-90 CE)||Galatians (49 CE)||II Peter (64-65 CE)|
|[Note: The first three gospels are called “synoptic,” meaning “with the same eye.”]||Ephesians (61 CE)||I John (90 CE)|
|Philippians (61 CE)||II John (90 CE)|
|Colossians (61 CE)||III John (90 CE)|
|I Thessalonians (51 CE)||Jude (70-80 CE)|
|II Thessalonians (52 CE)||
|I Timothy (62-64 CE)||Revelation of John (90s)|
|II Timothy (64-65 CE)|
|Titus (62-64 CE)|
|Philemon (61 CE)|
SOME BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUES
There a several reasons to study the Bible, not the least of which is to use it as a source of inspiration for our daily lives.
Much of this material is gleaned from Friends Eric Moon (Berkeley Meeting) and Krista Barnard (San Francisco Meeting) at Bible Study during Pacific Yearly Meeting.
Listed below are some of the techniques often used to study the Bible. Each approach is valuable in different ways. Pick whatever method works best for you and try it out for awhile.
This is the most personal way to study scripture. Pick a book of the Bible and read through it, several verses at a time, pausing to reflect on some of the suggested questions. You may wish to keep a journal of what you learn.
Here are some types of questions and examples:
- What is the central theme or teaching of the passage?
- What precedes and follows the passage?
- Who is speaking and to whom it the passage addressed?
- What are the circumstances?
- What characteristics of God does this passage reveal?
- What are the promises made and what is required of me?
- What does this passage teach about me?
- What changes does God want to see in my life?
- What does this passage teach me about others or human nature?
- What are my responsibilities towards others?
Biographical Bible Study
This method consists of reading what the Bible says about a particular person. For example, you might look up every passage and verse that mentions Abraham. Then you would read about Abraham and form a narrative or character profile, noting the way this character interacted with God or other people. A concordance, Bible dictionary, or topical Bible would be very helpful for this kind of study.
Doctrinal Bible Study
This method is for the truly dedicated student. You would choose a doctrine or theme to study from the Bible, such as Jesus Christ, judgment, peace and social justice. You would then research everything you could find on that topic. Use of a journal would be helpful.
Inductive Bible Study
This method is used to train the serious Bible study student to approach a passage of Scripture without preconceived notions or biases (in so far as they are able). If you use this method, select a passage of Scripture, give it a title, and write down the following:
- Background information
- Analysis (context, writer, theme, major teachings etc.)
Friendly Bible Study
Note: This is a group study approach commonly used at Quaker gatherings. It was developed by Joanne and Larry Spears for Friends General Conference.
As you read the assigned passage, answer each of these questions:
- What is the author’s main point in this passage?
- What new light do I find in this particular reading of this passage?
- Is this passage true to my experience?
- What problems do I have with this passage?
- What are the implications of this passage for my life?
Bible Reading in the Manner of Conservative Friends
Note: This is meant to be a group approach. It has become popular at Quaker gatherings as an adjunct to Friendly Bible Study.
- Begin with silent worship
- As people are moved they share a passage from the Bible, citing the chapter and verse, then simply read the passage.
- No comment or commentary is offered.
- Return to silent worship.
- Other people in the group are invited to do similarly, as they are moved by the Spirit.
Praying The Scripture
- Choose a simple passage.
- Read it slowly.
- Try to sense the heart of each verse before moving on.
- When something strikes you as particularly meaningful, turn it into prayer.
QUAKER THEMES IN SCRIPTURES
The following is a partial list of scriptural references historically used by Quakers to explain their faith. More complete references can be found in Barclay’s Apology.
Origin of name “Friends”: John 15:15
As in illumination: Exodus 10: 23 and Job 12: 22, 22: 28, 28:11, 33: 28
(physical light such as sun)
Psalms 4: 6, 27: 1, 97: 11 and Isaiah 9: 2, 51: 4, 59: 9
Daniel 2: 22 and Revelation 21: 23
As in judgment: Hosea 6: 5 and Micah 7: 9
As in Inner Light: Matthew 5:16 and John 1:4-9, 3: 19-21,12: 35-36
(includes witness and judgment)
“Armor of Light”: Romans 13:12
As in uncovering: I Corinthians 4: 5
As in knowledge: II Corinthians 4: 6
“Walk in the Light” I John 1: 5-7
“Children of Light” Ephesians 5: 8, I Thessalonians 5: 5
“Prince of Peace”: Isaiah 9:6-7
Word (Logos in Greek): John 1:1
Jesus Christ: John 3:16 and 17: 1-3
Matthew 16: 16, Acts 17: 2-3 and 18: 5, I Cor. 15: 22
Seed: Matthew l3: 31
Mark 4: .26-29
Universalism: Isaiah 49: 6 Joel 2: 28-29
Acts 10: 34-35 John 1: 9
Titus 2: 11
Stillness and waiting:
I Kings 19: 11
Psalms 4: 4, 27: 14,40: 1, 46: 10, 62: 5
Isaiah 30:15, 40: 31
Lamentations 3: 25-28
Hosea 12: 6
Zechariah 2: 13
Worship: Proverbs 25: 11
Matthew 10: 19-20
John 4: 23
I Corinthians 14: 26
Anti-clericalism: (includes admonition against “hireling ministry”)
Isaiah 57: 15
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Matthew 10: 8, 16: 21-23, 23: 1-15
John 10:12 and I Peter 2: 9
Empty forms: I Samuel 15: 22-23
Jeremiah 7: 22
Hosea 6: 6 (Matthew 9: 13,12: 7,15: 1-11)
Mark 12: 33
Acts 7: 48, 17: 24
Call: I Samuel 3: 3-10, Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Acts 9:1-19, I Corinthians 1:26-31, Hebrews 3: 1-2
Discernment: Judges 6: 37
Jeremiah 20: 9
Ezekiel 33: 7
Habbakuk 2: 3
Acts 15: 28
I Thessalonians 5: 20
I John 1: 1-4 and 4: 1
Shalom: Isaiah 11, 60, Micah 6:8, Zechariah 4: 6, Matthew 12: 7
Testimonies: Oaths and single standard of truth Matthew 5: 33, James 5: 12
Idolatry and vain customs Isaiah 44: 9-20, Jeremiah 10: 3,
Acts 10: 26 (against social bowing)
Simplicity Job 22: 21-30
Women in ministry Luke 24: 1-11, Acts 2: 17, Acts 21: 8-9
Equality Galatians 3: 28
Peace Isaiah 11: 6-9, Zechariah 4:6,
Matthew 5: 38-48, Matthew 26: 52,
I John 19-21
Justice Micah 6:8
Baptism (by Holy Spirit) Matthew 3: 11
Unity Psalms 133: 1, Romans 12: 4-8,
Galatians 3: 28, Ephesians 1: 9-10,
4: 1-7 and 11-16, Philippians 1: 27
1 Peter 4: 10
Luke 16: 11 and Luke 16: 1-2
Titus 1: 7
I Corinthians 6: 19-20
Timothy 6: 17-19
Matthew 6: 24
Proverbs 13: 22 and 16: 3