In the Old Testament we read of Josiahs reformation in 622 BC, occasioned by the discovery of the book of the law in the Temple (II Kings 22). In Christian history, it was the Bible that inspired the beginnings of monasticism in the 4th century AD, the reforms of that monasticism in the 11th and 12th centuries, and the Reformation in the 16th century. In the 20th century the Bible played a major role in the Liberation Theology of Central and Latin America as small, basic communities of poor and oppressed people discovered passages in the Bible that spoke to their condition and gave them hope and the resolve to work for justice.
Reading the Bible today
I would recommend the Good News Bible for beginners and the Revised Standard Version for more serious study. The GNB was made with the particular concern to communicate to people with no Christian background, whereas the RSV preserves the tradition of the great Authorised or King James Version, but in the light of modern biblical scholarship. The New Revised Standard Version is gender free (i.e. avoids words such as man or he) but as a result sometimes gets into a muddle and misrepresents what the text is trying to convey. Second, the Bible should be read with the help of commentaries, because it is important to remember that the Bible is a library and contains different types of material, each of which must be read in its own appropriate way. A parable in the New Testament, for example, is not the same as a law in the Old Testament. Thirdly, the Bible should be read honestly and prayerfully. It does not speak with one, consistent voice, because in the Bible people experience God in different ways and have different insights. If we have doubts and difficulties with certain passages, we must be honest about it. Our hope is in the mercy of God, not whether we can accept every word of the Bible as true. The remarkable thing about the Bible is that despite coming from a completely different age and scientific understanding of the world, it still has the power to transform our lives. That is why so many people over more than three thousand years have laboured to preserve it for our use today!
John Rogerson is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University and an active Anglican priest with a regular ministry at Beauchief Abbey. With an international reputation, his many books and articles include An introduction to the Bible, ideal for further reading, and According to the Scriptures, about using the Bible in social and moral issues. It is a privilege to publish this article, which he has written especially for Outlook.
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