Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter XII - The Bible

The Bible is the “sacred Book” of Christianity, as the Koran is the sacred Book of Mohammedanism; with this difference, however, that Christianity, as the religion of the Spirit, can never be, like Mohammedanism, a “religion of the Book,” any more than it can be, like ancient Judaism, a religion of the Law. The Biblical writings include two main collections of books, known as the Old Testament and the New Testament respectively, of which the latter alone is distinctively Christian. Intermediate between the two “Testaments” in point of date are the writings known as the “Apocrypha,” which though inferior, for the most part, in spiritual value to the fully canonical books, and frequently omitted from printed editions of the Bible, are regarded by the Church as canonical in a secondary sense.

The various books of the Bible originally became canonical, that is, were included in the “canon” or collection of sacred writings, on the ground that they were read aloud or recited in the course of Divine worship. The Old Testament canon comprises the books customarily read aloud in the Jewish synagogue, together with certain other writings associated with them. The books of the New Testament are a similar collection of early Christian writings which were read side by side with the Old Testament in Christian worship. The selection of these particular writings for the purpose was determined in part by the Church’s recognition of their spiritual value and in part by the regard which was paid by the Christian community to the religious authority of those by whom they were believed to have been written.

Speaking generally, we may say that the Old Testament is the religious literature of Judaism. It is the literary deposit of the spiritual life of a nation, the written record and monument of a progressive process of religious development. It begins at the level of folklore and primitive tribal cults, such as are portrayed or reflected, for example, in parts of the Pentateuch and in the Books of Judges and Samuel. It culminates, in the utterances of the greatest of the prophets and in many of the Psalms, at the highest levels of religious attainment which are discoverable anywhere in history prior to the coming of our Lord.

The Old Testament will always have a value for Christianity: in part because many of the religious lessons which it conveys can never be superseded even by Christianity itself: in part because the study of it provides the general knowledge of Judaism, and of Jewish institutions and modes of thought, which is necessary for the proper understanding of the religious background of the Gospels, and of much else in the New Testament as well: in part also because the two revelations–the Jewish and the Christian–hang together, interlocking with one another as anticipation and fulfilment, in a manner which is singularly impressive.

The various books of the Old Testament, nevertheless, require to be read by Christians with discrimination, and with a clear realization of their Jewish character. There is much in the Old Testament as it stands which is liable to mislead the simple and cause needless difficulty. There are, moreover, numerous passages, and not a few entire books, which except in the light of historical criticism and scholarly guidance are not really intelligible. But the study of the Old Testament as reinterpreted in our own generation by research and scholarship is a fascinating subject. It requires little in the way of technical equipment, and there is no reason in the world why it should be monopolized by specialists. To have even the most general acquaintance with the methods and results of critical study brings with it a great transformation of outlook. The Old Testament writers come to life again wonderfully when they are set in their proper historical context, and the result is a clear gain in spiritual values. The best general introduction to the whole subject is Dr. W. B. Selbie’s book, The Nature and Message of the Bible (Student Christian Movement, 3s. 6d.). Canon Nairne’s volume, The Faith of the Old Testament (Layman’s Library, Longmans, 2s. 6d.) is an illuminating survey designed specially to bring out the religious value of the Old Testament, [Footnote: Those who may desire a more detailed and comprehensive treatment of the literary problems of the Old Testament should consult G. B. Gray, A Critical Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (Duckworth, 2s. 6d.).] and for commentaries upon individual books The Century Bible (T. C. and E. C. Jack, 3s. each volume) is to be recommended.

The books of the New Testament are the classical literature of Christianity in a much fuller and more obvious sense. Here, again, there is much that apart from the use of a good commentary will be found hardly intelligible: but the greater part of the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, can be read with profit by the ordinary man apart from any extraneous aids. It is well to remember that S. Paul’s Epistles were written at an earlier date than any of the Gospels, and that they represent the occasional correspondence of a hard-worked missionary. Of the Gospels the first three have much in common, and the Gospels of S. Matthew and S. Luke are based partly upon that of S. Mark. S. Mark is said to have been the companion of S. Peter, and is probably the author of the Gospel which bears his name. It may be taken to represent his reminiscences of S. Peter’s preaching. The Gospel now known as that according to S. Matthew appears to be the work of a compiler who fitted into the framework of S. Mark’s story a considerable amount of additional matter, drawn chiefly from a collection of “sayings of Jesus” which an early Christian writer declares to have been made by S. Matthew in Aramaic. S. Matthew’s name, it is thought, was subsequently attached to the resulting document, since it contained a large preponderance of material derived from his book on our Lord’s sayings. The name of the actual compiler of the first Gospel has not survived.

S. Luke’s Gospel is a compilation made upon somewhat similar lines, and is based, in large measure, upon the same two sources: but the author’s researches extended also more widely, and his Gospel contains a large proportion of matter peculiar to itself, which critics commonly regard as being of high historical value. The author of the book was a Greek doctor who attended upon S. Paul, accompanying the latter in his travels, and writing the Acts of the Apostles as a second volume in continuation of his Gospel. The Acts is partly based upon a kind of diary which S. Luke kept of his experiences as S. Paul’s companion and physician.

It is probable that both the first and the third of our four Gospels were in existence shortly before, or at the latest very shortly after, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. The second Gospel, since they both drew upon it, must be even earlier.

The Gospel according to S. John is of a somewhat later date, and bears a different character. It is reflective and meditative, and is penetrated throughout by a mystical symbolism. In many ways it suggests rather a spiritual interpretation of the significance of Jesus than a literal portrait of Him. Again, it is the product of a Greek rather than of a Jewish atmosphere, though its narrative presents so many touches of extraordinary vividness, and the author shows so exact a knowledge of Jewish institutions and conditions of life in Palestine, that it is difficult not to think that the book must have been written by a Jew who knew Judaism before its downfall. It is supposed that the writing dates from the closing years of the first century, and tradition declares that the author was S. John in old age at Ephesus. This statement is, however, in dispute, and the authorship of the Gospel is uncertain. In point of fact, it does not matter who the writer was. There is no one of the interpreters of Jesus who had drunk more deeply of His Spirit than had he: nor is there any of the books of the New Testament which brings Jesus closer to us than the Gospel according to S. John, or speaks home with greater power to the heart and affections of the simplest Christian.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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