The Bible in the Early Church (§1).
In the Middle Ages and Reformation Period (§2).
Modern Views and Criticism (§3).
Wherein the Bible is Unique (§4).
The word “Bible” (from Gk. biblia, "books") or “Holy Scripture” is the customary term in Church and theology for the ecclesiastically acknowledged collection of the Old and the New Testament writings. As the writings of the Old Testament canon are indicated in the New Testament by the term “The Scriptures” or “The Scripture,” so in the Middle Ages the whole was designated by “The Books.” By a misunderstanding of the Greek form, the word was received into the modern languages as a singular of feminine gender.
1. The Bible in the Early Church. The separation of these writings from all other literature as “the Book of Books” is derived from the practise of Jesus, who, with his contemporaries, acknowledged the authority of the Old Testament literature (M. Kaehler, Jesus und das Alte Testament, Leipsic, 1895). The Old Testament was conveyed, in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, as the Word of God, to the Gentile Christians by the followers of Jesus. At the latest in the beginning of the third century, the New Testament canon was added to the Old Testament, as is witnessed by the Syriac version (see CANON OF SCRIPTURE). And from that time the bipartite collection was always treated as a whole, although the uncertainty about some books (the so-called Antilegomena) was not forgotten during the Middle Ages, was recognized by Luther and other Reformers, and was treated from a dogmatic standpoint by Martin Chemnitz (Examen concilii Tridentini, Frankfort, 1596). The controversy about the Old Testament Apocrypha has never been settled. What esteem the Bible enjoyed in the ancient catholic Church is seen from its controlling position in divine service, in the reading of Scripture, and in the delivery of sermons founded on it, but especially from the labor spent in translating it (see BIBLE VERSIONS, A).
2. In the Middle Ages and Reformation Period. It must not be imagined that the Middle Ages did not rightly appreciate the Bible. It is necessary to take into account the great difficulties which confronted the Church at that time in forming an ecclesiastical language, and even a literary language, for the Germanic and Slavic nations. In the absence of modern philology the efforts made are worthy of acknowledgment. The hierarchical development of the Church tended to paralyze it by enforcing uniformity in use of the church-language at the expense of intelligibility, and in the interest of an easier management put the “heretical book” into the keeping of the ecclesiastical magistracy. But the Reformation introduced a new epoch of wide propagation and appreciation of the Bible. The efforts of the Reformers to make this book accessible to all Christians were taken up by Pietism under Spener; the founding of the Canstein Bible Institute (see BIBLE SOCIETIES, II, 1; CANSTEIN, KARL HILDEBRAND, BARON OF) and the sending out of the first missionaries opened the double way by which the Bible, especially in the nineteenth century, has obtained its commanding position in the world; knowledge of the Bible has been spread by the Bible Societies (q.v.) through hundreds of new translations (a work in which Englishmen and Scotchmen, well read in the Scriptures, have distinguished themselves). The Bible has become in the fullest-sense the people’s book in all Protestant countries of the Old World, and the same process is being repeated among the non-Christian nations, to which missionary cooperation gives the Bible and with it often also an alphabet and a literary language.
3. Modern Views and Criticism. This seal for the propagation of the Bible has its root in the unique importance which the theology of the Reformation ascribes to it. In opposition to the ecclesiastical position of Rome, the Evangelicals developed their doctrine of the “normative or decisive authority of Scripture” on the basis of the uncontroverted character of the Scripture as revelation. This high regard has as its foundation the doctrine of “verbal inspiration” (see INSPIRATION), which ascribes to the Bible all requisite qualities, such as “perfection” in communicating the “knowledge necessary for salvation,” “transparency,” and the “power of interpreting itself by itself.” Unobserved, the body of pure doctrine, by the help of which the renewal of evangelical activity had been accomplished, became transformed into a set of doctrines which were mechanically combined, regardless of their historical origin. In opposition to the adulterated tradition of Rome, Protestantism could happily refer to the bulwark of Scripture, in which Roman Catholics also acknowledged divine revelation. But evangelical theology first succumbed to the attack which the “Enlightenment” (Aufklärung), about the middle of the eighteenth century, made upon all history and tradition and especially upon historical revelation. In vain the effort was made to prove dogmatically the immediate divine origin of the Bible-letter, while proof was also given in an ever-cogent manner that the Bible is a production of human authorship and tradition. This crisis was gradually overcome by the victory gained for the "historico-critical" method of treating the Bible, but the right of historical revelation was established over against “natural morality and religion.” As in earlier times historical development within the Bible was now and then perceived (e.g., by Cocceius and Bengel), so now students see in its writings documents of divine revelation which entered into the human world as historical facts (so the Erlangen School). Only one group of theologians of the nineteenth century (e.g., Hengstenberg and Rudelbach) went back again to the old doctrine of verbal inspiration; most investigators assumed a new attitude toward Scripture. Documents to have value must be shown to be ancient and to be derived from a time near the events they relate; there must be testimony to their genuineness and credibility. But such merely historical consideration of the Bible proved insufficient and dangerous in the next period. "Liberal theology, endowed with technical skill," showed error in Biblical tradition from a critical point of view, and in place of the Biblical evidences it substituted conjecturally the details of a natural history of religion, which it composed after the Hegelian formula to the effect that in the "historical revelation" there is to be seen the development of a religious idea, an act in the drama of the natural development of humanity (so F. C. Baur, E. Reuss, and Wellhausen). The results of this modern criticism were propagated among the people through the press and by pamphlets in a wild confusion along with the older, would-be enlightening defamations of the Bible (so by Reimarus, Venturini, and Bahrdt). Over against this sprang up a comprehensive literature which sought to gain those who were estranged from the Bible and to reassure disquieted readers. It was based on an acknowledgment of the part the revelation of God has played in the education of the race, and in a scientific manner discarded the unjustified conclusions of the so-called constructive criticism, at least as far as the New Testament is concerned. In this intellectual battle it became evident that the estimate of the Bible stands in an indissolubly reciprocal relation to the position taken toward positive Christianity in general.
4. Wherein the Bible is Unique. It is therefore absolutely necessary (especially for the ministry and for ecclesiastical instruction) to have a clear insight into that which makes our Bible the unique "Book of Books." This is obtained by observing what it is that has given the Bible its historical position. Throughout the whole course of its working in the human race the Bible appears only in close connection with the Church, the essential activity of which, according to the Augsburg Confession (vii), is the preaching of "the Word." The common object of both is to convey the revelation of the living God. Whoever has become a believer in the Gospel and recalls his experience perceives also that the service of the Church by which he was led to it was inspired by the Bible, and further observation of life and history teaches that the efficacy of the work of the Church is dependent on the use it makes of the Bible. For only in the Scripture is found the unchangeable and therefore authoritative form of preaching which first induced faith in Christ and continues so to do. On the other hand, the Christian recognizes that his personal relation to the Bible is due to the "living voice of the Gospel" and that through the Church he comes into personal relation with the Bible. He understands also that the Bible is the book of the Church (so Luther), but not a text-book or devotional book which in all its parts is immediately useful to the individual Christian. In it are found productions which are far remote from one another in date, which originally were intended for entirely different circles with quite peculiar wants. On this account only the cooperation of different gifts and the diligence of generations working on a scientific basis can bring out its full content. Under the assumption of this service of the Church each living Christian has the possibility of coming thus through his Bible into immediate touch with the historical revelation of his God from the promise of the covenant to the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles. While historical inquiry establishes the historical continuation, and divides the whole Bible into single historical accounts and documents, the view of most Bible-readers is directed only to the Bible as a whole, and seeks in every fragment a word of God applicable to immediate questions and wants. These divergent interests must be united by observing that the individual parts, by being comprehended as "the Bible," receive a new worth, and that in this very form they obtain an imperishable, effective continuity, instead of being merely individual monuments of past times. The collection is not an accidental one, but transcribes in characteristic features the life of the human race as it developed under the influence of the history of revelation. To him therefore who sees in reliance on God the stay of human life, the Bible will also be the book of the human race. For Christian belief the Bible appears thus as the great fact in which God has inseparably interwoven the faith-awakening knowledge of his revelation with the history of the human race, and in it is discerned the clear testimony to the goal of the human race and the conquering offer of God’s grace.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Arnold, Literature and Dogma, latest ed., New York, 1902 (a rich book, but on rationalistic basis; it called forth many replies which were answered in God and the Bible, 1884); J. H. Crooker, The New Bible and its New Uses (Unitarian, ultrarationalistic); G. J. Metz-ger, Der alte Bibelglaube und der moderne Vernunftglaube, Stuttgart, 1893 (evangelical); J. T. Sunderland, The Bible . . . . its Place among the Sacred Books of the World, New York, 1893 (Unitarian); J. Denney, Studies in Theology, London, 1895 (by a leader in English evangelical thought); A. M. Fairbairn, Place of Christ in Modern Theology, London, 1896 (moderate in its theological position); P. Müller, Freisinn und Bibelglaube, Hamburg, 1896; W. Sanday, Inspiration, London, 1896 (advanced in the O. T. part, conservative in treating the N. T.); R. L. Ottley, Aspects of the Old Testament, London, 1898; T. Zahn, Die bleibende Bedeutung des neutestamentlichen Kanons für die Kirche, Leipsic, 1898; S. Bernfeld, Das Buch der Bücher, Berlin, 1899; C. A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture, New York, 1899 (comprehensive and scholarly); R. S. MacArthur, Bible Difficulties and their Alleviative Interpretations, Boston, 1898; idem, The Old Book and the Old Faith, ib. 1899 (decidedly conservative); L. W. Batten, The Old Testament from the Modern Point of View, New York, 1901; R. G. Moulton, Short Introduction to the Literature of the Bible, Boston, 1901; P. Gardner, Historic View of the New Testament, London, 1904 (from a scientific standpoint); F. Bettex, Die Bibel Gottes Wort, 3d ed., Stuttgart, 1903, Eng. transl., Cincinnati, 1904; J. E. Carpenter, The Bible in the Nineteenth Century, London, 1903 (scholarly and reverent, but on scientific basis); J. Haussleiter, Die Autoritāt der Bibel, Munich , 1905; M. Dods, The Bible, its Origin and Nature, New York, 1905 (Dr. Dods is well known as a conservative critic); J. M. McMullen, The Supremacy of the Bible, ib. 1905; W. Barry, The Tradition of Scripture, its Origin, Authority, and Interpretation, London, 1906; C. F. Kent, Origin and Permanent Value of the O. T., New York, 1906; A. T. Pierson, The Bible and Spiritual Criticism, ib. 1906; G. F. Wright, Scientific Confirmations of O. T. History, ib. 1906; W. C. Selleck, New Appreciation of the Bible, Chicago, 1907; H. F. Waring, Christianity and its Bible, ib. 1907.