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The Bible and the Orthodox Church

9 February 2008

One of the obstacles to communication that often comes up in discussions between Orthodox Christians and Protestants, or even Western non-Christians, is the way in which Orthodox Christians relate to the Bible.

Western non-Christians, including atheists, agnostics, neopagans and others, tend to see the Bible through Protestant eyes, even if they reject it and that way of looking at it.

The Western way of looking at the Bible, as Marshall McLuhan has pointed out, is shaped by the Gutenberg galaxy. According to McLuhan the invention of printing brought about a change of consciousness, and without it, Protestantism, and the Protestant approach to the Bible as an authoritative text, would probably not have been possible.

The invention of printing, which was linked to the Reformation, together with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, led to the development of the the modern worldview, what we generally call “modernity”. In relation to the Bible, this culminated in the ideas of “plenary inspiration” and “verbal inerrancy” that are so central to Fundamentalism. Even non-Fundamentalist Protestants, however, tend to have a post-Gutenberg outlook on the printed word.

In this respect, however, the Orthodox Church tends to be premodern. Dan Greeson and Kevin Burt have both recently blogged on the topic of There never was a Bible in the Orthodox Church. Here are some quotes, but read the full article if you are interested:

The fact that there is no Bible in the church should not surprise us, since our liturgical tradition is a continuation of the practices of the early Church, when the Gospels and the letters from the Apostles (the Epistles) had been freshly written and copied for distribution to the Christian communities. The Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament, comprising the Law (the first five books) and the Prophets, were likewise written on various scrolls, just as they were found in the Jewish synagogues.The Church is not based on the Bible. Rather, the Bible is a product of the Church. For the first few centuries of the Christian era, no one could have put his hands on a single volume called The Bible. In fact, there was no one put his hands on a single volume called The Bible. In fact, there was no agreement regarding which books of Scripture were to be considered accurate and correct, or canonical. Looking back over history, there were various lists of the canonical books comprising the Bible:

Over the past few weeks I’ve been bombarded with ads for a a TV programme on The History Channel, called Banned from the Bible. To judge from the advertisements, however, it really will not be worth watching. The underlying presuppositions seem to be those of the Gutenberg era — the very title “Banned from the Bible” suggests that there was an actual book called the Bible, and is thoroughly anachronistic — reading back into the 3rd-7th centuries a worldview and attitudes that were not found before the 15th century. It assumes the outlook of Gutenberg man before Gutenberg man existed.

To judge from the advertisements, the programme shares the same kind of assumptions about the Bible as Fundamentalists, even though its conclusions may differ.

The difference is primarily one of culture. There is a print culture that has shaped the thinking of people, especially in the West. It is really bad history to try to impose the assumptions of that culture on those who compiled the biblical canon in the 6th and 7th centuries and earlier.

When Orthodox Christians speak to Western Protestants, one needs to be aware of these cultural differences. Orthodox Christians who have grown up in the West, or in cultures influenced by the West, are often aware of the Protestant attitude, though sometimes not sure how to relate to it. Protestants, however, rarely appreciate the Orthodox attitude, and are often unaware of how much fundamental presuppositions differ.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 February 2008 4:56 pm


    These pingbacks may be getting incestuous!

    But thanks anyway!

  2. dangreeson permalink
    10 February 2008 1:58 am

    Because of this “Gutenburg galaxy” we get scholarship like Bart Ehrman, a Moody Bible Institute graduate (fundamentalist centra), who never got over these issues and then publish “disastrous” material that subverts the purchaser or normal bookstore customer who knows no better.

    In this “postmodern”, or Post-evangelical, or post-Christian, or post-whatever we Orthodox Christians need to educate ourselves on the basic assumptions of those in our culture. We cannot all retreat into our cells and not engage the culture. This is not at all a reprimand to those who have fled, but rather the serious call that is left to those whose call from God is to not be the voice in the wilderness but to be the prophets who flip over the money changing tables, who bless those who curse, and bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom amongst this people. So that we may be “…children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

    May God grant us His grace and His strength!

  3. 10 February 2008 7:48 am


    Not incestuous, but more like a perichoretic dance, no? haha.


  4. 8 March 2008 8:08 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you. This assists me in my journey from the Protestant wasteland back to the living Church of God.


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