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The Bible in the Orthodox Church

The Bible in the Orthodox Church

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Published by Stephen Hayes
Paper on the Bible in the Orthodox Church read at a Bible Seminar, 8 March 2012 at Linquenda Landgoed, Gauteng
Paper on the Bible in the Orthodox Church read at a Bible Seminar, 8 March 2012 at Linquenda Landgoed, Gauteng

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Stephen Hayes on Mar 08, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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  The Bible in the Orthodox Church: Page 1
The Bible in the Orthodox Church
Stephen Hayes 
I am not a biblical scholar, but a missiologist, and so I will leave it to othersto go into the details of the writing of the scriptures and the development of the canon of scripture. What I have to say is more concerned with culture,not just because culture is something that interests missiolgists, butbecause one of the biggest differences between Orthodox Christians andWestern Christians, and especially Protestant Christians, in the way weapproach the Bible is a cultural one. To put it briefly, and no doubt simplistically, the Protestant tradition (ortraditions) are shaped by the Bible, but the Bible was shaped by Orthodoxtradition.Let me see if I can explain that.
 Talking about “tradition” tends to make ProtestantChristians uneasy, and for some, “tradition” standsfor everything that has ever gone wrong with theChristian Church. A verse that springs to manypeople’s minds is Mark 7:8, which speaks of “traditions of men”, and many have quoted thatverse to me to try to convince me that “tradition” isa bad thing, a very bad thing.But there are other places in the Bible wheretradition is clearly seen as a good thing. In I Thessalonians 2:15 St Paul urges the brethren tohold fast to the traditions they have been taught,and he urges Timothy to pass his teaching on tofaithful men who will be able to teach others also (II Tim 2:23). That is the essence of tradition, for tradition meansto hand something over, to pass something on, todeliver something to someone. The Greek wordused for this is
, and whether it is good orbad depends on what is handed over to whom. It isbad tradition to hand over pearls to swine, or holythings to dogs. It was bad tradition when Judashanded over Jesus to the police.In times of persecution those who handed over holy things, like thescriptures or communion vessels, to the authorities, were called “traditores”,from which the English word “traitor” comes. That refers to bad tradition.
1 Church interior
  The Bible in the Orthodox Church: Page 2So tradition may be good or bad, and good tradition is handing over, passingon, the Christian faith, as St Jude urges his readers to contend for the faithonce delivered, or “traditioned” to the saints. “Faith” can mean both what isbelieved, and the act of believing, and so tradition can mean both what ishanded over, and the act of handing over. And for Orthodox Christians theHoly Scriptures are part of this tradition, part of what is handed on.We do not speak of two sources, of Scripture
Tradition. There is onesource, one tradition, and the Holy Scriptures are at the core of it.
Two cultures
Orthodox culture and Western culture, especially Protestant culture, arevery different in this respect, and it is this difference that I shall try toexplain.
Nowadays we hear a lot about the differences between modernity andpostmodernity, the differences between modern and postmodern culture.But to understand the difference between Orthodox culture and Protestantculture one must go back to premodern culture.
Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment
When we speak of modernity, or modern culture, we are usually referring toWestern culture as it has been shaped by three movements or intellectualcurrents: the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment.In my youth there was a fashionable cultural theorist, Marshall McLuhan,who pointed out that modern culture, modernity, is above all a print culture.He wrote several books expounding his theories (in print), and one of themwas called
The Gutenberg galaxy 
. In another book,
The medium is the massage 
he tried to escape from the constraints of the print medium to tryto get his message across. One of his theories was that the advent of electronic media would change culture in our time as profoundly as printhad changed it in the sixteenth century. Television would usher in thepostmodern age.
The Gutenberg Galaxy
 The Gutenberg galaxy meant, among otherthings, that reading, including reading thescriptures, could become, above all, aprivate affair, an individualistic affair.Printing meant that people could havetheir own copies of a book, called
The Bible 
, and read it on their own, in private.Early modern Europe saw the rise of individualism. It was not seen only inprinted books. If you look at Renaissancepainting, you will see that there was anobsession with perspective. Andperspective represents, above all, an
  The Bible in the Orthodox Church: Page 3individual and individualistic point of view. And this in turn gave rise to thenotion of privacy. The new electronic media tend to override these perspectives, and give riseto what McLuhan calls “all at onceness”. In our time people tend to have afoot in both camps: there is a modern concern with “privacy”, but it tends toget erased with social media like Facebook, and people argue about privacyissues without being altogether clear what the issues are.For McLuhan printing is a ditto device, a ditto device, a ditto device, the firstform of mass production.And printing, for the first time, made it possible forthere to be a book called
The Bible 
, a book that youcould hold in your hand, wave around, open andread, or thump to emphasise a point. And theappearance of 
The Bible 
in print coincided with therise of Protestantism. Protestantism was shaped bythe Bible, by the existence of this book, by theavailability of printed Bibles.But before the invention of printing there was nobook called
The Bible 
. It did not exist. TheOrthodox Church did not have
The Bible 
. TheOrthodox Church did not speak of the Bible,because there was no such thing. What theOrthodox Church had, and spoke of, was not theBible, but the Holy Scriptures. And that is a hugecultural difference, which I ask you to try toimagine.You can see something of the difference in many Protestant statements of faith, which usually begin with the Bible and what they believe about theBible. The Orthodox symbol of faith, however, has a different starting point.It starts, “I believe in one God…”
Orthodoxy – holistic 
Orthodox culture is holistic. The Bible is not separated out as a discretebook. Rather the Holy Scriptures are woven into the life of the church, readand heard, not just in the reading aloud from the scriptures, but in thehymns that weave the words of the scriptures into a pattern that is greaterthan the sum of its parts. This is reinforced by the holy ikons, and by thegathered people, who together become something that they were notindividually.
Manuscript culture
Before printing, books were expensive, and each had to be laboriouslycopied by hand. So in most churches there was no Bible. If there were booksof scriptures they were arranged in the order in which they were read inchurch. Collected copies of various books of Scripture were comparativelyrare, and very expensive, used by scholars, rather than by ordinaryChristians.
2 Gospel Book

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