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RUNNING HEAD: BARCLAY REACTION PAPER

Barclay Reaction Paper


Caitlin Leffingwell
Eastern University

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Introduction
Although true followers of Christ all acknowledge that the Bible is at the core of
Christian faith, deeply understanding the true history and complexity of this book often seems
like a rare trait among Believers. For new Believers, this paucity can be attributed to the learning
process involved in gaining spiritual maturity; yet even for many who grew up in the church, the
Bible can become barely more than a collection of stale clichs or confusing passages. In light of
this sad reality, Introducing the Bible by the great British scholar and writer, William Barclay, is
indeed his great gift (p.13) for anyone seeking greater access to the deep truths of Scripture
thatwhen understood more fully and studied more effectivelycan change lives and transform
the world. Written essentially as the biography of a book, this thorough, yet very manageable,
collection of insights regarding how the Bible came to be and how to apply this knowledge helps
readers truly get to know this living book through a greater understanding of its context,
evolvement, purpose, and themes. Most importantly, however, it also guides its readers to a
greater understanding of and desire for the person that embodies the Word of God: our Savior
and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Summary
Just as most biographies begin by explaining the context and experiences that shape its
central character, Barclay uses the first half of Introducing the Bible to explain how the books of
the Old Testament and New Testament came to be deemed Holy Scripture, what happened to the
books (the Apocrypha) that did not make it into the canon, and some of the major circumstances
surrounding these decisions. He then uses these important insights to explain how best to study
the Bible, which includes an emphasis on reverence, seeking comprehension within the
fellowship of the Church (p.105), seeking truth with open-minded honesty, approaching the
whole of Scripture rather than isolated sections (p.107), wholeheartedness, and a willingness to

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put revelations into action (pp.103-111). In advocating for a process that requires such depth and
breadth from readers, Barclay notes that the really Christian study of Scripture approaches it in
the attitude of that reverence which is seeking more than grammatical accuracy; it is seeking and
finding the grace of God (p.105). Along these lines, Barclay concludes his book with a
discussion similar to how a biography might propose the purpose of its subjects lifeunpacking
how and why the Bible claims to be the inspired book (p.152). From this discussion came the
following definition:
An inspired book, a book which is the word of God, is a book which effects a connection
between God and man, thereby correcting the human situation, which has gone wrong. It
is written by a man who knows God because he loves God, and whose love has issued in
an obedience which fits him to be the instrument of God. (p.163)
Moreover, Barclay concludes by imploring his readers to understand that this rectification
between God and man is the focal point of the entire Bible, and that this supreme event is Jesus.
It is he who is the Word (p.163).
As perhaps his central point, Barclay uses this entire general outline to explain that The
supreme importance of the Bible is that in it and nowhere else we find Jesus Christ (p.164). The
life, death, and resurrection of our perfect Savior runs through all of Scripture, with the Old
Testament describing the preparation for it, the Gospels explaining the actual event, Acts
showing the result of it, and the letters interpreting it (p.164). As such, Barclay argues that Our
aim from beginning to end must be to find out what the Bible means (p.111) by determining the
original intent of its authors through studying words, researching context, and understanding
written form (especially poetry) (pp116-126). Barclay also notes that the most important single
thing to remember when we are seeking to interpret the Bible is the existence of what he refers
to as a developing grasp of revelation (p.127), or, in other words, the fact that our human

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ability to understand Gods constant truths has developed over timea concept reflected most
clearly in the progression that we see from the Old Testament to New Testament. After all, the
Bible covers 3000 years and took 1000 years to writea reality that this book expounds quite
poignantly.
In light of these key concepts, Barclay offers a final theme by concluding that the Bible
is written that in it the reader may find life and encounter God (p.102). Rather than stemming
from scientific intent or a historical focus, the writers of the Biblefrom Old Testament to New
Testamentwere united by a single purpose. Their one object was to show the ways of God
with men; their one aim was to show life in terms of the sovereignty of GodTheir aim was to
show God in action (p.144). In claiming this as the core mission and overarching theme of the
Bible, Barclay sums up this biography of a book after explaining how it came to be and what
its core message is by declaring that The Bible is uniquely the meeting place of the Spirit of
God and the spirit of man (p.159). In it, we find the god-man Jesus Christ who provided a
bridge between a perfect God and a fallen humanity, and in this we find hope for ourselves and
our world.
Reaction
First and foremost, reading Introducing the Bible brought Scripture to life for me in a
way that has not been true in many years. Despiteor because ofthe fact that I grew up
attending Christian schools and taking classes like Hermeneutics and Old Testament
Theology, my knowledge of the Bible all too often dries out my desire for the Bible, yet
Barclays book was crafted in such a way that it renewed my desire to really engage with
Scripture on a daily basis. As Barclay notes when explaining the context surrounding the New
Testament, the Gospels are not photographs; they are attempts to show the mind and the heart
and the character of JesusThe Gospels are not simply descriptions of Jesus; they are invitations

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to believe in him as the Son of God (p.63). Moving forward, I feel a deeper connection to this
aspect of Scripture and an eagerness to see the person of Jesus more clearly through it.
Moreover, I found Barclays advice about how to pursue this new desire very useful, as well as
appreciating the starting arsenal of background knowledge that he offers. To read the Bible with
system and with help is the way to get the best out of it, for thus we will get strength for the way,
wisdom for our minds, and the love of God for our hearts (p.151).
Although I cannot adequately express all of the Aha! moments that this book sparked
regarding the living, relevant nature of Scripture, perhaps the most impactful came through
passages where Barclay explained how Judaism developed over time and found its ultimate
culmination in Jesus Christ. While I read about the progressions regarding how people
understood their relationship to God (p.41), displayed religion (p.128), protected religion
(p.129), and sacrificed to God (p.131), much of the internal tension that I had previously felt
from the Old Testament melted away. As Barclay notes, It is not that the Old Testament is
wrongfar from that; it is an essential stage to that goal which is Jesus Christ (p.132). Before
reading about the wider context surrounding the Old Testament books, I had never realized just
how revolutionary the early prophets were by propounding ethical monotheism (p.39), and I
had found great difficulty in seeing that way of life as anything but the complete opposite
rather than a starting pointof what Jesus came to embody. Similarly, where I previously had
difficulty viewing Judaism without frustrated pity for being so focused on tradition and ritual,
this book helped me to see the value in not only the Israelite background, but also the modern
Jewish traditions. As Barclay writes, the Jews took history very seriously. For them the events
of history were God in action; history for them was the arena of the activity of God (p.37). This
new view softened my understanding of Gods chosen people. Ultimately, discovering the Bible
from this big picture view also started to open my eyes to many deeper truths regarding

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everything from the resurrection to the Holy Spirit, and I pray that such momentum will continue
as my own faith continues to progress.
Discussion
In addition to a few direct references to topics like social justice or societal
transformation, many of the general themes from Introducing the Bible were also very relevant to
our Christ in the City course. For instance, while explaining the importance of historical context
when deciphering passages in the Bible, Barclay elaborates extensively on the story of Jesus
angrily cleansing the Templesubsequently unlocking a plethora of insights for understanding
and even implementing social justice (pp.122-124). On numerous accounts, injustice had been
prevailing within the very area that God had set aside as the place to meet with Him, and all of
these issues exemplified the rich taking advantage of the poorest and most vulnerable members
of society; by understanding this story with a deeper understanding of its background, we
glimpse Jesus heart for the poor, as well as his attitude toward those who perpetuate injustice.
Understanding that the writers of this story were attempting to reveal important characteristics of
Jesus, who embodies the culmination of a developing understanding of God, we know that we
can use this method and example to gain further understanding of how God approaches justice as
well. In fact, this culmination can be seen in the very fact that Christianity made its first impact
on the poorer and the more uncultured classes and was even attacked for the idea that it
appealed only to the poor and the ignorant and the uncultured (p.56). As Barclay notes, the Old
Testament may have been written primarily in elegant Hebrew, but the New Testament came first
in colloquial Greek (or what I would like to call street Greek); Barclay even argues against
hoity-toity language by noting that Any translation of the New Testament ought to speak to a
man in the vernacular in which he speaks; any other kind of translation is a bad translation
(p.120).

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In addition to seeing class concepts affirmed in these ways, I felt that this book posed a
few ideas that also created some tension when considered in light of liberation theology. First,
although Barclay highlighted Gods emphasis on social justice at various points, he also clearly
distinguished ones relationship with Jesus as the primary matter of importance for every human
on earth. In doing so, he explains that This is sin. The human situation is a situation in which
man turns away from God to himself (p.160). Furthermore, he explains part of the progression
of Biblical justice in the following way:
The Old Testament had got hold of half of a great truth, the truth that the enemies of God
must be destroyed. But we have to wait for Jesus to discover that the way to destroy the
enemies of God is to convert them so that they become the friends of God. (p.131)
In contrast to this emphasis on relationally spiritual restoration, liberation theory essentially
starts with the role of a prophet saying, Woe to all you who would propagate spiritual
restoration while actively robbing othersor even simply neglectingsocial restoration! As
such, I would argue that liberation theory is a drastic response to a drastically twisted Gospel,
while Barclay describes a Bible thatif understood as he proposestakes into account first
spiritual restoration and the subsequent physical restoration that accompanies it. In some sense,
the base communities described in Liberation Theology: An Introductory Guide (Brown, 1993)
are examples of how this Gospel achieves both aspects of redemption, and I am hoping to learn
more about them within this new way of understanding the Bible. Furthermore, a similarly
healthy tension exists between the liberation concept that life should and can be improved for the
poor (Brown, 1993, p. 28) and Barclays idea that mans hope for life after death stemmed from
the very idea that without a life to come it was impossible to believe in either the love or the
justice of God.Since Gods man never received Gods blessing in this distressful life, men
were driven to believe in the life to come (p.143). The meeting point of both, it seems, is again

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in the figure of our Savior, because In Jesus Christ what had been a hope became a certainty,
and what had been a theory became a fact. And so within the Bible we see the belief in the life to
come developing from the gray shadowy Sheol to life for ever with the Lord (p.144). Although
Barclay notes that the Bible temporarily allowed space for the idea that justice for the poor
belongs in life after death, both he and liberation theory show ways of changing this realitythe
former with a greater focus on the spiritual and the latter with a greater focus on the social.
Conclusion
Even as I continue digesting everything that Introducing the Bible explained, what
I have gained from it, and its relevance to Christ in the City, my first and foremost reaction is one
of gratitude. I feel that what was once just an acquaintance (sometimes even a boring, confusing,
or unappealing stranger) has become more like a friend to me nowa person who I can now
understand beyond just the surface appearance or through distant observation. Moreover, it is
like a person who I want to know better and am more willing to invest in to do so. Barclay not
only reminded me of core Biblical truths (like the fact that From the beginning Christianity was
a missionary religion [p.58] or these stories were therefore never what we might call private
property [p.62]), but also painted the big picture of Scripture in a way that reconnected me with
its purpose and power. As he writes even of the Old Testament books, It was because they had
proved their power to illuminate the mind and to comfort and strengthen the heart that they did
earn a place in Scripture (p.43). Such value is still very much true today, and I feel more aware
of the relevance to my life through the insights shared in this book. Moreover, reading it not just
awakened my interest and knowledge, but also acted as a catalyst for the new journey of
discovering and applying its value to my life. I feel more equipped to study the Bible, as well as
encouraged by the fact that in the first days the Holy Spirit had enabled men to write the sacred
books of the Christian religion; in the later days the Holy Spirit enabled men to understand, to

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interpret and to apply what had been written (p.69). With new interest, understanding, and tools
offered by this book, I feel that I will be able to progress through the weighty topics in this class,
as well as the general weightiness of life, with more grace and strengthguided by this
rekindled relationship with the Bible and, most importantly, the Savior at its core.

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References
Barclay, W. (1972). Introducing the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Brown, R. (1993). Liberation theology: An introductory guide. Louisville. John Knox Press.