My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
WHERE DID THE HOLY BIBLE COME FROM?
Perhaps the days are gone when very many people have the impression that the Holy Bible was somehow mysteriously written in the English of the King James Version (KJV), all ready-made and bound in a book, at some unknown point since the day of the Apostles. Certainly, such a notion would be hard to find amongst Orthodox Christians. But in the society in which we live, perhaps many Orthodox Christians included, there is often a "that's the way it is" attitude, attached to whatever concept of "the Bible" one happens to have.
A truly Christian understanding of the Holy Scripture, however, must found in Truth...not in a thoughtless acceptance of the "received" notion in one's own circle...be that circle Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. But Truth is a harsh master. If relentlessly pursued, it often forces dramatic changes in one's preconceived notions, religious or otherwise...and therefore, in one's whole life. Perhaps this is the reason for which it is so seldom pursued!
When we speak of "the Bible", we speak of a collection of books. The earliest of these existed in oral form long before they were written down, but attained a written form many centuries before the Birth of Our Lord. The latest of these books were written many years after His Resurrection...the very latest, probably, as late as the end of the First Century, some 60 or more years after the Resurrection. The former, of course, comprise the Old Testament, and the latter the New Testament. When Saint Paul speaks of "Scripture", it is to the Old Testament that he refers...few of the New Testament books had even been written yet, and complete agreement in the Church as to which books comprised the "New" Testament was yet several centuries off.
The Church existed...for nearly 500 years before anything identical to what we now call "the Bible" could have been printed.
Yes...the Church existed in all her majesty and glory for nearly 500 years before anything identical to what we now call "the Bible" could have been unquestionably printed (had there been any printing presses). In fact, the many individual books, of both Old and New Testaments, existed first in papyrus scrolls, then later in hand-copied huge volumes containing one or a very few books on vellum or similar material. A complete "Bible", had it been possible to assemble one, would have occupied a good-sized set of bookshelves.
But the contents of those shelves would have varied considerably from place to place, as we shall see. In this regard, however, the history of the Old and New Testaments differ considerably. Curiously, nonetheless, the notion common amongst many Protestants that "Catholics" have a "different Bible" from that which they acknowledge (and therefore, presumably, Orthodox Christians as well) pertains exclusively to the Old Testament. This question, that of the "different Bible", is likely to be one of the first to arise in any fundamental conversation between Orthodox Christians and Protestants.
The Old Testament
The books of the Old Testament are quite varied in character and have discrete histories. Generally speaking, they fall into four broad groups: the books of the Law (the Pentateuch or Gr. Pentateuchos); the history books (e.g., the books of King)s; the Prophets; and the books of Wisdom. It might be interesting to note in passing that the first "disagreement" concerning the "table of contents" of the Old Testament long pre-dated the Christian era: the Samaritans were distinguished from the Jews by their refusal to acknowledge as "scripture" any books other than those of Moses, the Pentateuch (Gr. five books).
Most of the books of the Old Testament were written originally in Hebrew Aramaic or a mixture of the two. There is, however, a whole group of books which are an exception, having been originally written (or at least only known to us) in Greek. These books are usually called the "Apocrypha", or "hidden books"--a complete misnomer, as there is nothing hidden about them; they were an integral part of the Greek text of the Old Testament as it was in use at the time of our Lord, the Septuagint (the translation of 70 Hebrew Scholars). Many quotations from the Scripture--the Old Testament--in the books of the New Testament are identifiably from this Greek text. (A glance at any reliable reference edition of the New Testament will readily confirm this...quotations which are clearly from the Greek text are usually identified as e.g..."Psalm 145:5 LXX.) Nowhere, of course, do any of the New Testament books make any distinction between the various books of the Old Testament. It is of all this material that the holy Apostle Paul writes when he says "All Scripture is given by inspiration from God" (2 Timothy 3:16).
The New Testament
In the first weeks, months, years of her existence, the Church had no written documents whatever, except the books of the Old Testament as indicated. The events of the Gospel were related from one believer to another by word of mouth; those who came to accept the Faith heard them from the believers. This was entirely in keeping with the culture. Relatively few people were able to read, let alone write...and so they heard the word of God and kept it (cf. Luke 8:21; 11:28). The holy Apostle Paul insists upon the matter: "Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold to the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our letter" (2 Thess. 2:15).
In due course, as the Church began to spread beyond her place of origin in Jerusalem and Galilee, communications between the local churches became necessary...and letters were written. Some of these were of such great importance to "the things you have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, practice these things" (Phil. 4:9).
Understanding the Faith that then began to be read in church services, along with the Scripture (the Old Testament). But copies existed initially only in the local churches to which they had been addressed, although in time in many others as well. As travelers moved from one place to another they carried hand-written copies of the letters for the edification of other believers. Some of these letters were written by the Apostles, but there were others, written by other believers as well. Eventually, some of them came to have the character of what we now call "open letters"...addressed to the Church as a whole, rather than to any particular congregation. These are the "universal" or "catholic" or "general Epistles." (Source: The St. John of Kronstadt Press)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God