26th April 2023

Sometimes in our household a Bible reading or sermon at church provokes a discussion about its social, historical, geographical or theological background. After all, our ideas, values and doctrines as Christians don’t and can’t emerge in a vacuum: there’s always a context.

The discussion usually starts with a question from Merry and continues with me doing my best to come up with a reasonable answer, or trying to recall where I might possibly find one. So when in Waterstone’s I recently came upon John Barton’s Penguin paperback, ‘A History of the Bible’, I thought Merry might find it useful for providing the sort of background information she enjoys. (Who needs flowers or chocolates?!)

I’ll admit I’m also enjoying reading through it, re-acquainting myself with authors and themes I’ve not fully engaged with since my student days, while at the same time discovering a newer generation of scholars and some developments in the general academic consensus. I’m currently only half-way through, but I’m struck by the reminder that it was the everyday faith of those early Christian communities that produced the scriptures we know as the New Testament, not the other way round. They believed what they did about God and Jesus, not because some holy writ dictated it, but because this was their life experience; and so powerful and real was this sense of the Risen Lord’s presence and influence amongst them that they wanted to keep a record of their beliefs about him. The New Testament didn’t simply drop out of heaven to be unquestioningly revered but emerged in the very human context of lived faith.

Ken Stewart