The Bible of Christianity and the Christianity of the Bible
From "The Old Testament You Thought You Knew, Vol. 2"
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As a ministry, the Academy for Christian Thought affirms the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. The Bible is Spirit-inspired as to content and infallible as to authority for the Christian Church. The challenge is not content but responsible interpretation of a book written within the context of the authors’ geohistory (space and time), literature (writing styles or genres), philosophy (prevailing worldviews) and science (explanations for observable phenomena).
We begin by distinguishing the emergence of the written Bible that shaped Christianity (canonization) and the Christian faith that informed the faithful (theology). Both Bible and Christianity began in response to an already worshipping people – in essence, the Bible came to be because of believers who worshipped God.
The Bible of Christianity
The Bible of Christianity refers to how the Bible came to be (canonization); the selection, adaptation and redaction of the books that form the Bible.
Genesis: The primeval account of the origin of the universe, of life and of humanity is followed by the ancestral account of Abraham’s migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan, where his son Isaac and grandson Jacob raised their families. During a time of famine, Jacob’s family settled in Egypt.
Exodus-Deuteronomy: Pharaoh subjected the descendants of Jacob to forced labor. At around 1300 BC, under the leadership of Moses and favored by an extraordinary series of events, they and other tribes who joined them escaped to the Sinai desert. Here these various tribes became a community with a single religious allegiance. After 40 years, they managed to enter Canaan through Transjordan from the East.
Joshua-Judges: Under the leadership of Joshua, this group, now called Israelites, crossed the Jordan River. They carried out a swift military conquest and claimed the land as their own. During this period of the Judges, they waged many battles to hold on to their captive lands as the ‘Promised Land.’
Samuel, Kings and Chronicles: Under enemy pressure, this tribal confederacy formed a single monarchy and Canaan became an Israelite nation. Following Solomon’s death, it split into the kingdoms of Ephraim and Judah. The nation of God became two kingdoms of kings. Their strategic location drew them into the Near Eastern power struggle between Egypt and Mesopotamia. By 722 BC, Ephraim fell to the Assyrians while Judah became a vassal. But by 586 BC, after Babylon wrested control from Assyria, Judah itself fell to Babylon with the collapse of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple. The First Temple Period (960-586 BC) was over.
The prophetic books: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve divine messengers announced God’s word from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC before the emergence of the Hebrew Bible as sacred scripture.
Ezra-Nehemiah: The Babylonian Empire gave way to the Persian Empire. The exiled Israelites returned to restore the city walls and rebuild the temple. The temple was rebuilt by 516 BC.
1, 2 Maccabees: By 332 BC, Palestine came under Greek control. Alexander’s successors continued the policy of imposing Hellenistic culture on their captives. A Seleucid ruler of Syria who inherited Alexander’s empire forced this policy on the Jewish community. This resulted in an open revolt led by the family known as the Maccabees in 168 BC.
Wisdom Literature, the Psalms, Lamentations, Ruth, and Esther all provide richness to the fabric of timeless, theological narrative.
Gospels, Acts, and Revelation: John and Jesus ushered in a new age of YHWH worship. The long awaited messiah has arrived and fulfilled the expectations of ancient prophecies. But His kingdom is not of this world.
Epistles: Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude and others wrote letters that became a part of the Holy Scriptures. The revelation of God that began with the patriarchs (Abram, Isaac, and Jacob), continued with the prophets, who were succeeded by rabbis and apostles. Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of the Church ushered in the close of the apostolic age.
Christianity of the Bible
The Christianity of the Bible is a theological account of God’s relationship with creation, with special reference to humanity through the eyes of Israel.
Israel’s story in the Bible did not begin with the Genesis creation account but rather, the founding of Israel in Exodus. This event first defined a People of God. Five important historical markers establish what Old Testament (OT) Israel means to New Testament (NT) Christianity.
1300 BC: The Exodus event marks the first time a concept of the “People of God” arose. Around 500 BC, Babylonian Jewish leaders wrote the history of Israel centered on the Exodus event. Several Egyptian tribes joined the Egyptian Hebrews (’Apiru) or desert nomads in a daring escape led by Moses. In the Sinai desert, they became Israel. This account of Israel’s founding was told and retold down the generations to explain how they came to be God’s people. How did the Hebrews end up as Egyptians in the first place? Genesis 12-50 was written to tell of Abram the Mesopotamian who migrated to Canaan around 2000 BC. His wandering descendents settled in Egypt. But Babylon’s creation account does not speak of Jewish Israel as God’s people. So Genesis 1-11 was written as a cosmic account of why their God in fact created the Babylonian gods. Together, Exodus, Genesis 12-50 and Genesis 1-11 were forged into the national, prehistoric and primeval accounts of Israel’s epic story.
1200 BC: The Canaan event marks the formation of a “People of Israel.” The book of Judges tells of an Israelite tribal confederacy whose battles among other Canaanite tribes led to the political need for nationality. The nationalistic aspirations were justified by a divine promise of the Promised Land to Abraham. The Prophet-Judge Samuel anointed Saul as their first king.
1000 BC: The David event marks the emergence of the “nation of Israel,” a successful nation-state. The division after Solomon’s death led to the two “kingdoms of Israel.” Saul’s failure to establish a viable nation-state paved the way for David to emerge victorious as leader of the nation of Israel. Henceforth, all nationalistic claims hark back to the Davidic covenant. The line of David became the authority of choice for this new nation.
700 BC: The Assyrian event marks the demise of the ten “lost tribes of Israel” subsequently called the “Samaritans.” The loss of Ephraim to Assyria, the fall of Samaria, and the dispersal of the northern tribes created a crisis of faith. A generation of Seers (prophets) arose to call the people back to repentance. They explained why God punished Ephraim.
600 BC: The Babylonian event marks the fall of Jerusalem and the remnants of Judah came to be known as “Jews.” The loss of Judah and the deportations of Jews created a crisis of faith. The Adamic and Noahic covenants, the Abrahamic promises, the Mosaic laws and the Davidic privileges now seemed meaningless. Pharisees arose to reshape new expectations of God’s promises without Jerusalem or the temple. By the Persian period in the 5th century BC, political and religious leaders adapted to new conditions and responded with fresh writings, including Ezra-Nehemiah and Torah, to assure the people that the God of Abraham, Moses, and David is still their God. The Genesis lineage goes back to Babel, Noah, Adam and the foundation of the universe itself.
These five events of the Jewish faith was the basis for the emergence of the Christian faith during the Roman period, when most Palestinian Jews spoke Aramaic, while some knew Hebrew and Latin, and many wrote in Greek. The 1st century after the death of Jesus saw the writing of accounts remembering His life, works and teaching. Some of these writings came to be known as the NT and shaped the self-understanding of this global faith called Christianity.
 One that Saul failed to establish.
 Modern Israel is the political “state of Israel.”
 Why Jesus spoke Aramaic. Aramaic was the official language of the Persian Empire since the 7th century BC. It replaced Hebrew as the official language of the Jewish community in Babylon after the Persian Empire deposed Babylonia. The Aramaic script adapted to the Hebrew script and eventually replaced it. This is why the Jewish Jesus spoke Aramaic.