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References on the Bible

The New Testament is scripture for Christians, because in the fourth century the church recognized by Emperor Constantine created the Christian Bible. We see in the letters of Paul that the early churches with Greek-speaking Christians read the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible as scripture. In other words, they read the Jewish scriptures -- the Torah, the prophets, and the writings in the Greek translation, the Septuagint. The churches that Paul visited and wrote did not have the gospels to inspire them, nor did Paul. In short, Christian faith begins without the Christian Bible and, therefore, it does not depend on it. Christians are not called to have faith in the Bible but in God.

Many Bibles have excellent introductions, notes and comments. I use the following:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books
New Revised Standard Version, third edition, Michael D. Coogan, editor
New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition
New American Bible including the Revised Psalms and the Revised New Testament
New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version
Revised and expanded, Robert J. Miller, editor
San Francisco: Harper, 1994.

Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary
The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
New York: The Jewish Publication Society, 2001.

There are, of course, numerous books that shed light on the Bible, and I am indebted to many scholars for their insights and research. In response to a request from a visitor to the web site, I am suggesting a few books that I have found particularly helpful.

Achtemeier, Paul J., Mark
Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986.

There is general agreement among bible scholars that the gospel of Mark was written before the other three gospels in the New Testament and that the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke used the gospel of Mark extensively in writing their own gospel accounts. The author looks at gospel as literature and as the witness of the early church to Jesus and his ministry. Moreover, he considers evidence concerning the author's identify and the place where the gospel was written.

Achtemeier, Paul J., The Quest for Unity in the New Testament Church
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987.

This book grew out of an address to the Catholic Biblical Association in 1985. Its focus is the conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church as revealed in "the relationship between the apostle Paul and the religious authorities in the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem." In particular, this concerns the contradictions between Galatians 2:11-14 and Acts 15:6-29. "The evidence in the New Testament is clear," Achtemeier asserts in the introduction to this book. "The church, from its beginning, faced problems of division and disunity, with the result that such unity still remains a goal to be achieved in the life of the visible body of Christ. Only a clear, hard-eyed view of the kind of problems that have beset the Christian community from its beginning will enable that community to move forward, under the guidance of God's spirit, to that unity to which it is called."

Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode, editors, The Literary Guide to the Bible
Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987.

This study looks at the Bible as literature. Its purpose is not to distinguish myth from history, or to explain how the books of the Bible were composed, edited, and combined.  Instead, it offers reflections on how various books of the Bible "work" as a literary composition.  The idea is simple enough, but both the task and the book are formidable.  Yet, time spent on this collection of essays by eminent scholars is well invested.

Anderson, Janice Capel and Stephen D. Moore, Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992.

This book provides a succinct introduction to the various scholarly approaches now being used in biblical study. An introductory chapter provides an historical overview of how the gospel and its authorship have been understood in the life of the church and, more recently, in academic study. Individual chapters illustrate narrative criticism, reader-response criticism, deconstructive criticism, feminist criticism, and social criticism. Janice Capel Anderson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Idaho, and Stephen D. Moore is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Wichita State University in Kansas.

Barnett, Paul, Jesus and the Logic of History
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pulishing Co., 1997.

The author argues that the Christ of the early church's faith is close to the historical Jesus. This is a critique of the efforts by John Dominic Crossan and others to reconstruct the historical Jesus. The book's summary of what is known about Jesus in the letters of Paul is particularly illuminating, and the open claim that the gospel is self-authenticating in the life of the church is refreshing. The conflict between Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem is acknowledged and addressed.

Barr, James, The Scope and Authority of the Bible
London: Xpress Reprints, SCM, 1993.

This collection of essays by the eminent Oxford biblical scholar, James Barr, offer an excellent introduction to the issues raised for the church by historical critical study of the Bible. The Chapter entitled "The Problem of Fundamentalism Today" is a sensitive and insightful treatment that ought to be more widely known, and the concluding chapters on "The Bible as a Political Document" and "The Bible as a Document of Believing Communities" are also illuminating. This book helps us see that the Bible "is not just tradition as it happened to be, but tradition shaped and edited in such a way as to present to the believing community an adequate and necessary presentation of that tradition, as the older community wanted it to be known to the later community."

Borg, Marcus J. and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions
San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000.

This book presents two understandings of the historical Jesus by scholars who have different assumptions about the New Testament.  Both men are Christians, each respects the scholarship of the other, and they are personal friends.  Yet, they see Jesus of Nazareth in distinctly different ways.  Wright attributes more of the gospel material to Jesus than Borg does, but Borg argues that the gospel is true even if it is not always historical.  Their dialogue reveals much about contemporary biblical studies.

Brown, Raymond E., S. S., The Churches the Apostles Left Behind
New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

This book is a study of seven very different churches in the New Testament period after the death of the apostles. These churches had quite diverse emphases in their community life, as detectable from the biblical writings addressed to them. Fr. Brown shows that three of the churches are in the heritage of Paul, one is in the heritage of Peter, two are in the heritage of the Beloved Disciple (John), and the last is the church addressed by the gospel of Matthew. The chapters in this book were given as the Sprunt Lectures at the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia in 1980.

Brown, Raymond E., S.S., Jesus God and Man
New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1967.

Does the New Testament call Jesus God?  This is the first question that Brown addresses.  The answer is "Yes" but a careful reading of the New Testament suggests that this usage begins near the end of Paul's ministry and comes from the early Greek-speaking churches and not from the church in Jerusalem.  The second question Brown explores is: How much did Jesus know?  Brown affirms the Nicene dogma, Jesus is "true God of rue God."  In the New Testament, however, Jesus is often presented in a way that distinguishes his knowledge from that of God and even suggests that his knowledge is limited.  These observations need not undermine Christian doctrine but require interpretation.

Burridge, Richard A., Four Gospels: One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading
London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1994.

This short and very readable book presents each of the gospels as a story with its own integrity written for a particular Christian audience. Amidst the differences in these Christian biographies the author clarifies what the church affirms about their main character, Jesus of Nazareth, who the church confesses is Christ the Lord. The books helps us become aware of how we read our own ideas about Jesus into the gospels and thus enables us to see more clearly the Jesus of the New Testament witness.

Carlson, Jeffrey and Robert A. Ludwig, editors, Jesus and Faith: A Conversation on the Work of John Dominic Crossan
New York: Orbis Books, 1994.

This book contains an excellent summary by John Dominic Crossan of his conclusions about the historical Jesus and a number of critical essays on his Crossan's methodology. These essays were written for a conference at DePaul University in 1993 on "Jesus and Faith: Theologians in Conversation with the Work of John Dominic Crossan." The issues discuss include: the implications of Crossan's reconstruction of the historical Jesus for theology and ministry in the church. Crossan's personal response to his critics at the end of the book is candid and challenging.

Carroll, Robert P., The Bible as a Problem for Christianity
Philadelphia: Trinity Press international, 1991.

Robert Carroll, a Professor in Biblical Studies at the University of Glasgow, shows how scripture has been manipulated for ideological purposes and suggests some of the issues in reading the Bible today. "Since the rise of critical theology in the modern age," he asserts, "the equating of the human words of scripture with the words of God has been abandoned. A simple reading through of the Bible will demonstrate to any rational reader just why that should be so." The Bible may easily be used as a tool of barbarism, and the history of Christian persecution of the Jews is only the most blatant example of the dangers that arise when human words in scripture are claimed to be the word of God.

Coote, Robert B. and Mary P. Coote, Power, Politics and the Making of the Bible: An Introduction
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990.

This book, written by a Professor of Old Testament and a Visiting Instructor in Biblical Greek at San Francisco Theological Seminary, provides a concise introduction to the influence of political power in the creation of the Bible. In the preface the authors write: "This history explains how everyday people, circumstances, and events produced the Bible. Of course the Bible goes far beyond the mundane . . . [and] is a source of endless amazement and inspiration, to which even an elementary historical understanding can make a contribution."

Crossan, John Dominic, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Executive of Jesus
San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1998. 

Crossan applies his inter-disciplinary approach to the years before the ministry of Paul. He states his presuppositions clearly and draws on history, anthropology and archeology to argue that the message of Jesus represented by his way of life continued in the early Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christian movement before it was transformed by Paul and other Greek-speaking Christians. This book is a challenging treasury of insights.

Efroymson, David P., Fisher, Eugene J., and Leon Klenicki, ed.s, Within Context: Essays on Jews and Judaism in the New Testament
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993.

In 1985 the Vatican published Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church (USCC Publication No. 970). A year later a 12-page pamphlet entitled "Within Context: Guidelines for the Catechetical Presentation of Jews and Judaism in the New Testament" was prepared in cooperation with the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The essays in this book provide additional background and offer the reader a wonderful introduction to a critical reading of the New Testament. The 1986 pamphlet is included as an appendix.

Fredriksen, Paula, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ, second edition
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

The author explains the variety of images of Jesus in the New Testament by exploring the ways that the new Christian communities interpreted his mission and message in light of the delay of the kingdom he had preached. In an introduction to the second edition she explains a few changes in her position that are presented in Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (1999).

Friedman, Richard Elliott, Who Wrote the Bible?
New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Richard Elliott Friedman has a doctorate in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University and has taught at Oxford, Cambridge and the University of California at San Diego. In this book he concentrates on the central books of the Old Testament-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy-and makes a persuasive argument for the identities of their four different authors. Drawing upon archeological evidence, he presents a vivid picture of the world of the Bible as he examines where and when these writers lived, the politics and history embedded in their stories, and their relationship to the events they describe.

Goldingay, John, Models for Interpretation of Scripture
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

This book lifts up from the history of the church and develops in considerable detail four approaches to interpreting scripture: witnessing tradition, authoritative canon, inspired word, and experienced revelation. The book reflects not only on scholarly issues of interpretation but draws implications for applying scripture within the life of the church today. John Goldingay is Principal of St. John's Theological College in Nottingham, England and a priest in the Church of England.

Goulder, Michael, A Tale of Two Missions
London: SCM Press, 1994.

Michael Goulder, Professor of Biblical Studies in the University of Birmingham, England argues that two different missions marked the life of the early church: one run by Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, out of Jerusalem, and the other led by Paul from various cities in the Roman Empire. "The two missions agreed on the supreme significance of Jesus but disagreed on almost everything else," he writes: "the validity of the Bible, whether the kingdom of God had come or not, sex, money, work, tongues, visions, healings, Jesus' divinity and the resurrection of the dead." This book presents an unrelenting critique of the illusion that the New Testament is an historically accurate account of the ministry of Jesus and the growth of the early church after the Pentecost experience of the disciples.

Hahn, Jerome S., editor, Bible Basics: An Introduction & Reference Guide to the Five Books of Moses
Boca Raton, FL: International Traditions Corporation, 1996.

This book was written for Jewish readers, and so offers the Christian reader much insight into how Jews read the Torah.  The text is user-friendly, has many graphic illustrations, and includes a list of the 613 commands in Torah.

Hann, Robert R., The Bible: An Owner's Manual
New York: Paulist Press, 1983.

This small, introductory book is intended to be helpful in the same way that manuals supplied with new cars are helpful to the owners.  The information is presented in a concise and user-friendly manner.  

Horsley, Richard A., editor, Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society
Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997.

The essays in this succinct study demonstrate that Paul's gospel and mission were set over against the Roman Empire rather than Judaism.  Paul was not "apolitical," but led a new religious movement that involved resistance to the religious propaganda and patronage systems of imperial Rome.

Kugel, James L., The Bible As It Was
Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.

This guide to interpretations of the Torah was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It contains information on how the Torah was read and understood from the third century BCE through the first century CE.  The opening chapter on "The World of Ancient Biblical Interpreters" demonstrates that the Torah was never without interpreters and, because of its very nature, requires interpretation.

Marshall, Christopher D., Faith as a Theme in Mark's Narrative
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

This is a detailed but readable study of the role that "faith" plays in the gospel of Mark. Marshall clearly explains his methodology and carefully looks at how the Greek word for faith is at the heart of the story in this earliest New Testament gospel. In the gospel of Mark, faith is not a general confidence in God, but is trust in the God who is present in the person and ministry of Jesus. Repentant faith is the sole condition for participation in the kingdom of God that is coming into being through the life and death of Jesus.

McDonald, Lee M., The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, revised and expanded edition, 1995.

The author is an evangelical Christian and a careful historian. He demonstrates that the church began with Christ as its authority, that Christian writings became scripture for churches in the second century, that the four gospels and the letters of Paul were well accepted by the third century, and that the Christian canon was not closed until after the fourth century. 

Meeks, Wayne A., The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983.

This book analyzes the writings of Paul in the context of what is known of the cities of the Roman Empire in the first century CE.  It offers a fascinating view of the social status of the members of Paul's churches, the way these communities of faith were organized, and their patterns of worship and life.  This book helps Christians today understand their spiritual ancestors in the early churches in the Roman Empire.

Miles, Jack, God: A Biography
New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1996.

In this book a former Jesuit priest trained in Near Eastern languages reflects on God as the protagonist of the Hebrew Bible. Jack Miles shows the modern reader a God who evolves through his relationship with man, the image who in time becomes his rival. "On the improbably expurgated biblical page," Miles writes, "God remains as he has been, the original who was the Faith of our Father and whose image is living still within us as a difficult but dynamic secular ideal."

Morgan, Robert with John Barton, Biblical Interpretation
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

This scholarly book provides a detailed overview of biblical studies. It analyzes the development of literary and historical criticism as well as more recent social scientific and literary approaches. The authors suggest how such scholarly study of the Bible impacts Christian theology, and they present an annotated appendix with information on some 250 biblical scholars. Robert Morgan is University Lecturer in Theology (New Testament) and Fellow of Linacre College in Oxford, and John Barton is Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford.

Ord, David Robert and Robert B. Coote, Is the Bible True? Understanding the Bible Today
London: SCM Press, 1994.

This book is written by a Presbyterian minister and a Professor of Old Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary. It introduces the lay reader to the critical approach to the Bible that is accepted in most universities and many seminaries today. The authors argue that those brought up to take the Bible literally have not taken it literally enough. The book locates the story of Jesus among the Galileans and Judeans of his time and distinguishes these communities in the first century from what after that time came to be known as Judaism.

Pagels, Elaine, The Gnostic Gospels
New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

In 1945 several Gnostic gospels were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. These gospels present a very different view of the world of the first Christians. Pagels explains what these gospels say, compares them with the New Testament gospels, and raises profound questions about what was happening in the Christian community in the first and second century A.D. The book reads like a novel and one the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Powell, Mark Allan, What are They Saying about Luke?
Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989.

This is a very readable introduction to the gospel of Luke which summarizes the views of more than forty biblical scholars. The author examines theories of the composition of the gospel and explores the political and social implications of the gospel for the first century church. The book also includes an excellent annotated bibliography.

Roberts, Jack. B. and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach
San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979.

This well documented study begins by looking at the way early Christians read scripture, but its focus is how Reformed theologians have read the Bible. The careful reader will see that the 18th and 19th century view of the Bible held by American Protestants is in striking contrast both to the understanding of the early church and the position taken by the 16th century Reformers.

Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.

The late renowned historian of religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, examines scripture as the relationships between a written text and those who read it and understand the world through their understanding of it. The author looks at the way the Bible is used in Jewish life, the use of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, and way that classical writings have been read. Smith sees fundamentalism as a 19th and 20th century reaction to modern secularism and the academic study of religious scriptures.

Wink, Walter, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament
Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984.

This is the first in a series of three volumes on the biblical understanding of "the powers."  Wink looks at Greek words in the New Testament that refer to "power" and then analyzes disputed passages in letters attributed to Paul.  He argues that language about the powers pervades the New Testament and that these powers are divine and human, invisible and structural, spiritual and political.  Wink asserts that we cannot dispense with the myth, but must find its meaning in our world of matter and spirit. 

Wink, Walter, Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence
Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986.

In this second volume Wink examines the meaning in the New Testament of Satan, the demons, the angels of the churches and the angels of the nations, the gods, the elements of the universe, and the angels of nature.  He relates all these "heavenly" characters in the biblical account to the spiritual side of our material reality.  He quest is to communicate the experience that these New Testament characters represent.

Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction
New York: Paulist Press, 1996.

This book developed from a course that Rabbi Wylen was asked by Fr. J. A. Panuska, S. J. to teach at the University of Scranton. It explains the biblical background of second temple Judaism, the affect of Hellenistic culture on the Jews, Jewish religion in the first century and the diversity within Judaism at the time of Jesus. The reader of this book will see that Jesus was much like the Pharisees of his time, even though the gospels of the New Testament portray the Pharisees as his enemies.



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1 in Faith: A Christian Bible Study Copyright 2000 by Robert Traer