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Is there an Orthodox Bible?

Many people do not know that there is an essential difference between the Protestant Churches and the Orthodox Church concerning the Bible. This is not only seen in the attitude towards the Bible and the attitude towards the Bible and the way of interpreting individual texts of it, but also in the number of books contained in the Bible. The contents of the Bible are known as the Canon in its technical sense. As far as the Canon of the New Testament is concerned, all the Churches in the East and West follow the list prepared by St. Athanasius of Alexandra, the stalwart of the Council of Nicea in his Easter letter of AD 327. It put an end to the disputes between Eastern and Western Churches concerning the content of the New Testament and it was established that 27 books from St.Mathew to the Book of Revelation would from the New Testament.

The term Old Testament is coined by the Christians and it indicates the Bible of Jews. During the time of Jesus there were two types of Jews based on their cultural heritage. One group had its base in Palestine and they used the Hebrew Bible.  A  Council of Rabbis held in Jamnia completed the Canon of this Bible only in AD 100. This Bible had only 39 books which is the reason why the Bible used by the Protestants does not include the seven books mentioned above.

However, a great number of Jews lived in different parts of the Roman Empire outside Palestine. Alexandria was their cultural centre and they used Greek as their language for communication. It can be seen that the new generations of Malankara Orthodox Church who use English instead of Malayalam. The Bible of Jews was prepared in Greek language during the reign of King Ptolemy II (285-247 BCE). This was called the Septuagint, which means Seventy in Greek, because of the seventy people who were engaged in its formation.

The Septuagint was not merely a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible; instead it had three changes in comparison with the Hebrew Bible:

  1. It contained seven additional books, namely, 1-2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Bara Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon.
  2. There were some additions and changes in the books like Esther and Daniel.
  3. The order of the books in the Septuagint was different from that of the Hebrew Bible. For example, II Chronicles was the last book of the Hebrew Bible. The numbering of Psalms was also different in the Septuagint.

Now the most important question is: what was the Bible used by Jesus and his disciples? None of the books of the New Testament    was written during the time of Jesus; the Bible, which he used, was that of the Jews. Once the new scriptures were written by the Early Christians, the Church reffered to it as the Old Testament rather than the Hebrew Bible of the Palestinian Jews. Since the Canon of the Hebrew Bible  was finalized only in AD 90 there is every reason to conclude that Septuagint was used during that time. Moreover, the modern researches have proved that the New Testament writers like St.Mathew and St. Paul quoted not from the Hebrew Bible but from the Septuagint.Since we want to follow the Old Testament of the Apostles and the Early Church, we consider the seven books mentioned above as scriptural texts.

Now the most important question is: what was the Bible used by Jesus and his disciples? None of the books of the New Testament    was written during the time of Jesus; the Bible, which he used, was that of the Jews. Once the new scriptures were written by the Early Christians, the Church reffered to it as the Old Testament rather than the Hebrew Bible of the Palestinian Jews. Since the Canon of the Hebrew Bible  was finalized only in AD 90 there is every reason to conclude that Septuagint was used during that time. Moreover, the modern researches have proved that the New Testament writers like St.Mathew and St. Paul quoted not from the Hebrew Bible but from the Septuagint.Since we want to follow the Old Testament of the Apostles and the Early Church, we consider the seven books mentioned above as scriptural texts.

The above are two most important reasons why the Deutrocanonical books could be considered as scriptural texts. The Orthodox Church of India considered the Syriac Peshitta version as its Bible. This was originated in the Aramaic speaking world of the Jews in the dawn of the modern of the modern age. The word Peshitta means “simple” and the version was more or less the same as Septuagint in content. That’s why we teach the 46 Old Testament books and include the seven books in our liturgical life.

 

prepared by Fr.Thomas Philipose