Lent is the forty days before Easter. Start at Easter, back up six Sundays, then back up a few more days to the Wednesday before, and you get to Ash Wednesday. That’s actually forty-six days. Back out the six Sundays, which are treated as “free days” and not counted as part of the Lenten season (they are and they aren’t–it’s complicated), and you get to forty days.
Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. We prepare by focusing on Christ and his journey to the Cross, which lies squarely across our path and looms ever larger the deeper we get into the Lenten season. The 40 days of Lent tie in directly with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to the start of his public ministry, and indirectly with the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness prior to entering the Promised Land. Not all of us can go out into the wilderness for 40 days, but we can all place ourselves in a posture of humility and choose practices consistent with a lifestyle of repentance.
What we typically do around here during the Lenten season is pick a related topic and talk about it for the next five to six weeks. This year we will be coming around two questions: What is the Bible? And what is the Bible for?
In any discussion of these questions, it is best to start by considering how we got our Bible.
When one hears evangelicals talk about the Bible, one gets the impression that it basically just dropped from heaven in its present form, much like the Koran or the Book of Mormon. The truth is, as they say, a bit more complicated. The key point to keep in mind is that the Bible in itself is not the basis of our faith, but instead it points to a person and an event which are the basis of our faith.
It all started when Jesus rose from the dead. People who knew Jesus and saw the Resurrection circulated their stories within the early church. Eventually they came to the realization that the people who saw these things firsthand were starting to die off, and that Jesus (they believed he was coming back any day) was probably going to be a couple minutes. So they sat these people down and had them write out their stories. These stories were collected, along with letters written by key church leaders to different church communities, and after a process of winnowing that took a couple of centuries, became what we know today as the New Testament.
At the same time, Christians began to take a keen interest in the Jewish Scriptures (what we know today as the Old Testament). They were searching for Jesus, and they found him everywhere. Thus the Jewish Scriptures were taken and incorporated lock, stock, and barrel into our Christian Bible, becoming what we know as the Old Testament.
There was a significant amount of evolution over the first couple of centuries of church history as it went from the Jewish Scriptures plus other writings to the Bible we currently have today. There were animated discussions and debates about which belonged and which did not. It was not until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that the present New Testament canon was codified.
When we see the origins of the Bible in this light, it leads us away from seeing it as a holy book which magically dropped from heaven in its present form, to something more akin to the book we actually have. We recognize the Bible as divinely inspired, yet at the same time it is a very human book and its humanness shows through all over the place. We will take a more in-depth look at this in weeks to come.