Biblical studies

Biblical studies

Biblical studies is the academic study of the Judeo-Christian Bible and related texts. For Christianity, the Bible traditionally comprises the New Testament and Old Testament, which together are sometimes called the "Scriptures." Judaism recognizes as scripture only the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh. Other texts often examined by biblical scholars include the Jewish apocrypha, the Jewish pseudepigrapha, the Christian apocrypha, the many varieties of ante-Nicene early Christian literature, and early Jewish literature.

There are two major approaches towards Biblical studies. The first approach studies the Bible as a human creation and is also known as Biblical criticism. This approach is most prevalent in the secular academic world. In this approach, Biblical studies can be considered as a sub-field of religious studies.

The other approach is the study of the Bible as a religious text, where it is assumed that the Bible has a divine origin or inspiration. This approach is a branch of theology, and is also known as Biblical interpretation.

Methodologically and theoretically, the field draws on many disciplines, including history, archaeology, literary criticism, philology, and increasingly the social sciences. Practitioners of Biblical Studies do not necessarily have a faith commitment to the texts they study. In fact, Biblical criticism seems at times to contradict commitment to the inspiration of the text and is sometimes even considered heresy, although many "orthodox" scholars from both Christianity and Judaism utilize these methods while recognizing a more nuanced understanding of divine inspiration.



In Judaism, especially among the Orthodox, traditional Bible study entails the study of Tanakh with medieval and modern rabbinic commentaries or with Midrashim, which traditionally have followed the Biblical interpretation or exegesis approach. Jews traditionally study in the home or in institutions like the yeshiva.

Jewish academic institutions where Bible studies may include less traditional approaches include Hebrew Union College (Progressive Judaism), the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) and Yeshiva University (Modern Orthodox) in the United States; and all major universities in Israel, whose Bible studies departments concentrates on Biblical criticism.


In Christianity, the theological interpretation of Biblical passages is called biblical exegesis. Other branches of Bible study aim instead at elucidating the provenance, authorship, and chronological order of Biblical texts. This is a branch of philology more than theology, and sometimes comes into conflict with theology. "Higher criticism" and its findings, including the well known documentary hypothesis which suggests that the Bible was compiled from the writings of several different hands, and the work of the Jesus Seminar, which attempted to cull "inauthentic" sayings of Jesus from the "authentic" ones contained in the Gospels, are examples of Biblical studies whose results have been particularly controversial in theology.

Bible Study is the activity in which Christians read and reflect on the Bible individually or, including discussion, in small groups or base communities. Bible studies of the Christian nature can also take the form of academic assignments, where these assignments generally concern a close reading of the passage, followed by personal interpretation.

Additionally, Biblical Studies is a common discipline offered in the Bible colleges, Bible institutions or schools and some secular colleges. It centered on the study of the Scriptures as found in the Bible. In the U.S., it is not listed as an academic discipline following the pursuit of academic studies in normal stream colleges and universities. In Europe, however, Theology is a faculty in many respectable universities (e.g. Oxford and Cambridge) although several countries have transferred the training of priests and ministers to their respective churches.

It seems that the discipline of Bible studies in many U.S. institutions is practically the same as theology in more traditional institutions. A distinction should be made, therefore, between

  • Biblical studies which concentrate on the Bible and its interpretation, as in Exegesis.
  • Biblical studies as an all-around name for minister training.

Presently in the U.S., "Biblical studies" are taught mainly in non-academic schools and institutions under the support of many Christian denominations and missionary organizations.

In traditional churches, the training of priests and ministers includes the study of theology, which is a wider field incorporating more aspects of religion. Typically this takes place in a university or a seminary, depending on country and denomination.


Biblical Studies involve the studies of the Bible and can be studied as a subject for themselves or as a subdivision under Theology. It is often offered as a postgraduate course in some Christian colleges or Bible institutions as a non-academic study course. In contrast with most divinity schools, seminaries or older theological schools, Biblical Studies does not attempt to criticize the Bible as in higher (or literary criticism) or lower (or textual criticism) form. In this, it differs markedly from the usual scientific method or from the neutral point of view approach used in this Wikipedia article. However, its content varies but usually covered a wider scope including the following:

Principles of Biblical interpretation

The Bible is the holy scripture for most Christian denominations, and its interpretation forms part of the core of each denomination's faith. Therefore, there are clear rules accepted by all who consider themselves Christian. Exegesis using the inductive method is used in understanding the texts in scriptures. Some guides or rules of interpretation have been formulated and are, in some circles, known as Principles of Interpretation, in others as Hermeneutics. According to the Bible itself, it is the word of God, and it also contains rules of interpretation. Typically, a Biblical passage may be understood:

  • literally, as meaning exactly what is written
  • figuratively, meaning that there is a clear parallel to something else
  • allegorically, meaning that the passage is an allegory or type of something more

In addition, in some denominations, any of these may be either addressed to its historical audience or to mankind in general. All three ways may even be correct simultaneously. According to most denominations, the only way to choose a right interpretation is through use of the Holy Spirit, which may be found, depending on denomination, from a person's conscience, from tradition, or from some combination of both. Typically, older churches stress the use of tradition, while Protestant churches stress the use of personal inspiration. However, most denominations do draw a line somewhere in the literal interpretation, accepting some traditional standpoints.

Hermeneutical exegesis focuses on the original writer’s sense in relation to the expected audience response. The rule of context applies, and also "scriptures interpret scriptures". The ideas and meanings are likely to be in harmony within the language and cultural context. Therefore the rule allows for the meaning to be limited and interpreted within the intent and purpose of the original writers. This interpretative view obviously leads to more focused individual understanding than collective interrelated consensus.

Biblical canon scriptures are accepted by many Christians as God-inspired. Thus, attention is given to accepting the divine Holy Spirit who is thought to be the original inspiration or Author of all scriptures. However, there are several different doctrines on the nature of the inspiration, ranging from "word" inspiration to context inspiration. Exegesis is different from the traditional method of literary study, but approaches it when moving towards religious philosophy.

Hebrew and Greek languages

The study of original languages within the Bible is usually considered an imperative to any correct interpretive work. Most seminaries and Universities require their candidates for doctorates in divinity to possess adequate knowledge of these two disciplines. The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek is also important while trying to understand the religious life of the early church. The oldest copies of the New Testament are written in Koine Greek, a form which probably carried Hebrew and Aramaic influences.

Latin is also commonly studied because of its direct importance in New Testament times as well as its enduring roles in the development of Christianity through the subsequent millennia. Although Aramaic was the verbal language for much of the New Testament period, few schools provide for the study of this ancient language.

Biblical criticism

Biblical criticism is a secular, scientific approach to the study of the Bible, based on the assumption that the Bible is a human creation, rather than divine. Thus while apparent contradictions are interpreted in theology as having deeper or different meaning, they are interpreted in Biblical criticism as originating from the human writers. Prophecies fulfilled after the alleged time of writing are interpreted in Theology as a proof for the divine origin of the text, and in Biblical criticism as a proof that the real time of writing was later than claimed.

According to Jewish tradition, different books of the Bible were written in different times by different people. Biblical criticism extends this idea, and assumes that different parts (even different verses in the same chapter) may have been written in different times by different people, and later edited by other people. Some are based on local traditions, and others have been added to reflect the writer's political or religious agenda.

Biblical criticism uses mostly the following study tools:

  • Study of the language used in different parts of the Bible. According to the critical approach, this may teach us, for example, about the period at which each part was written, and perhaps about the writers as well.
  • Comparison of different but similar stories and verses from different parts of the Bible. According to the critical approach, this may teach us, for example, about the identity of the writer, his agenda and how different stories and ideas may have originated from each other.
  • Comparison of different ancient versions of the same text, such as the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint (basis of the Old Testament in European languages).
  • Comparison to ancient myths and to later Midrash.
  • Archaeology may sometimes also serve as an aiding tool, though there are different approaches among scholars to its use as a scientific tool.

See also



Further reading

External links

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