Eastern Orthodox Views on the Bible

by Robert Allen

Eastern Orthodox Christians take a unique approach to the Bible. Unlike Protestants, they don't believe Scripture is open to individual interpretation. Unlike Roman Catholics, they don't believe Scripture is entirely under the control of the magisterium, either. Rather, Eastern Orthodox doctrine understands the Bible in the context of the church fathers as well as contemporary concerns, and embraces certain texts, called deuterocanonicals, as part of the Bible that other groups don't accept.

Inspiration

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe the Bible is God's word, revealed for the salvation of humanity. Their doctrine holds that God inspired the writing of the Bible in its original languages, but that translations, by their very nature, are not inspired. For Orthodox Christians, then, the focus of the Bible is the incarnation of Christ and the salvation of humanity above all else. The church doesn't take a stand on the issue of Biblical inerrancy that has caused divisions in Protestantism since the late 19th century.

Canon

The early Christian church had the task of sorting through various religious texts to decide which were authentic and authoritative. The 66 books selected are called canon. Eastern Orthodox Christians accept the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, but later also recognized a series of texts known as the deuterocanonicals. These include Tobit, Judith, Sequel of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Joshua, Baruch, Sequel of the Book of Daniel, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees and Psalm 151. Protestants reject the deuterocanonicals entirely, and Roman Catholics recognize only seven.

Authority

In the early centuries of Christianity, ecumenical councils hammered out various theological positions, including which books belonged in the Bible, and which didn't. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that since the church came first, the church has authority over the text. In other words, the Bible didn't form the church; instead, early Christian traditions established the Bible. For the Eastern Orthodox, then, the Bible does not exist independently of the church, and is always subject to the church's traditions and teachings.

Interpretation

Scripture within the Eastern Orthodox denomination is understood in light of the church's traditions, rather than as a stand-alone document meant for believers to interpret on their own. Specifically, Eastern Orthodox Christians look to the early church fathers to interpret the Bible, and consider the context in which the particular texts were written, using historical, archaeological and literary tools. Other Christian denominations, by way of contrast, teach that Scripture must be interpreted in as plainly as possible.

About the Author

Robert Allen has been a full-time writer for more than a decade. He previously worked in information technology as a network engineer. Allen earned a bachelor's degree in history and religion/philosophy from Indiana Wesleyan University, a master's degree in humanities from Central Michigan University and completed his graduate studies at Christian Theological Seminary.

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