Please Open Your Bibles and Turn to…the Table of Contents

Please Open Your Bibles and Turn to…the Table of Contents January 19, 2013

I came across this image on Facebook:

It gets closer to the truth than what many people seem to think, including Dan Brown. But it is wrong about a number if points – not least of which is the generalization that all Christians think the Bible dropped down from heaven in its complete bound form. But some do seem to think that, or at least seem not to have thought about the implications of that not being the way things happened. And so the image is useful if it gets people thinking about where the table of contents of the Bible comes from.

But if it was not a matter or imperial pronouncement, neither is the whole story something as simple as a vote. The reality is rather messier, as tends to be the case. The truth is that much of the canon was accepted through a natural process of development, in which churches shared texts in their possession, so that significant numbers of them came to use many of the same texts. Then, by the time anyone discussed, debated, and voted, there was a core about which most Christians agreed.

Be that as it may, precisely because of the importance of the history of the canon, when I teach my course on the Bible, before I get students to read any Biblical text, I get them to look at the table of contents, and begin to think about where that comes from, and why the contents and/or order differ between religious communities.

The subject does not get as much attention as it deserves to from Christians. How can anyone claim to respect or cherish the Bible, and yet not give serious thought to, or take seriously what we know about, where it came from and how it came to have the contents that it does?


"When I read the title of this blog, it made me think of Stonehenge as ..."

Neolithic Robots
"I think immersive role playing is an awesome way to learn a language. I had ..."

Direct and Indirect Learning Through Games
"I never thought about it before, but Paul stressing Jesus was of David's line is ..."

Genealogies and the Age of the ..."
"James said: I've thought that Q might have had some reference to Jesus being born ..."

Genealogies and the Age of the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • When I taught religion, sometimes I felt that teaching broader, rather than narrow was useful for opening eyes. Sure, teaching the deep convoluted history of the evolution of Christian scriptures can change a believer’s world. But teaching a little less deeply and outlining the phenomena but then showing how very similar moves are made in Buddhist and Islamic scripture can help students realize how common religious manipulation is, even if they all claim to be unique and best.

    Seeing through the “unique and best” rhetoric can shift worlds even deeper.

  • Gamgokt

    Only people looking for excuses to ignore what the Bible says needs to do what you do. It doesn’t matter what the table of context says, it is not part of the inspired words of God and has NO bearing on what the contents of the Bible say.

    • Your comment seems very strange to me. Without a table of contents, whether explicitly written down somewhere or not, those works would not be found within a collection containing them, called a “Bible.”

      Did you perhaps misunderstand my point? After all, you refer to the contents of the Bible, and that was in fact what I wrote about.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      amazing, absolutely amazing. the table of contents DEFINES what you think the Bible is. the order of the books, what books are included and which are excluded, even which chapters are in and which out. but you are right about 1 thing, the TofC is not inspired. (punctuation, chapter and verse are like the TofC external to the text)

      how do you know 1st and 2nd Clements are not part of your Bible and James is?
      The TofC which you have inherited from your community of interpretation. the problem of the canon exists in history, it is, as you point out, not part of the library you label “Bible”.

      and has NO bearing on what the contents of the Bible say.

      the TofC has everything to do with what the contents of the Bible ARE!