The Need for Holy Scripture in Eastern Orthodox Churches

by Hilarion Alfeyev  (excerpt from ‘Orthodox Theology on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century’)

scripturesIt is well known that Protestantism using the Bible as their main weapon enjoy considerable popularity in contemporary Russia. In any collision between an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a Protestant, the latter will almost certainly demonstrate a superior knowledge of Holy Scripture just as for most Eastern Orthodox the Bible is by no means read regularly, and there is little interest in Biblical commentaries. Close to none are familiar with the achievements of modern Biblical scholarship.

The role of Holy Scripture is becoming a particularly burning issue in the Eastern Orthodox churches today. The Bible is not part of the life of most Russian Orthodox Christians. Eastern Orthodox like to state that, in contrast to Protestants with their sola scriptura (“Scripture only”) they possess both Scripture and Tradition. However, Tradition (with a capital “T,”) includes Scripture as an inseparable component: an Eastern Orthodox Christian may not be ignorant of the Bible.

For the Bible to become part of the life and experience of contemporary Christians, the first thing that is needed is a new translation. This could be either a corrected Synodal version or a totally new one, with no link to the Synodal text. Its importance would lie in the criteria it would have to meet. Firstly, it should be based on a contemporary critical edition of the Biblical text. Secondly, it should achieve maximum precision in transmitting the spirit and the letter of the original. Thirdly, it should not break with Church tradition.

Translations of Bible texts may be the work of one specific translator, they may be experimental, they may be aimed at a specific audience. But the Russian Orthodox Churches need a translation that would be the fruit of co-operation between several translators with the participation of experts among biblical specialists and ecclesial circles. The work of Bible translation could be directed by a Synodal biblical commission.

It is indispensable that the achievements of modern biblical criticism become accessible to
Russian Church circles, and above all to theological schools where future clergy are trained.

We have to rid ourselves of prejudices towards Biblical scholarship, of an attitude virtually regarding the sacred text as having fallen from heaven in the very form in which it is been found in the textus receptus and has been transmitted in the Synodal version.

It is no less important that works of contemporary Western specialists in Bible translation, Biblical and text criticism have become accessible to Russian readers. Some of these works have already appeared on bookshelves; but, for the time being, this is merely a drop in the ocean.

Finally, the production of a commented Bible is indispensable, one reflecting the achievements of Biblical scholarship of the twentieth century. This new commented Bible should include several layers of commentary: textual (based on the achievements of contemporary Biblical criticism), historico-archaeological (taking into account the data of contemporary Biblical archaeology), exegetical (containing a theological interpretation of the text based on its inner characteristics) and ecclesial-theological (based on patristic exegesis and taking into account both literal and allegorical interpretations of Eastern and Western fathers). Such a project is not within the capacities of one or a few scholars. Its realization, and the realization of other comparable projects, necessitates an institute of biblical studies or, at least, a center for biblical studies within one of the theological academies.

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  1. I am a true anomaly as I began to read Holy Scripture more earnestly when I began my journey from Protestantism to Orthodox Christianity. Other Orthodox Christians *MUST* re-discover the edification and beauty of Holy Scripture. If one doesn’t they will passively accept the lie that the Bible vindicates modern Protestant falsehoods.

  2. Ian, I agree completely. But the implication of the article is that (Eastern) Orthodox Christians *MUST* re-discover the edification and beauty of Holy Scriptures also.

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