Topic 1.1.1
Today we know more
MICRO TOPIC 1.1.1
More than Saint Augustine

Today we know more

Saint Augustine did the best with what he had in 400 AD
This has nothing to do with godliness or intelligence.
We're not smarter. Just better informed.
We can now understand the Bible better than at any time in history because we have a massive amount of scholarly information from manuscripts, linguistics, archaeology and science not available to early church fathers.

Word of God

Christianity does NOT come from the Bible. Christianity comes from the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible is not the source, but rather the record, of Christianity.

The Bible tells about important events leading up to the birth of Jesus (Old Testament), Jesus' life and teachings (Gospels), growth of the early church (Acts), instructions to the early church (Letters) and a glimpse into the future (Revelation).

The Old Testament is the holy record of Judaism The New Testament is the holy record of Christianity.

All Christians believe that the New Testament is the basis for Christian belief and practice – the Word of God for everyone today – written by eye witnesses, keeping Jesus' message free from re-writing and distortion over time.

Bible content

There is universal agreement on the content of the Bible. There is not a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible ... or an English Bible and a French Bible.

There is only ONE BIBLE but many translations of it from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Problems with the Bible are not from disputed content, but from language interpretation.

The English word 'bible' comes from the Latin word 'biblia,' meaning books. When capitalized and preceded by the word 'the' it means holy books. As we experience the Bible today, our single printed volume is 66 small books bound together within one cover, about 1,200 pages in total, arranged in approximate historical sequence.

The Bible by number of pages:

  • 77% is the 39 books of the Old Testament. (Catholics and Orthodox include a dozen non-conflicting additional books). The Old Testament is a record of how God dealt with the Israelites (Jewish people), before Jesus.
  • 10% is the four gospels, eye-witness accounts of the life of Jesus Christ.
  • 3% is the book of Acts, an account of the teachings and growth of the early church.
  • 8% is 21 letters of instruction from apostles (those who had been taught by Jesus personally) to new churches springing up throughout the Roman Empire.
  • 2% is the book Revelation, the Apostle John's vision about heaven

Jews,Christians and Muslims all believe in the Old Testament, but the New Testament is uniquely Christian.

SAINT AUGUSTINE AS EXAMPLE

Tradition established by early theologians

Role of theologians

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a theologian as 'a specialist in theology'. It defines theology as 'the study of God and of God's relation to the world.'

Christians believe that our best knowledge of God is through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible.

Christian theologians help us understand the Bible, its times and its message.

However, over the past twenty centuries, theologians have gradually ascribed much to the Bible that isn't even in the Bible. Instead of simplifying scripture, they have made it more convoluted and divisive.

There are now more than 2,500 different Christian denominations, each different – often considerably different – and each claiming to have the correct interpretation of the same Bible.

Every denomination has its own set of acceptable theologians who define and defend the doctrines for the group. And each group has its own set of acceptable seminaries to prepetuate, expand and modify its doctrines.

There was a time when theologians, and priests and pastors trained by theologians, were essential for transmitting the Bible message to the masses of people. Most people could not read or write, and source documents were not available to them. The only way to learn was to have faith in what the theologians, priests and pastors were saying.

But now all that has changed. Today ordinary people are well educated, perfectly capable of reading the Bible themselves, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide them in their own study of scripture.

All of Jesus' eye witnesses and Bible writers are long deceased, so theology today is primarily a study of their writings, known to us as the New Testament. All Christians agree that Christian belief and practice must be in accord with the New Testament.

Some of the influential theologians of the first few centuries of Christianity include Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Jerome and Augustine. They were great men of God but, for lack of information, they didn't know then as much as we know now.

Saint Augustine

Other than the Apostle Paul, no one has had greater influence on shaping Christian doctrine than Saint Augustine of Hippo (Algeria, Northern Africa).

His interpretation of scripture has established many major doctrines that carry over to this day in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, including his concept of original sin which is explored in depth in scripture on this site.

Ordinary people pronounce his name: August-teen. Theologians and pastors pronounce his name: Ah-gust-tin. Both are correct, same man.

Like the Apostle Paul, Augustine had a dramatic conversion experience. His mother was a Christian, but he but rejected that faith as a young man. He was a philosophy teacher and orator, living a promiscuous life. Alone outside, at age 34, he heard a voice say, 'Take up and read; take up and read.' He believed God was telling him to read scripture. He got a manuscript of Paul's letter to Romans and at random his eyes fell upon these verses: 'Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature' (Romans 13:13-14).

'For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of faith flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled,' he recounted in his famous book Confessions.

After his conversion, and continuing until his death at age 76, he studied scripture as best he could with the limited resources available to him. He wrote many books ... became a priest ... then a Bishop ... and was very influential in shaping the Roman Catholic Church in the years after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Empire.

Augustine's limitations

Saint Augustine did not have all of the Bible study resources available to us today. Here were some of his limitations:

He lived more than 300 years after Jesus. This is so much time that word-of-mouth information from generation-to-generation would no longer be reliable. All credible information about Jesus' message would have to come from written documents – the same documents we use for Bible study today!

He lived in Africa. He was on a different continent, more than a thousand miles from where Jesus and his disciples taught and formed the first churches. He was on the periphery of where the gospel was taking root and leadership was developing.

His language was Latin. He was very proficient in Latin, the official Roman language, but he didn't know Greek. Problem is, the original New Testament manuscripts were in Greek. So Augustine studied scripture from the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Greek, an intermediate translation from the originals.

No printing presses. This was a thousand years before invention of the printing press. Scripture was hand-written on papyrus and parchment. Individual documents were subject to copying errors and omissions, often without adequate validation.

No libraries. There were no libraries as we know them. There were private collections of various and disparate copies of gospels, letters and revelation, but no central and convenient places to study all of them as a whole. Augustine was writing at the time the New Testament cannon was just coming together (Council of Hippo 393 AD), so there was still some uncertainty about which documents were to be regarded as holy scripture.

No deep scholarship. In the 1,600+ years since Augustine, there has been a massive amount of accumulated scholarly information, analysis and cross-checking from manuscripts, linguistics, archaeology and science that was not available to early church fathers.

WE KNOW MORE THAN AUGUSTINE

Sounds audacious, but true

We know more today

Bible study is more informed for us today than it was for Saint Augustine in his day. We all study the same original Bible manuscripts, but today we study with greater clarity and confidence, not because we are smarter, but because we have been blessed with more information and see a bigger picture.

Information age

In times past, most people wished that they could read, but they were illiterate.

Those who were literate wished they could read scripture for themselves, but there was no way to get their hands on the precious few documents, and they could not understand Greek.

So they had to rely entirely on what theologians told them, often contradictory and self-serving within their particular constituency.

But in our modern information age, nearly everyone can read ... and we have dozens of excellent translations and interlinear versions of the entire Bible instantly available at no cost ... and we are privileged to read and study scripture for ourselves without being constrained by questionable traditions handed down by theologians centuries ago.

We get full confidence for personal faith when we see all relevant scripture on any topic with our own eyes and process it with our own minds. This site quotes relevant scripture verses on essential topics to help make study as thorough and efficient as possible and to assist in communication with unbelievers and doubters.

New understandings from direct study

Not surprising, personal objective study brings new understandings. It is not ungodly or disrespectful to disagree with certain old traditions if our own Spirit-led Bible study leads to new conclusions.

As with everything in God's marvelous creation, God seems pleased to reveal more and more about Himself and His plan as time moves on.

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