The Bible in Western Culture
The Bible in Western Culture
Bible is a primary document of Western culture, basic to understanding of
the western philosophical, literary, cultural and scientific
tradition. Focus is placed on ideas developed in Hebrew Bible (Old
Testament) and their literary, philosophical and political impact.
Culture is formed by a combination of factors. At one level,
culture is simply the ordered way in which a set of human beings
conduct their lives. This order has many streams flowing into it.
First, the customary ways of one's forebearers become accepted
as the norm by default. However, new ideas may arrive to reshape
that norm. Sometimes, one rebels against his culture because of
new information; sometimes one does so because he processes old
information and decides that as a matter of conscience, change
must occur. This is the process by which moral and spiritual
revivals occur. Otherwise, one may continue to follow the
established patterns of behavior. One may even push the
boundaries and get by with as much divergence as possible, either
in a move that improves society or in a way that would destroy
society. The story of the Old Testament is one in which people
follow standard or alternative paths.
Our Western culture is heavily indebted to the Judeo- Christian tradition
which created these writings and was itself molded by them. Knowledge of
the Bible, then, is important not only for those with religious commitment
to Judaism or Christianity, but to anyone in our society who wishes to be
informed or educated.
Theology pertains to mankind's view of God. The Old Testament is
filled with differing images of God. Certainly the pagan world
had its concepts of God as one to be appeased. Israel's God,
Yahweh, stood against the so-called gods of the pagan world in
many aspects. Israel struggled between faith in Yahweh and
appeasement of the delusion of traditional power.
The text for this section refers to the book by Beasley, et al.
The work begins with questions about the biblical text and the
environment in which it should be studied. The underlying
assumption is that the biblical text has a relationship to
ancient history: its people are connected with ancient
civilizations and its literary forms have affinity with ancient
a. Culture and methods. Modern Western culture is significantly
different from that of the ancient Near East. The key to understanding
requires one to transcend his/her own cultue and seek to comprehend the
Bible within its own environment. This does not means the Bible is
necessarily a product of ancient culture, but it does recognize that it is
a book that belongs first to the past.
The Bible and Western culture refers to Beasley, et al, pp. 15-28
Authority of the Bible refers to the power, respect and esteem that it
has and/or has been given. In addition, the Bible has authority, because
the Christian community canonized its books while rejecting other books as
noncanonical. Ultimately the Bible's authority derives from God, who
inspired its writers.
Interpretation refers to ways we understand the Bible. Ever since
scriptures were written down, a variety of approaches to their meaning
have existed. Our world views also affect the way we interpret the Bible
which, in turn, was written as a reflection the world views of ancient
Beginning study with Jesus we will journey through time to the present.
Since the Bible is authoritative for Christian faith and practice, we want
to comprehend its message. We gain a stronger sense of identity, strength,
and hope in learning more about our spiritual
Through examination of biblical texts and movies which draw upon those
texts the course explores how the Bible has been interpreted, and its
authority used, to promote particular religious, moral, social, and
political values in popular culture. In addition, by way of comparison,
some attention will given to other visual images, in painting and
sculpture, linked to biblical topics.
The nature and varieties of interpretation as a cultural activity ranging
beyond the province of biblical specialists will be a focal point of
discussion. Students will be encouraged to relate self-critically what
they learn about how texts and images function to how they themselves read
and visualize the Bible today.
Methods and tools for studying the Bible
Any journey of study begins with a method. The would-be student chooses a
topic, approach, or method and the adventure begins. Hope is high and
anticipation great. The trouble encountered in the journey is that the
method does not always work. Sincere methods do not guarantee results
unless they are sound methods. This understanding is vital to any approach
to Bible study. Sound methods yield sound results. This particular journey
will provide insight into formatting sound methods of Bible study that
give the learner an advantage in the understanding and application of the
message that God has for us in his word.
Of vital importance is an understanding of the intended outcome of any
course of study. The outcome of studying the Bible must be life change for
the better. For this reason, we will learn how to develop applications
based on reading, observation, and interpretation. Each application will
be Personal, Practical, Possible, and Provable.
Since the Bible has many themes and contexts, we will first learn the
history of the English Bible. The learning will have the opportunity to
learn how to choose a good translation of the Bible. We will also study
how to use properly the tools of Bible study including concordances,
dictionaries, language tools, and commentaries. After developing an
understanding of the tools, we will learn to develop working applications.
Following this, methods will be completed that aid the learning in
systematically reading the Bible equipped to understand its connectivity
Re. culture and methods modern Western culture is significantly
different from that of the ancient Near East. The key to understanding
requires one to transcend his/her own cultue and seek to comprehend the
Bible within its own environment. This does not means the Bible is
necessarily a product of ancient culture, but it does recognize that it is
a book that belongs first to the past.
Methods and tools for studying the Bible are considered by reading
Beasley, et al,pp. 29-49.
Many educators mistakenly believe that religion has no place in the
curriculum - that the public schools must be religion-free zones. This is
not true. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, religion can be taught, as
long as the teaching is presented "objectively as part of a secular
program of education." 1 According to "Religion in the public schools: A
joint statement of current laws," issued in 1995 by 35 agencies
representing 10 religions and ethical systems:
"Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach
religion...The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or
other scripture)-as-literature...are all permissible public school
subjects. It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about
the role of religion in the history of the United States and other
countries. One can teach that the Pilgrims came to this country with a
particular religious vision, that Catholics and others have been subject
to persecution or that many of those participating in the abolitionist,
women's suffrage and civil rights movements had religious motivations."
]Teaching religion as truth: Presenting the beliefs of a particular
denomination or religion as actual truth is unconstitutional. So is the
teaching of the Bible as truth, or the teaching of religious topics from a
sectarian point of view.
Teaching about religion: Teaching students about religions, or about the
influences that religions have had on society is constitutional. "Such
instruction can and does take place in any number of classes, such as
courses in comparative religion, the history of religion, world history
and American history."
The beliefs of a single faith group (e.g. conservative Christianity)
cannot be taught as truth. What can be taught is a form of comparative
religion. The latter includes teaching beliefs of various wings
(conservative, mainline, liberal) within Christianity and the beliefs of
other significant religions in a balanced manner. At the same time, the
school needs to be careful that it does not promote religion over
Six examples (two of the Bible itself, two from the Hebrew Scriptures and
two from the Christian Scriptures) might be useful to illustrate what is
allowable and what is prohibited. The author is not a constitutional
lawyer. However the guidance given by a number of court decisions seems to
give a very clear indication of what is permitted:
About the source of Biblical text: Some religious groups believe that
the Bible is inerrant; other religious and secular groups believe that it
contains errors. Teaching the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible or
the belief that God inspired its authors would violate the first
principle of the separation of church and state listed above. (Schools may
not promote the beliefs of one religion or faith group over any other). A
teacher who instruct her/his students that the Bible is not inerrant would
also be violating the Constitution, for the same reason.
To teach that some individuals and groups believe that it is inerrant,
infallible and God-inspired, while others believe the opposite would be
Teaching the Bible as real history: It is unconstitutional to teach that
some Biblical events really happened. (e.g. the creation story, the
worldwide flood, the tower of Babel, the exodus from Egypt, the virgin
birth and resurrection of Jesus, etc.) This is because there is no
consensus that these events really happened. However, other events (e.g.
Babylonian captivity, capture of Jerusalem by the Assyrians) have been
verified by archaeological evidence; most researchers agree that they
really happened. The events can be taught as fact.
To teach a balanced, inclusive view would be acceptable. This would
discuss how some individuals and groups believe that all of these earlier
events actually happened, while others believe that many of the events are
fictional, mythical or symbolic.
About the creation stories in the early chapters of Genesis: To teach
as a literal truth that God created the world, its life forms and the rest
of the universe in six days is unconstitutional, because it would promote
the beliefs of a single group of religions traditions within Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Other traditions within those same religions, and
non-Christian religions consider these chapters to be fictional, mythical
A constitutional approach would be to teach Genesis as one of hundreds of
creation stories found in societies and religions all over the world. To
fully more educate the students, the teacher might describe the three main
views about the origin of the universe, along with their many variations:
creation science, theistic evolution and naturalistic
About the authorship of the Pentateuch: The Bible says in many places
that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were written by Moses.
It would be unconstitutional to teach this as fact, because there is no
consensus that he was the author.
A constitutional approach would be to teach the two main views of the
authorship of the Pentateuch: that many conservative Christians believe
that the books were written by Moses under the inspiration of God, while
most non-conservative Christian theologians hold to the Documentary
Hypothesis: that the writings that form the Pentateuch were edited by one
or more redactors. The redactor(s) worked with the writings of four
authors, who lived in various locations in Palestine, over a period of
many centuries. Each wrote with the goal of promoting his/her own
About the nature, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus: To teach that
the crucifixion and bodily resurrection of Jesus actually happened is not
constitutional because no consensus exists on these events. Instructing
students that Jesus is the son of God is similarly unconstitutional.
Teaching one faith group's beliefs as truth and another as false again
violates the first principle as listed above.
There are major deviations among faith groups about these matters. Jews
regard Jesus as a very human, 1st century rabbi/teacher from Palestine.
Most Christians view him as the Son of God - one component of the
Trinity. Muslims, who form about 20% of the world's population, view him
as a great prophet -- the most important next to Muhammad. They believe
that Jesus was never crucified and thus not resurrected. Some liberal
Christians believe that he was a Greek cynic philosopher whose life story
was enhanced with beliefs taken from the god-men of nearby Mediterranean
About life after death and salvation: To teach that heaven and hell
exist as locations where individuals will be rewarded or punished after
death is unconstitutional. To teach that one must be saved by trusting
Jesus as Lord and Savior is also not permitted. To teach reincarnation or
that there is no after-life is similarly prohibited. Different faith
groups have varying beliefs in these areas. To teach one set as truth
violates the first principle of separation of church and state.
Some believe that heaven and hell are actual locations where people go
permanently after death. Others interpret heaven and hell symbolically.
Some believe in an intermediate state or location called Purgatory. Some
believe that everyone will be saved; others that only a small percentage
of the world's population will attain heaven. Some religions teach that
one is reincarnated and passes through many lifetimes before merging with
Many religious liberals, Humanists, Atheists, etc. believe that neither
heaven, hell, reincarnation or an afterlife exist. Instructing students in
the full range of beliefs would be constitutional.
Presumably, in order to retain a neutral stance towards religion, the
course might have to cover major religious texts, not just the Bible. And
it might have to cover documents like the Humanist Manifesto.
Teaching about religion is fraught with hazards for a school district:
It is unlikely that Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christian
parents would find a balanced, inclusive, objective religious course(s) to
be acceptable. As noted above, it would expose their children to beliefs
that they disagree with.
Liberal Christians, and non-Christians would probably approve of the
course, particularly if it is elective.
Agnostics, Atheists, free thinkers, Humanists and others might object,
feeling that objective courses could not be taught by teachers who follow
an Abrahamic faith (e.g. Judaism, Christianity & Islam).
It is unlikely that a school district could win a court challenge unless
their religion course(s) were balanced, inclusive, and objective.
There are many civil rights and First Amendment organizations in the U.S.
that have extensive expertise in suing school boards on constitutional
Any board of education that decides to add a religion course can expect to
generate intense conflict and anger within the community. They might
expose themselves to an expensive court battle that they had no hope of
winning. The result might well be a stalemate, with no Bible or religion
courses being taught.
The situation in Florida:
The Florida legislature passed a law in 1996 which permitted Bible history
classes to be taught in state public schools. In 1997, the school board of
Lee County, FL decided to create a "Bible History" unit. They appointed a
Bible Curriculum Committee and mandated them to develop curricula for two
new courses: "Bible History: Old Testament" and "Bible History: New
Testament." From the beginning, the committee was divided. Conservatives
wanted to teach the type of Christian Bible course that is commonly seen
in a Sunday school - to teach religion as truth. Religious liberals, and
others, wanted to teach an objective course - information about religion.
Against the recommendations of its lawyers, the school district adopted
the program recommended by the conservative majority on its committee.
This allegedly involved the adoption of two courses by the National
Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCP: an Old Testament
course with some adaptations, and the New Testament course exactly as
produced by the NCBCPS. 4
The law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, the People For the American Way
Foundation (PFAWF) and the Florida American Civil Liberties Union sued the
school district in federal court on behalf of some parents and citizens
who objected to the curricula. The court issued an injunction which
prohibited the teaching of the New Testament course, and ordered the
strict monitoring of the Old Testament course. The school board decided to
drop the NCBCPS-based curricula. They substituted a "neutral, academic
curriculum that does not present the Bible as fact or from a sectarian
perspective." The course is now taught in two sections, both based on a
book, "An introduction to the Bible." 5
The People For the American Way then studied the "Bible History" courses
that 14 other Florida school districts taught from the 1996-7 to the
1998-9 school years. They concluded that all 14 districts were violating
Used the term "Old Testament", a uniquely Christian term, rather than the
generic term "Hebrew Scriptures" generally used by scholars.
Referred to the events in the Garden of Eden as "The Fall of Man" -- a
Christian concept not recognized by many other faith groups -- including
some which base their beliefs on the Hebrew Scriptures.
The serpent in Genesis is referred to as "Satan;" that is a conservative
Christian interpretation, not shared by other faith groups.
Interpreted much of the Hebrew Scriptures as prophecy concerning the
future arrival of Jesus Christ. This again is a uniquely Christian
concept. In one school district, the students were asked "What eight
aspects of Christ's life are prophesied in Isaiah?"
Teach only one arrangement of the Ten Commandments; the students are not
informed about the two other formats used by Christians and Jews.
Ignore seven the books in the versions of the Bible which are used by
Roman Catholics and some Anglicans. These books are not considered part of
the official canon by most Protestant denominations and are frequently
referred to as the Apocrypha or as Intertestament Writings.
Restrict the course to the King James Version. The New American Bible,
used by Roman Catholics, and the New World Translation, used by Jehovah's
Witnesses, were not included.
Used only the Bible and secondary resources like Fundamentalist Christian
handbooks as texts. No non-biblical sources of Middle-Eastern history were
used. No books reflecting a liberal interpretation of the Bible were
Perhaps the most serious concerns with the courses were:
That only a single, typically conservative Protestant, interpretation of
the Bible was taught. The students were not informed that there is a wide
range of beliefs by different faith groups, depending largely upon their
initial assumptions about the nature of the Bible itself.
That the Bible was taught as actual history: the creation story, the
flood, the existence of Jesus since the beginning of time, the miracles
attributed to Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, etc. were all presented as
real, historical events. There is a wide diversity of belief about these
events. They cannot be verified and must be accepted on faith. "Teaching
this biblical content as true in a public school improperly crosses the
line of neutrality and objectivity by endorsing religion and inculcating
students in religions beliefs."
Students are taught, in the Ten Commandments, that only God is to be
worshiped and that one must rest on the weekly Sabbath, Saturday. They are
taught that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus said that the devil is the
father of the Jews, that "eight aspects of Christ's life are prophesied in
Isaiah." The Bible is referred to as "our Bible"; God is described as "our
The courses may well be ideal as a conservative Protestant Sunday school
curriculum. However, they would fail miserably in a Jehovah's Witness,
Mormon, Roman Catholic, Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ
church school. Christianity is actually being taught as truth to the
students - a specific wing of Christianity at that. As one court stated:
"...to inculcate students...into the beliefs and moral code of
fundamentalist Christianity [is] an admirable goal perhaps for some
private citizens or for a private religious school, but a forbidden one
for the government."
The PFAWF Florida Director urged the Florida Department of Education to
remove the two courses "Bible History: Old Testament" and "Bible History:
New Testament" in their present form from the state-approved course list.
The PFAWF report 5 asks all of the Florida school districts involved to
stop their current courses, and thus avoid being sued in court. The PFAWF
also sent letters to the Superintendents of each of the 14 school
districts, accompanied with copies of the report.
The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public
Based on the instructional materials provided by the schools districts,
all 14 of these school districts appear to be violating the Constitution
by the manner in which at least some of the "Bible History" courses are
taught.9 While some problems are unique to particular school districts,
the majority are common to most or all of them. In Part Two of this
report, we have included a description of each school district's classes
based on our review of the instructional materials that the school
districts themselves provided to us.10 The primary constitutional problems
common to most of the school districts include the following:
The courses are framed and taught from Christian perspectives.
The "Bible History" courses in virtually all of the school districts are
called "Bible History: Old Testament" and "Bible History: New Testament"
or a variation on those words.11 These are Christian terms for the Bible,
and framing the courses solely in these terms - without using the term
"Hebrew Scriptures" or "Hebrew Bible" - presents them at the very outset
from a purely Christian perspective. As Bible scholar and teacher T.W.
Lewis, III testified in the Lee County case, "Old Testament" is a
Christian term, while "Hebrew Scriptures" is the term "commonly accepted
Despite the Supreme Court's admonition that the Bible must be taught about
"objectively," it appears that most, if not all, of the Florida school
districts teaching the "Bible History" courses are doing so not
objectively, but from a Christian perspective. This perspective extends
beyond the titles to the course content, which typically presents the
Bible according to particular Christian (usually Protestant)
For example, it is common in the instructional materials to find the story
of Adam and Eve referred to as "the Fall of Man," and the serpent in that
story referred to as "Satan" - Christian interpretations of Genesis 3 that
are not shared by other faiths. The Bible classes at issue in the Herdahl
case also described Genesis 3 as "the Fall of Man." As Professor Lewis
testified in that case, "That phrase, however, does not appear anywhere in
the Bible; it is a purely theological, Christian interpretation of the
story - further evidence of the religious nature of the instruction.
Moreover, Jews, who also regard the Book of Genesis as religious
scripture, do not interpret the story of Adam and Eve in the same way."13
And, as Professor Lewis testified in Lee County, "the Serpent" of Genesis
3 is "interpreted in Christian faith, but not Jewish faith, as Satan."14
Likewise, a number of the Florida school districts present the "Old"
Testament as predictive of, or in light of, the "New" Testament. For
example, an exam used in the Indian River County school district asks,
"Where is a prophecy in the Old [T]estament about the birth of Jesus?"
This is a purely Christian reading of the Bible, since Judaism does not
recognize a "New" Testament, nor interpret the Hebrew Scriptures as
predictive of it. And in some school districts (e.g., Escambia County),
the course materials even use the oxymoronic phrase "Hebrew Old
Apart from the impermissible sectarian perspective of such courses, they
present obstacles for those students who do not share that particular
religious view. A Jewish student, for example, who is asked where the "Old
Testament" contains a prophecy about the birth of Jesus would have obvious
difficulty in answering such a question. As discussed below, many of the
school districts appear to assume that all of the students taking these
courses are Christian.
In many of the school districts, the students are required to study, if
not memorize, the Ten Commandments. However, although the arrangement of
the Ten Commandments is different among Christians and Jews (and among
Christians as well), it does not appear that the students are made aware
of this. In most instances, the course materials refer generally to "the
Ten Commandments"; however, when the course materials do make clear which
version of the Ten Commandments is taught (e.g., in Levy County), it is a
The Christian perspective of these courses is typically a Protestant one.
For example, these courses generally do not include certain books of the
Bible that Catholics consider to be canon but Protestants do not. If these
books are mentioned at all, they are described as the "Apocryphal Books"
and not as scripture. For example, a curriculum that has been used in
Santa Rosa County and in Escambia County calls these books "The Apocrypha"
and describes them as "Intertestament Writings." In the Levy County school
district, while students reportedly are permitted to use "biblical
translations of their choice," that choice must be from "an original King
James Translation" - a Protestant version of the Bible. This would appear
to exclude Bibles recognized by religious traditions other than
Protestantism, e.g., the New American Bible accepted by Catholics, which
has 73 books, while the King James Version has 66.15
The problems inherent in this sectarian approach are compounded by the
fact that the teachers generally do not appear to inform the students that
they are learning only one particular religious interpretation of the
biblical text (e.g., that "the Fall of Man" is a Christian reading of the
Bible). Such non-objective instruction deprives the students of a truly
meaningful, academic education in which they would be exposed to, among
other things, the rich and diverse interpretations of the Bible.
The Bible is used as a history textbook.
As the courts have recognized, " 'the Bible is a religious book, or, more
accurately stated, a collection of religious books and writings which have
been selected and assembled for the religious teachings and messages
therein conveyed ... Thus, to simply read the Bible without selectivity is
to read a religious book and to teach the Bible literally without
interpretation is to convey a religious message or teach a religious
lesson.' " Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F. Supp. 582,
596 (N.D. Miss. 1996) (quoting Wiley v. Franklin, 468 F. Supp. 133, 149
(E.D. Tenn. 1979)). In addition, the courts have also recognized that
"much of the Bible is not capable of historic verification (such as divine
creation, the 'pre-existence' of Jesus, Jesus' miracles and the
resurrection), and can only be accepted as a matter of faith and religious
belief." Herdahl, 933 F. Supp. at 596.
Teaching this biblical content as true in a public school improperly
crosses the line of neutrality and objectivity by endorsing religion and
inculcating students in religious beliefs.
For these reasons, the courts have held that the Bible cannot be taught in
a public school "as if [it] were actual literal history." Herdahl, 933 F.
Supp. at 600. See also Lee County, 1 F. Supp. 2d at 1434 ("[t]his Court
... finds it difficult to conceive how the account of the resurrection or
of miracles could be taught as secular history"). Accordingly, the court
in Herdahl ordered that students, in a "Bible" course purportedly about
ancient Near East history, "must be assigned reading from non-biblical
sources of ancient Middle East history." Herdahl, 933 F. Supp. at 600.16
Nonetheless, most of the Florida school districts teaching the "Bible
History" courses appear to be using the Bible as though it were a history
textbook and presenting the Bible as an historical record. The course
title itself, "Bible History," suggests from the outset to students that
they will be learning what happened in the past - that is, learning
history - by reading the Bible. This is further underscored by the Florida
Department of Education's placement of these courses in the "Social
Studies" group entitled "World and Eastern Hemispheric Histories," which
also includes such high school courses as "World History," "African
History," "British History," and "European History."17
In a number of the school districts, the only "textbook" used in these
courses is the Bible, sometimes in combination with secondary Bible
resources (such as a Bible handbook). Often, these secondary resources are
not standard academic texts published for public school use but rather
products of religious publishing houses. For example, at Keystone Heights
High School in Clay County, the course "text" is the Bible, with Halley's
Bible Handbook listed as a "resource." Halley's is published by Zondervan
Publishing House, which, according to its web site, is a "member of the
Evangelical Christian Publishers Association" and "an international
Christian communications company ... dedicated to meeting the needs of
people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical
principles."18 Generally, there is no indication that the students are
assigned reading from any non-biblical sources of history.
The presentation of the Bible as an historical record is routinely
confirmed by the written instructional materials. For example, the "Santa
Rosa County Curriculum" that is also used in Escambia County describes
Genesis 1-11 as the "Early history of man," and refers to "Creation" and
"Flood" as "historical event[s]." Course materials from Plant City High
School in Hillsborough County call the Bible "the most reliable source for
history we have." In the Walton County school district, the Gospels are
described as giving "a complete picture of Jesus' life and teaching."
Some schools appear to teach the Bible content by prefacing it with
"according to the Bible," or "the Bible says." Such qualifications,
however, do not render a history course based on the Bible constitutional.
Indeed, a claim that they do was specifically rejected by the court in
Herdahl. As the court explained, "the daily teaching of the content of a
book of religious proclamation does not become secular instruction merely
by informing students that the content is only what the Bible says;
indeed, for many students, that may well heighten the religious effect of
the course." Herdahl, 933 F. Supp. at 596-97.
Students are assumed to be Christian and the Bible is taught accordingly.
A number of school districts appear to assume that only Christian students
would take the "Bible History" courses. A review of the instructional
materials suggests an assumption by these school districts that the
teachers and students are of the same (Christian) faith, with the Bible
approached accordingly, rather than in an objective and secular manner.
One of the most striking examples is from the Columbia County school
district, where students at Columbia High School are asked the following
"If you had a Jewish friend who wanted to know if Jesus might be the
expectant [sic] Messiah, which book [of the Gospels] would you give him?"
Similar examples exist in other school districts:
"Compose an explanation of who Jesus is for someone who has never heard of
(Final exam question at Madison County High School, Madison County)
"Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?"
(Exam question concerning I Corinthians used at both Vanguard High School
in Marion County and Williston High School in Levy County)
"What is Jesus Christ's relationship to God, to creation, and to you?"
(Question asked of students at Niceville High School in Okaloosa County;
"Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews? The devil."
(Lesson used in Levy County on John 8)
Clearly, these lessons and exam questions not only reinforce some
Christian faiths, they would be problematic for students who are not
In the Levy County school district, students are directed to bring a Bible
"from home," and further told that they "may use biblical translations of
their choice as long [as] it is from an original King James Translation."
(Emphasis added.) Not only does this appear to exclude Bibles not
recognized by Protestants, it also assumes that all students have a Bible
at home and, particularly, that they have the Protestant Bible in their
In some school districts, the use of the first person plural in referring
to "our" Bible or how "we" interpret the Bible also underscores the
assumption of religious homogeneity and the lack of an objective approach
to the courses. For example, the lessons plans at Port St. Joe High School
in Gulf County call for the teacher to discuss "[h]ow we got our Bible."
Similarly, an exam question in Orange Park High School in Clay County
asks, "Five great sermons of our Lord are recorded in: (a) Matthew (b)
Mark (c) Luke (d) John." At Mulberry High School in Polk County, one exam
question asks students, "How do we believe Peter died?" At Columbia High
School in Columbia County, students are asked, "What was the location of
Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac and why do we believe he went to
that location?" And at Williston High School in Levy County, the New
Testament exams ask such questions as, "What reason does Jesus give for
why we should not judge others?"
The absence of an objective and secular approach to the courses also
manifests itself in exam questions and answers that impermissibly depend
upon and make assumptions about the students' own (presumably Christian)
religious beliefs. For example, at Niceville High School in Okaloosa
County, students are asked, "Do you think Satan took Jesus literally and
physically to the temple and the mountain? Why or why not?"
At Bartow High School in Polk County, students are required to "[p]ut
yourself in the shoes of Cain and tell me if you would do the same as him
[sic] or different than him [sic] and why." Similarly, at Middleburg High
School in Clay County, students are asked, "Is it important to have faith
in a religion?"
At Port St. Joe High School in Gulf County, students are asked whether the
following is "true or false:" "The Old Testament prophecies were not
fulfilled in the New Testament." The answer to this question, of course,
is a matter of religious faith, not fact. Similarly, at Walton High School
in Walton County, students are asked, "What eight aspects of Christ's life
are prophesied in Isaiah?" - which is a book of the Hebrew Scriptures.
This question likewise assumes the Christian belief that the Hebrew
Scriptures foretell parts of the New Testament. In fact, there really are
no "correct" answers to such questions; rather, the answers depend
entirely on the particular sectarian perspective and interpretation that
one brings to the Bible.
The Bible is used to promote Christian faith formation and religious
values and lessons.
While public school students may be taught about the different beliefs of
different religious groups, a public school cannot proselytize to its
students or train them in a particular religion. Likewise, while students
may learn about civic values and be taught that religious groups believe
in certain values as a matter of their religious faith, they may not be
encouraged to adopt such values as a matter of faith or because they are
found in the Bible. Nonetheless, some of the school districts teaching the
"Bible History" courses appear to be using the Bible as a basis for
Christian faith formation and life lessons, which is religious teaching,
not secular instruction.
For example, in the Indian River County school district, students taking
the "Bible History" course have been required to engage in "challenging
group and individual work to figure out what the parables [of Jesus] are
telling us today," and to explain, "Why do you think God says to love your
enemies?" At Madison County High School, the "New Testament" final exam
asks students to write an essay, "[u]sing Scripture reference to support
[their] thoughts," about each of the following topics: "God's Plan For The
Family; Living A Victorious Life In The World Which Is So Dark; and God's
Directions For Righteous Living." And course materials used in the Levy
County school district state in the "study guide" for Joshua: "God is not
content with our doing what is right some of the time. He wants us to do
what is right all the time. We are under his orders to eliminate any
thoughts, practices, or possessions that hinder our devotion to him."
At Middleburg High School in Clay County, students are given "one section
of the Sermon on the Mount" every other week during the "New Testament"
semester (e.g., "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God")
and required to write an essay in which they answer the questions: "How is
it relative [sic] to their life? [and] How is it relative [sic] to the
world we live in?" During the "Old Testament" semester, students are given
"one Commandment" every other week (e.g., "You shall have no other gods
before me") and required to write an essay discussing "How is the
Commandment relative [sic] to you and your life? [and] How is the
Commandment relative [sic] to the world we live in?" And at Columbia High
School in Columbia County, students are asked this exam question: "We can
see in the Temptation Story of the 3rd Chapter of Genesis that we of the
20th Century haven't changed much from the days of Adam and Eve. What
stages in the Temptation and Fall of Man do we still find ourselves [in]
Such instruction is constitutionally problematic in public schools. As the
court held in Herdahl, "to inculcate students ... into the beliefs and
moral code of fundamentalist Christianity [is] an admirable goal perhaps
for some private citizens or for a private religious school, but a
forbidden one for the government."
Sunday-school and other religious training exercises are used to
indoctrinate students in Bible content.
Many of the school districts require their students to engage in the type
of rote memorization of the Bible that one would find in a Sunday school,
or to engage in other Sunday-school type activities clearly intended to
inculcate students in Bible content. For instance, some school districts
require students to memorize the names of the 27 books of the "New
Testament," in order. At Walton High School in Walton County, one of the
exams requires students to identify, "from memory - all Old Testament
books with the appropriate divisions." Some school districts require
students to be able to identify the source (Bible book, chapter and verse)
of specified Bible quotes. At Vanguard High School in Marion County, some
exams require students to find specified Bible verses and then "copy them
in full" from their Bibles.
And in some school districts, the teacher uses games or puzzles to further
students' memorization of Bible content. For example, at Port St. Joe High
School in Gulf County, the students "Play Bingo w/Gospels," and the
teacher also uses seemingly juvenile puzzles requiring regurgitation of
Bible content. These exercises also do not seem age-appropriate for high
school students, another indication that their purpose is not objective or
secular, but to inculcate students in the content of the Christian Bible.
Similar exercises were required of students in the Lee County case. That
school district's New Testament curriculum, for example, called for the
students "to memorize 'the order of the books of the New Testament' (27
total) as well as to memorize 'the Beatitudes and/or Similitudes (e.g.,
the pronouncement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that 'Blessed are
the merciful...')." Declaration of Professor T.W. Lewis, III, at 9.
According to Professor Lewis, "[i]n my opinion, there is no legitimate
pedagogic purpose to such rote memorization in a secular history class.
These tasks are typical of what children do in Sunday school, and are a
means of further inculcating children in the Christian Bible."
The Origins and Development of the Bible
The text deals with the formation of the Hebrew Bible (oral stage, writing
stage, and canonization), the formation of the Christian Bible (oral
stage, writing stage, and canonization), and the process of translation.
Some of the ideas presented are based on assumptions. Keep asking for the
evidence upon which these assumptions are based. You are not obligated to
accept assumptions that have little evidence to back them up. Consider
the discussion as a possibility, but keep your options open for other
conclusions. Read Beasley, et al, pp. 51-67.
Biblical historians have many different opinions on
who is responsible for the authorship of the New
Testament writings. Concentrating on 1 and 2 Peter,
their different conclusions can be analyzed. Scholars
approach the study of authorship by carefully going
over the writings themselves. They discover the how,
when, why, who, and where of the writings. Each New
Testament scholar has come to their own conclusion of
the authorship of 1 and 2 Peter through this. Their
different views of the authorship of 1 and 2 Peter
will be discussed and compared in this paper. 1 Peter
is a New Testament writing. It has only five chapters
that seems to portray the purpose of bringing hope to
Christians. Christians should lead their lives by
serving God and knowing that the judgement of God
will be coming. Their faith will be tested, but
Christians are told stay true to God. The point is to
tell Christians that they should keep to their faith
no matter what is going on in the world. The people
being addressed where those of the church whom were
estranged from their old life. This letter has the
same pattern of a Pauline letter, opening with a
greeting and thanksgiving. Then it gives the purpose
and reflects on the identity of Christians. It ends
with an exhortation and closing. It is done neatly
and kept in order. 1 Paul seems to have been written
in Rome. It is written for the churches in the area
of northern Asia Minor. The time period could range
from 60-72 C. E. during the time of Paul whom is
considered to have traditional authorship. 2 Peter
appears to be the "last testament" of the apostle who
had authorship of it. Correct teaching is emphasized,
showing that is a major concern of the author. The
letter gives a warning that judgement will condemn
those without good ethical conduct. This includes all
heretics. In 2 Peter's three chapters, the author
expresses his believe of the time when judgement will
come. The author uses the Hebrew