The Bible in the Early Church

Justo González
William B. Eerdmans, 204 pages
Published March 8, 2022

Long ago, Augustine was converted to Christian faith when a still, small voice called to him, “Take and read.” When he encountered the strange new world of the Bible, the living Word commandeered his life and transformed him, as the Word continues to do today. It is always a joy to read a book and be grateful to learn something new. This happens again and again in Justo González’s The Bible in the Early Church.

González provides deep knowledge of the original languages of Scripture, materials used to share Scripture in written form and its use in the communal life of Israel and the early Christian church. González also brings to life lesser-known aspects, such as how scrolls functioned in the life of Israel and the likely forms Scripture took as it traveled between first-century Christian communities.

The Bible in the Early Church is divided into three sections: Part I (The Shape of the Bible) explores the spoken languages, early translations and the larger historical canvas of Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament community; Part II (The Use of the Bible) explores ways New Testament communities used the Bible, as well as the special place of the psalms (within Israel, monastic communities and the Reformation). Part III (The Interpretation of the Bible) offers an overview of significant events in the Bible that help us interpret essential biblical themes (summarized as Creation, Exodus, and the presence of the living Word).

González helpfully reminds us that the telos or point of Scripture is not so much to protect it or worship it; rather its real power “is best preserved not by storing it with great care, as the treasure it is, but by sharing it generously, precisely because it is a great treasure that all should possess.” González bequeaths important and enriching insights, like the transition from scrolls to codices in the use and transportation of the early Christian communities; that the canon reached its final form not out of doctrinal precision but out of liturgical necessity, the early Christian communities wanted to know which epistles, Gospels, and letters should be read in worship; that most early Christians knew the Bible even though they were illiterate because they heard it read Sunday after Sunday in the gathered congregation; and that the original purpose for compiling Scripture was so that it might be read aloud to the people. Even in the fourth century, Augustine was astonished to witness his mentor Ambrose reading Scripture without moving his lips. González reminds us that the gift of reading the Bible alone, once a province of a select few, is now available to all, on paper or screen, each in our own language.

Justo González has long been a gifted historian and teacher. This book is no exception. It would make a great introduction to a Bible study and would also be a delightful read for any pastor, educator or interested person wanting to learn more about how the Bible came to be. “Take and read.”

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