- Knowledge of different parts of the Bible.
- Understanding of how the Bible was written.
- Understanding of how the books of the Bible were chosen.
- Awareness of different Christian beliefs about the authority, inspiration and interpretation of the Bible.
- Reflect on common misconceptions.
- Analyse a film clip to identify misconceptions about the Bible.
- Discover key facts about the composition of the full version of the Bible.
- Analyse whether there is grounds for regarding the Bible as an authoritative source of information.
- Synthesise learning by preparing a speech for a debate on the reliability of the Bible as an historical document.
Ask the students to take part in a high-speed true or false quiz about the Bible. Give out the True or False quiz answer sheet handout and ask them to circle their chosen answer for each question. Make sure to warn them that you aren’t going to give them much time, so they have to decide quickly.
Now read through the questions clearly but swiftly. Don’t repeat a question and don’t wait long before moving on to the next one. Don’t give out the answers until you’ve read all the questions and asked students to swap answer sheets with their neighbour.
- Samson lost his strength when Delilah cut his hair (false – it was a servant who actually cut the hair, not Delilah herself).
- The Bible says that the Virgin Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey (false – the accounts in the Gospels don’t mention Mary and Joseph’s means of transport).
- The Bible says that money is the root of all evil (false – different translations put 1 Timothy 6:10 differently, variously identifying ‘all evil’, ‘all kinds of evil’, etc, but they all pin the blame on the love of money, not money itself).
- The Bible says not to drink alcohol (false – Jesus turned water into wine and Paul advises Timothy to drink a little wine for the good of his stomach. What the Bible does warn against is drunkenness).
- The Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (false – the Bible describes the creature as a big fish).
- God gave Noah the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (false – God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, not Noah).
- Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating an apple (false – the type of fruit isn’t mentioned).
- Three wise men visited Jesus in the manger (false – the Bible tells us they brought three gifts, but doesn’t say the number of wise men. Also, Matthew 2:11 says that they visited Jesus when he lived in a house, so the visit was probably some time after his birth).
- Cleanliness is next to godliness (false – this originated with 18th Century preacher John Wesley. Cleanliness is only next to godliness if you have an extremely truncated dictionary).
- Jesus’ disciple Peter never married (false – Jesus heals his mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14-15).
Once you have given out the answers, explain that whereas the quiz focussed on misconceptions from the Bible, in the rest of today’s lesson you are going to be looking at misconceptions and misunderstandings about the nature of the Bible.
Introduce the clip from The World’s End (Universal, 2013, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Explain that middle-aged Gary King (Simon Pegg) has reunited his teenaged best friends for a reunion pub crawl. In this scene the friends arrive at the station, where Gary has promised to pick them up.
- Start time: 0.12.42 (in chapter 3 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.15.00
- Clip length: 2 minutes and 18 seconds
The clip starts with a shot of the digital clock at High Wycombe railway station. The first line is Steven (Paddy Considine) calling, ‘Pete!’ The clip ends with Gary’s car driving away. The last line is Gary shouting, ‘Let’s do this!’
Please note that this clip includes some swearing. For a profanity-free (but very short) version, start at 0.14.31 with everyone getting into the car and Gary saying, ‘And we’re back, just like the five musketeers.’
Ask the students to identify misconceptions about the Bible from the clip. Here are some possible answers:
- That it’s a fictional novel
- That it was written by Alexandre Dumas
- That it was written by Jesus
Give out copies of the Bible Factsheet and read it together with the class. Before handing out the sheet you could ask some questions from the sheet to see how much your students already know about how the Bible was written and compiled.
Explain that Christians place great importance on the contents of the Bible. Point out that the wisdom of this depends entirely on whether the source of those words is an authoritative one or not. Give out the fact sheets and read through them with the class. Ask if there is anything on the fact sheet that surprises them.
Read the following quotation to the class:
It is sometimes claimed that historians simply as historians regard Old and New Testament history as unreliable on some independent historical grounds. But . . . many events which are regarded as firmly established historically have far less documentary evidence than many biblical events, and the documents on which historians rely for much secular history are written much longer after the event than many records of biblical events. Furthermore, we have many more copies of biblical narratives than of secular histories; and the surviving copies are much earlier than of secular histories; and the surviving copies are much earlier than those on which our evidence for secular history is based. (Richard L. Purtill, Thinking About Religion. Quoted in Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. Monarch books 1995).
According to this argument, the circumstances in which the Bible was written (particularly the number of copies that have been found and the relatively short period of time between the events described and the earliest surviving document) point to the Bible being, historically at least, a very reliable document.
But many Christians believe the Bible’s authority to be more than just historical. Ask the students to read through the following Bible passages, and to summarise what each of them says about the authority of the Bible (this could be done individually or in pairs): Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Revelation 22:18-19. Once the students have had time to complete this task, take feedback on their findings.
Luke 1:1-4 suggests that the human writers of the Bible took trouble to ensure that they got their facts straight.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 suggests that the events described had a number of witnesses, many of whom would still have been in a position to dispute them if the biblical accounts had been falsified.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 suggests that there was also a supernatural element in the authority of the Bible – that although it was physically written by humans at a particular period in history, those human writers were inspired by God and were writing what he wanted them to write.
Revelation 22:18-19 suggests that God takes his word seriously, and that the consequences of anyone changing it for their own purposes are very great.
The points raised by the first two passages provide an objective argument for accepting a certain amount of authority for the Bible, regardless of whether the reader is a Christian or even believes in any kind of supernatural world. The last two points are only persuasive if the reader accepts the notion of the Christian God who chooses to let people know what he is like. However, if such a notion is accepted, they elevate the Bible onto a level of authority all of its own.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
As a final exercise, ask the students to prepare a speech for a debate on the topic ‘This house believes that the Bible is a trustworthy set of documents, with reliable historical authenticity’. They can argue either for or against the motion. If you want, you could use a later lesson to conduct the debate.
YOU WILL NEED: