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Book Review: The Bible Today–A Commentary, by C. H. Dodd

For such a short book (163 pages), this Bible commentary contains an amazing amount of information. The Bible was meant to be read by laymen, an idea that was at the heart of interpreting the Bible into English, beginning 600 years ago. These various translations (notably by Wycliffe and Tyndale) led to the Reformation. To obtain one’s own understanding of who actually wrote the various books of the Bible, why and when, and how it was compiled into its present form, it’s best to read a commentary free of religious doctrine; that is what this book portends to be. It’s a scholarly account, Liberal Protestant in outlook, based on years of research by a number of English Scholars, many of them connected with universities in England and in Scotland. The author, Dr. C.H. Dodd, a professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge, directed the group of scholars who produced the New English Bible. He knows his subject better than most. “The Bible To-Day,” is partly based on the notes taken by students of Dr. Dodd’s lectures at the University. The first edition appeared in 1946; the edition I read is from a 1968 reprint. While not difficult to read, a careful perusal is recommended.

For true believers, the Bible is often referred to as the Word of God, and rightly so. However, it contains a mass of disparate and contradictory information that can and has been misinterpreted, sometimes with catastrophic results—murderous religious wars, and the senseless torturing of unbelievers. How to find meaning, when, as Dodd puts it, “the humane mind is revolted by the accounts of atrocities recorded to have been committed by the Israelites during the conquest of Palestine. . . .” Indeed, how do we square the command, “Go and utterly destroy those sinners the Amalekites!” with the Gospel precept, “Love your enemies”? As Dodd has it, the Bible traces the history of an awakening of human thought to the true nature of God, not as an angry God of war and pestilence, but as a God of love and of peace. The Sermon on the Mount, found in the Book of Matthew, is a timeless lesson on how to find harmony while interacting with others.

The Bible is an account of true believers who turned to God in distress and were delivered. According to one Bible scholar, there are 209 accounts of deliverance, provision, and healing in the Old Testament, and 174 similar accounts in the New, by Christ Jesus and his disciples.

Scholarly scientific inquiry has greatly increased our understanding of how the Bible came to be. For example, there are two accounts of creation in Genesis, in the first and second chapter. These were written by two different groups of writers and for different reasons. The first account was written around 400 B.C., in which creation is spiritual, and man is created in God's image, and pronounced by God as good; the second account is material, written 600 years earlier, and describes man as not spiritual but as created from dust, and susceptible to evil suggestions. According to scholarship, the first Biblical stories, of Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge, and the Building of Babel, are symbolic myths. On the other hand, from Abraham to the end of the apostolic age, the story is historical, consisting of actual events, directly related to the general course of history in the world. The Last Judgement and the End of the World, if they are not in the strict sense myths, have a symbolic character. Dodd adds: “The symbolism in all these cases is drawn largely from myths current among the Hebrews and other ancient peoples; but the meaning attached to the symbols—and this is the important point—is derived from the prophetic and apostolic interpretation of history.”

There is much more to Dodd’s illuminating book which I have hardly touched upon. To give you some idea of what’s in store, and in conclusion, I will list Dodd's chapter titles: (1) The Bible: What It Is, (2) The Approach to the Bible, (3) The Old Testament, (4) The New Testament, (5) History as Revelation, (6) The Bible and the Historical Problem of our Time, and (7) History and the Individual.

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