World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Study III: Scriptures

01 January 1970

1. Texts
Almost all of the major religious traditions of the world have scriptures, either written down or transmitted in oral tradition. These are seen as the sources of their faith, and often as directly revealed by the Divine. Here are some statements about scriptures, both from the scriptures themselves and from adherents of the traditions:

a) Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. " And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. Ex. 34.27-28

A rabbinic midrash:
Can there be a sale in which the seller sells himself along with the object he sells? God says, "I sold you my Torah, and with it I, as it were, sold myself. " The matter is like a king who had an only daughter, and another king sought her and got her in marriage. The father said, "My daughter is an only child: I cannot be parted from her, and yet to say, Do not take her away, is also impossible, for she is your wife. Do me, therefore, this kindness: whithersoever you go, prepare for me a chamber that I may dwell with you, for I cannot forsake my daughter. " So God says to Israel, "I have given you my Torah; I cannot be separated from her. Yet I cannot say to you, Do not take her. Therefore in every place whither you go, make me a house wherein I may dwell."... When a man buys a desirable object in the market, does he usually buy also its owner? But God, when he gave the Torah to Israel, said, "With the Torah you, as it were, take also me."

Exodus Rabbah, Terumah 33.1.6, translation in C. Montefiore and H. Loewe A Rabbinic Anthology, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1963.

b) It is as from a fire laid with damp fuel, clouds of smoke separately issue forth, so lo, verily, from this great Being (Brahman) has been breathed forth that which is Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.4.10 in A.O. Hume, trans., The Thirteen Principal Upanishads.

The Vedas are called Sruti (that which is heard), while the rest of the sacred writings are known as Smriti (that which is remembered). Great sages and seers are said to have heard the eternal truths of religion and to have left a record of them for the benefit of others. The Vedas are therefore said to be eternal, their composers being only the channels through which the revelations of the Supreme have come. Accordingly, the Sruti forms the supreme authority for Hinduism.

D.S.Sarma, "The Nature and History of Hinduism", in K.W.Morgan, ed., The Religion of the Hindus, p. 7.

c) In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate Recite! In the Name of thy Lord who created, created Man of a blood-clot. Recite! And thy Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the Pen, taught Man that (which) he knew not.

Qur'an 96: 1-5. A.J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, New York, Macmillan, 1955.

The greatest miracle was the revelation of the Qur'an which was transmitted by the Prophet in messages of unequal length at different times over a period of twenty-three years... The explicit and implicit testimony of the Qur'an is that the author is God Himself. It is never the Prophet who speaks in the Qur'an. The Scripture either refers to him in the third person or addresses him directly -O Prophet, O Messenger, We reveal to thee, We send thee, do this, recite this: such is the language of the Qur'an... The direct proof the divine origin of the Qur'an is manifest all through the Scripture itself. ... It is for this reason that the Qur'an holds the highest place in Islam.

For Muslims, the Qur'an is not only the text of prayers, the instrument of prophecy, the food for the spirit, the favourite canticle of the soul. It is at the same time the fundamental law, the treasure of the sciences, the mirror of the ages. It is the consolation for the present and the hope for the future. In what it affirms the Qur'an is the criterion of truth. In what it orders or prohibits, it is the best model for behaviour. In what it judges, its judgment is always correct. In what it discusses it gives the decisive argument. In what it says, it is the purest and most beautiful possible expression in speech. It calms and incites most effectively. Since the Qur'an is the direct expression of the divine will, it holds supreme authority for all men.

Muhammad Abd Allah Draz, in K.W. Morgan, ed., Islam: the Straight Path, New York, Ronald Press, 1958, pp. 21-36.

2. Comment There are many great holy books that may be called "scriptures": the Bible for Jews and Christians, the Qur'an for the Muslims, the Vedas for the Hindus, the Adi Granth for the Sikhs, the Pali Canon for the Theravada Buddhists and the various texts such as the Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana tradition, the Gathas of the Zoroastrian tradition, and others as well. These play a central role in the spiritual formation and life of the people who live their lives in terms of them. In some cultures that do not have written scriptures, as in the case of most African cultures, and those of the native peoples of America and the Pacific, religious traditions are preserved and transmitted through oral traditions, symbols, rituals and festivals. In our history we have often looked at the scriptures of other traditions unsympathetically. Some Christians, not fully aware of the definitive role these scriptures play in the life of others and their intense belief about their revealed character, have described them as "human attempts", "natural revelation", etc., deeply offending peoples of other traditions. But today there is an increased awareness and interest in the scriptures of other religions. Some Christians read the scriptures of other traditions and affirm that they help them in their spiritual growth. Others are opposed to or hesitant about the use of other scriptures in private or public worship. 3. Discussion and questionsDiscuss among yourselves some of the ways in which you understand and interpret the Bible as Christian scripture.

With the help and guidance of people of another faith in your community, select a few important passages from their scriptures and study them. Where possible, do this together with friends of other faiths, so that you may understand them in the light of authentic faith experience.

a) Have you previously had an exposure through their scriptures? If so, what was your response? If not, what were the reasons for hesitating to become familiar with the scriptures of your neighbours?

b) In view of the fact that our neighbours also believe their scriptures to be revealed, what do we mean when we say that the Bible is the word of God? How do we understand and respond to similar affirmations by others?

c) Through the scriptures of another tradition, do we come to a better understanding of our neighbours of another faith? To a wider understanding of God? Is there a place for the use of other scriptures in personal spiritual growth? In private prayer? In public worship? What do yout think are the issues involved?