The Bible and the Origins of Western Culture
By Jeff Lukens
Our progressive culture is separated into those
who believe in the Bible and those who do not. Many people believe the
scriptures to be the revealed word of God that provides a moral
foundation to human behavior that cannot be found elsewhere. Secularists
say that moral issues are mostly matters of personal opinion, and that
we are accountable to no one but ourselves. Secularists, however, offer
no credible alternative framework for preventing the worst acts of human
behavior while promoting the good ones.
What makes murder wrong, for instance, is not
some logical deduction, or that it feels wrong, but a Creator who
commands, "You shall not murder." Likewise, what makes compassion a
virtuous trait is not reason or emotion, but that same Creator who says,
"Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."
The Bible has been scrutinized more than any
other book in the world. Though many have tried, no one has ever been
able to invalidate it. Many who have attempted such an endeavor have
instead come become believe in it.
Scores of individuals wrote portions of the
Bible over a period of hundreds of years. Although the Bible consists of
66 books, 39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament, it has
nonetheless become known as one book. Its unifying theme is the
redemption of fallen man by a merciful God. It is often said that within
its pages lie the answers for all the problems facing humanity.
While one can point to ancient Greek and Roman
influences in the rise of Western culture, it is Christianity that has
played the leading role. To find the origins of Western culture, one
must delve into the origins of the Bible itself.
The Chosen People
After creating the world and its inhabitants,
God selected a specific group of people, the Jews, and spent hundreds of
years showing them who He was and that He cared about their behavior.
The Old Testament chronicles many repetitive cycles of their obedience
toward God, their rebellious falling away, God's rebuke, and then their
humble return to obedience.
Around 2000 B.C., God made a covenant with
Abraham, promised to make a great nation through his descendants, and to
bless all the peoples of the earth through them. In doing so, God
established a witness for His singular self in the midst of polytheism,
a recipient and a custodian of His divine revelation, and finally a
specific culture of people through whom the Messiah would come.
Abraham's offspring, the Jewish people, were one
of the more advanced cultures for their recording of traditions,
genealogy, and law. The early stories of the Bible were passed down
through the generations of descendants virtually word by spoken word.
By the time of Moses, alphabetic writing had
become common. Moses is credited for writing most of the Pentateuch (the
first five books) around 1450-1400 B.C. The Jewish inclination for
accuracy and verbatim recording of text made possible the availability
of scripture for the world for all time. The Ten Commandments and other
laws became the legal foundation for Jewish society, and eventually the
basis for civil law in Western society.
The Old Testament includes the writings of the
Jewish prophets, who predicted a redeemer, or a messiah, to be born
among them. Among the many prophecies that foretold the character and
circumstances of this individual was that he was to be a descendant of
David, the King of Israel (1003-970 B.C.), and born of a virgin in the
city of Bethlehem. He was to be a man of sorrows, cast off by the Jewish
The Old Testament sets the stage for his coming
into this world. The New Testament records the realization and
fulfillment of the prophetic and redemptive truths contained in the Old
Jesus of Nazareth
No reasoned person could deny that the single
most prominent individual in all human history was Jesus of Nazareth. No
other person has been nearly as influential in the historical
progression of civilization as has Jesus. This is a shocking realization
if one considers that he lived a short life in a remote corner of the
Roman Empire, and was publicly (and unjustly) executed as a criminal.
Jesus was not just another religious leader or
someone seeking spiritual truth. He claimed to be the Son of God and
proved it by performing many miracles. Jesus himself affirmed the Old
Testament by referring to it throughout his public life, and even while
dying on a cross. As prophesied, the Jewish establishment rejected him
and killed him, but then -- to the amazement of many witnesses -- He
rose from the dead.
His message of eternal life and personal
redemption by faith was at first preached by word of mouth. Four
accounts of Jesus' life and work were recorded in writing by the end of
the first century, and are now known as the Gospels of the New
The Early Church
The believers of the First Century wrote the New
Testament and spread the Gospel message to what was then the known
world. The 12 apostles of Jesus began this work within the Jewish
community. Later, the apostle Paul was the principal agent to spread
Christianity to those outside the Jewish world and eventually to Rome.
In the early days, a profession of Christianity
was punishable by torture or death within the Roman Empire, but in A.D.
313, the Emperor Constantine began to institute legal recognition for
Christians. The change in relations between Rome and the church had a
wide-ranging effect. Christians were suddenly free to share their faith
and establish churches. Christianity soon spread throughout the Roman
Empire and beyond.
By the Fourth Century, the New Testament
contained the same books as we have today. Since then, the terms "Old
Testament" and "New Testament" have been used to differentiate the
Hebrew from the Christian Scriptures. The collection of Christian New
Testament books was placed alongside the Old Testament Hebrew books with
the same authority and finality by Christians then as they are now.
Christians have always recognized the Old Testament to be God's Word to
man. The early church recognized the New Testament writings as the
completion of His message to humanity.
Still Our Guide Today
The Great Commission of Jesus to "go and make
disciples of all nations" continues today to reach into all corners of
the globe. All who believe in Jesus are to be "grafted in" to God's
chosen people, not by law or genealogy, but by their faith in Him alone.
Beyond our need for personal redemption before
God, our values -- the dignity of the individual, creativity and free
will, political and economic liberty, representative government, and so
on -- have been based on the principles of the Bible and the
Judeo-Christian culture that sustains them.
Without the Bible as a guide, the moral choices
between good and evil are mostly subjective. For our society to discard
the Bible for any of the multitude of philosophies and faiths available
today would radically alter the framework in which we live. What an
individual or a culture loses when it rejects biblically based values is
not easy to replace. In particular, we would lose the social structure
most likely to advance positive human behavior that upholds our way of
While a Bible-based culture has not always known
freedom or humaneness, it still holds the best possibility for the
continuance of these values into the future. No other philosophy or
construct of human reasoning can make that claim. In a world with ever
changing norms of human behavior, the values of the Bible remain
timeless and unchanging.
Some would even argue that God blesses a culture
that follows biblical values. Thousands of years of progression and
increasing abundance in our civilization would suggest this to be true.