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Biblical History, Instruction in


Conditions Before the Reformation.

Fundamental to all Christian teaching and attainment, especially according to the Protestant view, is a knowledge of the Bible; and this knowledge naturally begins with the characters, events, and institutions of the Bible—a sum total of knowledge which may be comprehended under the general expression Bible history. Thence the individual is led on to the weightier matters of Christian doctrine and the manner of the Christian life. The organized and premeditated efforts of the earlier Church to impart Christian instruction (See Catechumenate; Catechesis, Catechetics; Catechisms; Homiletics; etc.) aimed more directly at the latter, assuming that the former already existed. In the New Testament, knowledge of Old Testament history is presupposed. This knowledge was communicated at home (II Tim. iii, 15) or by readings at public services (I Tim. iv, 13). The aim of a portion of the New Testament Scripture (the Gospels and Acts) was to keep alive in the congregations the knowledge of the New Testament history. In the primitive Church, besides public service, home training (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., vi, 2; Chrysostom on Eph. vi, 4) and private reading (Cyril, Catech., iv, 35; Apostolic Constitutions, vii, 39) were means of imparting Biblical history to beginners in Christianity. During the Middle Ages no systematic school instruction in Biblical history could be furnished for lack of common schools, and self-instruction was not possible for the people because the Bible was commonly in Latin and costly, and but few of the laity could read even the works provided for them in their mother tongue (See Bibles, Historical). The great mass were limited to the translations by preachers of the texts of their sermons, or narrations of Bible stories in the sermon; also, scenes especially from the life of Jesus or dramatic spectacles from the Biblical record helped to preserve in the lay world the knowledge of Biblical essentials (see Religious Dramas). In Reformation time as well as in the following centuries, there was no general systematic schooling in Biblical history; the common-school system was as yet a merely formative conception, and text-books of Bible history (for list cf. Reu) were designed for higher schools or for the home.


Biblical Instruction in Schools.

Not until Christian common schools were introduced did instruction in Biblical history become a systematized branch of public education. Among the text-books thus used may be mentioned the Biblische Historien of Justus Gesenius (1656), and the Zweimal 52 auserlesenen biblischen Historien of Johann Hübner (1714). These books are the prototypes of modern German manuals, and such manuals have now generally taken the place of the Bible, from which in earlier times Biblical history, was taught by reading aloud. The Roman Catholic Church also teaches Biblical history; a text-book widely in vogue was that of Christoph von Schmid (d. 1856). At present the Bible histories of the Catholics are combined with their diocesan catechisms. Their new catechism, which according to the desire of Plus X is to become the Catholic standard or uniform catechism (Compendio della dottrina christiana, 1905), contains a Breve storia della religione. It thus appears that modern Churches, in contrast with the primitive Church, have reached the conviction that catechumens should gain the necessary amount of knowledge of Bible history not immediately from the Bible, but from a text-book prepared for this educational object. But the fact is still more significant that the Churches are convinced of the necessity of a knowledge of Biblical history.

Methods and Principals.

This conviction rests on the knowledge that Christian belief is the product of a history which came to pass between God and humanity, and that the knowledge and understanding of this salvation on the part of individual Christians must proceed from acquaintance with this history. The selection of Bible stories for catechumens is adapted to this principle. The various manuals of Biblical history deviate from one another in details of selection, but are in substantial agreement in the matter of setting forth the main events of sacred history according to their historical succession. An exception occurs in the case of compilations intended for children who are not yet catechetical scholars; for these there is need of particular Bible narratives adapted to the years of childhood and related to the church festivals. With reference to the connection between instruction in Biblical history and instruction in the catechism, a change has come about, since in earlier times instruction in the former had practically no independent significance, but was designed to subserve the catechism; the contrary situation, however, obtains today, certain modern instructors making Biblical history the main issue, while catechetical scholars are confined to the fundamentally illustrative or especially adapted Biblical relations. Concerning the method of instruction, there is a consensus of modern conviction to the effect that the textbook should coincide as far as possible with the wording of the Bible as generally in use. The earlier method of reading the narrative from the Bible, or having it read aloud by a pupil, has been discarded. It is better to have a story related by the teacher; and the preferable method is that his oral discourse should adhere altogether or with close approximation to the phrasing of the textbook. In particular the decisive and striking utterances of the dramatis personæ should be reproduced exactly. Opportunity for explanation and application is afforded by the subsequent discussion. The use of maps and pictures, with which modern Biblical text-books are provided, tends to give the matter more of an objective background, but pictures are not so necessary as they formerly were, when pupils had fewer books. [In the United States, religious instruction being necessarily excluded from the public schools, the teaching of Bible history belongs to the Church and the home. See Sunday Schools.]

W. Caspari.

Bibliography: C. A. G. von Zezschwitz, Katechtik, II, 2, chaps. 2–4, Leipsic, 1872–74; K. H. Holtsch, Studien über den biblischen Geschichtsunterricht, Breslau, 1870; W. H. G. Thomas, Methods of Bible Study, New York, 1903; L. Emery, Introduction à l’étude de b théologie protestante, pp. 122–132, Paris, 1904; J. M. Reu, Quellen zur Geschichte des biblischen Unterrichte, Güttersloh, 1906.

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