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Bible in English culture, The

A unifying factor

The Bible has been a significant component of English life for many centuries, particularly since the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611, with which every citizen was expected to be familiar. Just as most people know television catch phrases today, so references to the Bible would be instantly recognised by almost everyone. It has contributed to developments in civil life, the arts and science.

Influence on the law

The Bible features heavily in the architecture and decoration of the Houses of Parliament, paying silent tribute to its significance in English jurisprudence. Many old parish churches still have copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls, underlining the importance of the Bible for providing the moral cohesion of society. Most British law is ultimately derived from the codes of law within the Bible, of which the Ten Commandments is pre-eminent. The equality of all people before the law is another of its legacies.

Cultural influence

Visual Arts

Jesus' baptismThe Bible has for centuries fired and filled the imaginations of artists of all genres. The great masters – the painters of the European Renaissance and those who followed them- frequently re-presented the great stories of the Bible, including the annunciation, birth, baptism and temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, the Last Supper and the crucifixion, followed by scenes of his resurrection. Sculptors have portrayed its characters such as Michael Angelo's David or Epstein's Jacob. Still to-day, The Shawshank Redemption, The Messiah and Apocalypse Now, with many more films, are echoing its main motifs.

Words and music

The Bible is the main source of inspiration for some of Britain's greatest works of literature such as Milton's Paradise Lost or John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The foundations of English theatre were laid by medieval plays based on biblical events. Frequently biblical teachings are the sub text of Shakespeare's plays, which often refer to them. Even when authors may have been hardly conscious of the connections, the Bible's phrases have enriched their language and its themes provided them with avenues of exploration.

Many composers have produced major works exploring biblical accounts, such as Handel's Elijah and The Messiah, or more recently Jesus Christ Superstar, GodSpell and Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat.

The Bible and science

Most people imagine that there is an inevitable conflict between Genesis and Darwin's theory of evolution, but right from the start there have been ministers and biblical scholars who have supported his essential insights, and scientists who have challenged them, as continues today.

More fundamentally, there is a strong case for claiming that it is the consistency and coherence of the biblical understanding of God, and the reliability of the universe which follows from this, which provided a substantial contribution to the development of the Enlightenment and the sciences which have flowed from it. From a philosophical standpoint these fundamental assumptions are a necessary foundation for science.

Wider social impact

The Bible has also contributed to the wider cultural and social context in the United Kingdom:

In short the social institutions and safeguards, as well as many of the benefits people take for granted, were supported by the understanding of human life which was found within the Bible. In this sense, the foundations of Britain's culture and society can truly be said to be biblical.

The Bible and the environment

Today, as people are facing ever more clearly the perceived threats of global warming, the Bible, with its vision of man's position within creation and responsibility under God to care properly for it, still has a major contribution to make to the future of all humankind.

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
The translation of the Bible in English which was produced in 1611 by a group of scholars appointed by King James I. It is the origin of many common phrases and sayings in the English language.
Main church within a parish.
Also called 'The Decalogue' (Ten Words). Instructions said to have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, which have not only shaped Jewish and Christian belief and practice but also strongly influenced the legal systems of many countries.
Renaissance is literally 're-birth'. The term describes the movement, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries originating from Italy, where new areas of art, poetry, scholarship and architecture emerged.
The angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
The immersion in or pouring over of water, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to signify the washing away of away of sin. Baptism in Christian churches marks the acceptance of the baptised child or adult into the church.
The act of tempting or something that entices an individual to do wrong. In the Bible, can come from a person's internal desires or from an external evil force such as the Devil.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
Work or acts of service performed for God and other people.
The Passover meal which Jesus ate with his disciples before his betrayal and arrest, at which he instituted the eucharist or holy communion or mass.
Execution by nailing or binding a person to a cross.
Literally, rising to life again. In the Bible it is specifically applied to Jesus Christ's coming to life after his crucifixion; and from thence, to the hope of all believers that after death, they will be raised to a new life in heaven.
Important Old Testament prophet who was active in the northern kingdom of Israel 9th C. BCE. Came from Tishbe of Gilead.
A European intellectual movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, also known as the Age of Reason. It sought to promote knowledge and reform society by focussing on what could be understood through reason and logic.
The celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and the oldest and greatest festival of the Christian Church.
'Mass of Christ', a celebration or feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Seventh Sunday (50th day) after Easter. The Jewish feast of Weeks (harvest). In the New Testament, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples (Acts 2).
In the New Testament the term is used of all Christians but gradually came to describe an especially holy person.