Three views of sacred scripture

Throughout my work in university, church, and prison, I have often had conversations about the sacred scriptures of various religions.  It can be a confusing topic at times, as there are many sacred texts.  For example, there is the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Five Classics of Confucianism, and many more.

Are these scriptures significantly different than each other, or are they essentially the same content that has been “repackaged” for different groups of people?   Where did the texts come from?  And who reads which ones?

For those of us who live in Canada or the United States, the first two we will look at will be familiar, although the suspect the third might be new to many of us.  Let’s look together at the sacred scriptures of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism.

Christianity – The Bible

Like many of the “large” religions, Christianity has a number of subsets who would identify themselves as Protestants, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.  Although their understanding of sacred scripture is not identical, all groups would agree that the Old Testament and the New Testament are the core (or only) scriptures in Christianity.  The Old Testament consists of 39 books, was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and was composed/compiled from approximately 1,400-400BCE.  The New Testament consists of 27 books, was written in Greek, and was composed/compiled during the first and second centuries.  In total, the Bible contains more than 700,000 words and reflects multiple literary genres.

Islam – The Qur’an

As with Christianity, Islam also has organizational and theological diversity, with Sunni, Shiite and Sufi Muslims being the largest and/or most well-known groups.  The Qur’an consists of 114 surahs (chapters), was written in Arabic, and was composed/compiled from approximately 610-632CE in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia.  Other than the first surah which functions as an introduction, the surahs are arranged in order from longest to shortest.  The Qur’an consists of more than 150,000 words, and contains both prose and poetry.

Sikhism – The Adi Granth

As an organized religion, Sikhism is the most recent of the three that we are looking at and is also likely the most unified, in terms of belief.  The Adi Granth (also known as the Granth Sahib) is divided into three main sections (the Japji, the Ragas and the interpretations), was written primarily in Punjabi, and was first compiled in the sixteenth century CE.  The Adi Granth consists of approximately 6,000 hymns and poems, and also reflects the teachings of a small number of Hindu and Muslim saints.

Three religions, and three completely different religious texts in terms of history, content, and even the religious role that they play.

Questions to ask ourselves and others …

  1. Which sacred scriptures are you familiar with, and which ones have you read, either in part or the whole?
  2. In terms of your own spirituality, how much time do you spend studying and applying the sacred scripture(s) that you follow?
  3. Do you know enough about your friends, family, and co-workers to know their view of sacred scripture?

Thanks for reading this and other postings in the Talking about God series!


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