The View From 1776

Judeo-Christianity: the Essence of Western Civilization

Jeff Lukens gives us a synoptic account of the Bible’s role.

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 people.

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 Testament.

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 Testament.

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 life.

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 they are correct.

Jeff Lukens is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at