A ‘fold in the Bible’

  • Question 130, from Bob, USA

    I have heard the saying a “fold in the bible” or something similar. What does that mean?

    This seems to be an obscure phrase, and without knowing what context it was used in, it’s hard to know what the person who said it meant.

    Three possible meanings come to mind. Firstly, the actual word ‘fold’, which is a name for a rudimentary shelter for smaller livestock (often referred to as a sheep-fold). The ‘fold’, or sheep-pen, is also used by Jesus as a metaphor for the believing community in John chapter 10, where the sheep/believers shelter in the fold, while the ‘good shepherd’ fights to protect them and sacrifices his own life in the process (chapter 10, verse 11).

    Jesus also claims to have sheep ‘that are not of this fold’ (chapter 10, verse16), which has been used to justify an inclusivist, or pluralist, attitude towards adherents of other religions. However, given the context, it seems the writer of John’s gospel was indicating the inclusion of gentiles along with Jewish followers of Jesus.

    A second possible meaning for the phrase is the descriptive term: “a tri-fold Bible”. Put simply, this is a printed Bible with several different translations arranged in columns on the page. Such a Bible is useful as a tool to compare how translators have sometimes differed over what words mean in the texts.

    The earliest such Bible known in Christian history was produced by a scholar called Origen (c.185-254AD), whose ‘Hexapla’, or ‘six-fold’ Bible, had both Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament running parallel to each other, along with other languages.

    A third meaning, drawn from the complete phrase ‘fold in the Bible’ could refer to some method of dividing up the Bible into separate sections. This is quite popular in dispensationalist teaching, where it is believed God self-revealed and related to humanity through different ways at different points in human history. These different ways of God relating to human beings are termed ‘dispensations’.

    Dispensationalist theology seeks to divide up Biblical commands and promises according to which time period they apply to. It may be that a ‘fold in the Bible’ relates to a division between one dispensational time period and another, e.g. between the Dispensation of the Law (as given to Moses) and the Dispensation of Grace (as revealed in Jesus).

    However, it should be noted, this last explanation is simply conjecture. Frankly, the obscurity of this phrase means it remains a bit of a mystery.

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