As I have explored in previous posts, we can know that God exists from our everyday experiences, science, reason, and other methods of inquisition. We can also begin to find out traits about God from these methods. But there is a goldmine of knowledge about God that I haven’t explored with you yet: the Bible.
The Bible is a collection of 73 books, with 46 that make up the Old Testament, and 27 more make up the New Testament. These numbers actually vary between different Christian churches. Of course the Catholic Bible has the complete 73 books, but did you know that after the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants removed 7 books from the Bible? Now their Bibles only have 66 books. (If you know anything about the symbolism of these numbers, I’m sure you just did a double take.) The Protestants removed 7 books from the Old Testament, Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, and also removed segments of Daniel and Esther. These books were quite obviously removed because of doctrinal differences, since for ~1300 years prior Christians all had agreed on the same books in their Bible. It is interesting to note that Martin Luther himself did not remove those books from the Bible, it was only later on that these books were taken out. There are even other churches that added books to the Bible so that it numbers in the 80s!
Ok, back from that tangent. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. God is ultimately the author: in order to reveal Himself to men, in the condescension of His goodness God speaks to them in human words.
I think of the Bible as dialogue between God and humanity over the course of time. There are so many different people in the Bible, but it is always the same God who is eagerly anticipating the men and women, who He allows to be the main characters, to repent and convert their ways to His. It is really interesting to see the way that He guides each of them in this journey and also to see how these people react to these attempts. We tend to mess up a lot, but God is always ready to give us another try.
It is important to note that, as the Catechism states, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book,” but rather a faith of the “Word which is incarnate and living.” Recall that when Jesus was with His apostles and disciples, He did not go around passing out Bibles. He knew the Jewish scriptures, our Old Testament, but the Bible itself was not compiled until much later, and even the first New Testament texts were not written until at least 10 years after the Ascension of Christ.
The Old Testament, according to Henry G. Graham in Where We Got the Bible, was compiled sometime between 430BC and 100BC. This is the original Hebrew, but there was also a compilation of the Old Testament written in Greek, a universal language at the time, for the dispersed Jews which is called the Septuagint. The translation from the Hebrew to the Greek was begun in Alexandria somewhere around 280-250BC. This was actually the version that Jesus and the early Christians would have known and quoted.
The New Testament, again according to Henry G. Graham, was finally completed by St. Jerome in Latin at the request of Pope Damasus in 382AD. This version is called the “Vulgate,” as it is the common or accepted version. (As a side note, St. Jerome also translated the Old Testament to Latin at the beginning of the 5th century.) There were plenty of compilations of the New Testament in different parts of the world by the 4th century that were pretty close, but the final compilation for the entire Church was not decided until the very end of the 4th century. The Council of Carthage, in 397AD, mainly through the influence of St. Augustine, settled the canon of the Scriptures after being approved by Rome, and finally Christians had their Bible! Pretty cool that we got the Bible from a council in Africa, huh? Bet you didn’t know that!
So what makes them right? What if they got the canon wrong? If you’re thinking the Holy Spirit, you got it! Remember when Jesus said that it was better that He left so that the Spirit may come? He really meant it. The Spirit guides the Church so that it can correctly make decisions of importance on these matters. Also, Jesus instituted a Church that has the power to bind and loose, and who would not be overcome by the gates of Hell. Sounds pretty legit to me.
A couple other things to mention. The Bible isn’t up to personal interpretation. Just as how it was guided by the Holy Spirit when it was written, it must also be guided by the Spirit to be read and understood. What St. Peter explains below shows how we need the teaching authority found in the Magisterium of the Church to be able to interpret scripture correctly:
“Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.” -2 Peter 1:20-21
There is much more to say about Scripture, like how for example we must take into account the context of what we are reading in order to better understand it, but perhaps I will leave that out for a later post. God bless and thank you for reading!
“All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” -Hugh of St. Victor