Have you ever sat down and thought about where our Bible came from? I mean, we all know that God inspired men to write Holy Scripture, but how were those writings recognized as Scripture? Obviously, anybody can say, “God inspired me to write this – this is Holy Scripture!” That doesn’t make it so!
But what does make it so?
Where did our Bible come from?
For a Protestant looking into Catholicism, this is a serious issue. After all, anyone who picks up a Catholic Bible will notice that it’s a little thicker than the NIV or KJV Protestants use. There are 7 extra books (and extra material added onto books that already exist in the Protestant Bible). How can Catholics account for the difference?
Protestants have an answer ready – a reader sent me a link to a prime example on the CARM website. Their answer reads:
In Judaism, the canon consists of the books of the Old Testament only.
In Protestant Christianity, the canon is the body of scripture comprised in the Bible consisting of the 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
In Roman Catholicism, additional books were added in 1546. These books are known as the apocryphal books: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), and Baruch. I need to add here that Roman Catholicism maintains that the apocrypha was always inspired along with the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Armenian churches. The Protestant movement has not accepted the apocrypha.
Poorly written, but you get their drift – BOOKS WERE ADDED TO THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE IN 1546 BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Inconceivable, right? And if you check out other Protestant websites, or read books by popular Protestant authors, you’ll find even more unsavory tidbits concerning the Catholic Bible, pseudo-facts along the lines of “The seven apocryphal books were added to the Catholic Bible to give the appearance of ‘Biblical’ support for certain very unbiblical Catholic doctrines!”
How awful! How deceitful! How manipulative!
Catholics didn’t add books to the Old Testament – the Reformers took those books out of their canons. But that still doesn’t answer the question of how we got our Bibles. “Answers” are out there in books or on websites for Protestants. They explain that the first Christians used certain “criteria” to determine which books were Holy Scripture and which were not. By following these “criteria,” they say, the early Christians could tell that the Gospel of John was the real deal, and the Gospel of Thomas was a fake.
It all sounds so plausible, and the trusting reader comes away from this with his curiosity sated. He now “knows” where the Bible came from, and “knows” why the 66-book canon of Scripture contains the correct number of books.
Except for one little thing – it’s all a great big load of unhistorical clap-trap! The “criteria” which the first Christians supposedly used in their discernment process were invented by modern-day Protestants to retroactively justify their 66-book canon. No evidence exists that the early Christians applied any such “criteria” to the question of which books belonged in the canon! Using the “criteria” supplied by these popular Protestant authors, you can easily rule many Biblical books right out of the canon!
And what makes all of this even more suspect is that the “criteria” proposition is but one version of the story among many! Some Protestant websites will tell you to forget any supposed “criteria” – the first Christians just KNEW which books were Holy Scripture – it was OBVIOUS to them! There was never ANY QUESTION as to which books belonged in the New Testament!
Again, unhistorical clap-trap! We have mountains of historical evidence that the Christians of the second, third and fourth centuries disagreed when it came to the canonicity of books like 2 Peter and Revelation. Yet, the Protestant arguments are like the heads of a Hydra – if you kill one, there are still dozens to go….
So, how was the canon decided? Who decided it, and when? And why should you care??
Dr. Francis Beckwith, a revert to Catholicism, explained the problem quite concisely:
…the belief that the Bible consists only of sixty-six books is not a claim of Scripture, since one cannot find the list in it, but a claim about Scripture as a whole. That is, the whole has a property – i.e., “consisting of sixty-six books,” – that is not found in any of the parts. In other words, if the sixty-six books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of sixty-six particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-biblical.
Sola Scriptura is a bedrock principle of Protestantism – all beliefs must be referred back to Scripture, and if a particular belief finds no support in Scripture, then it cannot be binding on a Protestant Christian. Nowhere in the Bible is it stated that Holy Scripture consists of 66 inspired books. Yet Protestants not only believe it – they INSIST on it. According to their own principles, they have no right to do that. According to their own principles, they must admit that they can only GUESS at which books belong in their canon, for Holy Scripture is utterly silent on that subject….
To the Protestant who comes to understand this, the concept is earth-shattering. Where to go for answers???
To the Holy Catholic Church, whose bishops discerned the canon in the 4th century!
But first, those seekers must climb over the Protestant Mountains of Disinformation….
Tomorrow I will begin posting a series on the canon of Scripture – 66 books or 73? I hope you’ll read along!
On the memorial of Pope St. Sylvester I
Deo omnis gloria!