|The Gutenberg Bible|
Photo by NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng), Wikipedia
All Christians revere the Bible as the written word of God. Few, however, know why that is. In fact, most Christians just assume that to be the case without every questioning it. They hear if from their pastors and their churches. Everybody says it. So how do we know it's true? There is really only one way. We need to know where the Bible came from.
So, where did the Bible Come from?
That's a very good question, and to understand where the Bible came from, we have to know a little bit of history. Let's go back, way back, to the 1st century AD. Jesus and his apostles were travelling the countryside in Galilee and Judea. They were Jews, and because they were Jews, they were using the Jewish Bible. Today we call that Jewish Bible the "Old Testament." This was all they had at the time.
However, there wasn't just one Jewish Bible. In fact, there were THREE! You see, each mainline Jewish sect had its own canon (Bible) of Scripture it considered authoritative. In first century Israel, this is what existed...
- The Torah - These were the first five books of Moses, originally written in Hebrew. All Jews considered these books authoritative. However, the Sadducees limited their canon to just those five books. Jesus and his apostles clearly disagreed with this approach.
- The Tanakh - These were the first five books of Moses, plus the writings of history, psalms, poetry, and prophets. Some were written in Hebrew, others in Aramaic. In total, there were about 39 books. This was the canon of the Pharisees. From the writings of the apostles we learn that Jesus and his followers agreed more with the Pharisees than they did with the Sadducees, and accepted the Pharisaical canon of Scripture as authoritative.
- The Septuagint - These were all the books mentioned above in the Tanakh, plus seven more, for a total of 46 books with longer editions to the books of Esther and Daniel. The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Jewish canon (Old Testament) that had some additions which many Jews considered authoritative. Among those Jews were Jesus and his apostles.
- New American Bible
- New Revised Standard Bible - Catholic Edition
- Revised Standard Bible - Catholic Edition
- New Jerusalem Bible
- Contemporary English Version - with Deutercanonicals
- Douay-Rheims Bible
- King James Bible - with Apocrypha
The answer requires a little more knowledge of history. From the time of Jesus, all the way into the 4th century (about 300 years), Christians had no set New Testament. What they had instead was a number of scrolls that came from the apostolic era. What scrolls they used had a lot to do with where they were located, and each area used a different set of scroll. Thus, early Christianity had no set or standardised New Testament.
About that time, a dynamic and charismatic priest came along name Arius. He was a presbyter in the early Church. He rejected the common teaching that Jesus Christ is God, and instead insisted that he was just the greatest of prophets, who was fully human, and had no divine characteristics at all. Sensing the lack of continuity among New Testament Scriptures in the early Church, he began formulating his own list of books (canon) that his followers would use exclusively. This was known as the Arian Canon. It was the New Testament according to Arius, and he had it standardised wherever he went. The Arian canon backed Arius' teaching that Jesus Christ was not divine.
So when the early Church met at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) to refute Arius and his heresy, they made two monumental decisions that would change the history of Christianity forever. The first was the creation of the Nicean Creed. This creed would be learned and recited by all Christians every Sunday for the rest of history. The creed is still recited to this day in all Catholic churches, as well as Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican churches, Lutheran churches, and several other churches. The second was the decision to standardised a Christian New Testament based entirely on the Tradition of the apostles, as still taught and preserved by the Catholic bishops of that time, so as to oppose the heresies of the Arian New Testament. Thus the decision was made to compile the New Testament we all know and use today. So for years the work was ongoing among Catholic bishops to discern the required books within apostolic Tradition.
In AD 367, about 40 years after the Council of Nicea, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt, compiled a list of 27 books, starting with the Gospel of St. Matthew, and ending with the Apocalypse of St. John (Book of Revelation). His work was a compilation of lists derived from other Catholic bishops in Europe, West Asia and North Africa. Bishop Athanasius was a fierce opponent of Arianism, and was well known in the region for keeping his diocese clean of the Arian heresy. At the Synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage (late 3rd century), Athanasius' list of 27 books were adopted as the Christian New Testament. In the year AD 405, Pope Innocent I decreed that all Christians would now use this 27 book list as the universal and standard Christian New Testament.
So that's how we got the Bible. It came from the tireless work of Catholic bishops in the 4th century, and the decree of a pope in the early 5th century. The Old Testament was decided early, by the apostles, and affirmed by the pope and Catholic bishops of the 4th - 5th centuries. The New Testament wasn't decided until the late 4th century, and affirmed by a pope in the 5th century. That's the historical fact of how we got the Bible.
So if you like your Bible, and you appreciate that it doesn't contain any Arian heresies, you can thank the Catholic pope and bishops of the 4th - 5th centuries. Sadly, many Christians today show no appreciation to the Catholic Church for this, and instead accept the Bible while proverbially "spitting" on its original publisher. It's an odd behaviour to be sure, but very common these days.
If you would like to learn more about the origin of the Bible, and the organisation responsible for getting it to us, contact your nearest Catholic Church and bookmark the apologetics page of this blog for further reading.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'
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