Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Written Word of God




Have you ever wondered how the Bible we have today came to be?  In fact, in the mid-fourth century there was a wide range of disagreement over exactly what books belonged in the New Testament.  Certain books, such as the gospels, acts, and most of the epistles of Paul had long been agreed upon.  However a number of the books of the New Testament, most notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation remained hotly disputed until the canon was settled in the late fourth century.

At around 380 AD Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Holy Scriptures from the earliest texts available into the language of the times (Latin) which became known as the Vulgate.  But Jerome found that there were many discrepancies in the list of books contained in what some considered was the inspired Word of God.   The Jewish community for example, had two distinct lists of inspired writings, one which contained only 39 books of the Old Testament and a second containing those same books plus seven more.  A different problem also presented itself when Jerome tried to determine which books in contention as inspired truly were inspired.  For example, in around 140 AD Marcion, a businessman in Rome, taught that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the Old Testament, and Abba, the kind father of the New Testament.  So Marcion’s collection of inspired writings eliminates the entire Old Testament as scripture and keeps only 10 letters of St Paul along with the gospel of Luke.

Jerome settled the issue by appealing to the authority of the Church.  Pope Damasus I gave Jerome the list of books to be treated as inspired and therefore to be translated in Latin.  A list which remained unchanged for 1200 years.  In fact it is a verifiable and documented fact that the books of the Bible were compiled by the Catholic Church through its bishops in councils.  Before this compilation in the late fourth century there was much confusion as to what could be read at Mass.  This was also the time when Jerome was trying to determine which books to translate in Latin.  But with confusion remaining many considered the letter of Barnabas, or the first letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians as inspired texts and likewise some did not even consider books as suitable that we now accept as inspired, books like the book of Revelation, first and second John and others.  So how did Christians settle the matter?  They convened in councils as they always have since the very beginning (have a look at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 for an early example of this).

The Council of Hippo, a regional council for some of the bishops in the Diocese of Africa, in 393 AD reaffirmed The Decree of Damasus promulgated a decade or so ago at the time of Jerome naming the books of the Bible that Catholics have today. The third Council of Carthage was far more authoritative than the Council of Hippo. The Diocese of Africa then had its see at Carthage, so Carthage had authority to speak for all of the northwest African bishops. The Council of Carthage in 397 AD also reaffirmed The Decree of Damasus. Carthage, unlike Hippo, sent its decisions to Rome for ratification. Pope St. Boniface I (418-422) ratified the decision and declared the canon settled.

It is ironic that non-Catholic Christians (most Protestants) reject the inclusion of seven Old Testament books included at councils such as Hippo and Carthage, because these are the very same early Church councils that Protestants appeal to for the canon of the New Testament.

Most, if not all Protestants believe that the sole rule of authority in right-Christian living is Scripture.  But since the Bible itself never tells us which books are to be included, it does tell us that we must accept another authority outside of the Bible to give us this infallible list of books that belong in our Bible.    This other authority is the Church.  The written Word of God contains 73 books, don’t miss out, read from the complete list.                                                                                

Prepared by a St. Denis parishioner

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