Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
The Catholic Church Put the Bible Together
Did the Bible fall from the sky? Certainly not! The Bible is the Word of God, but it is the Word of God because the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church in determining it to be such.
In the early Church there was no set Bible. In fact, there were many gospels and writings floating around claiming authenticity. There was the Gospel to the Ebionites (quoted by Epiphanus and Irenaeus), the Gospel to the Egyptians (referenced by Clement of Alexandria), the Gospel to the Hebrews (known by Papias, Hegesippus, and Eusebius, and quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyril and Jerome), the Gospel of the Nazaroeans (known by Hegesippus and Epiphanius, and known and preserved by Origen, Eusebius and Jerome), the Secret Gospel of Mark (quoted by Clement of Alexandria), the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Perfection, the Dialogue of the Redeemer, the Gospel of Peter (known by Eusebius), the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, the Gospel of the Seventy, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Matthias, the Gospel of Jude, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Andrew, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Protoevangelium of James (Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria make mention of this source), the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James (known by Jerome), the Apocryphon of James, the Apocalypse of Peter, etc. There were the Acts of Andrew, the Acts of John, the Acts of Thomas, and so forth.
It is important to recognize that more than 100 works of writing were being considered as part of what would come to be known as the New Testament.
Furthermore, many of the works we accept as part of the New Testament today were not fully accepted into the canon of the Bible until the fourth century—and not without great and fervent debate. For example, Eusebius, the greatest Church historian of his time, writing around the year 324 AD, points out that the epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and the epistle to the Hebrews as well as the book of Revelation were still not accepted as part of the Bible. Amphilochius of Iconium (ca. 340-394) explains:
Now I am to read the books of the New Testament. Accept only four Evangelists, Matthew, then Mark, to which add Luke. Count John in times as fourth, but first in sublimity of teachings. Son of Thunder, rightly he is called, who loudly announced the Word of God. Accept from Luke a second book also, that of the Catholic Acts of the Apostles. Add to these that Vessel of Election, the Herald of the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul, writing wisely to the churches: One epistle to the Romans, to which must be added two to the Corinthians, and the one to the Galatians, and that to the Ephesians, after which there is one to the Philippians, then those written to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians two, two to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, one to each, and to the Hebrews one. Some call that to the Hebrews spurious, but not rightly do they say it; for the gift is genuine. What then is left? Of the Catholic Epistles some say seven need be accepted, others only three: One of James, one of Peter, one of John, or three of John and with them, two of Peter, the seventh that of Jude. The Apocalypse (Revelation) of John is also to be considered.. Some accept, but most will call it spurious (4).
It was already the fourth century and the structure of the Bible was still being debated.
Things even get more complicated. When we look at the modern day accepted canon of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, we notice something quite interesting. Open up to any good Protestant Bible, such as the RSV or the NRSV, or to any good Catholic Bible such as the
or the NJB and you will notice something that might be shocking to many who
overlook the introductions to the various New Testament books. But when we look at them we notice the
following: The Gospel of Matthew as we
have it today seems, according to the scholars, not to have been written by the
disciple of the Lord, but by a Greek speaking convert. The Gospel of John, Revelation and the three
epistles of John which make up the Johannine corpus seem to be more the product
of a Johannine community than the apostle John.
In terms of St. Paul’s writings, 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and
Ephesians seem to have been most likely written by another writer. One and 2
Timothy and Titus seem to have been written by a disciple of Paul and not by
Paul himself. Hebrews, for a long time
attributed to Paul, is now a work whose authorship is completely unknown. One and 2 Peter seem to have questions
regarding Peter as the author. Likewise,
the same problems occur with James and Jude. (It is no coincidence that most
modern scholars, as well as the Catechism
of the Catholic Church, refer to “sacred authors” when making reference to
the authorship of the books of the Scriptures.)
The question must be asked: Why do Protestants not go back and look at the books that the Catholic Church rejected and also look at those books that the Catholic Church accepted into the Bible? This situation in terms of the formation of the canon of the New Testament has to be deeply troubling for a Protestant brother or sister. How can the Protestant know that the New Testament is the Word of God if scholars are capable of proving that the authorship of many of the books of the New Testament is questionable? Furthermore, how can a Protestant know that the Catholic Church did not overlook an authentic work of one of the apostles? Maybe there is a treasure waiting out there to be found? If I were a Protestant, I would be reexamining every book in existence claiming apostolic authenticity. Yet Protestants do not. Protestants accept the Catholic Church’s Bible, the entire New Testament, on the authority of the Catholic Church. Given this, the question must be asked: If Protestants accept the Bible as the Catholic Church has produced it--under the power of the Holy Spirit--why do they not accept the authority of the Catholic Church in its interpretation of the Bible?
You may think things are getting out of control at this point. Well, just think about this. We have no original surviving manuscripts of any of the books of the New Testament. They are all copies! Furthermore, the copies we have are not all the same. In fact, no two copies are exactly alike! Some have estimated that there are as much as 200,000 variations within the various biblical texts.
In your free time feel free to examine the following texts and see how different they are from each other: Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Bezae, Codex Ephraeimi Rescriptus, Codex Washingtonensis, Codex Koridethianus. Which codex is the perfect text? Which minister is quoting the correct Scripture reference?
The early Church had no set Bible for the first four centuries. In fact, the first letters written in the Church can only be traced to the year 48 AD, some fifteen years after the resurrection. And the Gospel of John can only be traced to approximately the year 110 AD, some 10 years after the death of John.
At this point in the reading of this text, one might be terribly shocked by what you have read, but don’t despair! This is where Sacred Tradition (the life of the Holy Spirit within the Church) comes in. It is the apostles and their successors, the bishops, who guided the Church in the ways of the faith. It is only through the guidance of the pope and the bishops in union with him that a Bible started to take shape (This should not be a surprise to us since even during the time of the apostles crucial questions of faith and morals were debated over and decided upon by councils of the Church [Acts 15:1-29]).
A list of what would become the Bible was approved by Pope Damasus I in 382 and reaffirmed by Pope Innocent I in 411. This list of the books of the Bible becomes approved at the Councils of Hippo (393 AD), Carthage
III (397 AD) and Carthage IV (419 AD). And it is not till the Council of Trent in
1546 that the canon becomes completely closed.
The formation of the Bible over centuries should not be a source of concern for us since the “Chosen People” of the Old Testament lived without any written Scriptures for centuries. The Hebrew Scriptures were the product of the writing down of Sacred Tradition.
Protestants accept the Catholic New Testament in its entirety. Why? Because of the authority of the Catholic Church!
It is one of the ironies of history that the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, had to admit that it was the Catholic Church that gave us the Bible:
We are obliged to yield many things to the Catholics, that they possess the Word of God, which we received from them; furthermore, we would know nothing at all about the Bible if it were not for the Catholics” (Luther, Commentary on John).
Even Luther recognized the Bible was not self-authenticating. Luther recognized the authority of the Catholic Church in determining the Word of God.
If Protestants accept this authority in regard to the Bible, why don’t they trust its authority in all issues regarding faith and morals? For if the Church was infallible in the fourth century in putting the Bible together, why would it not be infallible throughout the succeeding generations?
Furthermore, does it not make more sense that the Church that put the Bible together in the first place would be the Church with the gift of interpreting it most accurately? How blessed we are to be Catholics!