JWsHowCanonicalBooksCompleted

Early Catalogues and the Christian Greek Scripture Canon

3 Articles

 

IT HAS been said that at the famous church council of Nicaea held A.D. 325 some forty “gospels” were placed on the floor before the assembled audience and, after prayer had been offered, our four Gospels rose miraculously and settled on the table and because of this they have since been accepted as the true ones. In the light of historical evidence such a story can at once be dismissed as foolish, but it does prompt the question, How did the twenty-seven books now found in our Christian Greek Scriptures come together as a collection? Why should just these books be accepted as genuine and canonical, and others be rejected? In considering this portion of the Bible it should be remembered that, though the Hebrew Scriptures are not dealt with here, the canon is not a divided one, making an “Old Testament” and a “New Testament.”

 

The word “canon” itself shows why it is important to have the right books in our Bible. Originally it referred to a reed used as a measuring rod if a piece of wood was not at hand, and then to a tool, a carpenter’s level or a scribe’s ruler. The apostle Paul referred to a “rule (Greek: kanōn) of conduct” as well as to a literal rule or boundary line. (Gal. 6:16; 2 Cor. 10:13) So canonical books are those that are true and inspired and worthy to be used as a straightedge in determining the right faith and doctrine. If we use books that are not “straight” as a plumb line, our “building” will not be true and it will fail the test of the Master Surveyor.

 

The Roman Catholic Church claims responsibility for the decision as to which books should be included in the canon, and reference is made to the Councils of Hippo (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397), where catalogues of books were formulated. The opposite is true, however, for the canon was already settled by then, not by the decree of any council, but by the usage of Christian congregations throughout the ancient world. Says one authority, “It goes without saying that the Church, understood as the entire body of believers, created the Canon . . . it was not the reverse; it was not imposed from the top, be it by bishops or synods.”1 Our examination of the evidence will describe how this came about.

 

THE EVIDENCE OF EARLY CATALOGUES

 

A glance at the accompanying chart reveals that several fourth-century catalogues agree exactly with our present canon, or omit only Revelation. Before the end of the second century there is universal acceptance of the four Gospels, Acts and twelve of the apostle Paul’s letters. Only a few of the smaller writings were doubted in certain areas.

 

The most interesting early catalogue is the fragment discovered by L. A. Muratori in the Ambrosian Library, Milan, Italy, and published by him in 1740. Though the beginning is missing, its reference to Luke as the third Gospel indicates that it first mentioned Matthew and Mark. Another library find is the Cheltenham list, first noticed by T. Mommsen in 1885 at Cheltenham, England. Both lists suffer from some ambiguity, especially concerning the smaller letters, and scholars are not agreed as to which books are meant.

 

The majority of the catalogues in the chart are specific lists showing which books were accepted as canonical. Those of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen are completed from the quotations they made, which reveal how they regarded the writings referred to. These are further supplemented from the records of the early historian Eusebius. But why do we not find exact lists earlier than the Muratorian fragment?

 

It was not until men like Marcion came along in the middle of the second century that the need arose to catalogue the books Christians should accept. Marcion constructed his own canon to suit his doctrines, taking only certain of the apostle Paul’s letters and an expurgated form of the Gospel of Luke. This, together with the mass of apocryphal literature by now spreading throughout the world, made it imperative to pronounce a clear-cut distinction between what could be received as Scripture and what could not. So we need to work back from the lists at the end of the second century in order to fill the remaining gap of about a hundred years.

 

COLLECTION OF GOSPELS AND LETTERS

 

It should not be thought that the early Christians lacked vigor in the collecting of inspired writings, or were all too poor to afford copies. Since false writings worth nearly £3,000 ($8,400) were burned on one occasion by those embracing Christianity, it is certain that they would be replaced by copies of the Scriptures as soon as opportunity afforded. (Acts 19:19) It has been calculated that by the end of the second century 60,000 copies of the major part of the Christian Greek Scriptures could have been in circulation, even if only one in every fifty of those professing Christianity possessed a copy.

 

Early writers show their familiarity with a Gospel collection. Justin Martyr, about A.D. 150, speaks of “the memoirs, composed by them (the apostles), which are called Gospels.” (1 Apology 66) On another occasion he refers to “the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them” (Dialogue with Trypho 103), the last remark referring to Mark and Luke. Ignatius, who died A.D. 115, also refers to “gospel” in the singular, though he has knowledge of more than one.—Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans 5.1; 7.2.

 

Irenaeus argues, about A.D. 190, that there were just four Gospels. His term ‘fourfold gospel’ shows that he knew the Gospels as a collection, and he recommended these writings as the rule or canon of truth. (Against Heresies III. 11.8) Clement of Alexandria, indicating both the authority and collected form of the Gospels, states, “We do not find this saying in the four gospels that have been handed down to us, but in that according to the Egyptians.”—Miscellanies III. 13.

 

A unique work of the second century was Tatian’sDiatessaron,” meaning “of the four.” This was an early harmony, weaving together into one narrative the various sections of the four canonical Gospels. This again indicates the acceptance of the four as a collection and testifies to their undisputed authority as the authentic record of Jesus’ life and words. Because Acts was associated with Luke it may often have been circulated with the four Gospels, as in the early third-century Chester Beatty manuscript P45.

 

Just as the early Christians would be anxious to collect together the four Gospels, so they would desire to have all of the apostle Paul’s letters. Upon its receipt, a letter would be read to all in the congregation and then the original or a copy would often be sent to another congregation in exchange for their epistle. (1 Thess. 5:27; Col. 4:16) If it was addressed to a number of congregations, it might be copied many times. (Gal. 1:2) Though Paul addressed two letters specifically to Corinth, he expected them to have a wider circulation. (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1) Gradually various collections would be formed.

 

How soon a complete collection was formed we do not know, but scholars generally agree that at least ten Pauline epistles were widely known as an established collection by A.D. 90-100.2 Early writers show acquaintance with such a collection, for they would weave quotations and extracts into their works. Among these can be named Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement of Rome.3 Clement of Alexandria uses the collective term “Apostolos” and Irenaeus uses “Apostles,” quoting Paul as authoritative more than two hundred times and using all the epistles except possibly Hebrews and Philemon.3 The third-century Chester Beatty manuscript P46 originally contained in one codex ten epistles, including Hebrews (some say eleven, adding in Philemon), so that the united evidence of the entire period prior to formal catalogues testifies both to the canonicity and collected form of Paul’s letters.

 

The authority of all these books is further confirmed by such phrases as the well-known “it is written,” found some forty times in the Gospels alone. Not only do the Gospel writers use this expression when referring to the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, but the phrase is used about A.D. 125 when quoting Paul’s epistles.4 Barnabas (not the same as Paul’s companion) and Justin both use it in quoting from Matthew. (The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 4; Dialogue with Trypho 49) A writing ascribed to Clement of Rome also refers to the Gospels and the epistles as “Scripture.” (The Second Epistle of Clement, Chapter 2) More important still is Peter’s testimony, “Paul . . . wrote you, speaking about these things as he does also in all his letters. In them, however, are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unsteady are twisting, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Pet. 3:15, 16) Peter here refers to ‘all of Paul’s letters’—an early collection.

 

Not only were the “Gospel” and the “Apostle” placed on the same footing as collected Scripture by Clement of Alexandria, but they were equated with the Hebrew Scriptures. (Miscellanies, Book 4) Justin tells us that at the meetings of the early Christians “the memoirs of the apostles or the writing of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.” (1 Apology 67) Ignatius, Theophilus and Tertullian also spoke of the Prophets, the Law and the Gospel as equally authoritative.—Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 5.1; Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 3, chap. 12; On Prescriptions Against Heretics, chap. 36.

 

THE CANON COMPLETED

 

Having established the canonical position of the major part of the Christian Greek Scriptures, we can consider the books marked in the chart as disputed by some.

 

Because Hebrews did not bear Paul’s name and seemed to be written in a different style, it was rejected by certain ones, especially in the West, although Clement of Rome used it as a work of authority. (E.g., 1 Clement 36; Heb. 1:3, 4) It was accepted completely in the East, however, and at Alexandria both Clement and Origen recognized Paul as the author. (Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, pp. 233, 234, 246) It also contains many Pauline constructions and similarities of language, especially to Romans and Corinthians. But as Westcott remarked, “We have been enabled to acknowledge that the apostolic authority of the Epistle is independent of its Pauline authorship . . . no book of the Bible is more completely recognised by universal consent as giving a divine view of the facts of the Gospel.”5 Internal evidence produces the strongest reasons for canonical acceptance.

 

The book of Revelation is attested to by a unanimity of early commentators including Papias, Justin, Melito and Irenaeus.6 (Fragments of Papias 8) It was rejected by some in the East because its teachings were unacceptable to certain schools of thought. But this did not disturb its general reception Even at this early date due regard was also paid to having a correct text, as Irenaeus informs us in referring to Revelation 13:18 when he remarks, “The number is thus found in all the genuine and ancient copies.”—Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, p. 188.

 

This leaves James and Jude and the epistles of Peter and John. There was never any difficulty with First Peter and First John, Papias and Polycarp being among the early testimonies for their authority. (Fragments of Papias 6; The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians 2, 7) When it is remembered how small each of the remaining five writings is, we are not surprised to find a paucity of references to them, comprising as they do only one thirty-sixth of the Christian Greek Scriptures. They are all referred to by one second-century Christian or another, but it is only to be expected that shorter works would not be quoted so often and, as they might have had a slower circulation, they would be known in some regions and not others. Second Peter has been questioned most by critics, but Irenaeus uses it, (Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.23.2 and 5.28.3) and internal evidence shows it to be an early work and not of the second century.

 

PRESENCE OF APOCRYPHAL WORKS

 

But why does the manuscript Codex Sinaiticus include after the book of Revelation the epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Codex Alexandrinus add the two Clementine epistles? Many similar writings have been discovered recently claiming apostolic status, and among these the so-called Gospel of Thomas has evoked much discussion. Should some of these works be included in our Bible today?

 

The historian Eusebius, in summing up the position, sets out three categories of writings. First the acknowledged ones are enumerated and then the disputed ones, both classes being considered canonical. The third group, in which he names the Shepherd of Hermas, Barnabas and others, he calls spurious, although they were read in various congregations at times. (Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, p. 110) The Muratorian fragment states that the Shepherd could be read but was never to the end of time to be recognized as canonical.4

 

When it was found that the apocryphal Gospel of Peter was being read publicly at the end of the second century, it was ordered to be rejected as false. (Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, p. 231) Tertullian tells us that the author of the “Acts of Paul” was punished for posing as a first-century writer. (De Baptismo 17) In a letter written by Theodore of Egypt in the fourth century the apocryphal writings are referred to as “the lying waters of which so many drank,”7 and the Muratorian list speaks of them as gall which should not be mixed with honey.4 So the Christian community was careful to protect the integrity of its writings.

 

It was often a matter of convenience to bind into a codex an apocryphal work, for it might be read by some, though they would have in mind the distinction shown by the fact that in the two codices cited (the Sinaitic and the Alexandrine) the apocryphal writings followed Revelation, the last of the canonical books. Or we might possess a manuscript today that belonged to an apostate congregation giving too much attention to such works, just as in the case that Serapion of Antioch discovered at the end of the second century.

 

Internal evidence confirms the clear division made between the inspired and the spurious works. The apocryphal writings are much inferior and often fanciful and childish. They are frequently inaccurate. Note the following statements by scholars on these noncanonical books:

 

“There is no question of any one’s having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves.”—M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, p. xii.

 

“We have only to compare our New Testament books as a whole with other literature of the kind to realise how wide is the gulf which separates them from it. The uncanonical gospels, it is often said, are in reality the best evidence for the canonical.”—G. Milligan, The New Testament Documents, p. 228.

 

“Much of the Gospel of Thomas is plainly later and untrustworthy tradition . . . of no use for determining what Jesus said and did.”—F. V. Filson, The Biblical Archaeologist, 1961, p. 18.

 

“There is no known extra-cononical Gospel material which is not (when it can be tested at all) in some way subject to suspicion for its genuineness or orthodoxy.”—C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, p. 192.

 

“It cannot be said of a single writing preserved to us from the early period of the Church outside the New Testament that it could properly be added today to the Canon.”—K. Aland, The Problem of the New Testament Canon, p. 24.

 

INSPIRED OF GOD

 

The true test of canonicity is the evidence of inspiration. (2 Tim. 3:16) The twenty-seven books of the Christian Greek Scriptures found their place, not by the mere caprice of men, but by the spirit of God. Nothing is missing and nothing extra has been added. John could already see the beginning of a vast additional literature in his old age, but was it needed? (John 21:25) Even if a genuine saying of Jesus could be found in one of these works, that would not make it an inspired writing. God’s Word in its sixty-six books is our guide and its complete harmony and balance testify to its completeness. All praise to Jehovah God, the Creator of this incomparable Book! It can equip us completely and put us on the way to life. Let us use it wisely while we yet have time.

 

REFERENCES

 

 1 The Problem of the New Testament Canon, by Kurt Aland, 1962, page 18.

 

 2 The Text of the Epistles, by G. Zuntz, 1946, pages 14, 279.

 

 3 Early Christian Doctrines, by J. N. D. Kelly, 1958, page 58.

 

 4 The New Testament Documents, G. Milligan, 1913, pages 214, 290, 291.

 

 5 The Epistle to the Hebrews, Greek Text and Notes, by B. F. Westcott, 1889, page lxxi.

 

 6 Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament, by S. P. Tregelles, 1852, pages 61-63.

 

 7 The New Archaeological Discoveries, 2d Ed., by C. M. Cobern, 1917, page 334.

 

[Footnotes]

 

Translated by C. F. Crusé, Tenth Edition, 1856.

 

[Chart on page 252]

 

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

 

Chart of Outstanding Early Catalogues

 

Name                                         Approximate
and Place                                      Date A.D.

 

Muratorian Fragment, Italy                        170

 

Irenaeus, Asia Minor                              180

 

Clement of Alexandria                             190

 

Tertullian, N. Africa                             200

 

Origen, Alexandria                                230

 

Eusebius, Palestine                               310

 

Cyril of Jerusalem                                348

 

Cheltenham List, N. Africa                        360

 

Athanasius, Alexandria                            367

 

Epiphanius, Palestine                             368

 

Gregory Nazianzus, Asia Minor                     370

 

Amphilocius, Asia Minor                           370

 

Philastrius, Italy                                383

 

Jerome, Italy                                     394

 

Augustine, N. Africa                              397

 

Third Council of Carthage, N Africa.              397

 

Matthew

 

Mark

 

Luke

 

John

 

Acts

 

Romans

 

Cor.

 

Cor.

 

Galatians

 

Ephesians

 

Philippians

 

Colossians

 

Thess.

 

Thess.

 

1 Timothy

 

2 Timothy

 

Titus

 

Philemon

 

Hebrews

 

James

 

1 Peter

 

2 Peter

 

1 John

 

2 John

 

3 John

 

Jude

 

Revelation

 

A  – Accepted without query as Scriptural and Canonical.

 

D  – Doubted in certain quarters.

 

DA – Doubted in certain quarters but cataloguer accepted as Scriptural and Canonical.

 

?  – Scholars uncertain of the reading of the text.

 

Article Two

The Bible Is Not a Catholic Book!

 

The Bible. No book has had more loyal and ardent friends or more bitter enemies. Who deserves credit for it? And is it indispensable for salvation or expendable?

 

“THE Bible Is a Catholic Book.” “No . . . the Bible Is Not Our Sole Guide.” “The Church Came First, the Bible Followed.” The foregoing are typical headings of advertisements that appeared in the newspapers and magazines of the United States throughout 1954, placed in them by the Knights of Columbus Religious Information Bureau.

 

Among other things these advertisements state: “Catholics have a genuine love and respect for the Bible. It could not be otherwise, for the Catholic Church is the Mother of the Bible.” “Between the time of the Crucifixion and the time the Scriptures were gathered into a single Book, millions had received and accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ . . . and had died without ever seeing the complete Bible.” “It was 1400 years before printing was invented and the mass distribution of the Scriptures became possible. If Christ had intended the Bible to be the sole guide to His teaching, would he have allowed this delay—permitting millions of people to die in ignorance of the printed Word?”

 

Is the Catholic Church the “Mother of the Bible”? And what about Christians’ not having seen a complete Bible before the end of the fourth century? And about no mass distribution of the Bible being possible before Gutenberg invented printing? Let us calmly and soberly reason on this very controversial subject in the light of the Bible and the facts of history.

 

The Catholic Church claims to be the “Mother” of the Bible by reason of her Council of Carthage, 397, at which she set the canon of the Bible as far as she was concerned. In this canon she listed not only the sixty-six books generally accepted but also seven books of the pre-Christian Apocrypha, which “hidden” books had been rejected by the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. As to the merit of these apocryphal writings Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate used by the Roman Catholic Church for many centuries, says: “All apocryphal books should be avoided; . . . they are not the works of authors by whose names they are distinguished, . . . they contain much that is faulty, . . . it is a task requiring great prudence to find gold in the midst of clay.”

 

The claim is made that Jesus and his apostles used the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures and that it contained these apocryphal books. However, the Septuagint did not always contain these books, as they had not even been written at the time the Septuagint began to be translated, in 280 B.C. Therefore it is open to question as to whether the copies of the Septuagint that Jesus and his apostles used did contain these books or not. One thing is certain, however, not a single reference to or quotation from the Apocrypha is to be found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The Bible, therefore, that the Roman Catholic Church “mothered” certainly was not in its entirety the Word of God.

 

Nor is that all. According to modern Bible scholars such as Goodspeed, collecting of the letters of Paul began before the year A.D. 100, and in a few more decades the four Gospels were also being circulated as a group. Six of the ten ancient catalogues dating long before A.D. 397 list the same canon as we have today, and early in the third century, or some 175 years before A.D. 397, Origen gave the same canon in his Hexapla (six Bible versions in one). So, in view of the fact that there was general agreement on what constituted the Bible canon long before the year A.D. 397, and in view of the Catholic Church’s adding seven apocryphal books thereto, it is clear that she cannot lay claim to being the “Mother” of the Bible.

 

THE COMPLETE BIBLE?

 

To say that millions died during the first four centuries who had accepted Christ Jesus without ever seeing a “complete” Bible is to make use of a jesuitism or dishonest argument. From the time of Moses onward the canon of the Bible kept growing until John wrote his gospel and letters about A.D. 98. Whatever had been produced under inspiration up to any certain time was all that was needed for God’s approval and constituted God’s complete Word up to that time. It therefore also follows that the Bible came before the church, because when Jesus, the head and first one of the true church, came to earth, the Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, were in existence.

 

Although himself the Son of God, Jesus continually appealed to the authority of the Bible, repeatedly saying, “It is written.” He censured his opponents because they knew “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” They had access to God’s Word. And Paul commended the Beroeans for checking with the Hebrew Scriptures on what he, an apostle, had told them.—Matt. 21:13; 22:29; Acts 17:11, NW.

 

Likewise Paul told Timothy—not regarding the “complete Bible” of the year 100—but regarding the Hebrew Scriptures: “From infancy you have known the holy writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” Note that God’s Word was able to equip the Christian completely for every good work, long before it became “complete” in the Catholic use of the term.—2 Tim. 3:15-17, NW.

 

NO “PRINTED” BIBLE?

 

The Knights of Columbus advertisements speak of no “printed” Bibles for more than a thousand years, as though it made any difference whether they were manuscript copies or printed ones. The fact, however, is that early Christians were great publishers of the Bible even though they lived a thousand years before printing was invented. They published, they produced multiple copies for circulation. While pagan religions made much of mysteries and the oriental holy books are purposely kept from the common people, such was not true of Christianity, for within fifty years of its birth it became a publishing faith, not only exhausting or using to the full the scroll but pioneering in the use of the codex, a manuscript in book form with pages and a cover. We are told that the early Christians were a book-buying and book-reading people as well as a book-translating and book-publishing people.

 

However, when apostate Christianity fused with pagan religion, worldly philosophy and religious traditions to form the Catholic Church, a change took place. Concerning this Goodspeed says: “In the Middle Ages publication as a business practically disappeared. The copying of manuscripts was still carried on to some extent in the Scriptoriums of some convents and palaces, but for the most part it was single copies that were made, and there seems to have been none of the old wholesale production; copies were not from dictation, as they had been in the ancient book factories.”—Christianity Goes to Press.

 

Yes, the much advertised copying credited to the monks was not for the benefit of the common people but for the rich and the clergy. They made highly ornamented copies and took their time in copying, often taking two years to complete one copy they could have completed in a month had they worked at it steadily. Some produced only one copy in a lifetime. Incidentally, so little were the monks interested in Bible distribution that they viewed the invention of printing as a threat to their Bible-copying monopoly!

 

Most censurable, however, was the fact that all this was done in Latin, not in the language of the common people. Wycliffe and his associates produced a Bible in English toward the end of the fourteenth century and it was the only Bible in English the common people had access to for 150 years. His followers made as many as they could, for the common man and in his tongue. So publishing of the Bible did not have to wait until printing was invented; common people were gaining access to manuscript copies.

 

And far from aiding in this work the self-proclaimed Bible’s “Mother” did all she could to hinder it, destroying all the copies she could lay hold on and imprisoning and burning at the stake Bible translators, copyists and readers, her destruction of Bibles continuing even to this twentieth century.

 

The advertisements of the Knights of Columbus also claim credit for the Catholic Church for having preserved the Bible. Is mankind today indebted to her for the Bible? No, it is not. In the first place, two of the most valuable Bible manuscripts in existence were found in non-Catholic lands, the Sinaiticus and the Alexandrine. She cannot claim to have preserved these. And secondly, the Catholic Church can no more be credited with preserving the Bible than the faithless Jews of Jesus’ day could have been credited with preserving the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

The great Author of the Bible has also been its great Preserver. Regardless of what its enemies have tried to do to destroy it, be such enemies deists, agnostics, atheists, pagans or professed Christians, Jehovah God saw to it that his promise would be fulfilled that stated: “The vegetation becomes withered, and the flower falls off, but the word spoken by Jehovah endures forever.” Yes, the Bible is NOT a Catholic book! It is God’s Book.—1 Pet. 1:24, 25, NW.

 

He that sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. In everything you are being enriched for every kind of generosity, which produces through us an expression of thanks to God.—2 Cor. 9:6, 7, 11. NW.

 

Article Three

Do Catholic Bible Claims Fit the Facts?

 

OCTOBER 1952 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the production of the first printed book, Gutenberg’s Bible. That month will see a drive of Protestant religious organizations of the United States to distribute one million of the new Revised Standard Version Bible. On the other hand the Catholic Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, WashingtonD.C., has designated September 28 to October 4, 1952, as Catholic Bible week. This, the second Catholic Bible week of the year, the first having been held February 10 to 16 (which, incidentally, was the first time a Catholic Bible week was observed in the United States), has as its objective to “show how the Church which made the Bible—has valued it before, during and after Gutenberg”.

 

Roman Catholic Bible claims, as listed in their Bible-week literature, can be summarized as follows: (1) The Catholic Church made the Bible. (2) The Catholic Church preserved the Bible. (3) The Catholic Church encourages the reading of the Bible.

 

THE BIBLE A CATHOLIC BOOK?

 

Does the claim that the Catholic Church made the Bible fit the facts? In answering that question let us first note that the Bible is God’s Word. That being so, then ever since Moses completed the Pentateuch (the five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) God’s Word has been available to his servants. As other inspired servants wrote it grew and grew so that by the time Malachi penned his prophecy God’s Word, the Bible, had grown to 39 books. These 39 books constituted the sacred Scriptures that Jesus and his disciples used and which they encouraged others to study.—John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15-17.

 

With the writing of the accounts of Jesus’ life by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the letters of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John and the Acts of the apostles and Revelation (or the Apocalypse), God’s Word grew to 66 books. As these were written down and circulated among the early Christians they became recognized as part of the Bible. (2 Pet. 3:15, 16) The last of these writings, John’s three letters and his Gospel, were completed about A.D. 98. Shortly thereafter began the compiling of these writings, and there is evidence to indicate that as early as A.D. 170 the canon or catalogue of the Bible we have today was recognized. Both Origen and Eusebius list these same books, and of ten early catalogues extant six likewise give the same list as is recognized today, three others omitting Revelation and one omitting both Hebrews and Revelation. In view of these facts, which show that the canon of the Bible was settled among the Christians in the second and early third centuries after Christ, can the Catholic Church claim to have made the Bible, simply because some 150 to 200 years later her Council of Carthage announced what writings she considered canonical?

 

If the Catholic Church made the Bible, is it not strange that she failed to include any word about the assumption of Mary, her immaculate conception and about the efficacy of praying to her; about the veneration of relics, images and saints; about the use of holy water; about the ceremony of the mass; about a pope’s being the vicar of Christ; about monsignors, archbishops and cardinals; about purgatory; about a celibate clergy; about not eating meat on Friday or during Lent; about making novenas; about infant baptism; etc.? Is not the fact that the Bible is silent on all these outstanding points of the Catholic religion strong circumstantial evidence that the Catholic Church did not make the Bible? that it is not a Catholic book?

 

Who made the Bible is very clear from its own pages. God is its author. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet.” “The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me: and his word by my tongue.” “Thy word is truth.” “For the word of God is living and effectual.” “The holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.”—Douay Version at 2 Ki. 23:2; Ps. 118:105; John 17:17; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:21.

 

CATHOLIC CHURCH PRESERVE THE BIBLE?

 

The Catholic Church further states: “There can be no doubt that the world must thank the Catholic Church for the Bible—if only for the 1,500 years which elapsed before the first Reformers appeared on the scene. Who spanned the gulf? We ask that the monks who copied for centuries, . . . be given their due. But for them we would have no Bible.” Does this claim fit the facts? Let us see.

 

The facts are that not one of the oldest, most reliable and most valuable manuscripts of the Bible was found in territories under Catholic domination. Even her prized Vatican manuscript 1209 has been in her possession only since the fifteenth century. And this she hid away, making it available to the public only when another great manuscript, the Sinaiticus, bid fair to eclipse it. So if the monks had done no copying at all during the Dark and Middle Ages we would still have the best manuscripts. They copied none of the good ones.

 

Bible copying may have been largely limited to the monks, but that was primarily due to the Catholic Church’s keeping the Bible in a dead language. When Wycliffe translated the Bible into English his followers made many, many copies, and that without the assistance of monks. And as for giving these monks any credit, they dared to take liberties with the inspired text. That is why we have in the King James and the Douay versions some spurious passages, such as 1 John 5:7, to mention one of the most flagrant examples.

 

Not only can no credit go to the Catholic Church for preserving the Bible but the facts of history show that she has been the chief destroyer of the Bible. Copies of Wycliffe’s Bible were hunted out by her from one end of England to the other and then destroyed. Tyndale had to print his “New Testament” on the continent of Europe, for he could not do so in Catholic England. Although he published 18,000 of them and had them smuggled into England, they were hunted down and destroyed so efficiently that only seventeen copies are known to survive today.

 

Endeavoring to justify such Bible-burning Our Sunday Visitor, February 10, 1952, states that such “was the burning of versions which were proved to be faulty, and therefore had no right to pass as ‘the word of God’”. But was there such a great difference between the Catholic Bible and the translations of the Reformers as to justify the crusade which destroyed not only Bibles but also Bible translators, publishers and distributors? On this point note what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say regarding the English Challoner-Douay Version:

 

“To call it any longer the Douay or Rheimish version is an abuse of terms. It has been altered and modified until scarcely any verse remains as it was originally published. . . . In nearly every case Challoner’s changes took the form of approximating to the Authorized Version.” So in improving the Catholic version it became more like the Protestant King James version! Recent instances of this could be cited from both the new American Catholic versions of the book of the Psalms and Genesis and Msgr. Knox’s version.

 

No, the claim that the Catholic Church burned Bibles because of their being faulty translations does not fit the facts. There must have been some other motives. What these were we will let the reader judge. Incidentally, note that such Bible-burnings are not a thing of the distant past. Many Bibles were publicly burned on May 27, 1923, in Rome, in homage of the virgin Mary, and in the New York Times, March 6, 1952, appeared an article under the following headings: “Protestant Cleric Is Beaten in Spain. Youths Invade Chapel and Set Fire to Bibles, Pews and Hymnals.”

 

ENCOURAGE BIBLE READING?

 

According to Pope Leo XIII the Catholic Church “has never failed to take due measures to bring the Scriptures within the reach of her children”. Again we ask, do the facts fit the claim that the Catholic Church has encouraged and does encourage Bible-reading? If so, how? and to what extent?

 

At the time when England was under Catholic domination, for anyone to be found guilty of reading the Bible in English meant the forfeiting of “land, cattle, life and goods from his heirs forever”. Many were the followers of Wycliffe, the Lollards, who were imprisoned and even burned at the stake because of having thus read the Bible in their native tongue.

 

If the Catholic Church really had wanted to encourage Bible-reading would she have kept that sacred volume in the shroud of dead languages? Would Pope Gregory of the eleventh century have publicly thanked God that the Bible was in a dead language if he had wanted the people to read it? And why should it have been necessary for Thomas Stitny, “father of Bohemian prose,” to complain about the efforts of the Catholic Church to keep the Bible from being translated into the Bohemian language if she was interested in having the common people read the Bible? Would Pope Pius VII on June 13, 1816, have stated, “Experience has proved that, owing to the rashness of men, more harm than benefit arises from the Sacred Scriptures when published in the language of the common people”? And would Pope Gregory XVI on May 8, 1844, in his encyclical Inter Praecipuas, have condemned “the publication, distribution, reading and keeping of the Scripture translated into the vernacular”?

 

The picture of a chained Bible is a familiar one. Catholic apologists tell us that it was chained merely to keep it from being stolen or knocked down on the floor and that such Bibles were “placed open on a table in the churches to be consulted”. But who would be consulting a Bible written in a dead language at a time when the great majority of the people could not even read their native tongue, not to say anything about the dead or classical languages?

 

The fact is that the only reason the Catholic Church finally did give the people the Bible in their native tongue, as she herself confesses, was to counteract Protestant versions. Says the Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 5, page 140, 1913 ed.) on this subject: “It [the Douay Bible] owed its existence to the religious controversies of the sixteenth century. Many Protestant versions had been issued and were used largely by the Reformers for polemical purposes. The rendering of some of the texts showed evident signs of controversial bias, and it became of the first importance for the English Catholics of the day to be furnished with a translation of their own, on the accuracy of which they could depend and to which they could appeal in the course of argument.”

 

How reluctant the world’s greatest religious organization which “made and preserved the Bible” was to do this may be gathered from the fact that she waited two hundred years after one of her excommunicated doctors of divinity (Wycliffe) had pioneered the task on his own initiative, to give to her people this much needed instrument! The above quotation also effectively silences the claims that the Catholic Church and not the Reformers pioneered the work of giving the people the Bible in their native tongues.

 

But surely today the Catholic Church encourages Bible-reading. Did not Pope Leo XIII grant ‘an indulgence of 300 days to the faithful for every time they read at least a quarter hour the books of the Sacred Scripture’? True, but how much encouragement to read the Bible that represents non-Catholics do not know. But a Catholic knows that he can gain the like amount of indulgence, 300 days, for just repeating once “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee”. And that takes only five seconds to repeat! Why spend 15 minutes reading the Bible to gain an indulgence that is yours for just five seconds of praying? Use that fifteen minutes in unscriptural repetitious praying and gain 54,000 days’ indulgence! So it might be argued. But even if the Bible is read, how much benefit can be expected to be gotten from such reading done merely to gain some other benefit and that for a specified time? Where would the mind, one’s thoughts, be?

 

Indicative of the way the Catholic Church really feels about the Bible is the following excerpt taken from current Catholic Bible tracts: “The Christian is not bound to read the Bible since it is the Church who proposes to us for our belief Divine Revelation as contained in Scriptures and Tradition.”

 

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

 

If Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible why is it necessary for Catholic publications to tell Catholics, “No, Catholics Are Not Forbidden to Read It” (showing a picture of the Bible) and to state that “some Catholics have the idea that Bible reading is strictly ‘Protestant’”? What more damaging confession could the Catholic Church make as to her failure to encourage Bible reading than to admit that some of her children think that Bible reading is ‘strictly Protestant’?

 

During World War II there was complaint in the Catholic press of Britain about the scandal of not being able to procure Catholic Bibles even though Catholic fiction and Protestant Bibles were plentiful. Replying to such complaints one Catholic publisher stated: “If there existed a demand sufficient to justify special effort, we may be sure that effort would be made. It may be of interest to note that, though Catholics show this apathy regarding the Scriptures, in other quarters a new appreciation of the Bible is being manifested.”

 

Further circumstantial evidence along this line appeared in the book Religious Beliefs of Youth, published in the United States in 1950. This book made a comprehensive analysis of the religious habits of United States youth, and among the statistics it published were those showing that 61.9 per cent of the Catholic youths had not read their Bibles during the past six months, to compare with only 31.2 per cent of the Protestant youths who had not read their Bibles within that time. Obviously, two-thirds of Catholic youth is not impressed by the offer of indulgences for reading the Bible if they do not read it even once in six months.

 

Nor are such observations as the following, taken from The Holy Bible, The Heritage of Catholic Family Life, likely to make Catholic youth want to do more Bible reading: “Can the six days of which Moses speaks be those long periods described by the geologists? Certainly they are not. Moses knew nothing of modern science; his picture of the universe is quite naïve, not further advanced, in fact, than that of the people among whom he lived three thousand years ago.” Yes, poor Moses! He just did not know any better, according to this Catholic publication. How much faith in the inspiration of the Bible does such an appraisal of its account of creation indicate? And how much encouragement to read the Bible?

 

In view of the foregoing what conclusions must we reach? That the Catholic Church did not make the Bible, she has not preserved it, she does not genuinely encourage the reading of it. Her Bible efforts are merely window dressing and propaganda to meet competition. Just as she is content to let her people remain illiterate so long as the states do not try to educate them, so she is willing to let her people be without the Bible so long as there is no danger of their obtaining Bibles from other sources. And just as she has her greatest school systems where secular education is at its best, just so she publishes the Bible in the native tongue if there is a likelihood of her people’s obtaining a Bible from other sources. Compare Spain with the United States. Her current Bible week is a case in point, for she admitted that it was planned to counteract the celebration by non-Catholics of the 500th anniversary of Gutenberg’s Bible.

 

 From JW’S Publications