Where Did The Bible Come From?
September 16, 2019
As we stand on the street and offer the Gospel to anyone and everyone, a lot of people tell us that they are not interested in our message or our materials because they already have their answer or they already have their faith. Lutherans are particularly good at letting us know they don’t need a rosary because they are Lutheran. Most of the other Protestant denominations are not as quick to identify their particular church and just say, “no thank you”.
I have struggled to come up with an intriguing response to people who decline a rosary or a pamphlet based on their Protestant faith. I have usually just said something like, “okay”, or “many Protestants pray the rosary too”, but such responses seem more like a comeback than an invitation.
But this last weekend, I was able to engage a number of Protestant pedestrians by asking them if they knew where the Bible came from. About 75% of them stopped to consider the question and some of them tried to offer an answer. Only one person gave one of the correct answers by responding, “God” (which happens to be the answer to every question). Others got the answer partially right by saying, “the apostles”, but the rest of them admitted that they did not know or they offered flawed responses such as “Luther”.
I think this is a valuable question for all Christians. Where did the Bible come from? The satisfying part about the history of the Bible, is that it is purely Catholic. This makes a simple historical question, a great tool for evangelization. I posted a 4-part blog on my personal website several weeks ago. Therefore, I won’t go into detail here. All I will do here is give you a nutshell version of the history of the Bible, so you too, can evangelize Protestants (and reassure Catholics), with some simple and accurate history.
It is always good to start with a point of agreement. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. All Christian faiths teach these two points. But many Catholics and most Protestants do not know that the Bible has always had 73 books, not the 66 books that the Protestants recognize. We know this because in the very early years of the Church, there was no Bible. Instead, there was only oral tradition and scrolls of scripture used in the Jewish faith, supplemented by the occasional letter or writing. But since most of the world was illiterate, oral tradition was the primary means of evangelization and catechesis for the first Christians.
Some of the apostles and early disciples recognized that it was going to be important to write stuff down in case Christ did not return during their lifetime or within the following generation. Remember that St. Paul and many others believed that Jesus was going to return during their lifetime or soon thereafter. Paul actually had to rebuke those who believed Christ’s return was imminent and stopped working and providing for themselves. So within a decade or two after Christ’s resurrection, people started writing stories and accounts about Jesus and his apostles.
After the apostles were all martyred or dead (tradition tells us that St. John the Evangelist was the only apostle to die of natural causes), the early Church fathers began to sort through the writings that had been in use in the early Church. They quickly identified that some were much more accurate and reliable than others. A discussion regarding the authentic works of the apostles or the immediate disciples of the apostles persisted until the fathers arrived at the most important books in the 200’s. But the Bible was not identified quite yet.
As you know, a large portion of the Bible was already in existence by the time of Mary’s Fiat. This portion of the Bible which was in existence in apostolic times is now known as the Old Testament. The problem was, different sects of Jews used slightly different lists of books of the Old Testament. Therefore, different Jews recognized different writings as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, even in apostolic times. This continued through the first few centuries of the early Church.
In about 250 A.D., Origen became the first known person to list the same 27 books of the New Testament that we use today. But other than Origen (who is considered a Church Father), the Church was yet to make a formal declaration. There was still uncertainty about which books belonged in the Old Testament. This was important to the early Christians because they desired to be one Church, unified in doctrine and in practice, as Christ had commanded. Therefore, they needed to agree on which books could be used in celebrating Mass, other liturgical practices and in teaching the faith.
In 367 A.D. St. Athanasius set forth the very first list of the books that were considered inspired and inerrant. He listed 73 books and if you look at the index of your Catholic Bible today, you will see the exact same books that St. Athanasius listed over 1,600 years ago. However, the Church had not yet formally declared any books as inerrant or inspired. This happened for the first time 15 years later, at the Council of Rome (382 A.D.), again in A.D. 393 at the Council of Hippo, later at the Council of Carthage in 397 and 419 A.D. and several other times in history. Each time, the 73 books listed by St. Athanasius were officially accepted and ratified by the Catholic Church. Keep in mind that no other Christian church existed during this entire time. For over 1,500 years, Christians were either Catholic or they were not a follower of Christ.
All Christians accepted the 73 books established by the Catholic Church until the year 1536, when Martin Luther published the Old Testament in the German language. This was the first time a Bible was published with fewer books than St. Athanasius had listed in 367 A.D. (1,169 years earlier).
Why fewer books? Luther had to find a basis for his version of theology. He could not support many of his new beliefs with a Bible that contained all 73 books. In fact, he couldn’t even defend his beliefs with the 66 book Bible either, but what he lacked in proof, he made up for with tenacity. He deeply desired to remove several books form the New Testament as well, but in the end, he was satisfied with removing 7 books from the Old Testament as well as parts of Daniel and Esther.
This is why some Bibles only contain 66 books today. These are Protestant Bibles and they came 1,169 years after the Catholic canon. The 66 books in the Protestant Bible are the same as 66 of the 73 Catholic books, with the exception of a few chapter of Daniel and Esther. The strange fact is that many Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, believe that the Catholic Church added 7 books to the Bible, when in fact, it is just the opposite.
As Catholics, we need to have a better understanding of the history of the Bible. Few Protestants know that the book, which they claim is the sole and definitive source of truth, actually came from the Catholic Church. The words are from God, but the book that contains the Word is courtesy of the Catholic Church. If Protestants are educated on this issue, they might begin to see the folly of “Bible Alone” Protestantism. You can then walk them through a few very specific questions:
- How can you believe in the tradition of “Bible Alone”, when the Bible you revere, was compiled, protected and published by none other than the Catholic Church for centuries before that tradition was taught?
- How can you believe in the tradition of “Bible Alone”, when the tradition is not found anywhere in the Bible?
- Why would you hold to the tradition of “Bible Alone” when you know that the tradition was developed by people who removed books from the Bible and have taught that it was the Catholic Church who added books to the Bible?
The fact is, many Protestants are uninformed about the history of the Bible because of the answers to these very questions. If Protestant ministers and theologians were to come clean on these facts, it would cause a lot of very faithful Protestants to begin questioning the origins of their particular denomination. That is a very dangerous thing when the origins are of man and not of God. The comparison is especially dangerous because the Catholic Church clearly and easily traces its origin all the way back to Jesus Christ and the Bible very clearly and easily traces its origin all the way back to the Catholic Church.
Keep in mind that this approach is even more persuasive if you are holding your own Bible in your hand as you evangelize people. It is even more persuasive if your Bible is marked up, tabbed with notes and in a condition that shows frequent use.
You can also print a few copies of the pamphlet I prepared, called, How We Really Got The Bible. If you can hand them the pamphlet, they might take some time to read through the information at some later time when they are not concerned about what you might think. The pamphlet turns into a tri-fold pamphlet, which you can slip right into your Bible, for the next time you have a discussion with a friend, family member or co-worker, regarding your Catholic faith.