Verbum Domini — The Catholic Roots of Sacred Scripture: Part 1
Someone said that if you repeat the same idea over and over again, you’ll end up by believing it and helping others believe it, too. After a time, even though you provided no argument whatsoever to prove its accuracy, lots of the people who repeat your idea will believe it as well. Let a century or two pass and your idea may well become a dogma. Allegedly respected institutions may promote it, although nobody gave himself the trouble to investigate whether or not it was true in the first place.
Marx, Gramsci and Freud can be listed in this situation. Today their views are studied under different guises in most if not all universities of the world.
This also happened with the unhistorical idea that God gave the Bible directly to the Christian people, without any reference to the Church.
I remember a nicely drawn color picture in a non-Catholic book: a wide, beautiful green field where hundreds of people were standing, people of all races, nationalities, cultures and ages, everyone joyfully raising their hands to the sky to receive a huge book titled “Holy Bible”, which was being lowered by two gigantic hands (God’s hands, supposedly).
That nice picture suggested that the Holy Scriptures were given by God to all men and women of the world, who are now able to read it for themselves and discern its teaching, and thereby being ‘saved’, without any need of Popes, Priests or Preachers in pulpits to interpret it for them.
In previous articles I have dealt with the Lutheran myth of Sola Scriptura. Suffice to say here that until 1517 the Bible was never taken as the only source of revealed truth: Jesus gave us the Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. And it was the Magisterium that gave us the final text of the inspired Word – the Sacred Scriptures.
The nice picture I referred to above portrayed a myth – the Bible was not given all nicely printed, bound into a single volume and already translated into your native language. No.
It was given in instalments, one book after another, written by different people in different places and times, over hundreds of years, beginning with Moses and ending with Saint John the Evangelist, in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
Here are a few disquieting questions, followed by not less disquieting answers:
How do we know that the New Testament is the authentic revelation about Jesus Christ? The Catholic Church, who precedes the writing of the New Testament both in idea and in fact, told us so.
How do we know which books are in the New Testament? – The Catholic Church gave us the list.
Who wrote the books of the New Testament? – Bishops of the Catholic Church wrote them.
Who has the authority to determine or discern which books belong in the New Testament? – The Catholic Church, whose early bishops wrote them.
Who has the authority to interpret Sacred Scripture? The Catholic Church. She who writes and/or approves it is the certain one to interpret its content.
Conclusion: when you accept the New Testament as an inerrant authority, you are accepting an inerrant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
In this series of article we will examine these questions and answers in more detail.
In the first place, the Bible as a book, neatly printed and bound together in a single volume, did not exist until comparatively recent times. Secondly, the Bible is not a single book, but a collection of books, a library. The individual writings of the Bible were all written separately and did not exist as a one-volume unit until comparatively recently.
Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, the books of the Bible (all 73 of them) were kept in manuscripts, that is, hand-written volumes, sometimes in groups, sometimes individually – all safely kept by the Catholic Church, who carefully monitored the copies and the translations to ensure their accuracy. By the time of Christ, the entire Old Testament had been completed, but no authoritative consensus existed among the several Jewish sects to certify about how many books the Old Testament actually consisted of (we now know it’s 46).
This was so because Judaism had no unified Magisterium. Take for instance, the two main sects of Judea in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees and Sadducees: they held different doctrines. The Sadducees accepted only Moses’ five books, the Pentateuch, and did not believe in the resurrection, angels or spirits. But the Pharisees accepted the Pentateuch and also the writings of the Prophets (which the Sadducees’ didn’t) and believed in the resurrection, angels and spirits. They fought each other tooth and nail because of their viscerally doctrinal differences, to the point that good Saint Paul knew how to use their contradictions to save his skin:
“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” Now when there arose a great dissension”, etc. etc. That’s in Acts, chapter 23. Good ol’ Saint Paul, the great divider…
Other sects held different views, like the Herodians who accepted Herod as the legitimate king (against the Pharisees and Sadducees); the Zealots, whose main concern was to rid Judea of the Roman domination by the power of the sword and left doctrinal concerns to others; the Essenes, who led monastic life away from the cities and held the Pharisees and Sadducees in contempt; and also the practical-minded publicans who earned their living by collecting taxes for the Romans and were despised by everyone around.
There was no doctrinal unity among the Jews simply because there was no Magisterium – only different rabbinical schools. This being the case, how on earth did the Jews know that their Bible – the Old Testament only – was inspired? Which authority told them that? No one. How did they believe it, then? They believed whatever they believed, in spite of their differences, because they learned it from their forefathers – it was a tradition. Yes, the very thing non-Catholic Christians abhor. Never in Jewish History has there been a teaching from a King, Prophet or Priest to the effect that a particular list of books is inspired, or that such and such books are not – nothing of this kind. Tradition was the authenticating element in the Jews’ minds.
The Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses because their forefathers accepted only the first five books of Moses. The Pharisees also accepted the writings of the Prophets because their forefathers also accepted the writings of the Prophets. The other sects accepted whatever they accepted of the Bible because such was the belief of their forefathers. If a Sadducees became a Pharisee or vice-versa he would start accepting the tradition of the new sect.
This is the first major conclusion: At the time of Jesus, and since the Jews’ return from Babylon, there had been no prophet in Judea, and consequently the Jews had no unified Magisterium to teach them the Truth to be believed. They had various schools of Rabbis, yes, some Sadducees, some Pharisees, some this, some that. And even among the Pharisees themselves there were different schools. The various sects accepted what they accepted from the Old Testament because such was their individual tradition.
Next article: why is this tradition so important?
Raymond de Souza, KM is Brazilian by birth, Catholic by grace, and American by choice. He is the Special Missions Coordinator for Human Life International – HLI. Fluent in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and having conversational ability in Italian and Afrikaans, he regularly travels to countries in all continents to refute the culture of death and promote the Gospel of Life. This father of eight children is also the President of the Sacred Heart Institute in the United States, EWTN program Host, Knight of Magistral Grace of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Coordinator of the Knights of the Sacred Heart Legion, and the founder of Saint Gabriel Communications, Australia’s first international outreach to promote Catholic apologetics. In addition, he has a syndicated weekly column on Catholic Apologetics in the national Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer. You can learn more about n Raymond de Souza at his HLI Webpage. To book him to speak at events anywhere in the Free World, please write to: ChevalierdeMalta@outlook.com.