Verbum Domini — The Catholic Roots of Sacred Scripture: Part 3
We have seen in previous articles that at the time of Jesus the Jews had no unified Magisterium to teach them the Truth to be believed. They had various schools of Rabbis, some Sadducees, some Pharisees, some this, some that. Even among the Pharisees themselves there were different schools. And there were also two main schools regarding the version of the Bible to be followed, the Palestinian, Pharisaic and rigorist, limited to Judea; and the Greek Alexandrian, widely used by Jews all over the world and even in Jerusalem. Jesus’ Apostles and the Early Christians used the Greek version.
What was the main difference between them? The Palestinian excluded seven books from the Hebrew biblical Tradition, whereas the Greek accepted them without ado: The books were: First and Second Maccabeus, Judith, Tobias, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus and Baruch, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel.
The Apostles had received from Jesus the mission to preach to all men everything He had taught them; they had received the Holy Spirit to dwell with them and within them. Having all this heavy luggage of authority, it should be safe for us to believe that they did not make a mistake in their choice of Bible version. If the Alexandrian Greek version of the Old Testament was good enough for the Apostles, I suppose it should good enough for us. We do not have to appeal to the fake authority of the Scribes and Pharisees for information on this matter.
We also know that all books of the New Testament were written in Greek, with the possible exception of St. Matthew’s Gospel, which may have been written in Aramaic and translated into Greek shortly thereafter. Scholars suggest this possibility because of the many Aramaic sentence constructions in his Gospel.
The Apostles also quoted – albeit in a rather sporadic way – from the Palestinian version, but that the Bible of the early Christians was the Greek version there is no historical doubt whatsoever. The very quotations of the Old Testament cited in the New prove ad nauseam that most of the times they used the Greek version and not the Palestinian one.
This fact is of utmost importance because more than 1,400 years later, Martin Luther produced his novel version of the Bible: he disagreed with the second book of Maccabeus because it speaks of praying for the dead – purgatory! – and since he had decided that purgatory does not exist, he removed the book from the Bible. And, in order to give some appearance of historical authenticity, he removed the first Maccabeus and the other five books as well! In so doing, he followed the criteria of selection imposed by the Scribes and Pharisees at the ‘council’ of Jamnia in 90 AD, and abandoned the selection made by the Apostles. But that is his problem – and his followers’ too, for that matter – not ours. We stick with the Apostles’ choice.
Another question remains: Since there was uncertainty about the Old Testament canon of the Bible, how could Jesus and the Apostles quote Scripture to the different sects, presuming that each sect would accept it?
Quite simply, precisely because there was no unity among the Rabbis, the answer is that Jesus never quoted a book of the Bible which his audience did not accept. Therefore, when talking to the Pharisees, he would quote from the writings of the Prophets, which they accepted; when talking to the Sadducees (who only accepted the Pentateuch), he did not quote the Prophets, but only Moses.
Jesus and His Apostles never defined which books of the New Testament were inspired. The Church established by Him was the only one to whom He gave the authority to determine the canon of Scripture, as well as to interpret its contents infallibly. The Historical fact is that such authority was never, ever, given to individual Christians – never. Luther invented the doctrine of Sola Scriptura: Jesus gave us the Church which approved the correct version of the Old Testament and wrote the New.
After the death and Resurrection of Our Lord, the New Testament began to be written, and all 27 books were finished by around 70 AD. Today there are some people – even within the Church – that affirm that the New Testament was written centuries after Jesus, which cast a doubt about the authenticity of the events reported in them. They offer no proof, no argument, just their opinion. And unfortunately many good Catholics feel a doubt welling up in their souls when they consider the mere possibility of the New Testament books being written two or three centuries after the death of Jesus – written therefore by people who had not been ocular witnesses of his life, preaching and miracles.
But one can say without any fear of contradiction that they were finished being written around the year 70 AD at the latest. Why? Because of a simple reason: not a single writer of the New Testament ever mentioned the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple!
Here is the historical context: the Temple of Jerusalem was the great symbol of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people. It was magnificent, beautiful, and rich in grandeur and blessings. But since they refused the Messias for whom the Temple had been ultimately built, they lost the covenant and the election.
Jesus Himself prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and of its Temple in these terms: “The days shall come upon you, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and straiten you on every side, and beat you flat to the ground, and your children who are in you, and they shall not leave in you a stone upon a stone” (Lk 19:43-44). “There shall be a great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive to all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles” (Lk 21:23-24).
When the Roman emperor Titus laid siege around Jerusalem, it happened just as Jesus had predicted. The destruction of the Temple was the public, visible and evident proof that the Covenant with Israel was gone, and had been replaced by the New Covenant with the New Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ. It was the providential sign that Jesus’ prediction came true, vindicated his words and confirmed the early Christians in their Faith – and yet no Gospel or Epistle writer mentioned it.
Why? Simply because when it happened, all the books of the New Testament were already written, or the writer was way too far away to learn about the end of the Temple… Otherwise, it would be the perfect argument in favor of Christianity! Any Apostle could have affirmed in speech or in writing that the destruction of the Temple was the sign given by God to confirm the end of the Old Covenant, since the Jews lost the Temple with the Holy of Holies, the records of the Priesthood, the appurtenances of the divine worship, etc., etc., (the Ark had already been lost) but not a word about it was said by any Apostle. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to admit that, if the New Testament had been written after those tragic events for Israel, certainly the Apostles would have mentioned them, to confirm the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New. But they said nothing. They were not witnesses of the tragic event.
Next article: The Catholic Church put the New Testament together
By Ramond de Souza, KM