|Who Gave Us the Bible?
Some defenders of the Roman Catholic Church argue that the Magisterium is the rightful interpreter and authoritative teacher of Scripture, because the Church gave Christianity the Bible. If it were not for the Church, they argue, no one could know with certainty even which books belong in the Bible.
This argument is based on faulty assumptions. The early Christians did not receive the Bible from the Roman Catholic Church. They received the Bible from the Holy Spirit who inspired it. Catholics who argue to the contrary are not representing the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Speaking of the books of both Testaments, the First Vatican Council stated:
The process of writing and recognizing the New Testament books began long before the Roman Catholic Church even existed. The night before the Lord was crucified, He told His disciples that they, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would bear witness to His life and teaching:
Through the Holy Spirit, the disciples would also receive further revelation:
In certain writings of the apostles and their associates, the first Christians recognized the prophetic and authoritative teaching of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had taught, "My sheep hear My voice . . . and they follow Me" (John 10:27). In these writings, the early Christians heard the Saviors voice. They compared the doctrinal content of these new writings to that of the Old Testament Scriptures and found agreement. They applied the teaching to their lives and experienced its transforming power. In these writings, they recognized the dynamic interaction between book and reader that is unique to Scripture:
The writings were self-authenticating. They demonstrated by their uniquely divine wisdom and power that God was their author. F. F. Bruce wrote:
The early Christians read, copied, and circulated the books widely. Teachers began to quote the books as authoritative in their own sermons and letters. Within the lifetime of the apostles, some of the writings were already considered God-given "wisdom" (2 Peter 3:15) on par with "the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16).
The history of the events leading to the universal acceptance of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament as inspired Scripture spans several centuries and is beyond the scope of this article. However, it should be noted that the role that church councils played in the process is often overstated by Roman Catholics.
The first councils to have addressed the question as to which books were inspired and were rightfully part of the Bible appear to have been the North African Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). The list of books accepted by the Council of Hippo no longer exists. The Council of Carthage, however, is believed to have repeated the same list and its decree on the matter is extant.
Both councils were regional synods. They were not universal or ecumenical councils. About 50 bishops from the provinces of Africa attended each. These councils did not have authority to speak for the whole fourth-century church.
It is also important to note that by the time these councils addressed the matter at the close of the fourth century, the canon or list of books recognized as forming the New Testament was well established. F. F. Bruce comments:
Furthermore, the decision reached by these councils has never been universally accepted. The controversy centers around writings referred to by Roman Catholic scholars as the deuterocanonicals and by Protestant scholars as the Apocrypha. In that non-Catholics have never accepted the decision of the councils to accept the Apocrypha as part of the Bible, it can hardly be argued that were it not for the Roman Catholic Church no one would know with certainty which books belong in the Bible.
i. First Vatican Council, session 3, chapter 2.
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