Did Catholicism give us the Bible?

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In almost every discussion of sola scriptura, there is a favourite jingle Catholics rehash:

“Since you Protestants hold to sola scriptura, how did you know which books of the Bible were inspired or belonged in it? Did your Bible-only theory provide you with an inspired table of contents? You only knew this by the authority of the Catholic Church. Without the Catholic Church you wouldn’t have the Bible!”

While this argument gives the Catholic a warm, fuzzy feeling, it is faulty on several levels.

1. Catholics misrepresent sola scriptura in order to tear it down. What sola scriptura really says is that inspired Scripture alone is the infallible authority of the church. It doesn’t mean that one cannot appeal to traditions, councils, confessions of faith or church authority.

What Catholics ignorantly attack is solo scriptura which means holding to the Bible alone as authority. This is not the historic, Christian position.

John Maxfield, a church historian, stated that:

“Among the sixteenth-century reformers the principle of sola scriptura … meant that scripture was the supreme authority over all other authorities” (Luther’s Lectures on Genesis and the Formation of Evangelical Identity, 2008, 43).

The Westminster Confession of Faith stated:

“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (1:10).

The 1561 Belgic Confession, Article 7, The Sufficiency of Scripture says:

“Therefore we must not consider human writings – no matter how holy their authors may have been – equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.”

That Evangelicals appeal to the authority of a tradition or history in the recognition of the canon does not follow that they take it as their ultimate authority.

2. Internal evidence reveal that the New Testament was recognised as inspired right from the time they were written.

Apostle Paul, for example, placed Luke’s writings on par with the Old Testament writings when he quoted Luke 10:7 and Deuteronomy 25:4 as “the Scripture says” in 1 Timothy 5:18) Apostle Peter also recognised Paul’s writings as “Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

These inspired writings were directed “to the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), to be “read in the church of the Laodiceans [Colosse]” (Col. 4:16) and “read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Thess. 5:27).

Jesus told John, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” and this is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants” (Rev. 1:1, 11).

A scholar reminds us that:

“Letters were expensive to produce (on parchment or papyrus), and letters from apostles were rare blessings in a time when local charismatic leadership (1 Corinthians 14). The Colossian church was instructed to read the letter Paul wrote to Laodicea and vice versa (Colossians 4:16). Clearly such letters were deemed valuable and authority” (The Portable Seminary, ed. David Horton, Bethany House, 2006, 46).

The teaching of an apostle of Christ – whether written or oral – was regarded as authoritative and a fundamental criterion of genuineness.

The fact that the Scriptures were written to the churches shows they weren’t “made” by the church and the idea that generations of Christians lived and died without knowing what was Scripture until the Roman church came on the scene is a hallowed myth.

3. Early church writings indicate that the NT books had been widely known and accepted among Christians from the first century.

Clement (c. 95 AD) makes references to at least 8 NT books. He wrote to the Corinthian church:

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What did he first write to you at the beginning of his preaching? With true inspiration he charged you.” He then refers to the matters in 1 Corinthians 1 (1 Clement 47:1-3).

Justin Martyr (100-180 AD) in his Dialogue with Trypho used the expression “it is written” when quoting from the book of Matthew (XLIX). He quoted from the 4 Gospels, epistles and Revelations.

Polycarp (105 A.D.) mentions 15 NT books, Tatian (110-180) wrote his Diatessaron based on the 4 books of the Gospel; Ignatius of Antioch (115) mentions at least 7 books; Ireneaus (185) mentions 21; Hippolytus mentions 22; Tertullian mentions all NT books except 3 while Origen mentioned all of them.

These men were neither “Roman Catholics” nor “Protestants.”

4. The canon of the NT was recognized from early times. It wasn’t “determined” by a church or council.

The Muratorian Canon (170 AD), which was a compilation of books recognized as canonical at that early date by the church included all the NT books except Hebrews, James and one epistle of John.

Many in the early church recognized the canonical books by considering its:

a) Apostolicity – if the author was an apostle or had a connection with an apostle.

b) Acceptance – if accepted by the body of Christians at large.

c) Content – if the book reflects consistency with sound doctrine.

d) Inspiration – if the book reflects the quality of inspiration and bear the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit (Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1964, 103-6).

“In the absence of any official list of the canonical writings of the New Testament, Eusebius finds it simplest to count the roles of his witnesses” (Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, Oxford Univ. Press, 1997, 203).

Harry Gamble admits that “in the fifth century a more or less final consensus was reached and shared by the East and West. It is worth noting that no ecumenical council in the ancient church ever ruled for the church as a whole on the question of the contents of the canon” (Lee Donalds and James Sanders, The Canon Debate, 2002, 291).

5. On its website, Catholic Answers said “the canon of the entire Bible was essentially settled around the turn of the fourth century. Up until this time, there was disagreement over the canon … in practice Christians accepted the Catholic Church’s decision in this matter.”

While Catholics assert that the Councils of Hippo (373 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) “essentially settled” the canon of the Bible, this is refuted by Athanasius’ 39th Festal letter of 367 (and the Council of Laodicea in 363) which listed the 27 books of the NT as the only true books. This precedes Hippo and Carthage.

As explained here, the canon defined at these local councils were not the same as the one defined at Trent.

Furthermore, the councils of Hippo and Carthage never stated that their canon came from the traditions of the apostles or that it was definitive. In fact, Catholic scholars admit that there was no “infallible” listing of the canon before the Council of Trent:

“For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity, no Church Council put forth a definitive list of biblical books” (Joseph Lienhard, The Bible, The Canon and Authority, The Liturgical Press, 1995, 59).

“The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the canon of the Holy Scriptures” (H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 178).

Going by the Catholic standard, the councils of Hippo and Carthage were local or regional ones, therefore, their canon list weren’t binding on the entire church.

Furthermore, the church of the 4th century was not the Roman Catholic Church. They didn’t believe in papal authority, sacrifice of the Mass, Marian dogmas, auricular confession and other novelties Catholics today believe.

Since Roman Catholicism didn’t exist in the first 4 centuries, its boast of giving us the Bible is at best, an empty drum noise.

6. History testifies to the antagonism Catholicism has towards the Bible.

For several centuries, Rome kept the Bible from the hands of the people by putting it in Latin only, forbidding translations, literally chaining it to the walls, restricting the people’s literacy and burning those who owned it at the stakes.

The Council of Toulouse (1229) forbade owning or reading a Bible. The Council of Tarragona (1234) forbade reading it in a native language and the third Synod of Oxford made it a heresy crime to have an English Bible.

Why these efforts? Because Catholic leaders knew too well that many of Rome’s teachings oppose the plain teachings of the Bible and the only way they could keep Catholic followers in lockstep obedience was to take the bible from their hands.

Today, Catholics are now allowed to have the Bible in their hands and are even told to read it, but Rome still keeps it from their hearts by insisting that only the Church Magisterium can interpret it.

At the same time, they undermine confidence in the Bible by touting some parts of it as “fiction” or unreliable “human traditions.”

For example, Catholicism denies that a literal prophet named Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish. Even Karl Keating wrote that “the story of the prophet being swallowed and then disgorged by a ‘great fish’ is merely didactic fiction, a grand tale told to establish a religious point” (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Ignatius Press, 1988, 129).

Joseph Ratzinger (former pope Benedict XVI) also watered down the inspiration of the book of Genesis by dismissing its creation account for a variant of Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis:

“The moment when creation became a dominant theme occurred during the Babylonian Exile. It was then the account that we have just heard -based, to be sure, on very ancient traditions – assumed its present form” (In the Beginning, Eerdmans, 1995, 10-11).

This rejection of the Bible’s creation account has opened the door wide to evolution within the ranks of Catholicism.

For all its brag, Rome can’t still prove who wrote the books of Hebrews, Job, or Esther, instead they pick and choose which they want to accept as inspired as if they are in an ice cream parlour.

In 1955, the Pontifical Biblical Commission granted Catholics the complete freedom to believe Matthew did or did not write Matthew (Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 1993, 45-46).

The canon of the Bible is based on its divine inspiration. This inspiration bears witness within the readers who are themselves indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture. God gave us the Bible – not a religious system. He used the Jewish prophets to give us the OT and the apostles of Christ and their associates to give us the NT.

If the Catholic church wasn’t needed to give us the Old Testament, then it was not needed to give us the New either.

Revisiting the Apocrypha

I’ve previously stated why the apocrypha books are not part of the Bible. Here, I will be responding to some arguments from Catholics defending these spurious books.

Catholic:The apocrypha books were part of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) which Jesus Christ Himself and the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria (Egypt) used.”

The Hebrew canon had already been settled before the time of Christ. The other writings made during the Inter-testament period were not regarded as part of Scripture because they weren’t inspired and there were no prophets at the time. This is seen even in the book of Maccabees:

“There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people” (1 Macc. 9:27).

Historian, Josephus Flavius also stated:

“From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of prophets” (Against Apion I, 8:41).

Another proof that the OT canon was clearly understood and functional at the time of Christ was how He acknowledged the Hebrew Scriptures either by quoting them as sources of divine authority (Mark 12:10) or according to their 3 main divisions – Law, Prophets and the Writings (Mt. 5:17, Lk. 24:27).

He said: “the blood of all the prophets which was shed … From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zechariah.”

Zechariah was mentioned last because that was in accordance with the arrangement of the Hebrew canon. Chronologically, Urijah was put to death two centuries after Zechariah’s murder (Lk 11:50-51, 2Chr 24:20-21).

While some first century Alexandrian Jews used the Septuagint containing the apocrypha (although they later rejected them), there is no evidence that the LXX in its original form contained any apocrypha books.

Some of the oldest manuscripts e.g the Vaticanus (4th cent.), Sinaiticus (4th cent.) and Alexandrinus (5th cent.) contain some apocrypha writings, but there are differences.

The Vaticanus doesn’t include any of the Maccabean books while Sinaiticus includes 1st and 4th Maccabees. Alexandrinus includes first, second, third and fourth Maccabees and the Psalm of Solomon. The third and fourth Maccabees have never been accepted as canonical.

Granted, that a Bible manuscript includes certain books does not make them canonical. Moreover, the use of books began in the late first or early second century AD, so it couldn’t have been possible for the apocrypha to be included in one volume with the OT books.

Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 40 AD), a Jewish philosopher, quoted the Hebrew Scriptures extensively but didn’t quote from the apocrypha as inspired. This would have been strange if the Jews in Alexandria had other books added to the Hebrew canon.

In Ben Sirach’s prologue, no reference is also made to any additional book apart from the Old Testament.

Catholic: “The same books we have in our Bible were declared in provincial councils in Hippo (393) and reaffirmed at council of Carthage (397).”

Provincial councils cannot settle an issue that is binding over the whole of the church. Only an infallible council can do that:

“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books i.e about their belonging to the canon” (New Catholic Encyclopedia 3:29).

Additionally, the councils of Hippo and Carthage used the Septuagint while the Council of Trent used the Vulgate. Both canons contain a book called first Esdras, but the Esdras in the LXX is different from that of the Vulgate. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (2:379) admits: “The Council of Trent definitely removed it from the canon.” If Trent was right, then Carthage and Hippo were wrong.

It’s also ridiculous to say (as Catholic sources state) that there was no reliable Bible until the council of Trent of 1546.

Are we to believe for three-fourths of the church’s existence during which theological battles were fought against serious heresies – Arianism, Nestorianism, Donatism, Marcionism, Apollinarianism – the Bible was still yet to be “infallibly defined” by Rome? That claim clearly reveals the very low view of Scripture espoused by Catholicism.

Catholic: “The list of Old Testament books with the apocrypha as we have in our Bible appeared as early as 382 AD at the Council of Rome.

This is false on two levels. First, Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter of 369 AD (which pre-dates the councils of Hippo and Carthage) rejects the apocrypha. Here is a portion of it:

“Forasmuch as some have taken in hand to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded … to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine … There are then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number [He then proceeds to list them and the NT books]” (Paragraph  3-5).

Since no “infallible” council before Athanasius had met to decide the canon, it’s clear that the canon had been known long before his time.

Second, the Council of Rome (382) which supposedly lists the canon by pope Damasus is a local council which can’t infallibly define the canon.

Many modern scholars state that this council never held, but was an anachronistic interpolation of Gelasus’ listing. This is evidenced by the fraudulent statements attributed to pope Damasus:

“What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-492). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate with the Apocrypha interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts it is attributed to Pope Damasus as though he had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century” (F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 97).

Catholic: “But Jerome accepted the apocrypha and translated it as part of the Latin Vulgate!

Actually, Jerome translated them into Latin under pressure but didn’t include them in the Vulgate because he followed the Hebrew canon. He stated:

“Thus there are twenty two books [in the Hebrew canon] … This prologue of the Scriptures can serve as a fortified approach to all the books which we translate from the Hebrew canon into Latin; so that we may know that whatever is beyond these must be put in the apocrypha” (Prologus Galetus in the Vulgate).

In his writing to Laeta on how to educate her daughter, he wrote:

Let her avoid all apocrypha books, and if she ever wishes to read them, not for the truth of their doctrines, but out of respect for their wondrous tales; let her realize that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that there are many faulty elements in them, and that it requires great skill to look for gold in mud” (Select Letters, CVII).

In his prologue to The 3 Books of Solomon he wrote:

“The [Wisdom of Solomon] is nowhere found among the Hebrews; its very style smacks of Greek eloquence, and several ancient writers affirm it to be the work of Philo the Jew. Therefore as the church reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these… for the edification of people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.”

Catholic:”How do you know there are only 66 books in the Bible since the Bible is supposed to be your only and final authority?

We know the inspired books by recognizing the pattern by which God inspired them all through the ages.

God led His people – both the people of Israel and the church to recognize the books He has inspired. Inspiration cannot be separated from the canon.

How do Catholics know the apocrypha belongs in the Bible? Their answer is predictable: “because the Church says so!” And how do they know the “Church” is right? They will say “because the Church is always right!” This is a fallacy of circular reasoning which proves nothing.

Now, how did a believing Jew who lived like 100 years before Christ (or before the pope of Rome) know that the book of Isaiah or Joel was Scripture? Catholics usually offer two answers:

1. That the believing Jew didn’t know what was Scripture. Now, if this is true, that means the Lord Jesus was wrong to have held the people accountable to those Scriptures “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures…have you not read what God said to you…” (Mt. 22:29-32).

2. That the believing Jew knew the bible canon because of an infallible Jewish Magisterium. If this is the case, then when did this Jewish Magisterium become “fallible?”

And since this “Jewish Magisterium” rejected the Apocrypha books, why did the Catholic church accept them? These two answers hold no water. In fact, they are self-defeating.

The only acceptable answer is that the believing Jew knew the Scriptures by supernatural revelation. That was how the early Christians – and even people in the darkest jungle – knew that the Bible is God’s Word.

It was not by Rome’s “infallible” decision. Additionally, we also appeal to the historical development of the canon.

Notice also, how this Catholic has misdefined Sola Scriptura as “the Bible is [the] only and final authority,” whereas it is defined as holding to the Bible as the only infallible authority.

In the name of intellectual honesty, Catholics should learn what sola Scriptura means before venturing to attack it.