Where Did the Bible Come From? *


In the Book of Nehemiah, Ezra the priest reads aloud to the people of Jerusalem form "the book of the law of Moses" (8:1) -- sacred texts that now comprise the first five books of our Bible. Where did these and the other books in Scripture come from?


The Bible didn't fall from heaven, whole and entire. It's actually a collection of divinely inspired (literally, "God-breathed"--see 2 Tm 3:16) books produced over hundred of years by human authors and editors. We can identify the writers of some of these texts (see, for example, Lk 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:1-3). But for many others, the identity of the composers has been lost to history.


Numerous ancient books claimed to be divinely inspired. But only seventy-three were chosen for inclusion in the scriptural "canon" (literally, the "measuring stick" by which all else in judged). So who had the power to discern and the authority to declare which books belong in the Bible? Ultimately, that role was played by the "magisterium" (authoritative teaching office of the Catholic Church, acting in light of the broader apostolic Tradition.


Though there was broad agreement among early Christians about which books belonged in the Bible, the agreement was not absolute. Some important Church fathers regarded as unscriptural certain books that are currently in the canon of the New Testament. Others (equally eminent) thought that certain books not now in the New Testament canon were part of the inspired revelation. The first Church father to list the currently accepted twenty-seven New Testament books was St. Athanasius in 367.


Who settled the issue? Several regional Church councils in the latter part of the fourth century (in 387, 392, and 393) listed the books of the canon as we not know it. Their pronouncements were universally accepted until the Protestant reformation challenged them more than eleven centuries later. In response, the canon was reaffirmed by the Catholic ecumenical Council of Trent in 1546.


The historical reality presents a difficulty for those who believe that Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the ultimate authority for Christian faith and life. Clearly, the Church and apostolic Tradition are equally necessary; without them, we would not even know which books belong in the Bible. (See also "Why Do Catholic Bibles Have Seventy-three Books?" and "Why Don't Catholics Believe in the Bible Only?")


Related Scripture: Jn 20:30; 31:25; Acts 2:42; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6 (with Gal 1:9 and 1 Thes 2:13); 2 Tm 1:13-14; 2:2.


Catechism of the Catholic Church: 80-82; 101-107; 119-127; 131; 135-141; 304; 572; 688; 702.


*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible: G-1. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com


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