Sunday, September 7, 2014


The Path to the Bible Let's start with a foundational principle by stating the following: The Bible developed within and came to us from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church's shaping, writing and interpretation of the Bible began shortly after Jesus died and has continued into the Catholic Bibles we have today. In America of course, the Bible has come down to us in English, and we will see later what various approved modern English "versions" are and how they came to us through the Church's supervision and approval. But let us not overlook this fundamental truth: "The Bible is the Church’s Book."

The reverse is not the case, that is, the Bible did not "give us" the Church. Various good Christian Protestant groups believe this latter principle, i.e., they believe in good faith that the Bible is something like a blueprint for the church. With respect for Protestants who hold this position, twenty-one centuries of history and scholarship demonstrate conclusively that the path to today’s Bible travels through Catholicism all the way from the early church Fathers to today's English versions of the Bible.

However, this principle does not mean that the Church's dogma is somehow superior to the Bible, or that the Church can hold doctrines that contradict what is said in the Bible. Rather, the Church has always remained faithful to the Bible as the word of God, and scrupulously follows the Bible as it has been translated and interpreted within the magisterium of the Church for the Church's teaching and liturgy. The Catholic Church believes in the truth of the Holy Spirit's ongoing revelation to the Church, and sees this revelation as based on a twofold source -- the Bible and Tradition. Neither source can contradict the other. The truths of the Bible exist within the Church's Tradition, and the Church's Tradition must be, and always has been, completely faithful to the Bible.

That is why we can say that the Bible is the Church's book. The Bible and the Church's Tradition are twin pillars of revelation, with each pillar upholding and supporting the other. Hence the Holy Spirit's ongoing teaching to and guiding of the Church (i.e., the Spirit's revelation to the Church) is fulfilled through adherence, both to the Bible and to Tradition, namely: the doctrinal positions and dogma that the Church's magisterium has developed always with its eye on the Bible. We can see how each of the components of the Holy Spirit's revelation works -- through Scripture and Tradition -- by looking at Jesus' use of Scripture during his earthly ministry. Jesus gave us the Church, and through the Holy Spirit he used the Church's inspired authors of sacred Scripture to form, plant and grow that Church.

Jesus' Use of Scripture

Jesus was well versed in the Hebrew Bible, or what came to be called the "Old Testament." Of course he could not have known anything about the New Testament, as that part of the Bible was not written until after Jesus' death. But the New Testament conclusively shows Jesus' knowledge of and respect for the Old Testament.

For example, consider the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4, verses 1 through 10, (cited in shorthand as "Mt.4:1-10"), which are concerned with Jesus' temptation in the desert after he had fasted for forty days and forty nights. (By his use of ’’forty" Matthew is recalling the Israelites' forty years in the desert after they had escaped from Egypt. (See the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy chapter 8, verse 2, or in shorthand, "Dt." 8:2)

In Mt.4:3-4 the devil urges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Jesus refuses, prefacing his remarks with the words, " [I] t is written. . . (Mt .4:4) , One does not live by bread alone..." Next, Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and dares Jesus to throw himself down, as Satan himself quotes Scripture, saying, "It is written..." God "will command his angels" save you from harm. Jesus answers, "Again it is written...Mt.4:7, ’You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test,'" with Matthew again referring to the Old Testament (this time to Dt. 6:16).

Satan tries one last time to get Jesus to succumb to temptation by promising Jesus, from a high mountain, to give him "all the kingdoms of the world," if Jesus will worship Satan. Jesus, for the third time answers, again using Scripture, saying with finality to Satan in Mt.4:10, "Get away Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve." Here Matthew quotes Deuteronomy (Dt. 6:13)as Jesus' final rebuke of Satan.

Jesus in Mt.4:l-10 above shows his respect for ancient Scripture by quoting passages from the Old Testament (he introduces these passages by "It is written," three times) to rebuke Satan and get rid of him. Jesus1 use of Scripture to get rid of the devil was not necessary. He could have snapped his fingers and kicked Satan back to hell simply by his divine authority over both heaven and earth. But Jesus looked both back and ahead in all he did in his earthly ministry.

He looked back in that he wanted to show the future church that he himself, the church’s founder, had in his life and teaching, based himself on "It is written," (i.e., on the sacred Scrptures written in the past). And he looked ahead to the church's life, by showing future exponents of church doctrine and teaching that these sacred Scriptures were the foundation of the upcoming centuries of the church's dogma. In other words Jesus himself was the founder of the use of both Scripture and Tradition for the church that he was establishing through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ quotation from the Hebrew Bible was nothing like quotation from a "book" as we know Bibles today. Rather, Jesus and all Jews of his day, when quoting from the Old Testament, were quoting from written scrolls. The best examples of Jesus' use of these scrolls in synagogue worship, just as all the Jews of his day likewise used them, is found in Luke’s Gospel, 4:16-21, where Jesus was handed a scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. He stood up to read it and then unequivocally referred to the scroll as containing a "scripture passage" from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus’ thoughts and speech were based on Scripture, and he wanted his church to emulate him in that respect.

The Hebrew Bible (Our "Old Testament")

Shortly after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, and into the 2nd Century, The Hebrew scrolls containing sacred Scriptures came to be known collectively as the Hebrew Bible (from the Greek byblos, "book") in the year 100 A.D. Until then the Jews relied on scrolls scattered around in various synagogues in various cities and towns in Palestine, but with no one particular Jewish elder or synagogue having access to all of the Old Testament scrolls at the same time.

What happened, then, in the year 100 A.D. to change this picture? In that year the most respected Jewish elders from Palestinian Israel, Alexandria in Egypt and more far­away locales like Antioch, Babylon, Ephesus and perhaps even Rome, met at a sea-coast town named Jamnia in Philistia. Their mission was to assemble and collect into one document as many as possible of the haphazardly scattered Hebrew scrolls that the most trusted and erudite Jewish elders argued were collections of the Jewish sacred texts of Scripture. Hence at Jamnia in 100 A.D., the agenda was an agreement upon and collection of one official set of written scrolls from around the Near and Middle East that were to be formally considered the Hebrew scriptures, or, taken all together, their unified ’’Byblos’1 or "Bible.”

Once they had pulled together and agreed upon the scrolls that infallibly made up their new Bible, then their more difficult task began. That task was to undertake the intellectually vexing projects of: (1) copying and translating their one agreed-upon collection of their most reliable ancient scrolls into a new single body collection (later called their "Canon” of Scripture) (2) and then disseminating as many volumes of their new Hebrew Bible as possible throughout the Jewish world.

Translation of the Hebrew Canon Into Greek Because of the movement to and settlement of a large population of Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, a city of Greek language and culture, the work of translating and copying the Jewish sacred books into Greek began on a large scale. The name of this Greek translation in Alexandria, which was to have such a large effect on assisting both Jews and Christians in harmonizing and gathering together their eventual and respective canons of Scripture, was the Septuagint, or, in Latin, the "Seventy."

The name was said to mean that a number of Jewish translators, said to be 72 in number, or 6 men from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, gathered in Alexandria and translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This facilitated the spread of the Old Testament writings far beyond the linguistic boundary imposed by limiting the Jewish sacred writings to the Hebrew language.

Furthermore, since many of the writers of the eventual •Christian Old Testament were fluent in Greek and wrote in Greek, they were able to use the Greek Septuagint for developing their compilation of the Christian Old Testament. Further, Christian writers who used Greek to write the New Testament, by referring to the Septuagint, could more easily understand the themes that would be essential to making the transition from Old Testament thought into the New Testament and other Christian writings.

In short, the Septuagint was a vital gift to Christians. It made the weaving together of Old and New Testament religious thought possible. It likewise assisted some Jews to look toward becoming Christians, as Christianity was shown to be sympathetic to and congruent with Septuagint Judaism. From St. Jerome’s "Vulgate" to the English Bible Beginning in 389 A.D. one of the ancient world’s greatest linguistic scholars (not just a "Catholic" scholar), St. Jerome (342-420), took on the task of translating into Latin both the ancient Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Jerome's translation took into account that in the Roman Empire of his day Latin had become the popular conversational tongue, or vernacular. Hence his translation came to be called "The Vulgate" (meaning "common," "popular" or "usual"), but the name Vulgate was not used by Jerome himself.

The name Vulgate was not attached to his translation until well after Jerome finished his translation, i.e., in 405 A.D. The Vulgate became the basic Latin Bible during the Middle Ages and was used exclusively as the authoritative Catholic Bible in monasteries, schools of theology for seminarians and by scholars when universities came on the scene. Then, too, the Vulgate was used as the basic Catholic liturgical Bible. Yet it is doubtful how many chruch goers could understand anything read to them from it, since Latin, ironically once the vernacular for all Christians, was now solely the church's language. Church Latin was overwhelmed by many new tongues, and users of these new languages had to rely on the church's liturgical use of Latin and its translations essentially "on faith."

The Church irrevocably fixed the name "Vulgate" to Jerome's translation only at the Council of Trent in 1546, after that Council had supervised and corrected several poor copies of Jerome’s translation. From 1546 on, the Vulgate was said by the Church to be the ’’authentic text” of the Bible to be used by the Catholic Church. However the authenticity assigned to the Vulgate was intended to mean that the Vulgate was free of error in faith and morals, not that there were no errors in copies, translations, punctuation, grammar and the like.

England, English Bibles, and ’’Versions”

Discussing the Vulgate moves us, as we have seen, past the Council of Trent, and from there onward into later centuries. Since there was no existing English language into which Jerome could translate his Vulgate, his Latin Bible was the principle authoritative Catholic Bible until the coming of the Protestant Reformation. The English Reformation began in the reign of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). At one point, ironically, Henry had written a treatise highly critical of Martin Luther, earning for him the title "Defender of the Faith" from Pope Leo X in 1521.

However, Henry had marriage difficulties, and could not talk Pope Clement VII into letting him divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine seemed unable to produce a male heir for Henry, and thus, despite the pope's refusal to grant Henry a divorce, he sought to marry Anne Boleyn for whom he had great passionate interests. He did marry her, and she was crowned Queen on June 1, 1533. From that point on, Henry belligerently established the Church of England as under his control and authority. He now encouraged translations of the Bible into English. Previously Henry, in his Catholic persona, had banned English translations, but English translations now came fully out into the open under Henry's Protestant self.

Henry authorized publication of the first complete English Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to be published in England. The Bible's translations into English became numerous and popular. The first complete English translation of the Bible was produced by Miles Coverdale in 1537, backed up by the royal license from Henry. We need not plunge into Henry's marital acrobatics and his execution of Catholics. The point we are trying to pursue is the coming and going of the Bible in English. The rash of publications of Protestant English Bibles led to the beginning of a new term for biblical translations, namely, "versions." There were approximately 14 versions (i.e., 14 different translations, with more on the horizon) of the new Protestant English Bible. As politics in England vacillated between Catholic and Protestant successors of Henry VIII, things ended up with leading Catholic biblical scholars practicing their faith underground, but ultimately deciding to translate the Vulgate into English. Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, a staunch Protestant and murderous opponent of Catholics, absolutely forbade the slightest glimmer of any sort of Catholic Bible.

As a result of the proliferation of Protestant English versions, English Catholic scholars at the college of Douay in England began a new Catholic English translation, the first ever undertaken in England. Owing to increasing hostility of Queen Elizabeth to their work, Catholics moved the college at Douay to a safer location, Rheims, in France. (Rheims in French is pronounced "Reance".) The Catholic translators in Rheims published their Catholic English New Testament in 1582 — the first such version ever achieved. The work on the Catholic English Old Testament had finished before the college at Douay moved to Rheims, but because of a lack of funds it was not published until 1610 -- at Douay. Because of the split in locations of the English Catholic publication of the Old and New Testaments, respectively, the final combined Catholic Bible, when published as a whole, acquired the name of "The Rheims-Douay Version," or "RD" version.

As for a single Protestant English translation, a new monarch, King James I, called for this to be done. It was started in 1607 and relied heavily on the RD Version for its New Testament translation. The Protestant Version was published in 1611 under the title, "The King James Version," or eventually, "The Authorized Version." This was essentially the only English Bible used by both English and American Protestants until 1953 when the publication of the Revised Standard Version appeared.

As for the Catholic RD version, it too underwent revisions, being changed several times, most importantly and with finality in 1943 with the papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII, entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. In this encyclical, Pius XII revolutionized the research standards by Catholic Scripture scholars in making translations of the Bible that would be accepted by the Catholic Church. Pius did not simply authorize use of the ancient languages for Catholic translations, but insisted on them.

So much for the Vulgate, which had from the first and through many later revisions over 19 centuries, relied only on St. Jerome's Latin translation. The pope also promoted the "historical critical method" to be used by Catholic biblical scholars. This meant that scholars were to make their translations from the ancient sources only by first of all understanding the cultural, literary, linguistic, political and religious history of the lands from which the ancient languages came.

Both Protestants and Catholics have the exact same Books of the New Testament in their respective Bibles, although these two versions differed in their translations until well into the 20th Century. It was then that scholars on both sides realized that any translation of the Bible had to rely on the ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions if they were to be reliable. So, these two groups of biblical scholars said, "Let's rely on the ancient texts when making modern translations instead of trying to sway our translations toward our particular denomination's dogma."

In other words, biblical scholarship became more scientific and open-minded instead of being rooted in the respective doctrines of Protestants and Catholics. Nowadays, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic biblical scholars have moved toward translations based strictly on the ancient languages and away from the five-centuries-old Douay-Rheims Catholic Doctrinal translation. And Protestants started doing much the same thing.

However, while Protestant and Catholic New Testaments have the exact same books in them, there is a major difference between Catholic and Protestant versions of the Old Testament. Catholic Old Testaments have seven more books in them than are found in Protestant Old Testaments, and in addition Catholic Old Testaments have added language in them that is missing in the same Protestant books of their Old Testaments.

Pius XII*s upgrading of the standards for Catholic biblical research was replicated at Vatican II in The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). In referring to what we considered at the start of this article on Scripture and Tradition, the Council in Dei Verbum, said:

Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them flowing out from the same divine wellspring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Del Verbum 9. 

Authored by: Tony Gilles

(All published with the Church's Imprimatur)