Who Made the Bible?
The Catholic Church
Everyone who loves the Holy Bible should give thanks to the Catholic Church! It was the Catholic Church who gave the Bible to the world; she copied it, preserved it, and protected it with her life.
Even so, there are many religious myths floating around today which claim that the Catholic Church dislikes the Scriptures and wielded her power to prevent the Bible from getting into the hands of the people. It was Martin Luther, the champion of Scripture, who liberated the Bible for the people, and he translated it into the common language so they could understand it and break their shackles. This is all a myth. Even an elementary study of history demonstrates the complete opposite. So, let’s examine this history a little deeper.
The Catholic Church made the Bible
Many people do not realize that there were many more Gospels written than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and many more epistles as well. So, why does our Bible only contain the books it does? Who chose the list of books to make up the Bible? What Church did they belong to and what authority did they have?
During the first few centuries of the Church, there were different beliefs among Christians as to which books were inspired. There were various lists, or canons, floating around, but none of them matched each other. When the Gnostic heretic Marcion made his own canon which excluded the entire Old Testament, Origen and other Christians worked toward deciding more seriously what was and was not sacred Scripture. Certain canons chose some Gospels and epistles as inspired while rejecting others. Almost nobody considered Hebrews or Revelation inspired, while most people considered Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas as canonical. There were three categories of books: inspired, doubted, and spurious.
Early Catholic bishops like St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius had a great influence on the formation of the Bible. In fact, around 367 A.D., Athanasius’ canon was the first to contain the 27 books of the New Testament, and he held that these alone were canonical and inspired. In 382, Pope Damusus I would formally degree the canon of Scripture at the Catholic council of Rome.
Doubts still circulated, and the canon was reaffirmed at the synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. and again at the council of Carthage in 397 A.D.. While St. Jerome and others held some doubts as to the canonicity of a few books, they fell in line when the Church spoke on the matter. The 27 New Testament books that the Church chose are the exact same books that Christians use today. The Bible was then translated into an officially recognized version by St. Jerome, and this Vulgate version was ratified by Pope Innocent I in 405 A.D..
The pope himself clearly pronounced which books were inspired at the Council of Rome. “It is likewise decreed: now, indeed, we must treat of the divine Scriptures: what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she must shun…” (Then, he proceeds to give a list of all the books in the Bible that we possess today. The pope’s statement then invokes Matthew 16:18-19 and the authority the Church has to make such decisions).
The Bible in 397 and 405 A.D. was the exact same Bible that Christians used for over 1,100 years until Martin Luther omitted seven Old Testament books. He also spoke contemptuously toward some New Testament books, as well. For example, he didn’t accept the book of Revelation as inspired, and he despised the book of James, among others:
Regarding James: “Away with James, his authority is not great enough to cause me to abandon the doctrine of faith [alone] and to deviate from the authority of the other apostles and the entire Scripture.” St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others (Romans, Galatians, John) for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. … I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove” (Luther’s Collected Works).
Regarding Revelation: “There are many things objectionable in this book. To my mind, it bears upon it no mark of an apostolic or prophetic character, … everyone may form his own judgment of this book, but as for me, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it” (Luther’s Collected Works, 63, 169-170 – as quoted in The Facts about Luther).
And, people think the Catholic Church disrespects the Scriptures. It was due to the hacking up of Sacred Scripture that the Council of Trent, in 1546, dogmatically defined and confirmed the books of the Bible. People who accept the authority of the Bible and the New Testament must also accept the authority of the Church that put it together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
2 Tim. 3:16 states that, “all Scripture is inspired.” If all the books of the New Testament are inspired and the Catholic Church chose them correctly, then we have an infallible canon, or list of books, and the Church performed this act infallibly. Thus, their authority for choosing the canon must be recognized.
Some Christians claim to go by the “Bible alone,” disregarding all tradition and church authority. They claim to only follow what is in Scripture. However, the Bible itself does not present to us a list of inspired books or a table of contents of what should be included in the canon. Nor does it state in the original manuscripts who wrote the book of Matthew, Mark, and many others. So, how do we know based off the Bible alone? We can’t. We have to appeal to some outside source to tell us; this is tradition.
A very reliable Tradition told us that Matthew wrote Matthew and that Mark wrote Mark, etc. The Church relied on this Tradition that was passed down regarding what Jesus truly said and did. Based on this reliable Tradition, the Church chose only those books that matched up to what was faithfully handed down to them. In order to be considered for the canon, the book also had to be written in the first century, and the author of that book needed to be authenticated as the actual author.
Even Protestant Scholar, Protestant early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly agrees that the books had to be acknowledged to have come from an Apostle: “Unless a book could be shown to come from the pen of an apostle, or at least to have the authority of an apostle behind it, it was peremptorily rejected, however edifying or popular with the faithful it might be” (Early Christian Doctrines, 60).
So, ironically, Protestants who claim to go by the Bible alone don’t realize that they accept this same tradition. They also don’t realize that they rely solely on the authority of the Catholic Church as to which books were and were not inspired. This is not to pick on any other religion or to point fingers, but to give credit where credit is due.
In the early church, each church would have one manuscript, the Gospel of John, for example. Another church would have another manuscript. It wasn’t until the Catholic Church compiled all of the books that Christians started to have a Bible. But, was the common person able to read the Bible? No, usually not – but not for the reason you think.
In the next blog post we will examine how the Bible came down to us through the centuries, why Bibles were chained to pulpits, and how the Catholic Church protected the Scriptures with her life, giving them to the whole world! So, make sure to check out Part II on Who made the Bible?