February 1, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Catholics and the Bible

John F. FinkSometimes Protestants say about Catholic beliefs, “Where is that in the Bible?”

The Catholic faith is not solely based on the Bible because the Catholic Church existed before the Bible. In fact, it was the Catholic Church that determined what books would be in the New Testament—even, for that matter what books would be in the Old Testament as accepted in the earliest centuries of the Church.

We Catholics believe that through the Bible, God himself speaks to us. Although the Bible has human authors, we believe that ultimately it has only one author—God. He made use of the authors of Sacred Scripture to communicate revelation by means of inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

The earliest book of the New Testament likely was St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, written about the year 51, roughly 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The four Gospels were likely written roughly between 70 (Mark’s) and 100 (John’s).

There were other writings about Jesus produced in the decades and centuries following the writings of the four Gospels in the New Testament.

Some of them include The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, The Protevangelium of James, The Gospel of the Hebrews, and The Secret Gospel of Mark.

Over the course of the first four centuries of the Church, its leaders determined which of the writings about Jesus were authentic and could be traced in one way or another to the Apostles.

They accepted some books and rejected others, finally selecting the 27 books that now appear in the New Testament at the Council of Carthage in 397. Today all Christians agree on those 27 books.

Meanwhile, near the end of the first century, some Jewish scholars were selecting the writings for their Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament. They eliminated any books that were not preserved in Hebrew—even the Books of Maccabees which gave them their feast of Hanukkah.

The Catholic Church, though, accepted the Books of Maccabees as well as Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and some additional passages in the books of Daniel and Esther. These were included in the Christian Bible until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century when the reformers went back to the list chosen by the Jewish scholars.

The difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles, therefore, is not in the New Testament but the Old. There are seven more books in the Catholic Old Testament than there are in the Protestant version of it.

The Catholic Church also teaches that, among the 73 books in its Bible, there are many literary genres. We should not read the Bible as a modern form of history, and certainly not as a scientific book. There are even what are considered four novels in the Old Testament—Jonah, Tobit, Esther and Judith.

Roman Catholic teaching sees no incompatibility between recognizing the truth of the biblical witness and the fact that it is expressed in many forms of literary expression. Poetry, hymns, stories, myths and other literary forms can communicate both historical and theological truth. †

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