Session 12 Introduction to The Bible

 The Bible

 

The Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament is the word of God, written by humans who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The written word spells out the nature of God and his Salvation Plan for his people.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church from apostolic times has always “illuminated the divine plan in the two Testaments.” (No. 128) To quote St. Augustine: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”.

 

The Old Testament is where we read of the Covenant God made with his Chosen People (with Noah and Abraham) that he would bring them salvation.  For example, when they were living in slavery in Egypt, he delivered them into the promised land and later brought them back from captivity in Babylon.  The Old Testament prophets e.g. Isaiah, spoke about the Messiah, that would one day save them.  At the time, it was thought that this Messiah or Saviour, would deliver them from the hands of their enemies e.g the Romans, but looking back from the present day, we can see that these prophesies referred to Jesus who is our Lord and Saviour. 

 

At the time of Jesus and his Apostles, it would be the Old Testament that was read by them in the synagogue.  Jesus stood up and read these Scriptures in the synagogue in Capernaum and in the early days of the Church, the Apostles and their followers would go to the synagogue first to read the Scriptures and then go to each other’s houses to celebrate the Eucharist.  The only written prayers were the psalms which were an important part of Jewish worship. 

 

The New Testament contains the teaching of Jesus and facts about his birth, passion, death and Resurrection in the four Gospels, Letters written by some of the disciples including Paul, and the history of the early Church in The Acts of the Apostles.  Jesus is the final part of God’s public Revelation.  He is the New Covenant and the fulfilment of the promises in the Old Testament.  The last book of the New Testament is The Book of Revelation, generally considered to be written by St. John the Evangelist.  This tells of the visions John had on the Greek island of Patmos, relating to the end of the world.

 

At the very beginning of the Church, there was no written word telling us of the happenings of Jesus’ birth, his teachings and his Passion, death and Resurrection.  All this information was spread by word of mouth.  Oral tradition was much more important then.  People were in the habit of learning things by heart and passing on the stories from memory as there were few written documents.

 

The Gospels have been approximately dated as follows:

Mark, a disciple of Peter, seems to be relating what Peter told him:                         AD 55

Luke, a companion of Paul who had learnt the teaching from the other Apostles      AD 62

Matthew, thought to be written by the Apostle of the same name:                           AD 70

John, thought by many scholars to be the ‘Beloved Apostle’                                   AD 90

 

The Gospels according to Mark, Luke and Matthew are known as the synoptic Gospels as they all take a similar view, whereas the Gospel according to John is a much more theological work as it is thought that he was writing for an established church of Christians, possibly in Ephesus.  He does not give the details of Christ’s Nativity as his audience would be very familiar with these facts.  Also he does not give the details of the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper for a similar reason.  Instead, he tells us about Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, signifying the importance of Christian service to each other as a follow up to receiving the Eucharist.  He also devotes the whole of Chapter 6 to very deep Eucharistic teaching.

 

Paul’s Letters were written even before any of the Gospels.  The Book of Acts, written by Luke is thought to have been written in AD 63, just a year after his Gospel.

 

Of course, Biblical scholars are constantly cooperating with each other in their studies of the Sacred Scriptures and there is always the possibility of new evidence coming to light which may date these books differently!

 

Bible Composition

AD 393            The Synod of Hippo settled the Canon of Scripture.  (This refers to the number of Books in

the Bible)    St. Athanasius suggested 46 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the

New, as we have today. 

 

AD 397            The Council of Carthage confirmed this number.

AD 1227           Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into Chapters.

 

AD 1546           The Council of Trent reaffirmed the full list of 27 Books.  (Luther had removed four Books

from the Protestant Bible: Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, saying that they were less

canonical!)

 

AD 1551          Chapters divided into verses.

 

Church’s Teaching on Revelation

The Catholic Church teaches us that the Bible is a vehicle for God’s message but not necessarily accurate concerning such subjects as science and geography.  For example the story of Creation is told using symbolic language using the knowledge of the time.  The discovery of the theory of Evolution by Darwin does not detract from the fact that God created the world.  To hold onto the idea that the world was created in six days, is to misinterpret the meaning.  A day is just a way of expressing a period of time.  The story of how Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, is a figuratively way of telling how our first parents fell from God’s grace, while the story of the fight between their two sons, Cain and Abel, illustrate how humankind, having disobeyed God, then turned on each other.  This flaw in humanity can easily be seen in the behaviour of human beings today.  In modern times, people have turned against God, leading to selfish behaviour with no consideration for each other which in turn leads to such atrocities as knife crime,  robbery and murder.

 

The Church also teaches that God’s Revelation can also be found within the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.  There are other parts of our faith that are not in the Bible.  We rely on the teaching body of the Church (the Magisterium) to teach us and do not rely on the Bible solely. We must remember that the Church was founded a good twenty years before anyone wrote anything down.  At the Reformation, the reformers broke away from this teaching of the Church and relied on Scripture alone (sola scriptura).  It is worthwhile noting how St. John’s Gospel ends:

 

“This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that this testimony is true.  There was much else that Jesus did; if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose the world itself would hold all the books that would be written”. (Jn. 21:25)

 

Church Councils

 

  • The Council of Trent

In 1546, to reaffirm Catholic teaching on Revelation, the Council of Trent issued a document in which the Church Fathers said:

“ …. this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand

  • First Vatican Council (1869)

In the document Dei Filius, the Council stated the importance of divine Revelation “relying on the word of God in Scripture and tradition.

  • Second Vatican Council

Written in 1965, one of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council, entitled Dei Verbum (the Word of God) is devoted to the Church’s teaching on Divine Revelation.

Dei Verbum teaches us that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”  (No. 25)  This documents also reminds us that “the Church has always venerated the scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body.” (No. 21).  Scripture and the Eucharist are of equal importance.  The readings from Scripture are such an essential part of the celebration of the Eucharist that they may never be omitted. 

 

Catholic Doctrine

All Doctrine taught by the Church is bible-based.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church which lays out a summary of all doctrine, contains foot notes giving appropriate scripture references.

 

(Also see  http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/bible_catholics.htm)