These two questions might sound strange, but have you ever really thought about it? If you are like me, you probably just took it for granted that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We didn’t really question how it came to be and by who’s authority was it put together. So, did it just drop from the heavens?
Well, we know the Holy Spirit inspired the men who wrote the books of the Bible, but who did God intrust to tell us which books are inspired and which were not? We can’t look to the Bible for an answer, because even if we consulted the books of the Bible, that still wouldn’t help us because there is no list in any book of the Bible that tells us which books should be in the Bible. There is also no inspired table of contents. If you think about it, there are a number of writings that claim to be inspired from God, but we don’t accept them as the inspired, inerrant, Word of God, just because they claim to be. The Koran is an obvious example of this. If we should believe something is what it says it is, simply because it says so, then we should accept the Koran as the word of God. But as Christians, we don’t do that, do we? So, can we accept the Bible as the Word of God based solely upon the witness of the Bible? In order to decide one of the most fundamental issues of Christianity…which books should or should not be in the Bible…which books are and are not inspired Scripture… some authority outside of the Bible had to be relied upon.
The Holy Spirit led the early Christians to agree on the 27 books of the New Testament, but only over a pretty long period of time. History shows that there was much disagreement among Christians until the “Canon of Scripture” was finally settled. There were a lot of books back then that people were saying were inspired; yet, these books did not end up in the Bible. Books such as the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Letter of Barnabas, the Acts of Paul, The Shepherd (an early second-century allegory written by a Christian writer named Hermas), the Acts of Peter and several more. There were also several books that did end up in our Bible that a lot of people were saying were not inspired and should not be considered as part of Scripture…books such as Revelation, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and others.
Well, it was the Catholic Church that was given the authority by Christ to decide which books were inspired and belonged in the Bible. The Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church over time to recognize and determine the canon of the New and Old Testaments in the year 382 at the synod of Rome, under Pope Damasus I. This decision was ratified again at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419).
For you and me, no matter what Christian faith Tradition we come from, the reason we accept the books we do is because they were handed on to us by someone. This means you and I accept the canon of the New Testament because of tradition. Tradition is simply what is handed on to us from those who were in the faith before us. So our knowledge of the exact books that belong in the Bible, rests on tradition rather than on Scripture itself.
St. Augustine once said, “Indeed, I would not believe the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church ” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation”5:6). So, the Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky. In order to determine what books would be in the New Testament, there had to be an authoritative Church before the New Testament was ever written. If you and I accept the authority of the New Testament, then we are actually accepting the authority of the Catholic Church.
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