The Bible – A Perspective

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2013/09/19 at 12:00 AM

This essay is about the Bible, not about its content or it’s significance, but about the Bible as a book.  Modern Christians take the availability of the Bible for granted; we can buy any number of Bibles and versions of the Bible in any bookstore or on-line.  That has not always been the case, and this fact is what I want to delve into.

Christ Himself (God in human form) who set up the Christian Church did not leave any personal writings to His followers.  His charge to the Apostles was to preach the Gospel, not to write a book.  If Christ had considered any written material to be essential, He would have provided and enabled it to be accessed on a large scale as the Church grew.  He did not do this, and remember that He is a divine being who cannot make mistakes.

The Apostles spread Christianity by word of mouth.  In fact, only the Apostle John could possibly have read all the books of the Bible because he was still alive after all the New Testament books were written.  Only five of the Apostles wrote anything in the New Testament (Peter, Matthew, John, James, Jude).  The other Apostles did not feel obliged to write anything as far as we know.

In the early days of the Church, the laity did not have access to Bibles.  The Canon of the Bible was not settled until the fourth century.  When the Bible as we know it was completed, copies were few and far between because they had to be hand-copied and one can imagine how long it took to copy by hand the entire Bible.  Thus Bibles were nowhere as omnipresent as they are today.  Moreover, the vast majority of people could not read, especially the foreign language of the early Bible.  The clergy were sufficiently educated to be able to deal with the Bible, but it was the Church that was the center and focus of Christian life.  The attitude was to follow the Church and that would be more than sufficient.

The Bible itself was completed by the 90’s AD, that is, all the books of the New Testament were written by this time and were circulated privately.  But the Bible as a book was not compiled until the fourth century ( Council of Carthage in 397 was the first Council to publish a list of all the inspired books of the Bible) .  But even then, Bibles were still scarce.  

So it appears that the early Church did not consider reading the Bible to be essential to a member’s spiritual welfare based on Christ’s own example and His mandate.

Then in 1517, along came Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation which taught that the Bible ALONE is essential for salvation.  A few years later, printing was developed and Bibles became more available, always increasing in availability to the point  we have reached today.

With this in mind, there are some problems with the Protestant view of the Bible.

1. Luther dropped 11 books of the Bible for merely personal reasons. He referred to the Epistle of James as that “damned epistle” but was prevented by followers from dropping it!

2. Luther claimed that the Bible has all the spiritually essential information for the believer.  But nowhere does the Bible itself claim to be the SOLE source of religious truth.

3. If God had intended the Bible to be accorded the level of necessity claimed by Luther, why was it practically unavailable for centuries?  Luther further claimed that the individual could correctly interpret the Bible under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the Bible is not a do-it-yourself book; it is not self-explanatory.

4. Luther really had no choice but to put too much emphasis on a book because he rejected the idea of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church which was granted to it by Christ Himself under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

5. Christ’s legacy is the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Luther’s legacy is 30,000 Protestant sects, all claiming to be the true and best interpreters of the one Bible.

6. The evidence speaks for itself.  Protestants, regardless of personal sincerity, are in churches that lack the whole truth. It is certainly true that Protestants believe many of the same doctrines as do Catholics, but unfortunately, not all the doctrines, such as the Holy Eucharist, Purgatory, Communion of Saints, etc..

Please do not misread the above and think that I am denigrating the Bible and those who read it.  Far from it.  The Bible is inspired by God Himself.  Christ quoted from the Old Testament while on earth.  It is just that He did not make it essential to salvation.  Contrary to some common misconceptions, the Catholic Church has great respect for the Bible which it presents to its faithful daily in the Mass  through the scripture readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms and the Gospel which are then preached on.  The clergy, since the early centuries, have prayed daily as an obligation the Liturgy of the Hours which also consists of Old and New Testament readings and writings from the early Church Fathers.

In the last analysis, it is a historical fact that the Protestant Bible is the Catholic Bible reduced in size. In other words, the Protestants would have no Bible at all were it not for the Catholic Church.


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