Where did the Bible come from?

Somewhere along in this process of conversion, I started frequenting some internet discussion forums, where Catholics were vigorously defending their faith from a multi-frontal attack.  It must have been somewhere in the middle of this whole process.  I had obviously passed from not knowing or caring about the Catholic Church to being interested in some of the things she taught.  But I still was not in the least bit interested in becoming Catholic.  I was just curious.  And bored at work.

One conversation that I happened to eves drop upon was regarding the origins of the bible.  Where did it come from?  How do we know which books are part of it?  I had no idea.  But it’s not even that I didn’t have an idea as to answer.  It’s that I didn’t even know it was a question.  I am not sure what I would answered before I happened upon that conversation.  God gave it to us.  The Holy Spirit inspired it.  Both true, but also both evasions of the core of the question.  God didn’t give to us like he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.  And though the Holy Spirit inspired the canonical books, that doesn’t get us any closer to understanding how those books were selected from among the hundreds of candidates.  Was it the odor of sanctity?  Did the canonical books smell different?  Was their a tingling in your breast when you read inspired material?  Who selected them?  When?  Why?  I don’t think I was alone in simply never having considered the question.  One just took it for granted that these books were supposed to be there.  An amazing gap of knowledge, considering how much we talked about the bible.

So I discovered several things that day, and over time.  It turns out that it was St. Athanasius who first got the New Testament “right” in AD 367.  It would be a few more decades until official local councils around the Mediterranean got the entire canon “right”.  A council under Pope Damasus in Rome seems to be the first published version of this canon, in the 380s.  Councils in Carthage and Hippo followed similarly in the 390s.  The canon contained 7 newfangled books in the Old Testament.  Up until this time, certain canonical books had been excluded from the canon in some circles (e.g., Hebrews, Jude).  Other books had been included in some canons, like Clement to the Corinthians and the Shepherd of Hermas.  It clearly wasn’t an obvious sensation in the breast.  The canon was developed in order to establish which books could and couldn’t be read during the liturgical service.  It was established, basically, according to tradition.  Traditions about authorship.  And which books contained data in conformity with the tradition.

There are several implications in all of this, most of which didn’t occur to me for a while.  The first (and this isn’t really an implication) is that, simply, the Catholic Church gave the world the bible.  The bible was established based on tradition.  So, far from repudiating tradition, the bible was founded on it.  And there were plenty of other traditions floating around in early church (e.g., the Eucharist *is* the flesh of Christ).  The bible in its final form came about at a fairly late date.  Therefore, the Church existed before the bible.  Therefore, Sola Scriptura could not have been the principle of revelation in the early church.  The final canon of Scripture came about after practices like seeking the intercession of the martyrs were already widespread.  So no more arguments about the “lateness” of such abominable unbiblical practices.  The canon was established in early councils.  If early councils have no authority, then the canon of Scripture has no authority.  If they have authority, they have a sizeable amount of things to say about other topics besides the canon of Scripture, which must then be also considered authoritative.  Then there’s the matter of my bible missing some books.  And the fact that early church worshiped liturgically.

It’s no wonder Protestants don’t often think about this question.  There follows upon it a whole Pandora’s Box of wild implications.

At this point, I was seriously starting to doubt the credibility of  Sola Scriptura.  Once that is gone, the game is practically over.

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~ by Rob on May 20, 2008.

2 Responses to “Where did the Bible come from?”

  1. Well written!

  2. […] Where did the Bible come from? […]

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