Light of my Life

It didn’t happen that way… except that it did.

Posted on: June 16, 2007

Those who know me know how interested I am in my Catholic faith, particularly when it comes to Catholic apologetics. I spend a great deal of time studying my own faith, but I also study other faiths to help me learn what others believe and how to explain myself to other Christians (or non-Christians for that matter).

I also like to read different translations of the Bible to gain different perspectives on particular verses and various interpretations of those verses. Recently I found a translation called the “New Living Translation.” As I was browsing their website I came across a link with an answer to the question, “How did we get the Bible?

This is a particularly important question to ponder if you are going to claim, as most non-Catholic Christians do, that the Bible is the sole source of Christian revelation (the sola scriptura position). There is no table of contents listed anywhere in scripture, and under close scrutiny the argument of this claim becomes circular (“We know Scripture is the totality of revelation because we know the totality of revelation is Scripture”). So I am always curious to see how sola scriptura-ists will handle the issue.

In this case, the author has an uninformed (or misinformed) picture of the history of the early church:

“[I]t’s important to realize that no individual or small group or church council ever sat down and sorted through a huge stack of ‘possibilities’ from which they selected the ‘books’ of the New Testament,” claims the writer.

Um, except this, in fact, is exactly what happened!

I am sure that some people who believe in sola scriptura would like to believe that, following Christ’s death, only nine individuals (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and the author of Hebrews) wrote letters or other writings about Christ and the church. After a few hundred years, someone said, “Hey, we have these 27 writings, wouldn’t it be easier if we bound them neatly in a book and passed them around to everyone?”

Or maybe they’d like to believe that there were the 27 obvious writings which everyone accepted, plus a few ridiculous stories by obvious impostors, which were clearly discernable by anyone with half a brain as inauthentic. “Oh sure, we’ve got the 27 good writings, plus the Gospel of Nero – we all know we can throw that one out!”

Unfortunately for the sola scriptura-ist, neither scenario is true. In the early years of Christianity, there were numerous writings circulating, and there was much disagreement as to which ones should be considered divine revelation. In fact, in the beginning there was no indication that there would even be such a thing as a “New Testament” added to the existing scriptures!

At various times in the early years, books such as James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were sometimes excluded from the canon, while writings such as Clement’s letter to the Corinthians and the Shepherd of Hermas were sometimes included. There was so much confusion and dissent on the issue that the church (that is, the Catholic church, the only church in existence at the time) at last called first the council of Hippo in 393 A.D., followed by the council of Carthage in 397 A.D., to settle the issue. The result of these councils? The same canon of the New Testament that all Christian churches agree on today.

The fact is, a church council did get together with a stack of writings to choose from. They didn’t go it alone; they knew they were guided by the Holy Spirit, thanks to the promises that Jesus made to Peter, our first pope (see Mt 16:17-19). And the fact is, also, that every Christian denomination today accepts the authority of those councils when it accepts the 27 books of the New Testament as divinely inspired and agrees that the canon is closed.

By the way, if you’re interested, you can read many of these early writings for yourself.

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About Me


I'm Erin, a 32-year-old homeschooling mother of three, doing my best to raise my children in the Catholic faith... (more)

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