By Fr. Rick Poblocki
What is the Bible?
The Bible – also called the Sacred Scriptures or the Holy Scriptures – are a collection of sacred writings which were inspired and authored by God Himself, which contain the message of salvation in written form. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Sacred Scriptures are: “The Sacred writings of the Old and New Testaments” (Catechism, Glossary, p. 899; cf. 101). In speaking of the Bible as “Sacred Scripture,” the Catechism states that the Sacred Scriptures are:
“the books which contain the truth of God’s revelation and were composed by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (105). The Bible contains both the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament” (CCC, Glossary, 868; 120).
“All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Is the Bible the sole rule of Faith for a Catholic Christian?
No. True Catholics are guided by God’s Word as it is contained in the Deposit of Faith.
Non-Catholics who accuse the Catholic Church of holding “unscriptural teachings” fail to recognize:
- That at one time, there was no “New Testament” – only a spoken body of things based on the eyewitness preaching of the Apostles, and those St. Luke calls “Ministers of the Word” (Luke 1:1-2). As the Apostles began to die as Witnesses to Christ, writers like St. Luke began to record in writing this oral tradition, because “it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account…” Luke 1:3).
- The Gospel of John readily admits: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing you may have life in His Name” (John 20:30-31).
- St. Paul writes: “I received from the Lord what I handed on to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23). The Greek phrase for the English words “handed on” is paredoka humin; paredoka is often translated into the Latin traditio, meaning “handing on.” Both Catholic and Protestant writers accept that 1 Thessalonians (composed around 54 AD) is the earliest New Testament writing. Most also hold that 1 Corinthians was written somewhere around 56 AD. So, even the sacred writers of Scripture acknowledge a body of unwritten revelation that predates the written Scriptural texts of the New Testament, which was handed on to other believers and potential believers.
- The matter is complicated even more, because the Old Testament texts quoted by the New Testament writers are not taken from the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament, but from a Greek translation of the Hebrew texts known as the Septuagint (pronounced Sepp-too-ah-jint).
- The Apostles and the early Christian preachers didn’t go around handing out Gideon Bibles – they preached by word of mouth the message of the first eyewitnesses and only later wrote things down.
- Luke 1:1-4 reveals how the process of “handing down” took place: first, the eyewitnesses (the Apostles) and ministers of the Word, and eventually, the sacred writers of the New Testament (evangelists).
- While each individual biblical book existed, they were not collected and put together until the 4th century. This was done by the Catholic Church.
What does “inspired by God” mean?
The phrase “inspired by God” means that God chose some men as the sacred authors of each book of the Bible and moved and guided them to write down faithfully all the things and only those things, which He, as God, wanted written down. There are no mistakes in the Bible that pertain to what we need to believe (Faith) or how we need to live (Morals) in order to get to Heaven.
“For not by the will of men was prophecy brought at any time; but holy men of god spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
Who, then, is the Real Author of the Bible?
The Real Author of the Bible is God Himself, since He moved and guided the sacred writers to write down those things and only those things He ordered and desired. Even though God is the Real Author of the Scriptures – allowing only what He wished to be written – Catholics believe that God allowed each sacred author to write and compose his Scriptural Book or Letter in his own style, language, form, and artistry.
When did the Bible as we know it today come to be put together?
The Catholic Church put all of the Scriptural Books into one Book between the years 350 – 405 AD. Prior to that, each of the biblical books existed individually, but not in the collected form we know today.
How is the Bible divided?
The Bible is divided into two main parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament (CCC, Glossary, p. 868; cf. 105, 120).
What is contained in the Old Testament?
The 46 books of the Old Testament contain the things that god told or revealed to the human race from the creation of the world until the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a man.
What is contained in the New Testament?
The New Testament contains what God taught or revealed to us through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ and through His Apostles and other sacred writers of the New Testament. The Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the New Testament as being:
“The twenty-seven books of the Bible written by the sacred authors in apostolic times, which have Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God – His life, teachings, Passion, and glorification, and the beginnings of His Church – as their central theme. The promises and mighty deeds of God in the old alliance or covenant, reported in the Old Testament, prefigure and are fulfilled in the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ, reported in the sacred writings of the New Testament” (CCC, Glossary, p. 889; 124, 128).
Isn’t it arrogant for the Catholic Church to see itself as being the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures?
It’s not arrogance – it’s humbly accepting responsibility and carrying out a God-given mission! The Catholic Church sees herself as the Guardian of the Scriptures and its interpreter, because the Church has not only assembled and preserved the Scriptures for all these centuries, but the sacred authors of the Scriptures were members of the Church, putting the Church’s belief into written form that are the scriptures we have today. So, it’s a matter of being faithful to presenting the Truth of the Scriptures in light of the Church community’s faith, and not of some misguided desire to dominate the way people think!
Why do we need the Church to tell us what the Bible means?
The Bible itself says that it is very easy to misinterpret the Scriptures, so through the Catholic Church God provides a protection to make sure people do not misunderstand what he wishes to tell us.
“In these epistles there are certain things difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
Is the Bible the only source of our knowledge and certainty about what God has told us?
No. Existing before the Old Testament was put into writing was the oral or unwritten traditions of ancient Israel; and before the New Testament was put into writing, the Good News was not transmitted to potential believers and converts by handing out Bibles, but by oral or unwritten preaching of the ancient “eyewitnesses” and “ministers of the Word,” as St. Luke calls them. “Jesus performed many other Signs; Signs not recorded here” (John 20:30).
What is Sacred or Divine Tradition?
The Sacred or Divine Tradition is the oral or unwritten Word of God as it was orally handed down to us by the Apostles in their preaching and by their successors in the Church to this present day. For Catholics, God’s Word is not “locked” in the past – as new situations arise, the Holy Spirit infallibly guides the Church into a deeper understanding of the original revelation – applying it to new situations that arise – or, by “reminding” us of what Jesus taught. On a practical level, this means that if the Church starts to drift off course, the Holy Spirit will bring it back to where God wants it to be.
“So then, brethren, stand firm, and hold the teachings that you have learned, whether by word or by letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Notice that Paul refers to the “handing on” of the message by word (a spoken and unwritten mode of handing down the message of salvation) and by letter – a written form!
Does a Catholic have to believe and accept Divine Tradition?
Yes! A Catholic must believe in and accept Divine Tradition, because in its fullness it is God’s Word. Sacred Tradition (spoken), together with Sacred Scripture (written), form the sacred deposit of God’s Word.
Remember – since the Bible as we know it today did not receive its present form until circa 350 – 405 AD, the early Christians learned everything by Sacred Tradition. As St. Luke notes, the writing of the Good News in a written form came long after the activities of the “eye witnesses” and the “ministers of the Word” who preached the Gospel in an oral and unwritten form (Luke 1:1-4). As Luke clearly states: only later were the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles written down, with the last of the New Testament writings taking their final form near the end of the 1st century.
Are Catholics allowed to pick and choose the teachings they “feel comfortable” with, and ignore others?
No. God obligates us to accept each and every truth contained in the Holy Scriptures (the Bible), the Divine Tradition and the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church – since this is how God speaks with us as His children and friends. Saying “no” to certain teachings or “picking and choosing” what suits us is saying “no” to God and rejecting Him. Love in any form always demands 100%, or else it’s not true love.
- Imagine if someone, who claimed to love you, refused to believe the entire truth about you – or chose to form a mistaken of wrong opinion of you – would that relationship be true love or solid? What if someone you loved expected you to put up with their infidelity, or if they walked all over your feelings?
- Magisterium (pronounced mah-jist-steer-ree-yoom): This word comes from the Latin word magister, which means “teacher.” The Magisterium is the infallible teaching authority given to the Catholic Church by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Pope and the Catholic Church and infallible in matters of Faith (what we are to believe) and Morals (how we are to live).
- Infallible: Being incapable of making a mistake or error.
How can a Catholic today know and grasp the right meaning of God’s Word?
The task of officially and authoritatively explaining the meaning of the Word of God in the Bible and in the Sacred Tradition has been entrusted to Jesus Christ to the Church he founded on St. Peter.
Is the Bible and Sacred Tradition opposed to Science and Reason?
Never! There can never be a contradiction between the Scriptures and Science, because both and concerned with unchangeable Truth. The biblical narrative of the creation of the world and the creation of Adam and Eve was never intended by God to be a scientific treatment or explanation of the matter. The biblical narrative of the creation of the world and the First Parents was meant by God for people to come to know who He is as our Creator and as a way of teaching pre-scientific people Who He is and why He created the world and people. The Big Bang theory and evolution were never considered by the Catholic Church to be a threat to Faith. The only problem the Church had with Darwinian theories of evolution was Darwin’s insistence on the “randomness” of evolution – and that was because the Church believes in Divine Providence (God’s loving guidance of the universe), which means nothing happens randomly, but within God’s loving and mysterious guidance.
How can I grow in my knowledge of the Scriptures?
The first step is to prayerfully read your Bible everyday! After reading a bit, pause and think about what you’ve read. Then spend a moment or two speaking with the Lord – expressing your own thoughts and using your own words. Jesus wants to hear from you – He doesn’t want you sitting there, reading the prayers uttered or written by a Saint of long ago! Those prayers are excellent and they will always have a place in our glorious Faith – but it’s just as important that you personally interact with Jesus – sharing and offering to Him your own words and feelings.
Can you suggest any good and solid study guides?
- The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament: Edited by Dr. Scott Hahn, this commentary is based on the 2nd edition of the Ignatius Bible, which is based on the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) translation of the Scriptures. Individual commentaries on the various Old Testament books are slowly coming out, and soon the Study Bible will include the entire Old Testament. This Study Bible not only gives excellent insight into God’s Word, but it also relates biblical teaching to the Catechism. Always solid. Check out Ignatius Press for individual commentaries. The Revised Standard Version is one of the best translations of the Hebrew and Greek texts into English.
- Catholic Bible Dictionary: Dr. Scott Hahn, General Editor. New York: Doubleday, 2009. An excellent resource of “background” reading for those wishing to delve into the Word. Always in accord with the Magisterium, solid and well-informed.
- Ministers and Martyrs – The Ultimate Catholic Study Guide to the Apostolic Age: By Dr. Mike Aquilina. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2015. This book was based upon NBC’s presentation of “A.D.: The Bible Continues.” Dr. Aquilina provides a strong and fascinating background presentation of the world of the Apostles and how the New Testament as we know it came to be!
Is there any final advice to be given for those wishing to know the Word of God?
Yes! Always remember: no commentary or background reading can ever be an adequate substitute for personally reading the Word of God and praying with it! Commentaries are other people’s thoughts about the Scriptures. When one reads the Scripture, they personally encounter Christ in His Word. In repeated encounters with the Lord Jesus, the Scripture reader soon comes to recognize that even though it might seem like “nothing happens” as they read God’s Word, very subtle changes begin to appear as they go about their daily routines and activities. They’ll begin to notice that in moments of temptation, or if an opportunity to do good and avoid evil arises, the words of Scripture seem to automatically come to mind and begin to influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions! There’s even a feeling of sadness when the impulse to do good or avoid evil is rejected. This is the power of the Word. The more it’s read and prayed over, the more powerful and direct it becomes. With good actions come peace, joy and a feeling that God is truly involved in your life! The Scriptures are literally the mind of God and His thoughts – put into human words! Always remember the words of St. Jerome: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY. This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at www.st-josaphat.com. Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.