THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
The Bible is the written record of God's revelation to man. According to Catholic belief, the revelation of religious truths began when God spoke to our first parents, then to the patriarchs and the prophets, and finally when Christ, the Son of God, spoke to His Apostles. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophets and other human authors later committed to writing the revelation that had been previously communicated to them and that had previously been only passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Unlike other writings by human authors, these writings are said to be inspired because they were written under the enlightenment, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit. Saying that these books were "inspired" does not mean that they are inspiring books. Some books of the Bible, such as Leviticus or 3 John, are not inspiring at all.
Divine inspiration is the process by which the Holy Spirit, as the Principal Author, uses a human author as an instrument to convey or reveal a religious truth. Below are two artists' representations of divine inspiration.
St. Matthew and the Angel
A painting by Caravaggio, 1602
Image source link: WikiArt.org
St. Matthew and the Angel
A painting by Rembrandt, 1661
Image source link: WikiArt.org
To the left is a painting by the famous Italian painter Caravaggio, which shows an angel guiding the hand of St. Matthew. To the right is a similar painting by the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt, which shows St. Matthew taking dictation from an angel behind him. While these pictures are both very beautiful works of art, they give a very bad idea of how divine inspiration really works. Inspiration does not happen by dictation or by an angel holding the sacred writer's hand. The human author is not a mechanical instrument but a free agent acting under the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit simply moves the heart and enlightens the mind of the human author to write just what He wants him to write—no more, no less. But He does this in a manner that does not destroy the human author's individuality or constrain his freedom. The human author does not feel that God is holding his hand when he writes, nor does he hear any voice telling him what words to use. In the end, the finished work still retains the "look and feel" of the human author's writing, and the sacred writer feels that he is really the author of the finished work because, in fact, he really is the author, though not the only author. In fairness to the artists, it must be said that there is really no easy way for an artist to portray the true idea of "divine illumination" on a canvas. So, in spite of the doctrinal shortcoming of their work, both Caravaggio and Rembrandt did a good job, at least in showing that the human author is not alone but receives guidance and divine assistance when he writes a page of Sacred Scripture.
The true concept of divine inspiration is very clearly stated in Vatican II:
"In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." Dei Verbum, Ch. III, #11. (Italics added for emphasis.)
Two things need to be noted from the above quotation:
Firstly, the Holy Spirit is the Principal Author, and through the human author, He causes to be written everything that he wanted and only those things that he wanted—no more, no less. Everything necessary to convey the message, including the language and expressions necessary to convey the message properly, all come from Him. Of course, because He is using a human instrument to accomplish this task, each book of the Holy Scripture will also betray the characteristic style, temperament, and emotions of its human author. That's alright because God takes them into account in conveying His message.
Second, because the Holy Spirit is its Principal Author, every book of the Holy Scripture teaches infallibly the truth that God desired to record for our salvation. So, it is not just any truth, but the truth profitable for our salvation that is infallibly protected by divine inspiration. This means that matters of purely historical or scientific interest that have no bearing on our eternal salvation are not necessarily the object of divine inspiration, and there can be errors in the Holy Scripture in that respect. In the book of Genesis, for example, we read that God created the world in six days. Many people criticize the Bible for saying that. They believe that creation in six days is, to say the least, not likely. It probably took longer than six days for the world to be formed. But the important question to ask is this: Is the knowledge of how long it took for the world to be formed really the one that matters for our salvation? God's purpose in telling the story of creation is not to teach history, science, or physics. His purpose was to reveal the important truth that the world did not exist on its own and that He was the origin of all things. The knowledge that we, too, came from Him is the one that will have an impact on and relevance to our relationship with Him. And that is what was infallibly revealed by Genesis. By using this story, He revealed infallibly that the world was not formed by haphazard forces or blind chance but that it was orderly formed by Him. Probably the six days of creation were wisely used by God to teach the sanctification of the Sabbath, for He rested on the seventh day. The Holy Spirit was teaching religion, not physics. The situation is different in the case of the story of Adam and Eve. It can be admitted that the imagery of a tree in the middle of the garden, and a serpent on its branch, is imaginative. But it is not entirely fictional, for the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory of something historically factual, and reveals how sin entered into the world at the very beginning of the human race. That there was just a single pair of human parents involved in the story is a revealed truth as well, and is opposed to the scientific theory of polygenism so popular among many evolutionists today. This new theory suggests that there were several pairs of hominids that gave rise to the present human population. This theory is incompatible with the reality of Original Sin, which presupposes a single pair of human parents. In 1950, in his Encyclical Humani Generis, #37, Pope Pius XII warned Catholics who use the evolutionary model to be careful in applying that model to the origin of man.
The Canon of Sacred Scripture
There are two sets of books in the Bible, namely, the Old Testament (written before the time of Christ) and the New Testament (written after the time of Christ). Each of these sets of books may logically be divided into historical, doctrinal, and prophetical books, as given below. (NOTE: The names in parentheses are from the old Douay-Challoner-Rheims version of the Bible.)
Genesis Ruth Ezra (1 Esdras)
Exodus 1 Samuel (1 Kings) Nehemiah (2 Esdras)
Leviticus 2 Samuel (2 Kings) Tobit (Tobias)
Numbers 1 Kings (3 Kings) Judith
Deuteronomy 2 Kings (4 Kings) Esther
Joshua (Josue) 1 Chronicles (1 Paralipomenon) 1 Maccabees (1 Machabees)
Judges 2 Chronicles (2 Paralipomenon) 2 Maccabees (2 Machabees)
Doctrinal Books (or Wisdom Books)
Job Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)
Psalms Song of Solomon or Song of Songs (Canticle of Canticles)
Isaiah (Isaias) Hosea (Osee) Nahum
Jeremiah (Jeremias) Joel Habakkuc (Habacuc)
Lamentations Amos Zephaniah (Sophonias)
Baruch Obadiah (Abdias) Haggai (Aggeus)
Ezekiel (Ezechiel) Jonah (Jonas) Zechariah (Zacharias)
Daniel Micah (Micheas) Malachi (Malachias)
Acts of the Apostles
Doctrinal Books (or Wisdom Books)
Romans 1 Thessalonians James
1 Corinthians 2 Thessalonians 1 Peter
2 Corinthians 1 Timothy 2 Peter
Galatians 2 Timothy 1 John
Ephesians Titus 2 John
Philippians Philemon 3 John
Colossians Hebrews Jude
For a synopsis or brief description of each of these books with links to commentaries by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and other Catholic writers, click this button:
The above list of books is technically known as the "canon" of the Holy Scriptures. The Canon is the set of books recognized by the Church as inspired or of divine origin. It is called “canon” (meaning “rule” or “standard”) because the sacred books, together with Sacred Tradition and the teachings of the Church, contain the rule of faith for every Catholic. Since the books in the Canon are recognized by the Church to be of divine origin, they are distinguished from and valued more highly than all other religious books, including those written by the Church Fathers.
Many books were written during the early centuries of the Christian era that appeared to have been written also by the Apostles or that appeared to be of divine origin but were actually of purely human origin. Drawing from its Sacred Tradition and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church did not recognize these books as inspired, as evidenced by the fact that they were never universally used in liturgy or public worship. These books were, therefore, called the Apocrypha (which means “hidden”) because they were excluded or hidden from public worship. To see some examples of these apocryphal books, click the button below:
THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON
In the Catholic tradition, the Old Testament contains 46 “inspired” books, most of which were originally written in Hebrew. It has all the books of the old Hebrew Bible plus seven more: Tobit (in Aramaic), Judith, Wisdom (in Greek), Sirach, Baruch, and 2 Maccabees (also in Greek). In contrast, the Old Testament found in the Protestant Bibles contains only 39 books because the Protestants decided to adopt the canon of Judaism, which only has 39 books. Protestants regarded the seven additional books of the Catholic Church as “apocryphal” (or books of doubtful authenticity). But Catholics do not call these books “apocryphal” because they also regard them as inspired; instead, they refer to them as “deuterocanonical" (or "second canon") books.
Note that, in addition to the deuterocanonical books, there are in the Catholic tradition also Greek additions to some of the Hebrew books, such as Baruch Chapter 6 (otherwise known as the "Letter to Jeremiah"), Daniel 3:24–90, Daniel 13 ("Susanna"), Daniel 14 ("Bel and the Dragon"), and Esther 11–16 (Vulgate). These, too, which were not in the original Hebrew Bible, are excluded from the Protestant Bible but are included as "inspired" texts in the Catholic Bible.
Although most books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew, a Greek translation of the entire Old Testament, known as the Septuagint or the LXX, which started around the third century B.C., was completed in 132 B.C. The translation was made for the use of the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, during that time period. It became widely used and remained in use even during the time of Christ. In fact, it was this Greek version that the Apostles used in preaching to the Greek-speaking pagan world. Now, the Septuagint, which had the Old Testament books that the Catholic Church eventually recognized as inspired, had more books than the Jewish Bible (or the canon of Judaism), because the Septuagint includes all the deuterocanonical books plus the Greek additions to the Hebrew books cited above.
But why does the Jewish Bible not have the same number of books as the Septuagint? Isn’t the Septuagint supposed to be just a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that the Jews used? Indeed, but toward the end of A.D. 100, the Jewish rabbis began to be dissatisfied with the Septuagint. The Greek text seemed to them to be very “un-Jewish." Also, they did not like the Greek Bible because it was the Bible that the Apostles and the early Christians were using. So, they adopted a policy to include in the Jewish canon only Hebrew books and those books that were originally written in Hebrew. Because the Jewish rabbis could not find the original Hebrew texts for the additional "deuterocanonical" books in the Septuagint at the time, they assumed that these books were originally written in Greek rather than Hebrew. As a result, they were removed from the Jewish canon. It is not certain whether the original edition of the Septuagint (no longer extant) contained 39 or 46 books. What is certain is that the Old Testament found in the earliest extant copies of the Greek Bible—the Sinaitic and the Vatican Manuscripts—includes the deuterocanonical books. Also, with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran, fragments and copies of some of the disputed deuterocanonical books in their original Hebrew and Aramaic languages—particularly Tobit (4Q200 and 4Q196–199), Sirach (2Q18), and Baruch 6 (otherwise known as the Letter of Jeremiah)—were also found, which greatly weakened both the Jewish and Protestant position for excluding them. It is clear that the so-called “Hebrew Bible” possessed by the rabbis was not only incomplete but that it was not, up to the beginning of the second century B.C., a fixed set of books but a growing collection of scrolls, to which more scrolls were being added as history progressed.
The Psalms Scroll
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Image source link: commons.wikimedia.org
Holy Scripture is a record of God’s revelation written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Until the death of the last Apostle, it was not to be regarded as a finished product but as a growing body of religious literature. The New Testament books may be regarded as a first-century addition to the total collection of books that are now called “the Bible.”
For a video documentary about the Dead Sea Scrolls, click this button:
THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
The New Testament contains 27 books, which both Catholics and Protestants accept as part of the inspired books. The New Testament contains four gospels, a history of the infant church (called the Acts of the Apostles), twenty-one epistles, and the Book of Revelation. All books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, except the Gospel of St. Matthew, which was in Aramaic.
The Bible became a fixed set of books only after the death of the last Apostle. This is because the fullness of revelation came through Christ, who passed this revelation on to His Apostles. St. Matthew says, "One is your Master, Christ" (Matt 23:10). He alone is our teacher. Therefore, no more new public revelations should be expected beyond what Christ gave to the Apostles. Speaking of the heretics, especially the Gnostics who claimed to possess secret knowledge and new revelations from the Holy Spirit, St. Irenaeus warned against those who boasted of being "improvers of the Apostles." (Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 1, No. 1)
Through the ages, God revealed Himself through the patriarchs and the prophets in preparation for the coming of the promised Redeemer. The revelations delivered to the patriarchs and the prophets were only partial revelations given to pave the way for Christ, our Savior. It was through Christ that God’s full and final revelation was made. In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul said: “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world” (Heb 1:1–2). Christ is, therefore, the "Light of the World" (John 9:5) and the bearer of God’s full revelation.
The Light of the World (John 9:5)
A painting by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)
By the end of the first century, all the books of the Old and New Testaments had already been written, but the official canon of the Holy Scriptures had not yet been precisely defined. The Church did not have a definitive Bible (Old and New Testament) until at least the fourth century when the canon began to be explicitly enunciated in official church documents.
Due to the disruptions caused by the Roman persecutions and the doctrinal turbulence caused by heretics during the first three centuries of the Christian era, the Church’s awareness regarding the canonical status of the books developed quite gradually. One might think that it would be possible to form a good idea of the true Canon from the books most often quoted by the Fathers, but the problem is that even the Fathers were at odds as to which books should be included in the official Canon of Holy Scripture. For example, St. Jerome was of the opinion that the deuterocanonical books were not inspired, in opposition to St. Augustine, who thought that they were. To resolve the uncertainty and controversy regarding the canonical status of the books, the Catholic Church, which alone has the teaching authority and the right to decide which books should be regarded as canonical or “inspired,” made a decision at the Council of Rome (A.D. 382, Denzinger #84) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397, Denzinger #92) to regard the additional books as inspired. With this decision, St. Jerome obeyed and translated the entire Bible into Latin using the canon established by the Church.
The canon was repeated at the Council of Florence (A.D. 1442, Denzinger # 706 and # 784). Finally, due to the need to protect the canon against Protestant reformers who sought to exclude the deuterocanonical books from the list of sacred books, the Council of Trent (A.D. 1546, Denzinger #784) officially defined for perpetuity the books that belonged to the canon. Its pronouncement was then reaffirmed by the first Vatican Council (A.D. 1870, Denzinger #1787). At the present time, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #120) lists the same set of books.
Physical Status of the Books
Today, none of the original books of the Old Testament (called autographs) are still extant. What we have is only a manuscript copy of the original. Some original scrolls were destroyed naturally because of the perishable nature of the material on which they were written. Some were destroyed during the Jewish wars. Others were destroyed during the cruel Roman persecutions, under the Edict of Diocletian in A.D. 303. Yet, some ancient fragments and manuscript copies have survived to this day. The earliest extant biblical manuscripts in Hebrew prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls are the Massoretic texts, which date back to the tenth century (around A.D. 900). However, these manuscripts are not complete and do not comprise the entire Old Testament. On the other hand, the extant copies that we have of the Greek Bible date back to as early as the fourth century A.D. They are nearly complete (with a few gaps) and include both the Old and New Testaments. These are the Sinaitic manuscripts, most of which are on display at the British Library in London, and the Vatican manuscripts, which are kept at the Vatican Library in Rome.
Illustration of an Ancient Scroll
Image source link: PublicDomainVectors.org
Like the books of the Old Testament, the original books of the New Testament are no longer extant. We owe the copies we have of them to the painstaking labor of many dedicated Catholic monks who, prior to the invention of the printing press in A.D. 1450, carefully and faithfully hand-copied the texts of both the Old and New Testaments in their monasteries.
Although the original biblical manuscripts (OT and NT) are no longer extant, it is still possible to show by internal and external evidence that both the Old and New Testament books as we know them today are reliable and are of divine origin. This will be shown on subsequent pages of this website.
The Languages of Holy Scripture
The books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Hebrew is a Semitic language used in Canaan; Aramaic is a branch of the Semitic language and was the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. Greek was a dialect that became popular in the civilized world after the rise of Alexander the Great. Note, though, that biblical Greek differs somewhat from the classical Greek taught in our schools today.
Most books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, although Tobit, Judith, and portions of Daniel, Ezra, and Jeremiah were written in Aramaic. There are also two books of the Old Testament that were written in Greek, namely, the Book of Wisdom and 2 Maccabees.
The books of the New Testament were all written in Greek, except the Gospel of St. Matthew, which was originally written in Aramaic. That St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic was stated by St. Irenaeus in Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 1, par. 1, as well as by St. Papias (recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History, Book III, Ch. 39, par. 16). However, even the Gospel of St. Matthew was soon translated into Greek, and no extant manuscript copy of St. Matthew's Aramaic Gospel could be found anymore, even during the time of the Council of Trent. Therefore, the canonical St. Matthew Gospel approved by the Council of Trent was a Greek version of the original.
Most Bibles in use today are only translations from the original languages. None of these translations is "inspired" and, therefore, protected from error. However, an exception must be made about St. Matthew's Gospel. Because the Greek version of Matthew was the one confirmed by the Council of Trent, it is, for that reason, also "inspired." On the other hand, the Latin Vulgate prepared and compiled by St. Jerome was not inspired, although it was declared by the same Council to be authentic and, therefore, safe to use. See the Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books.