Thursday, July 19, 2012

Roman Catholic View of the Bible Books

Revelation 22:18 "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book"

Yesterday we explored the Roman Catholic viewpoint on the nature of biblical authority.  We saw that they equated church tradition and the papal heirarchy (called the Majesterium) with scripture.  In contrast, we discovered that from Jesus onward, the true Gospel is based upon the truth of sola scriptura or the unique and binding authority of scripture.  Though lesser authorities like tradition, doctrinal statements and reason have their place, nevertheless all forms of authority are answerable to the scriptures. 

Today I want us to continue looking at Roman Catholicism, probing further into its viewpoint of scripture.  Roman Catholicism has a different looking Bible than the Bible's you may find in Christian bookstores or all other churches.  Does it hurt to have additional books other than the 66 books we have in most Bibles?  Why did The Roman Catholic Church feel it necessary to add other books?  Below we will attempt to answer some of those questions.

The Catholic list of Bible books versus the regular (protestant and historic Christian) list of Bible books
The 66 books were the only ones recognized as verbally inspired by the ancient Jews and early Christians
To be specific in this blog, when we say that the Roman Catholic Church has added to the Bible, we are specifically referring to the Jewish books written in the 400 year period between Malachi and Matthew.  These books are termed "the apocrypha", meaning "that which is hidden".  Though the Apocrypha were valued mainly for their historical value or readability among the Jews and early Christians, nonetheless they were never regarded by either as divinely inspired.

Early Jewish and Christian leaders record the list of the books recognized by the church as products of Divine inspiration.  The words and contents of the 39 books in our English Bibles, covering Genesis to Malachi, comprised the original Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament.  The familiar 27 books of our New Testaments, composed in Greek by the Apostles in the first century, were listed in the earliest documents stretching back to the first three centuries following the age of the Apostles.  Interestingly enough, not one time do we find the "Apocrypha" among the Jewish nor Christian listing of the books deemed "Divinely inspired".1

Below is a summary list of the universally agreed upon Old and New Testament Books, equalling out to 66 books in our English Bibles:
Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesistes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi.  = 39 books

New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2,3 John; Jude, then Revelation.  = 27 books

The Roman Catholic Church's decision to include the Apocrypha in their official list of the inspired Bible Books
Though used occassionally by God's people throughout the ages, the Apocrypha never achieved the official recognition of "Divine inspiration" until nearly 1600 years after their composition.  As we noted already, some of the Apocrypha are valuable as historical records of the events occuring in the 400 year period between Matthew and Malachi.  However some of the books taught a salvation of faith plus works (i.e The Apocryphal Book of Tobit) and other doctrines not found in the other 66 books, such as prayers for the dead. 

In order for the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages to maintain the doctrines it had picked up in the centuries of development, as well as to defend itself against the Protestant Reformation, a Church Council met in the middle of the 16th Century.  This Council's aim was to make a series of authoritative declarations that supported the Roman Catholic System and denounced groups like the Protestants and Baptists.  Among those decisions was the identification of the Apocrypha as verbally inspired literature. 2 

This was a strategic move on the Roman Catholic Church's part, since in viewing its teaching Heirarchy and church tradition as equal with scripture, declaring a group of books to be on par with the 66 books meant it could argue its position as being Biblical.   

Does the Roman Catholic Church Today still believe the Apocryphal books to be equal with the other 66 books?
On page 34 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one can view a listing of 73 books regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as sacred scripture.  By regarding seven of the Apocryphal books as inspired, even with the changes introduced in the mid-sixties under the historic Vatican II meetings of the Catholic Church, the group still has chosen to add to scripture.  So sadly, Roman Catholicism has retained its position which in light of Church and Jewish History is a "Johnny-Come-Lately" position.3 

Why does this matter?
If a group is going to claim itself to be the arbiter of divine truth, it needs to make sure that its resources are trustworthy.  Even among the Apocrypha themselves there is denial of their divine inspiration. 4 Nonetheless, the Catholic Church claims otherwise.  In Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:2 and the passage quoted at the beginning of today's blog, we see a curse that comes with adding to the scripture.  It is dangerous to claim a book to be inspired that neither history, nor God's people, nor even the book itself ever claimed.  

In most early confessions of faith in both Baptist and Protestant churches, lists of the Bible books were made to remind the readers of the fact that only the 66 books can be termed the Word of God.  When we add to scripture, we lose far more than can be ever gained.  To add to the scripture is to lose the Gospel.  May the Lord help us to remain steadfast and loyal to His Word.   

1 The Jewish Historian Josephus in his work "Against Apian", records a listing of the Bible books which we today would identify as the 39 Old Testament books of our English Old Testaments.  Some of the books in their original composition were bound into single volumes, making the number appear less.  Thus, for instance, Ezra & Nehemiah were one volume, and 1 & 2 Chronicles were one volume.  When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the Jews took these books, without changing the wording, and made them from two volumes into four, since they were quite cumbersome to carry around.  Nonetheless all the words and meaning were not lost. 
The Early Christians began listing the New Testament books within a century after the Apostles.  Documents such as the Muritorian Canon and Athanaisius' Easter letter of 397 A.D, wherein he lists all 27 books, show a consistent pattern of recognition.  The Roman Catholics have never added to the New Testament part of the Bible, only the Old Testament, which is the point of our discussion.

2. This church council was called the "Council of Trent".

3. The Council of Trent officially recognized the Apocrypha as sacred scripture in 1546 A.D.  Roman Catholics will sometimes refer to these books as the "deutero-canonical books", meaning "second canon".  The fact that Vatican II in their historical meetings never departed from this position, nor the current edition of the Catholic Catechism, demonstrates the consistent, albeit erroneous view of Roman Catholicism on the addition of these books.

4. The Apocryphal Book of 1 Macabees, which is a historical record of the Jewish Rebellion against the evil Antiochus Epiphanes of 168 b.c, records that there was no open vision from the Lord in those days. 

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