Who Gave Us the
by James G. McCarthy
of the Roman Catholic Church argue that the Magisterium is the rightful
interpreter and authoritative teacher of Scripture, because the Church
gave Christianity the Bible. If it were not for the Church, they argue,
no one could know with certainty even which books belong in the Bible.
is based on faulty assumptions. The early Christians did not receive the
Bible from the Roman Catholic Church. They received the Bible from the
Holy Spirit who inspired it. Catholics who argue to the contrary are not
representing the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
Speaking of the books of both Testaments, the First Vatican Council
These books the church
holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved
them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human
skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but
because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they
have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church.
–First Vatican Council 1
The process of
writing and recognizing the New Testament books began long before the
Roman Catholic Church even existed. The night before the Lord was
crucified, He told His disciples that they, empowered by the Holy
Spirit, would bear witness to His life and teaching:
When the Helper comes, whom
I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who
proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will
bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
Holy Spirit, the disciples would also receive further revelation:
I have many more things to
say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of
truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not
speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and
He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He
shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. –John 16:12-14
writings of the apostles and their associates, the first Christians
recognized the prophetic and authoritative teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had taught, "My sheep hear My voice . . . and they follow Me"
(John 10:27). In these writings, the early Christians heard the Savior’s
voice. They compared the doctrinal content of these new writings to that
of the Old Testament Scriptures and found agreement. They applied the
teaching to their lives and experienced its transforming power. In these
writings, they recognized the dynamic interaction between book and
reader that is unique to Scripture:
For the word of God is
living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing
as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow,
and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. –Hebrews
were self-authenticating. They demonstrated by their uniquely divine
wisdom and power that God was their author. F. F. Bruce wrote:
Divine authority is by its
very nature self-evidencing; and one of the profoundest doctrines
recovered by the Reformers is the doctrine of the inward witness of
the Holy Spirit, by which testimony is borne within the believer’s
heart to the divine character of the Holy Scripture. 2
Let this point therefore
stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest
upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated;
hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the
certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the
Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty,
it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through
the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by
our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but
above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we
were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us
from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. 3
Christians read, copied, and circulated the books widely. Teachers began
to quote the books as authoritative in their own sermons and letters.
Within the lifetime of the apostles, some of the writings were already
considered God-given "wisdom" (2 Peter 3:15) on par with "the rest of
the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16).
The history of
the events leading to the universal acceptance of the twenty-seven books
of the New Testament as inspired Scripture spans several centuries and
is beyond the scope of this article. However, it should be noted that
the role that church councils played in the process is often overstated
by Roman Catholics.
councils to have addressed the question as to which books were inspired
and were rightfully part of the Bible appear to have been the North
African Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). The list of books
accepted by the Council of Hippo no longer exists. The Council of
Carthage, however, is believed to have repeated the same list and its
decree on the matter is extant.
were regional synods. They were not universal or ecumenical councils.
About 50 bishops from the provinces of Africa attended each. These
councils did not have authority to speak for the whole fourth-century
It is also
important to note that by the time these councils addressed the matter
at the close of the fourth century, the canon or list of books
recognized as forming the New Testament was well established. F. F.
What is particularly
important to notice is that the New Testament canon was not demarcated
by the arbitrary decree of any Church Council. When at last a Church
Council, the Synod of Carthage in A.D. 397, listed the twenty-seven
books of the New Testament, it did not confer upon them any authority
which they did not already possess, but simply recorded their
previously established canonicity. 4
the decision reached by these councils has never been universally
accepted. The controversy centers around writings referred to by Roman
Catholic scholars as the deuterocanonicals and by Protestant
scholars as the Apocrypha. In that non-Catholics have never
accepted the decision of the councils to accept the Apocrypha as part of
the Bible, it can hardly be argued that were it not for the Roman
Catholic Church no one would know with certainty which books belong in
1.. First Vatican Council,
session 3, chapter 2.
2.. F. F. Bruce, The Books
and the Parchments (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1950), p. 111
3. John Calvin, Institutes
of the Christian Religion, book 1, Chapter 7, no. 5. Published by
John T. McNeill, ed., The Library of Christian Classics, (Philadelphia,
PA: Westminster Press, 1960), vol. 20, p. 80.
4. F. F. Bruce, The Books
and the Parchments, (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1050), p. 111.
Adapted from The Gospel
According to Rome (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1995).
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute