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BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (18) – How about the Bible?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

The First Vatican Council defined the Bible in chapter 2 of its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius as the collection of books which, “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have God as their author, and have been entrusted as such to the Church.”

This definition includes two important characteristics: (1) The Bible comes from God himself. Sacred Scripture is God’s love letter to men. Through what is called “divine inspiration” certain men were given the grace to write down the contents of Sacred Scripture. God speaks to man using human language. We will speak later on about what this inspiration consists in. (2) The Bible has been entrusted to the Church like a gift to be cherished, to be explored, to be interpreted, and to be transmitted to others.

How did we know which books form part of this collection? Since the Bible was entrusted to the Church, it was the Church that determined which books are considered inspired and included in the Canon of Sacred Scripture. The Canon is the official list of books.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no 120) teaches: “It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. (Cf DV 8 § 3) This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New.” This point of the CCC lists down the books as follows:

“The Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi.

“The New Testament: the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letters of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, and Revelation (the Apocalypse).”

John Salza reminds us that “the Bible says that the Church, not the Scriptures, is the ‘pinnacle and foundation of the truth’ (I Timothy 3:15) and the final arbiter on questions of the Christian faith (Matthew 18:17). It is through the teaching authority and Apostolic Tradition (II Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; I Corinthians 11:2) of this Church, who is guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26; 16:13), that we know of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and the manifold wisdom of God. (cf Ephesians 3:10).”

So how are Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture related to each other?

(1) They have one common source. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” (Dei Verbum 9).

(2) Both form one single deposit of Revelation entrusted to the Church by Jesus Christ. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church” (Dei Verbum 10).

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