Question from a Site Viewer
Did the Bible come from the Catholics?
The quick answer is no. The idea that the Bible was written or decreed by the Roman Catholic Church seems strange to anyone who has read the Bible or understands the history of the church.
The church began at Pentecost, when Peter preached a sermon at Jerusalem that is recorded in part for us in Acts 2. Jesus had commanded his disciples to go and proclaim the good news of forgiven sins, reconciliation with God, and the hope of eternal life that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the disciples went, they established churches, each with their own elders or overseers. None of the churches were subject to other churches, nor were they in some denominational relationship. Rather, as with the Jewish synagogues that predated them, the local churches were a gathering of the new followers of Jesus with local elders and/or bishops overseeing their spiritual condition. Of course, in their new faith these churches naturally looked to the apostles and early leaders of the church for guidance on spiritual matters. Thus, we have Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude writing letters to various churches, some of which are preserved in our New Testament.
After the apostles died, some of the churches wrote to men who personally had known and been taught by the apostles and asked them for guidance. We have an early letter from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth dated around 97 A.D. in which Clement, the bishop of the church at Rome, writes in response to an inquiry from the church at Corinth. Perhaps written 15 years later, we have a similar letter from Polycarp, the bishop of the church at Smyrna (present day Ismir, Turkey), to the church at Philippi, again occasioned by an inquiry from the church at Philippi. Both Clement—who Eusebius, the early church historian, states was the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3 (Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 3, Ch. 15)—and Polycarp had been trained by the apostles themselves. (Ireneus, who grew up under Polycarp, states that Polycarp had “familiar intercourse with [the Apostle] John” and also was familiar with many eyewitnesses of Christ.) Accordingly, their views were sought in affairs of the early church. At one point Polycarp, when he was in his 80s, visited the bishop of Rome, Anicetus, and caused many to turn away from heresies (Against Heresies, Bk. 3, Ch. 3, sect. 4).
But the churches were independent of one another. There was no central control out of Rome or out of any other church. But there was deference given to certain local churches because of their unique positions. Thus, in the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.—the first great church council after the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15—the Council decreed that the church at Alexandria, Egypt, was to have ecclesiastical authority over the churches of Egypt, even as Rome had over its environs and the church of Antioch had (Canon 6). The Council of Nicea also gave great prominence to the church at Jerusalem (Canon 7). Of course, Jerusalem was where the church began. Antioch was the church that sent out the great apostle Paul; their third bishop was none other than Ignatius, and this church long held true to the faith. Rome was the church in which Peter and Paul died. And Alexandria was the church from which many significant early church leaders arose, including Clement of Alexandria (157-216 A.D.), Origen (185-254 A.D.), and Athanasius (293-373 A.D.).
But there did not appear to be any desire by Rome to rule over other churches until the mid-fourth century A.D. In fact, you had early church fathers that argued for the opposite. Origen (185-254 A.D.), from Alexandria, Egypt, rejects the position that the church would be built upon Peter and rather argues that John and the other apostles, as well as all who are members of Christ, share in the promise Christ gave to Peter (Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 7, Chs. 10 & 11.). Jerome, in 356 A.D., argued that all bishops are alike successors of the apostles and that the bishop at Rome is not more of a bishop than the others (Epistle 146:1).
Further, if one looks even earlier in church history, there is no evidence of the church at Rome holding a favored position until the time of Ireneus. Thus, Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, never even mentions Peter as being at Rome and never gives any hint that the church at Rome is somehow special or endowed with authority. Clement, when he writes to the church at Corinth in 97 A.D., writes much about the need to be submissive to the bishops who were appointed over the church, but he never hints at any Roman authority over the bishops. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, Syria, in writing to the church of Rome in 107 A.D. on his way to certain martyrdom in Rome, states: “Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Ch. 9). There is no indication that he saw Rome as having any authority to appoint a new bishop for the Syrian church. And, in fact, there is no evidence that Rome saw itself as having that authority.
Ireneus, around 175 A.D., first argues that the church of Rome should hold a preeminent position in that the church there carried on the teachings of the apostles (Against Heresies, Bk. 3, Ch. 333, sect. 2). But he does not take the next step of stating that the church at Rome had authority over other churches. Such claimed authority over all other churches did not exist at that time and, as noted above, 150 years later at the Council of Nicea, there was no sense that the church at Rome carried any higher position than the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, or Alexandria. As argued by Cyprian of Carthage, around 252 A.D., one of the great early church fathers, disputes should be settled by the bishop of the local church who answered to the Lord, and not by sending letters to Rome (Epistle 54 , Sect. 14).
By the middle of the 4th century, tension began growing between the bishop of Rome and the eastern bishops. A council was called at Sardica (342 A.D.) to try to bring some harmony to the church, but the eastern bishops all abandoned the council, and the western bishops who were left decreed that bishops who had a cause could appeal to the bishop of Rome. About the same time, Athanasius records a letter from Julius I (337-352), bishop of Rome, who asserted that the church at Rome should have been the decider of an issue involving the church at Antioch (Apologia Contra Arianos, Ch. 2, Sect. 35). Thereafter, the bishops of Rome became ever more assertive about their right to have authority over other bishops. Innocent I, the bishop at Rome from 401-417 A.D., argued strongly for the authority of Rome over the other western bishops, though he did not claim any authority over the eastern bishops. He also apparently was ignorant of history as he stated that all Christians in Gaul (modern day France) were due to the apostle Peter and his successors. In fact, the mission to the Gauls was established not by the church at Rome but by the church at Smyrna, when the great Polycarp sent his disciple, Pothinus, to establish a mission to the Gauls. Polycarp was personally trained by the apostle John, not Peter. Ireneus, also a disciple of Polycarp, not Peter, following the martyrdom of the aged Pothinus, became the great bishop at Lyons, France, and aided Rome in fighting off heresy in the Roman church.
It fell to Leo I, the bishop at Rome from 440-461 A.D., to make the first serious claim to the primacy of Rome over all the bishops and to being head over all the churches of the whole world. Of course, his claim did not make it so, as the authority of the bishop of Rome did not extend into the eastern regions of the Roman Empire, nor into Persia, other parts of Asia, or eastern Africa until more modern times. Only in the west did the bishop of Rome begin to exercise more and more control over the bishops of western Europe and western Africa.
As our Orthodox friends will be quick to tell us, the bishop of Rome never held any control over the Eastern Church. The 300,000,000 individuals who follow the Orthodox faith all trace their church back to the apostles themselves and hold to the great church councils, especially to the seven early ecumenical councils beginning with Nicea. At the great councils of the church, there was no hierarchy of control. Rome was always a minority voice in these great church councils. Each bishop from each church held one vote. And not one of these great church councils was held in the West. Although the Roman Church later held church councils, the Orthodox do not accept these councils’ legitimacy as they failed to include bishops from the whole church.
Our Coptic friends also will assert what the Orthodox assert: that their church, which stems from the church at Alexandria, Egypt, was never under the authority of Rome. And the same is true of the Nestorian church; that is, the church of the East outside the confines of the old Roman Empire. Our Armenian brothers and sisters would want us to know that their church also has never been subject to Rome. We do not want to leave out the Ethiopic church, which has never been controlled by Rome. The ancient Thomasan church in southern India was not under the control of Rome, either, until Portuguese explorers arrived in 1498. There are other smaller ancient churches as well that never have held any allegiance to Rome.
With this backdrop, I return to address the claim that the Roman Catholic Church gave us the Bible.
First, the claim cannot mean that the Roman Catholic Church wrote the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church did not even exist when the Bible was written. The Old Testament was written before the time of Christ and long before the Roman Catholic Church. The New Testament was completely written within 70 years of the death of Christ. Even liberal scholars who challenge the authorship of the books will not date any of the New Testament after around 150 A.D. The early dating for the writings in the New Testament is compelling. For instance, Clement of Rome writes in 97 A.D. to the church at Corinth, Ignatius writes in 107 A.D., Polycarp writes shortly thereafter, and an unnamed disciple writes around 100-130 A.D. Between them, these authors show knowledge of all the books of the New Testament, except 2 John and 3 John and perhaps 2 Peter (some would say that Clement’s allusion to 2 Peter is rather a precursor to 2 Peter). None of the New Testament Scriptures were written by the church at Rome. Even Paul, when he wrote from Rome, did not write from the Roman church, but rather he wrote as an apostle, either by himself or with a couple of other individuals. The Bible was not written by the Roman Catholic Church.
So, if the Roman Catholic Church did not write the Bible, then perhaps the claim is that the Roman Catholic Church decided what books to be included in the Bible. Again, however, this cannot be true, except to the extent that late in church history, in the middle of the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church officially decreed that the New Testament consisted of the 27 books that it and all other churches had already been using for over 1,000 years. (The Roman Catholic Church decreed in the Council of Trent, around 1550 A.D., which books they would accept in Scripture.) The Old Testament and New Testament books were already well established and used in the various churches long before the Roman Catholic church ever decreed that the books we have today should be viewed as sacred Scripture.
The decision as to which books should be part of Scripture was not a decree by a church, whether Roman or another, but rather a recognition of which books were broadly accepted and used throughout the various churches. The Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus and the apostles accepted were never questioned as sacred Scripture by the various church leaders, except for the heretic Marcion, who rejected the Jewish Scriptures. Further, as to determining which books to include in the New Testament, the test of the churches was twofold: 1) whether or not the books were apostolic (written by or under the authority of the apostles themselves) and 2) whether or not the books were widely accepted and used in the various churches. Some choices were easy. For instance, the four Gospels were accepted early and widely in all the churches. Even the great apostle Paul quotes from the Gospel of Luke and states that it was Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18, quoting Luke 10:7) (if one accepts that Paul wrote 1 Timothy). Likewise, the epistles of Paul were never seriously questioned as Scripture by the early church. Peter states that these epistles were sacred Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16) (if one accepts that Peter wrote 2 Peter). Throughout the early church, the four Gospels and Paul’s epistles were widely used and accepted as Scripture.
The early church fathers made wide use of the New Testament Scriptures. The Apostolic Fathers (those church fathers who were personally acquainted with the apostles) widely quote and cite the 27 New Testament books, showing knowledge of all the books except perhaps 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. The church bishops that followed them make widespread use of the New Testament Scriptures. For instance, Justin Martyr, around 155 A.D., quotes from 13 of the 27 New Testament books, including 2 Peter. Ireneus, around 175 A.D., quotes from every book in the New Testament except Philemon and 3 John. The Shepherd of Hermes (160 A.D.) quotes from every book of the New Testament except 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 3 John, and Jude. Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.) quotes from every book but Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John. Tertullian (200 A.D.) quotes from every book but 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John.
The earliest writing containing a list of the received New Testament books is found in the Muratorian Fragment (180 A.D.), which came from Egypt, not Rome. That list (Muratorian Fragment) includes all of the New Testament except four of the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter). It lists the Wisdom of Solomon as the only other book that was received. For a book to be “received” meant that it was viewed as being part of sacred Scripture.
Origen, in 230 A.D., states that with regard to the New Testament Scriptures, there is no dispute about the four Gospels, Acts, the 13 Pauline epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. He lists Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude as being disputed. He commends Hebrews but did not believe it was apostolic. But he himself quotes James as authority (Origen de Principiis, Bk. 1, Ch. 3, Sect. 4). He also seems to include the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas as being part of Scripture.
Eusebius (around 324 A.D.) lists the books of the New Testament as the four Gospels, Acts, the epistles of Paul, 1 John, 1 Peter, and Revelation. He further states: “Among the disputed books, although they are well known and approved by many, is reputed, that called the Epistle of James and Jude. Also, the ‘Second Epistle of Peter,’ and those called ‘The Second and Third John,’ whether they are of the evangelist or of some other of the same name.” He lists as spurious the Acts of Paul, the Pastor, the Revelation of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Institutions of the Apostles (these are early writings in the church that he believed were not written by the apostles or those with apostolic authority). He goes on to state that some reject Revelation, and some believe that the Gospel according to the Hebrews should be included. He then states that those books adduced by the heretics under the name of the apostles, such as the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthew, or the Acts of the Apostles by Andrew and John, were not mentioned by the writers in the ecclesiastical succession and are considered spurious.
Athanasius (367 A.D.), bishop in Alexandria, Egypt, lists all 27 books of the New Testament that we have today. The Council of Laodicea, a regional council in Asia Minor, around 363-365 A.D. lists 26 of the 27 New Testament books we have today as the received books. It leaves out Revelation. The Synod at Hippo in North Africa in 393 A.D. and Jerome in 394 A.D. list the same 27 books of the New Testament that Athanasius had listed earlier—and which we have today—as the New Testament Scriptures.
Today the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches all accept the 27 books of the New Testament. The Syrian Orthodox Church, a remnant of the old Nestorian Church, maintains only a 22-book canon, rejecting 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Interestingly, however, much earlier, in 781 A.D., the Nestorian Church erected a pillar in western China and listed there all 27 books of the New Testament that we use today. The Coptic Church includes the 27 books and also includes the two epistles of Clement of Rome. The Ethiopic Church includes the 27 books and 4 others.
So, in summary, churches everywhere from the earliest days regarded all but perhaps some of the general epistles (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude) and Revelation as being profitable for the church. There was no formal decree that made this so. Rather, the churches simply circulated these texts among themselves and found them to be profitable to sustain the faith delivered by the apostles. And outside of these 27 books, there was only a limited handful of books that were even considered for potential inclusion in the canon. Ultimately, however, the churches decided that the two tests of canonicity—apostolic authority and widespread acceptance—ruled out the other books. The books by Clement, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Gospel of the Hebrews lacked apostolic authority, as of course also did the Gnostic Gospels. Further, these books were not widely accepted in the churches as being received writings, as were the other 27 books. Accordingly, they did not make it into the canon of the New Testament, except for the works of Clement in the Coptic Church and the additional 4 books in the Ethiopic Church.
Finally, some have asserted that the church weeded out books that did not fit with the church’s theology. While it certainly is true that the church did not accept those books that lacked apostolic authority, such does not mean that it weeded out books that otherwise were equally credentialed. None of the books the church rejected has any strong evidence of being written by the apostles, being used by the apostles, or being used by those who were taught by the apostles. And sometimes they present matters that are directly opposed to the apostles’ teachings. They are almost exclusively second century creations. Recently, some scholars have argued that the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and Judas were tossed out by the church. Hippolytus of Rome, who wrote around 230 A.D., tells us that the Gospel of Thomas was the creation of a sect that existed from 120-140 A.D., and was not written by Thomas the apostle. The Gospel of Judas is stated by Ireneus to have been the product of a group called the Cainites (Against Heresies, Bk 1, Ch. 31, Sect. 1). Even Tatian, the Syrian Gnostic, did not include either of these Gospels in his harmony of the Gospels compiled around 160-175 A.D., but rather included only the received books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This says volumes about whether such books were accepted in the early church as apostolic. And if one reads these two Gospels, one will understand why they lack the authenticating witness of the early church. They both are lists of purported sayings of Christ that do not match those of the canonical Gospels written a century earlier by eyewitnesses of Christ.
One final note: The Roman Catholic Church decreed at the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century that the Apocrypha should also be included as Scripture. The Apocrypha is a collection of writings from before the time of Christ that the Jews did not accept as sacred Scripture, that Jesus and the apostles did not quote as Scripture, and that the early church fathers never accepted as Scripture. Melito, the bishop of Sardis during the later part of the second century A.D., sets forth the books of the Old Testament, mentioning every book but Esther and not mentioning a single book of the Apocrypha (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. IV, chapter 26). Why he did not list Esther is not explained, since no one in the Western church fathers ever attacked the canonicity of Esther. Origin, who lived from 185-254 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, and then in Caesarea, states that there are 22 books in the Old Testament (which correspond with our 39 books). He actually only lists 21, apparently inadvertently omitting the Twelve (the Minor Prophets). He also adds the Epistle of Jeremiah as part of the book of Jeremiah, but lists none of the Apocrypha as Scripture (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. VI, chapter 25). Gregory of Nazianzus, who lived in the third century A.D. and for a short time was patriarch of the important city of Constantinople, also listed only 22 books, leaving out Esther. Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, in the first part of the fourth century A.D., states that there are 22 books in number, including again the Epistle of Jeremiah as well as Baruch and not including Esther. He then adds that the Apocryphal books are appointed to be read, but are not canonical. Cyril of Jerusalem, also in the fourth century A.D., lists a 22-book canon, including Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah. At the regional Council of Laodicea in the fourth century A.D., the Old Testament books appointed to be read included all of our Old Testament books, with the inclusion of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah. See Canon 60 of the Council of Laodicea.
However, with the rise of Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo in North Africa—and a great champion of the inclusion of the Apocrypha as sacred Scripture—a dispute arose concerning which books should be included in Scripture. Jerome, a contemporary, took the view that the Apocrypha should not be included as sacred Scripture. Ultimately, however, the Roman Catholic Church accepted the Augustinian view and officially made the Apocrypha part of the canon. The Orthodox Church also accepts the Apocrypha, although the Orthodox Church is more fluid with its view of the Apocryphal portion of the canon. Following Jesus, the apostles, and the earliest church fathers, the Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture, although they acknowledge that the books are not heretical.
Accordingly, in answer to your question, the Roman Catholic Church did not give us the Bible. Rather, as Christ and the apostles stated with regard to the Old Testament, we affirm that the same is true of the New Testament. God gave us the Bible, and He used the witnesses of the various churches to secure for us those books that would be profitable for our instruction.