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  No Book in the history of the world has wielded as much influence on civilization as the Holy Bible. The Bible is unique in that it had God as its Author, while all other books were composed by human beings.  It is indeed, the Book of Books.

  The Catholic Church derives all of its teaching authority from its tradition, the doctrine which has come down to it from Christ. This tradition is preserved in written form in the "Bible" which contains the principle truths of faith taught to the Apostles by Christ.

  Inspired men were moved by the Spirit of God to commit these matters to writing in the early church. Only a short time after Christ's Ascension, perhaps with twenty years, the need to preserve these truths in a permanent form was recognized. Before any book was accepted as "authentic" however, the authority of an Apostle was demanded by the early Christian communities. Mark's Gospel was accepted because he was Peter's companion. Similarly, though Luke was a man who had not seen Christ, his book gained acceptance through St. Paul's authority.

  The Church has protected and guarded these books which contained the revelations of Christ to His disciples and their testimony concerning Him.

  The other source of supernatural knowledge is the Bible. In the words of the Council of Trent, which enumerated the books of the Bible under their proper titles, the Church declares that she receives: "All the books of the Testaments, Old and New, since the one God is the Author of both." The Vatican Council is more explicit: "The Church holds those books as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their Author."

  The word "Bible" comes from the Greek biblion meaning "the book;" the plural is ta biblia, "the books." In Greek the word is a neuter, but later on the word biblia was taken for a feminine singular, "the book." Taken in this sense, it refers to all the books of both Testaments. The Bible is the Book par excellence.

  The Bible is extremely difficult to understand, even by Bible scholars. It was written in languages long dead, and in the manner and idiom of the time. To interpret the Bible, it is not only necessary to understand the languages in which the Bible was written, but to understand the meanings that the words of the Bible had at the time they were written. The Bible, therefore, has to be interpreted to be understood, and for Catholics, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, is the official guardian and infallible interpreter of the Bible.

  The Bible contains 72 books (or 73, depending on whether the Book of Lamentations is listed as a separate book and not as a part of Jeremiah), varying in length from a few hundred words to many thousands. Together, these books comprise the official list or canon of the Bible. Of these books, 45 were written before the time of Christ and are called the books of the Old Testament. The other 27 books were written after the time of Christ and are called the books of the New Testament.

  The meaning of the word "testament" as used here is that of a pact, an agreement, or a covenant. The Old Testament is the pact or alliance that God made first with the Patriarchs and then with the Jewish people through Moses; a Savior is promised and a Law is proclaimed, and salvation is through the Law.

  The New Testament is the covenant or the alliance that God made with all men whereby, through the mediatorship of His Son, Jesus Christ, all men can be saved.

  At the time the books of the New Testament were written, many other pious stories and legends relating to Christ and His times were also widely circulated. As a result, in the early centuries of the Church, there was some confusion and doubt as to which books were inspired and biblical, and which were not. As far as is known, it was the Council of Hippo in A.D.393 which first determined which books were inspired and were to be included in the Bible canon, a canon in every respect identical  with the canon of the Council of Trent, in 1546, formally canonized all the traditional books of the Bible. These books comprise the Old and New Testaments, and it is a matter of faith for Catholics to believe that all passages of all books are equally inspired.

  Those books which were rejected by the Council of Hippo as being non-biblical belong to what is called the Apocrypha. These books treat largely of the incidents and events during the life of Christ not related to the books of the Bible. They are often well worth reading, as they offer much historical information not otherwise available. However, some of these stories have slightly heretical tendencies.

  The Catholic use of the word "Apocrypha," should be distinguished from the incorrect Protestant use of the word. Protestants use this term to designate the seven books of the Bible included in the Catholic Bible canon, but not accepted or found in Protestant Bibles. These seven books are: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel. Protestants call the books found in the Catholic Apocrypha the Pseudepigraphal books.

  The difference is the Catholic and Protestant Bibles arose in the following manner. The Jews living in the few centuries before Christ were divided into two groups: the Jews dwelling in Palestine and speaking Hebrew, and the large number of Jews scattered throughout the Roman empire and speaking the Greek language, a consequence of the conquest of Alexander the Great of Greece.

  In the several centuries before the coming of Christ, the Jews in Palestine re-examined and eliminated some of the books from the existing collection as not in harmony with the Law of Moses and as of doubtful inspiration. The Pharisees set up four criteria which their sacred books had to pass in order to be included in the revised Jewish canon: (1) They had to be in harmony with the Pentateuch (Torah or Law); (2) They had to have been written before the time of Ezra; (3) They had to be written in Hebrew; (4) They had to have been written in Palestine.

  The application of these arbitrary criteria eliminated Judith, probably written in Aramaic; Wisdom and 2 Maccabees, written in Greek; Tobit and parts of Daniel and Esther, written in Aramaic and probably outside of Palestine; Baruch, written outside of Palestine; and Sirach and 1 Maccabees, written after the time of Ezra. By the 1st Century after Christ, this revised canon was generally accepted by all Jews.

  From the earliest times, the Christian Church recognized the Jewish canon of the Greek-Roman tradition, or Alexandrine canon, as being the true Bible. Jesus Himself quoted from this Bible, and not until the Reformation was this canon seriously challenged.

  These seven disputed books are also called the deuterocanonical books, while the rest of the books of the Old Testament comprise the protocanonical books. By protocanonical books is meant the "books of the first canon," books of the Old Testament accepted by both Christians and Jews. The deuterocanonical books, "books of the second canon," are those seven books found only in the Catholic canon.

  Luther rejected the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. At one time he also eliminated Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse from the New Testament, but later Protestants reinserted them. Today the Catholic and Protestant New Testament books are identical.

  The books of the Bible were originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Aramaic is a branch of the Semitic languages, and was the language used in Palestine in the time of Christ. It is the language Christ spoke. Hebrew is a Semitic language which originated in Canaan and which was passed on by Abraham and his descendants, reaching its greatest glory in the reigns of David and Solomon. It was the language of the Holy Land until about the 3rd Century B.C., when it was supplanted by Aramaic. The Greek language as used in the Bible is not the classical Greek as we know it today, but a dialect spread throughout the known world of the time by conquests of Alexander the Great.

  Most of the books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, while all of the New Testament, excepting Matthew, was written in Greek. The Book of Wisdom and 2 Maccabees were also written in Greek. Portions of the Book of Daniel, Ezra, Jeremiah, and Esther, and all of Tobit, Judith, and the Gospel of St. Matthew were written in Aramaic.

  The Bible as originally set down was not divided into chapter and verse as we know it today. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th Century, first divided the Bible text into Chapters. Santes Pagninus divided the Old Testament chapters into verses in 1528, and Robert Etienne, a printer in Paris, did the same for the New Testament in 1551.

  In the past we have tended to think of the books of the Bible as historical (such as Genesis, Exodus, Kings, and Maccabees); legal (Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc.); prophetic (predicting the future); and so on.

  An appreciation of the Jewish method of dividing the books may be a more helpful method. The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were considered the books central to their faith. They were called Torah in Hebrew. The word Torah means an "instruction" not just a lesson but the kind of instruction a parent gives to a child when he wants him to obey.

  Many of the books which we think of as historical (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) were considered "prophetic" by the Jews. By prophetic they meant an inspired sermon. These books recounted events from their history in order to moralize. They were sermons from history. In these books we may find prophets appearing but they are prophets who act. They leave us no long sermons. They are part of the rough and tumble of life. Important Kings may hardly be mentioned simply because they offered few examples to be imitated. Unimportant kings may receive more attention because they were good men. This is not our modem way of writing history, of course. Even for them it was not primarily history. It was rather religious editorializing. We may err by thinking of them as history. They are that but they are much more. The Jews called them the "former" prophets not because they came earlier in time but because they were bound into the Bible first.

  The Prophetical books, the "latter prophets," whether written by the prophet himself or by a disciple, are inspired sermons. A prophet is a man who speaks for God and to his own times. He is a man concerned about his own world. He sometimes predicts the future. More frequently it is the immediate future. When he does so he is exercising a power that is not, strictly speaking, prophetic. It is an additional power from God. We tend to be led astray if we think of them primarily as predictors of the future.

  The "Writings" are a catch-all for other books. Chronicles, which we think of as history, is a many-faceted book. To call it history is to miss many of its qualities. The poetry of Psalms and Wisdom-literature such as Proverbs is also included in this section. Daniel, which is a special kind of literature known as "apocalyptic" is included here though in the past we thought of it as among the Prophetic books.

  Those books accepted by the Septuagint or Greek version of the Hebrew Bible but which the Jews rejected after the time of Christ are called "Deutero-Canonical" books. They, together with parts of Daniel and Esther, are not accepted as part of the Bible by Protestants or Jews. Catholics have always revered them as such since the earliest days of the church. 

  In the New Testament we think of the "four gospels" of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are the Gospels (or "good news") of Jesus Christ. But Acts of Apostles is the same kind of book. It is the "gospel of the Holy Spirit" and depicts the work of Christ continued in the early Church.

  Though none of the "four gospels" are a "Life of Christ" for they tell us very little about most of His life, they do use incidents from the life of Christ to illustrate His teaching. Primarily then, the Gospels and Acts (also written by Luke) present us with the message, mission, and works of Christ. Every man who saw Christ saw him from a unique perspective. These four men we call Evangelists saw him from their own particular points of view.

  "Epistles" are letters of various kinds. Some are like ‘letters to the editor" that were intended to be widely circulated, not only in the church to which they were sent but throughout the territory. Others were quite private. Charming little "Philemon" is a short note of Paul to a convert. Still others were written in the style of a letter as a style of literature. The Epistles of James and Peter are really treatises on doctrine.

  The last book of the Bible, "Revelations" (or Apocalypse) is the only New Testament book written in a very popular style of the day. As with Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament it was written in a kind of code of persecuted members of God’s people recounting God’s saving acts in the past in the face of present trials. They look forward, also, to saving acts in the future based on their faith in Him.




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