How Well Do You Actually Know The Bible?

Every week we will continue our series to help us know more about the Bible.

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.


Canon of the Bible
Know Your Bible #1

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 Bible Needs an Interpreter
Know Your Bible #2

The Bible is extremely difficult to understand, even for 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 Defined
Know Your Bible #3

The Bible is the source of supernatural knowledge. 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 the 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.

Meaning of the Word "Testament"
Know Your Bible #4

The meaning of the word "testament" as used in the Bible is that of a pact, an agreement, or a covenant. The Old Testament is the pact or alliance with 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.

Determination of the Bible Canon*
* list of books that are declared to be inspired by God.
Know Your Bible #5

    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 identical with the canon of the Council of Trent. Subsequent Councils confirmed this decision, and the Council of Trent formally canonized all the traditional books of the Bible in 1546. These books comprise the Old and the New Testaments, and it is a matter of faith for Catholics to believe that all passages of all books are equally inspired.

The Apocrypha
Know Your Bible #6

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 in 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,” as defined above, 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.

An Introduction of the History of the Protestant Canon
Know Your Bible #7

   The difference in 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.

Criteria of the Jewish Canon:
   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 cannon. They had to: (1) be in harmony with the Pentateuch (Torah or Law); (2) be written before the time of Ezra; (3) have been written in Hebrew; (4) have been written in Palestine.

Bible books eliminated by the Jews:
   The application of these arbitrary criteria eliminated Judith, written in Aramaic; Wisdom and 2 Maccabees, written in Greek; Tobit and parts of Daniel and Ester, written in Aramaic and 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.

The Church Recognizes the Alexandrine Canon
Know Your Bible #8

   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.

Languages of the Bible
Know Your Bible #9

   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 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, except 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 Ester, and all of Tobit, Judith, and the Gospel of St. Matthew were written in Aramaic.

The Old Testament
Know Your Bible #10

   In the past we have tended to think of the books of the Bible as historical, legal, prophetic and so on.
   An appreciation of the Jewish method of dividing the books (given in "Know Your Bible" #7) may be a more helpful method. The first five books of the Bible were considered the books central to their faith, called Torah, which 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 because they considered them inspired sermons that recounted events from their history in order to moralize. In these books we find prophets appearing who act, leaving us no long sermons. They are part of the rough and tumble of life. Important kings were not mentioned simply because they offered few examples to be imitated while unimportant kings received more attention because they were good men. This is not our modern way of writing history nor was it primarily history for them. It was rather religious editorializing which is much more than history. 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. These prophets were men who spoke for God, concerned about his own world and times. They sometimes predicted the future, especially the immediate future. This meant they were exercising a power from God that was not, strictly speaking, prophetic. 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 and 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.

   Books accepted by the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) that Jews rejected after the time of Christ are called "Deutero-Canonical" books. They, with parts of Daniel and Ester, are not accepted as part of the Bible by Protestants or Jews while Catholics have always accepted since the earliest days of the church.

The New Testament
Know Your Bible #11

    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 the 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.

Inspiration of the Bible
Know Your Bible #12

   THE BOOKS of the Bible have as their principal author the Holy Spirit, although He Himself did not write them. The Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of the Bible to write down in their own words, and in the manner and style of the day, what He wanted them to write, and He guided them to the extent that they wrote faithfully what they had been taught. This working together of God and man in the writing of the Bible is called inspiration. This inspiration covers not only matters of faith and morals, but extends as well to the facts of history as related, and to the whole Bible.

Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, explains how inspiration affected the biblical writers. "By supernatural power God so moved and impelled them to write. He was so present to them, that they first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth the things which He ordered, and those only."

Besides the infallible teaching of the Church as to the inspiration of the Bible, we have reliable historical evidence as well. Many indirect passages in the Old Testament refer to its inspiration (Isaiah 8, 1; Wisdom 1, 15), and in the New Testament St. Peter refers to is in 2 Peter 1, 20-21.

Tradition, too, provides overwhelming proof that from the earliest days of the Church it was believed that the Bible was inspired. The Fathers of the Church allude to it in many passages, stating variously that the books were inspired, that God is the Author of the Bible, and that the sacred writers were the instruments of God. Throughout its history, the Church has made many official pronouncements in ecclesiastical documents reaffirming the fact of inspiration.

The Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, decreed that "those entire books with all their parts as have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church" must be considered as sacred and canonical. This was reaffirmed by the Council of the Vatican in 1870. In the centuries since this decree, Catholic theologians differed on two points of interpretation, as to whether matters of faith and morals alone were to be considered inspired or to whether inspiration extended just to important matters. These questions were settled by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, in which he reaffirmed the decisions of the Council of Trent and emphasized that the Bible in all its parts was inspired and that a stated fact must be accepted as falling under inspiration, down to the most insignificant item; that is, the whole Bible is the Word of God.

Know Your Bible #13

No original manuscripts of the Bible have come down to us, due to perishable material upon which they were written and the fact that the Roman emperors decreed the destruction of the manuscripts during the Christian persecutions. While none of the original manuscripts are known to exist, so very ancient transcriptions have survived the years.

The oldest Hebrew manuscript known is a copy of the Book of Isaiah, written in Hebrew in the 2nd Century. It was found in 1947 in a cave near Jericho. The oldest Greek fragment known to exist is in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, England. This fragment is from the 2nd Century A.D. Several thousand other ancient Greek manuscripts have been found, the three most complete and important being the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Alexandrinus, all probably of the 4th and 5th Century after Christ. The Codex Vaticanus is in the Vatican library.

The most important early translations of the Bible were the Septuagint and the Vulgate. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, began about 250 B.C. and completed about 100 B.C., and was made for the Jews of Egypt so that they could read their sacred books in Greek. Before long, the Septuagint was widely used in Palestine and distributed throughout the Greek-speaking peoples of the Mediterranean world during the time of Christ and for the 1st Century or longer of the Christian era. The Apostles of Christ used this translation in their teaching.

Know Your Bible #14

   In the early days of the Church, the Scriptures were read at divine services in Greek. An early translation from Greek to Latin was needed for Christians in the West who could not understand Greek. Such translations made up the first Latin Bible. Prepared by so many different people of varying education, the translations were uneven and inaccurate. By the 2nd Century, there were a number of Latin translations, the most widely circulated being the Old Latin, or Itala.

   Numerous variant readings of the Itala existed, due to the copyists, revisers, or translators, so Pope Damasus requested St. Jerome to revise and correct the New Testament. He began his revision with the four Gospels and then revised the remaining books of the New Testament. The work was completed at Rome about AD 383-4.
   After the death of Pope Damasus, St. Jerome went to the Holy Land, for 34 years, devoting his time to revising the Bible, exegetical works, and to the great work of his life—the translation of the protocanonical books of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin. This work extended over a period of fifteen years and was a prodigious task, for the modern Vulgate is made up of: (a) the protocanonical books of the Old Testament, with the exception of the Psalter, translated from the Hebrew by St. Jerome; (b) the deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Judith from the Aramaic by St. Jerome; (c) the deuteronanonical books of Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees from the Old Latin unrevised by St. Jerome; (d) the deuteronanonical parts of Daniel from Greek of Theodotion and of Ester from the Septuagint; and (e) the New Testament revised from the Old Latin by St. Jerome.

Know Your Bible #15

As St. Jerome's work on the Old Testament was a work of private enterprise, it met great opposition. He was accused of changing the text of the Bible, which was familiar to the people in the Itala or Old Latin. However, as time went on, the great merits of his work were recognized. By the 9th Century, Jerome's version was universally accepted. In view of its general adoption, it gradually assumed the name of "Vulgate," the "disseminated" or people's Bible.

On April 8, 1546, the Church, in the Council of Trent, designated the Vulgate as the official Church translation. To this day the Vulgate remains the official version of the Church, and translations of it are found in practically every language in the world. However, it does not mean that it is preferred over the Septuagint or over original manuscripts, or that it is entirely free from error. On the contrary, the Church recognized certain limitations in the translations from the beginning, and ordered a revision. This revised version was published in 1592 under Pope Clement VIII.

Know Your Bible #16

Jerome's text suffered many vicissitudes (changes or variations occurring in the course of something) throughout the ages. In assembling a complete Bible, copyists would take some of their readings, by misadventure, from the old Latin texts and some from the Vulgate; both texts were in circulation. A monk might have memorized several passages from the old version in school, then, in writing a copy of the Vulgate, subconsciously lapse into the old phrasing so familiar to him. Some of the transcribers were not exercising a critical sense and would incorporate texts from other manuscripts, parallel passages, and texts from the liturgy.

The invention of printing only multiplied these problems for a time, but eventually scholars were able to print a text near to the text as it came from the hands of Jerome. While the Vulgate became the official version of the Western Church, it did not prevent other translations from being made. A Coptic version appeared in the 2nd Century; Ulfilas, an Arian bishop, made a Gothic translation in the 4th Century, and there were numerous Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, and Slavonic versions in the early centuries.

Know Your Bible #17

The invention and development of a practical printing process by Gutenberg in the 15th Century did more to revolutionize and modernize the world than any other invention. Prior to this, all manuscripts and books had to be copied by hand and only the very wealthy could ever afford to have one. At once the tedious work of the professional copyist was ended. Not only did it do away with the copyist, it eliminated the many human errors made in copying.

By 1450, Gutenberg had developed the art of printing so well that he was ready to print his first book; the first book printed was the Bible, in the Latin Vulgate translation. About two years were spent in printing and binding the Bible, and it was completed in 1452. Over 200 copies were printed in the first edition.

With the invention of printing, the Bible ran through edition after edition — 124 in the first 50 years, all sponsored by the Catholic Church. By the time Luther's New Testament appeared in 1522 there were 14 complete editions in German, 11 Italian translations, 10 French, 2 Bohemian, one Flemish, and one Russian.

Know Your Bible #18

The first complete English translation of the Bible appeared relatively late, probably not until the 14th Century. However, the English people were not without the Bible in those early years, as the Latin Vulgate was widely disseminated and in daily use. In addition, numerous paraphrases, translations, and commentaries of various Bible stories were well known through Scop and Gleeman, the popular storytellers of their day.

Much of the earlier history of the Bible in English still remains a mystery. Tradition holds that Aidan, Bishop of Landisfarne, who died in 651, encouraged his followers to read the Scriptures in their own tongue. Aldehelm, Bishop of Sherborne until his death in 709, is said to have translated the Psalms into the Saxon language. Between 721 and 901 various writers, including the Venerable Bede, Eadfrith, Alcuin, and King Alfred, are believed to have translated parts or all of the Bible stories into Old English. In the 10th Century, a translation of the first seven books of the Bible and the Book of Job made by Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury from 994 to 1005, was in circulation.
During the time between the death of Aelfric and the reputed work of Wyclif in 1380, other translations are reported to have existed. However, this was a period of great transition in the English language, and practically nothing remains of these writings. It was not until the 15th Century that English as we know it today emerged as a definite language.

Know Your Bible #19

The next important English version is the so-called Wyclif translation, of which over 150 manuscripts are extant. It is taken indirectly from the Vulgate. Much doubt has been cast recently on the theory that Wyclif was responsible for this pre-Reformation Bible in recent years, since the translation is largely Catholic in tone and diction and since most of the manuscripts of this version were found in the possession of notably Catholic families.

The first complete and printed Catholic English translation that is definitely known appeared rather late, at the turn of the 16th Century. This is known as the Douay-Rheims version. It was a translation of the Latin Vulgate and was produced in France by English scholars who had fled the Catholic persecutions in England. The New Testament was published in Rheims in 1582 and the Old Testament in Douay in 1610.
Since the Douay-Rheims translation, the English language has undergone continuous changes. It was necessary, therefore, to revise and bring the Bible up to date from time to time. Bishop Challoner of Rheims in 1750, and several less successful revisions appeared between that time and the 20th Century.

Know Your Bible #20

Numerous Protestant versions of the Bible in English have appeared since the Reformation. William Tyndale (1484-1536) was one of the first Protestant translators of the Bible and is noteworthy because he translated from the original Greek versions rather than from the traditional Vulgate.
In 1535, Miles Coverdale translated and printed a complete English Bible which was the first to separate the deuterocanonical books from the protocanonical books. Other less important translations took place around this time that included the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishop's Bible.

When James I ascended the throne of England in 1603, various Protestant Bibles were in circulation. A group of scholars was organized to undertake a revision of the Protestant Bible. Using the Bishop's Bible as the basis, they produced the King James Version which was published in 1611.
While of great literary merit, Protestants recognized many serious defects, so from 1881-1885 a revision, known as the Revised Version, was made. Many other modern versions are also published today, the most popular, perhaps, being the Revised Standard Version published in 1952 and the most recent New English Version.

Know Your Bible #21

In the United States in the last 40 years, there has been a general revival of religion and the hierarchy felt a great need for accurate modern translation of the Bible of American Scripture scholars, sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
The first task of this group was to prepare a modern edition of the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims English translation of the Bible. Proceeding with this, they published the New Testament in 1941, and then began the translation of the Old Testament. However, Pope Pius XII issued his Encyclical, Divino Afflante Spirit, in 1943 which dealt with, among other things, the need for a new translation of the Bible directly from the original languages of the sacred authors. For this reason, the further revision of the Challoner-Douay-Rheims Version was abandoned.
The Confraternity then began the new translation of the Old Testament from the original languages. The New American Bible is a culmination of their efforts







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