§ 133 “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
§ 101 In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”
Pope Pius XII described the Holy Scriptures in Divino Afflante Spiritu § 1:
Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow on them in order to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work. This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council added, in Dei Verbum § 11,
Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see Jn 20:31; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19; 3:15) holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. (1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which he wanted. (4) Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation.
In the Biblical sense, inspiration is “the doctrine that the chief author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, who, being transcendent (beyond all our categories), can and does use a human writer as a secondary author in such a way that the human writes what the Holy Spirit wishes, without error, though the human retains his own style, perhaps even to the point of using some poor grammar.”1
The Old Testament
We recall that God spoke the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and that Moses wrote it down under inspiration as notes from his wider comprehension of the first national revelation.
The Hebrew Scriptures are the Torah (Law), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings, which begin with the Psalms). Together they form an acronym, Torah-Nevi’im-Ketuvim, Tanakh, the complete Hebrew Scriptures. Christians call it the Old Testament. The Jewish tradition holds that Ezra the Scribe, about 450 BC, edited the Tanakh into its final form, and then read it to the people Israel as a second Moses.
The Palestinian Canon
A canon is a rule, in this case a specific list of books recognized as Holy Scripture. Jews in the Holy Land of Judea, Samaria and Galilee, later called Palestine and currently called Israel, used the Palestinian Canon. In Rabbi Yeshua’s time Jews disagreed among themselves as to which books were Holy Scripture, inspired by God. The rabbis, and later the Protestant Reformers, excluded all the deuterocanonical books because they teach Catholic doctrines.
For instance, the second book of Maccabees offers the Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers as a beautiful example of redemptive suffering 2 Mac 7:1–41. In particular, the mother’s plea to her younger son was, “Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers” 2 Mac 7:29. It was picked up in the New Testament, “Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life” Heb 11:35. Why would Luther cut out the Second Book of Maccabees? Because, a few chapters later, it supports Catholic teaching on purgatory, indicated by the practice of praying for the dead to help them find release from the consequences of their sins 2 Mac 12:40–45. Second Maccabees shows that Rabbi Yeshua’s teaching on purgatory actually preceded his incarnate life. Luther didn’t believe in purgatory so he removed the entire book from his Bible.
The Reformers explained that they were simply rejecting books that the Jews themselves rejected. However, they knew only about the Jews of Jerusalem. They did not know the Jews of the Diaspora, whose Septuagint translation accepted the deuterocanonicals. The Reformers also charged that St. Jerome rejected the deuterocanonicals, but left out that after AD 382 when Pope St. Damasus I canonized the deuterocanonicals. St. Jerome bowed to papal authority and included them in his Latin Vulgate.
They even tried to claim that the Catholic Church added the deuterocanonicals at the Council of Trent, although they had been included in every Catholic list of canonized books from AD 367 forward to 1442, and were also included in the original Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455, before the first Protestant Reformer was born.
It is interesting that Protestants reject inclusion of the deuterocanonicals in the Councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (397), the two they most often cite, while citing these same councils as authorities for the canonicity of the entire Christian Bible.
The Palestinian Canon is used by the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. The rabbis originally accepted the Septuagint as a great blessing for their brothers in the diaspora. However, they later rejected it because of one Hebrew word: almah. An almah was a very young girl, often before puberty. While it did not say specifically a virgin, a pre-pubescent girl was understood in the Oral Law to be a virgin. The seventy rabbis who translated the Septuagint accepted that understanding as clear because the alternative, a young girl who conceived in the usual way, could not possibly be a sign, so they translated almah to the Greek parthenos, which means a real virgin. St. Jerome translated it to the Latin virgo which translates it as virgin.
When the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Rabbi Yeshua as God‘s Mashiakh, many Jews followed him but others did not follow. Those who did not follow objected strenuously to the Septuagint’s translation of Is 7:14, almah, as parthenos. When they were unable to come up with alternate understanding of Isaiah’s word almah their only alternatives were to accept Rabbi Yeshua as God‘s Mashiakh or reject the entire Septuagint. They chose to reject the Septuagint.
Sadducees: The Torah, Nothing More
The Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the five books of Moses, as inspired. They considered the Nevi’im, prophets, and the Ketuvim, writings, useful but not the inspired Word of God. The Sadducees argued against the reality of the resurrection because they did not see it in the Torah. Rabbi Yeshua told the Sadducees, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” Mt 22:29. The Sadducees had been wrong because they did not accept the Book of Isaiah as canonical. “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; he sets up salvation [Hebrew: yeshua] as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in’” Is 26:1–2.
Pharisees: The Torah, Nevi’im And Ketuvim
Ezra the Scribe had accepted the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim as inspired by God. The Pharisees in Rabbi Yeshua‘s time accepted the same books as God-inspired. The rabbis today accept the same books. This list of books is called the Palestinian Canon because it had its origins in the land of Israel, which later was called Palestine and more recently is again called Israel.
Judaism recognizes that some texts of Holy Scripture are more authoritative than others. The Torah has the highest place in Hebrew Scripture. Many Jewish holy books outside the Palestinian Canon, called khitzonim, exterior books, including the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Barukh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel, commanded respect in the time of Rabbi Yeshua.
For example, the Book of Maccabees is not included in the Palestinian Canon but is accepted as accurate; its account of the Hanukkah is confirmed in the Talmud. It also supports the resurrection: “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought” 2 Mac 12:44–45.
By Moses’ time men nearly everywhere were worshiping great numbers of idols, so many that in Egypt the God of Israel went to war against them in the Ten Plagues. He led his people Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai where he gave a Torah that commanded them to remain a people apart. At that time they had to remain apart to hold fast to God’s teaching that he was one. God had always been a Holy Trinity, but he wrote into his Torah a Shma prayer that the rabbis could focus on as proclaiming one God to contrast with the multitude of idols while containing within it visible evidence of the Mashiakh’s full revelation to come.
The centuries passed. God was preparing to send his Mashiakh into the world to fulfill his revelation and open it to the whole world in a Catholic Church. His providence for us is awesome. Watch it in action!
Biblical Hebrew was an ancient language. Moses wrote the Torah after receiving God’s guidance on Mt. Sinai Ex 24:4. It was a magnificent teaching language, beautiful and vivid and pictorial, but it had few words. Each word had several meanings, so that the true meaning had to be inferred from context. In particular, Biblical Hebrew was deficient in adjectives. The few Hebrew adjectives that did exist lacked comparative and superlative forms, so that, “more holy” is kadosh kadosh, and “most holy” is kadosh kadosh kadosh Is 6:3. Biblical Hebrew also lacked abstract terms such as theology, philosophy, or religion.
The Greek language evolved approximately along this schedule. Of course, languages do not snap on and off like electric lights, so these dates are only approximate, but they do indicate the broad outline of Greek history.
- Pre-Homeric (pre-1000 BC)
- Classical Greek (1000 BC-330 BC)
- Koine Greek (330 BC to AD 330)
- Byzantine (Medieval) Greek (AD 330-AD 1453)
- Modern Greek (AD 1453-Present)
Koine (pronounce it: koy-nay) Greek came into being after Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, spreading the Greek language and culture to all the lands that he conquered. By around 200 BC, when the Septuagint was completed, koine Greek was already on its way to becoming the universal language of the Mediterranean region and beyond.
God’s People Israel Need a New Translation
By the third century BC most Jews in the Diaspora, particularly the large Jewish community in Alexandria, spoke Greek. The transition from Hebrew to Aramaic had marked an increasing separation from God, but at least Aramaic was a Semitic language. The transition from Aramaic to Greek marked a much wider separation.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Macedonian king of Egypt, wanted a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures for the world famous Library of Alexandria. Seventy Jewish scholars were chosen and isolated in seventy separate chambers. Seventy days later, the seventy Jewish scholars emerged, each with his own independent Greek translation of the Hebrew text. By a divine miracle, each of the seventy translations was identical to the others. In other words, the seventy scribes miraculously translated each and every word of the Hebrew Scriptures in exactly same way. Thus, this Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures is known as the Septuagint, from the Latin: septuaginta interpretum versio, the version translated by the seventy. Its universal symbol is LXX, the Roman number seventy.
Why seventy? We recall, “All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons” Ex 1:5. These were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher, each with his household Ex 1:2–4. Joseph was already in Egypt.
The original project was to translate only the Torah, but it continued as a library of Jewish sacred texts to include the intertestamental and later books. The seventy rabbis completed their work about 200 BC. The Septuagint was widely used, certainly by the Greek-speaking rabbis, but also by at least some of the Hebrew-speaking rabbis who also spoke Greek.
The Torah was considered so holy that not even a single letter could be altered. The Septuagint’s Greek was therefore a mirror of the original Hebrew. In a Hebrew sentence the verb comes first, then the subject, then the complements that express place or circumstances. Let us look at a typical verse using the original Hebrew sentence structure: “He went up from Egypt, Abram, he and his wife, and all that he had” Gen 13:1. The Septuagint followed the same Hebraic sentence structure, rather than the ordinary Greek sentence structure. The result was a “translucent” Greek text in which the Hebrew text could be “seen” behind the Greek.
It was more than sentence structure. The Septuagint translation, while not always slavish, is amazingly literal, especially as regards the Torah. It is more than the syntax; more than the order of the words following the Hebrew. The style itself is consistently Hebraic.
The seventy rabbis who worked on the Septuagint translation consulted the Oral Law to arrive at a more precise understanding of each word to resolve differences of opinion among the sages before translating it into Greek. This is appropriate when dealing with a divinely inspired text, in which God may have embedded subtle shades of meaning for later generations to discover. We can get some sense of how it looks in English by reading the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is a comparably literal translation of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The Douay-Rheims English is sometimes not smooth and flowing, but accurately mirrors the Vulgate.
Hebrew-to-Greek is a more drastic translation than Greek-to-Latin, Greek-to-English, or Latin-to-English. Hebrew belongs to the Semitic language family. Greek, Latin and English are all within the Indo-European family of languages.
For instance, Isaiah’s prophecy of Mary declared, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin [almah] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” Is 7:14. For “virgin,” Isaiah had used the Hebrew word almah, from the root alm. Almah meant a very young girl, often before puberty. An almah would not likely have been of sexual interest to an elem, a boy at that age, and so was always regarded as a virgin. The same root alm also gives us the Hebrew word alum, hidden, secret, unknown. Its opposite, ladaat, also ties together knowledge and sexual relations. God clearly meant a virgin. A young woman who gives birth in the usual way would be very common, and therefore could not be a sign. The Septuagint therefore translated almah into Greek as parthenos, virgin. The Greek language had a word neanis which means “young woman” but does not imply virginity, and so the rabbis who translated the Septuagint did not use it. For two centuries no sage objected to this translation, but once the early Christians began to point out that parthenos supported Rabbi Yeshua‘s extraordinary virgin birth, the Jerusalem rabbis who disavowed Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Mashiakh also disavowed the entire Septuagint.
As always with God’s providence, Alexander the Great arrived on the scene and spread the Greek language worldwide shortly before Rabbi Yeshua‘s own arrival. Rabbi Yeshua himself read and quoted from the Septuagint. The Church tells us, in Dei Verbum § 22,
Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation wIth the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.
Rabbi Yeshua read and quoted from the Septuagint, so the Catholic Church from the beginning did the same. But how can a translation be better than the original? The rabbis had the Oral Law with its additional insights as well as the Written Torah. Also, koine Greek, because it started later, after civilization had reached higher levels of development, was much more complex and precise, more capable of expressing fine nuances and various shades of meaning as well as philosophy and abstract ideas, enabling the rabbis to express these nuances. Finally, our Father gave the Septuagint his own imprimatur. Christian tradition records that by a divine miracle, all of the seventy scribes’ translations were identical.
This is why the Church wrote all of her New Testament books originally in Greek. Rabbi Matityahu originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, but later translated it into Greek. St. Jerome, who had access to the Hebrew Matityahu, said that the Hebrew Matityahu quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures but the Greek Matityahu quoted from the Septuagint. St. Jerome produced his Latin Vulgate translation from the Septuagint. So Greek is the original language of all the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture.
An interesting footnote is that St. Jerome, before embarking on his great translation of the Christian Bible into Latin, compared the Hebrew Scriptures with the Greek Septuagint, and considered the Hebrew text better. St. Augustine and many other churchmen criticized St. Jerome, since Catholic tradition from the beginning has held that Rabbi Yeshua and the shlikhim had ratified the Septuagint as the Church’s Holy Scripture.
Be that as it may, the Hebrew religion, confined by God’s command to ancient Israel Deut 7:1–5, would likely have faded from memory like all of the other extinct Semitic religions. But after Alexander spread the Greek language over most of the civilized world, the Septuagint gave Judaism its diaspora, spreading the Hebrew perspective of God, history, law, and the whole human condition everywhere in the Mediterranean region and far beyond. Catholic means universal § 830. Isaiah had prophesied, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” Is 40:3. Rabbi Yeshua, centuries before his incarnate life, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by preparing the way of the missionary journeys that he knew his shlikhim and talmidim would need so that, “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” Is 40:5.
The Original Manuscripts
God has allowed us to lose the sacred originals from the hands of Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus, Rabbi Lucas, and Rabbi Yokhanan. Why? God had protected the Temple until Rabbi Yeshua became the living Temple, and then he allowed the original to fall. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” Jn 20:21. We no longer need the sacred originals because God has given us a living authority, each pope in his time. We are to venerate the inspired word of God, but to depend on each pope in his time for the whole halakha.
Rabbi Yeshua sees everything. St. Jerome (AD 342-420) completed his translation of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture about AD 400. In AD 410 the Dark Ages arrived with the Visigoth sack of Rome. The Visigoths, Barbarians, Vandals, Franks, and Huns, conquered and destroy civilizations, including many of St. Jerome’s precious source documents. Thanks be to God that he had already gotten all he needed from them, and that his Biblia Sacra Vulgata, so important to the Church, has been preserved.
The Alexandrian Canon
We recall that Alexander the Great’s vast empire spread over most of Europe and Asia, and parts of north Africa. Everywhere he went, Alexander planted his native Greek language. Alexandria, Egypt, named for Alexander, had the largest Jewish community in the diaspora. When its rabbis produced the Septuagint, its list of books became known as the Alexandrian Canon. Jews in the diaspora accepted the Alexandrian Canon.
The Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture follows the Alexandrian Canon. Dei Verbum § 22: “The Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint.”
The Alexandrian Canon is the canon of Sacred Scripture accepted by the rabbis in Alexandria, Egypt, the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the diaspora. It includes all the deuterocanonical books, without marking them as different in any way from the other books. Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1946 show that the diaspora Jews used the deuterocanonicals even in their Sabbath services.
Rabbi Yeshua read and quoted from the Septuagint as Sacred Scripture, but during the early 1500s the Protestant Reformers chose the Palestinian Canon for its Old Testament, describing the books it left out as apocrypha, of doubtful canonicity, rather than following Catholic use of the Alexandrian Canon from which Rabbi Yeshua had quoted. The Catholic Church responded by describing these books, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (50:29; 51:1), Barukh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as Esther 10:4–16:24 and Daniel 3:24–90 and chapters 13 and 14, as deuterocanonical. The terms protocanonical, first canon, and deuterocanonical, second canon, do not suggest two Catholic canons, but are simply a response to the Protestants’ artificial distinction. There is only one Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture, consisting of 72 books, or 73 if Jeremiah and his Lamentations are presented as separate books.
Remarkably, the King James Authorized Version, the Protestant gold standard, continued to publish the deuterocanonical books until 1885.
Rabbi Paul told us, “All scripture is inspired by God” 2 Tim 3:16. His original Greek was theopneustos, God-breathed. God’s breath is life for us. “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” Gen 2:7. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” Jn 20:22. All the original manuscripts of Sacred Scripture are the living Word of God. They are free from error, but more, they have the fullness of truth, called inerrancy.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, in Dei Verbum § 11, explains inerrancy:
“Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–20, 3:15–16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim 3:16–17, Greek text).
“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” Jn 14:26. The Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture anchors our faith, and centers our attention on Rabbi Yeshua’s teachings and supreme sacrifice for us. Every Catholic teaching is consistent with explicit Scriptural teachings. However, because the Holy Spirit continues his ongoing guidance, because the Bible was written thousands of years ago, because inspired writing is often challenging to read even in its original language, and because most of us can read it only in translation, we need the Church’s guidance as we read it.
Dei Verbum § 25, also encourages Catholics to read all of Sacred Scripture:
The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful … to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. Holy Mother Church adds emphasis by repeating it twice, using the term forcefully, in the Catechism at § 133 The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. And at § 2653 the Church forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.
Also see Verbum Domini.
The Sacred Scripture of the Early Christians
Because the seventy rabbis continued to work on the Septuagint as a library of Jewish sacred texts to include later and later books, it included all the books of the Tanakh, but also the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Barukh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as the complete books of Esther and Daniel. The original Septuagint included these among the books of Jewish Sacred Scripture with no distinction between them and the books of the Palestinian Canon.
Rabbi Yeshua, his shlikhim, and all the early Church used the Septuagint. He used its canon because he knew which books our Father had inspired. He used its Greek language, the translation prepared for the whole world, because he would soon offer his revelation to the whole world. His evangelists wrote their Gospels in Greek in obedience to Rabbi Yeshua‘s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” Mt 28:19.
All the books of the Septuagint were in the original Christian Bible, in all Church lists of the Sacred Scriptures after about AD 400, and in all editions of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible, for 1,600 years the reference standard for the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture. They were also included in the original editions of Gutenberg’s Bible, Miles Coverdale’s Bible, and the King James Bible, the one King James personally authorized.
Sola Scriptura believers sometimes say the Catholic Church added the deuterocanonicals to the Bible. A little research in a scholarly library archive will show that the original editions of the Septuagint (Greek, 200 BC), St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible (Latin, AD 400), Gutenberg’s Bible (Latin, 1455), Miles Coverdale’s Bible (English, 1535), and the King James Bible (English, 1611), all included the deuterocanonicals as an integral part of the Bible. The original King James Bible is particularly interesting. It was a magnificent work of art, about 10 inches thick, and weighed about 30 pounds. On many of the pages it had elaborate color paintings of Mary and the saints and elaborate gold leaf decorations, and yes, it included the deuterocanonicals without any mention of their having a lesser status.
After the sola Scriptura believers adopted the Palestinian Canon and began to describe the books distinctive to the Septuagint as apocrypha, of doubtful canonicity, the Catholic Church realized that it needed a more appropriate word to describe those books in particular, and began to call them deuterocanonical.
There are many books that the Catholic Church describes as apocrypha. Rabbi Paul rebuked the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” Gal 1:6–7. And Rabbi Paul told us how to recognize an apocryphal gospel. “Brethren, I would have you know that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” Gal 1:11–12.
Rabbi Yeshua Quoted From the Deuterocanonicals
The evidence for Rabbi Yeshua‘s use of the Septuagint is that he quoted from the deuterocanonicals. We recall that the original Old Testament documents had no chapter and verse notations; they were introduced during the Middle Ages. Quotation was done simply by re-stating the passage. Let us compare two deuterocanonical observations with Rabbi Yeshua‘s observations as recorded in the Gospels:
The book of Sirach says, “The fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so the expression of a thought discloses the cultivation of a man’s mind” Sir 27:6. Rabbi Yeshua quoted, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit” Mt 7:15–17.
And Rabbi Yeshua observed Hanukkah, described in Scripture only in the deuterocanonical 1 and 2 Maccabees. “Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built” 1 Mac 4:52–53. Rabbi Yeshua observed it. “It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon” Jn 10:22–23.
The New Testament
Rabbi Yeshua spoke the Torah to his shlikhim in Israel. The four canonical Gospels, written by Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus, Rabbi Lucas, and Rabbi Yokhanan, anchor the New Testament in eternal truth, as the Torah anchors the Old Testament in eternal truth.
Rabbi Paul reminds us that all Scripture is inspired 2 Tim 3:16. At the time he was thinking of the Old Testament. But Rabbi Yeshua told his shlikhim, “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” Jn 16:14. In God’s providence, therefore, the Catholic Church brought into being a New Testament, as a perpetual living witness to God’s Mashiakh. Holy Mother Church brought these two testaments together as the eternal Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture
The Evangelists As Sofrim
But why did the Evangelists, writing down the teachings they had received from Rabbi Yeshua in his own words, from his own speeches day after day and, after Pentecost, their own speeches in Aramaic day after day? They saw themselves as sofrim, men the Gospels called Scribes, writing down the teachings they had received from Rabbi Yeshua in his own words, from his own speeches day after day and, after Pentecost, their own speeches in Aramaic day after day. A sofer’s work had to be perfect. The four Evangelists knew that an entire Gospel written in Greek sentences like, “Then came to Sodom in evening, the two angels” Gen 19:1, would be hard to read. Most translators alter the word order when necessary to make the translation more fluent: “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening” Gen 19:1. But Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus, Rabbi Lucas and Rabbi Yokhanan knew that they were writing down the Word of God and were extremely careful to retain its original sense in their Greek texts.
God has allowed us to lose the sacred originals from the hands of Rabbi Matityahu, Rabbi Marcus, Rabbi Lucas and Rabbi Yokhanan. Why? God had protected the Temple until Rabbi Yeshua became the living Temple, and then he allowed the original to fall. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” Jn 20:21. We no longer need the sacred originals because God has given us a living authority, each pope in his time. We are to venerate the inspired word of God, but to depend on each pope in his time for the whole Halakha.
Which Books Were Inspired
There was considerable difference among the early churchmen over which books were inspired.
Many other gospels were written during the first four centuries. People who wanted to gain credibility for their stories would often attach the name of an Apostle or some other widely respected leader. “The Gospel of Thomas,” “The Apocalypse of Peter,” “The Apocalypse of Paul,” and dozens of other writings called “lost” and “forgotten” were lost and forgotten because the early Christians knew that they had not been written by Rabbi Yeshua‘s authoritative shlikhim, and that they spread false ideas that interacted in many people’s minds with the true Gospel accounts to produce confusion and loss of faith. These lost gospels are promoted today by some historical-critical “scholars” eager to discredit Catholic teaching.
During the first century the Church sifted through the hundreds of competing books and selected 73 as divinely inspired Sacred Scripture: 46 in the Hebrew Scriptures and 27 in the New Testament.2 During the centuries of Roman persecution these books were read in the catacombs.
From nearly the beginning, the European and Asiatic wings of the Church evolved differently. European bishops could travel, with some hardship, to meet with the pope every few years. Asiatic bishops, faced with travel over thousands of miles at the speed of a walking animal, often had to get by with letters. East and West shared a belief in Rabbi Yeshua‘s public revelation and accepted the pope as his vicar on earth. Rabbi Kefa and Rabbi Paul went to Rome and set up centers of Christian life there. The Europeans at these centers, later called Roman Catholics, brought their style of worship with them as they migrated. Rabbi Yokhanan and Rabbi Philippos, and their followers, built centers of Christian life in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople. Each region developed unique rites, called Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine, and Chaldean, within the overall Eastern Catholic ambit. So there were also differences among the early churchmen of the East and West.
The Muratorian Fragment
The Muratorian Canon, dated at AD 180-200, is the oldest known Church attempt to list the inspired books. The unidentified author accepts four Gospels. The names of the first two are missing, the last two are Luke and John. Also accepted are the Acts of All Apostles. The rest states in part: “Besides these [letters of Paul] there is one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in affection and love, but nevertheless regarded as holy in the Catholic Church, in the ordering of churchly discipline. There is also one [letter] to the Laodiceans and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, in regard to the heresy of Marcion, and there are several others which cannot be received by the Church, for it is not suitable that gall be mixed with honey. The epistle of Jude, indeed, and the two ascribed to John are received by the Catholic Church … Of [the Gnostics] Arsinorus, also called Valentine, and of Miltiades, we receive nothing at all. Those also who wrote the new book of psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides, the founder of the Asian Cataphrygians [we do not accept].”
Origen’s travels gave him insight into the traditions of distant Church regions. Around AD 220 he divided the sacred books into three classes: widely accepted, disputed, and spurious. In his time the widely accepted writings, were the four Gospels, the thirteen Pauline Epistles, Acts, Apocalypse, 1 Peter, and 1 John. The disputed writings, were Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James, Jude, Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and probably the Gospel of the Hebrews. All the rest he called spurious.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, a disciple of Origen and an erudite scholar in his own person, made his own lists around AD 312. In his time the widely accepted writings were the four Gospels, thirteen Pauline Epistles, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John, and the Apocalypse. He was occasionally inconsistent, ranking Hebrews among the universally accepted but elsewhere admitting that it was in dispute.
He divided his disputed books into better or worse. His better disputed books were the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John. His worse disputed books were the Barnabas, the Didache, Gospel of the Hebrews, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter. All the rest he considered spurious.3
Sts. Jerome And Augustine
St. Jerome believed that the seven deuterocanonical books were not inspired while St. Augustine believed that they were. There were also other books under discussion. So it was not obvious to everyone which books belonged in the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture. The Church Fathers also offered their opinions.
The Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture
Each city-church, including the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea Rev 1:11, had its own Mass liturgy prescribing which holy books would be read during Mass. In effect, each city-church had its own Biblical canon. Rabbi Yeshua prayed “that they may be one, even as we are one” Jn 17:11. And the Church already had its motto, lex orandi, lex credendi, as we pray so we believe. It was clear that Holy Mother Church needed one Bible.
St. Athanasius, as part of his heroic defense of the true Faith against the Arian heresy, after much study and reflection produced a list of books he believed divinely inspired and not consistent with the Arian heresy. He published the list in his Festal Letter, § 39 in AD 367 as the regional canon for the Eastern Church. It was the first list of books of the New Testament in their present number and order.
in AD 382 Pope St. Damasus I and the Council of Rome confirmed St. Athanasius’ list, canonizing the whole list including the deuterocanonicals as inerrant and inspired by the Holy Spirit. That was important because St. Jerome had early reservations about including the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and portions of Daniel and Esther. But once Pope St. Damasus I approved them, St. Jerome bowed to Church authority, defended them, and included them in his great Latin Vulgate.
Pope St. Damasus I also commissioned St. Jerome to produce a new Latin Bible reflecting the highest scholarship. There had been earlier Biblical texts in Latin, collectively called the Vetus Latina (Old Latin), but St. Augustine and Pope St. Damasus I judged their quality inadequate. St. Jerome found the best primary Hebrew and Greek texts in the Jewish rabbinical schools of Palestine and in the libraries of Antioch, Cappadocia, and Caesarea. He traveled to the East and began work on his Vulgate edition.
God soon called Damasus home, but his successors kept the process moving. The Council of Hippo in AD 393 approved St. Athanasius’ list. Hippo was a small northwest African council, but St. Augustine’s presence added greatly to its influence.
The Diocese of Africa then had its see at Carthage, so Carthage had authority to speak for all of the Northwest African bishops, including St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Some bishops questioned whether to include Hebrews and the Revelation, but St. Augustine supported both, and both remained. The third Council of Carthage in AD 397, in its canon 36, reaffirmed Pope St. Damasus I and the Council of Hippo:
[It has been decided] that nothing except the Canonical Scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine Scriptures. But the Canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon (Chronicles) two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Sirach), twelve books of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees. Moreover, of the New Testament: Four books of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles one book, thirteen epistles of Paul the Apostle, one of the same to the Hebrews, two of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, the Apocalypse of John. Thus [it has been decided] that the Church beyond the sea (Rome) may be consulted regarding the confirmation of that canon; also that it be permitted to read the sufferings of the martyrs, when their anniversary days are celebrated.
It was God’s grace that St. Jerome produced his Latin Vulgate around AD 400 while so many original texts remained intact. Soon after St. Jerome’s work was completed, the barbarian invasions destroyed, among much else, many of the libraries that had preserved the original texts on which he had relied.
St. Augustine‘s presence greatly strengthened the Council’s influence. But, more important, Carthage sent its decisions to Rome for ratification. Pope St. Innocent I ratified the list by repeating it in his letter to St. Exuperius, Consulenti tibi, AD 405.
These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of Judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job one book, of Tobit one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Maccabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books. Likewise of the New Testament: of the Gospels four books, of Paul the Apostle fourteen epistles, of John three, epistles of Peter two, an epistle of Jude, an epistle of James, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John.4
Although Consulenti tibi was not an infallible decree for the whole world, the cumulative authority of St. Athanasius, Pope St. Damasus I, Hippo, third Carthage, and St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was enough. The Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture was accepted worldwide.
The Catholic Church from the very beginning accepted 73 books, 46 written before Christ’s arrival for the Israelite people and 27 written after Christ’s arrival for the Christian faithful, as divinely inspired. These books are gathered together into one book called The Bible, or Holy Scripture. The Hebrew Scriptures were already the Jewish “Bible,” library of books suitable for sacred reading. Jews in Israel followed the Palestinian Canon, while Jews in the diaspora followed the Alexandrian Canon.
Holy Mother Church carefully safeguarded her list of canonical books. The Council of Carthage in AD 419 reaffirmed exactly the same canon and asked Pope Boniface I to confirm it. Exactly the same canon was confirmed again by Nicaea II in AD 787.
After the Copts added some apocryphal books, Pope Eugene IV repeated the list as it had been during the past thousand years in his bull Cantate Domino, included among the records of the Council of Florence, the seventeenth worldwide Catholic ecumenical council, in 1442. With papal authority and the approval of a general council, the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture at that time acquired the full authority of Catholic dogma.
Finally, the Council of Trent, the nineteenth worldwide ecumenical council, in response to Protestant claims, reaffirmed the dogma of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture in 1546 against the Protestant challenge on the deuterocanonical books.
Even after that, the same Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture was reaffirmed again by Vatican II in 1965. All of these canons were identical to the modern Catholic Bible, and of course to one another, and all of them included the deuterocanonicals.
Why did Holy Mother Church continue to authoritatively reaffirm the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture when it was already approved by Pope St. Damasus I in AD 382? First, the Catholic Church speaks to the ages. By continuing to reaffirm the Canon, Holy Mother Church shows authoritatively that she has venerated the same Scriptures since the fourth century. They are rock solid because the rest on Rabbi Yeshua’s vicar, Rabbi Kefa Jn 21:15–17 and his successors. Also, in case anyone should ever challenge one of the canonizations, there would remain plenty of others on which the Scriptures’ authority would securely rest.
Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Rome has spoken, the case is closed.
The First Fourteen Centuries
God had commanded, “Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the sons of Israel” Deut 31:19. The song is Deut 32:1–43. The rabbis, interpreting it through God’s command to kings Deut 17:18–20, extended it to say that every Jew who could do so must write a Torah scroll for himself.
During the Old Testament days most people were illiterate, and so a class of professionals called sofrim, Scribes, arose to do this exacting work. “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” Mk 1:22. The sofer’s work, as we have seen, had to be perfect, every letter had to be “kosher.” Each Torah scroll contained more than 300,000 characters. A single error, an “unkosher” letter or mark, invalidated the entire scroll, causing it to be buried with the next person to die.
A Torah scroll hand copied by a sofer is called a sefer Torah. At the Sabbath services, rabbis read from the Sefer Torah to their congregations.
The ancient rabbis considered teachers, not books, essential to the preservation of Jewish tradition. Because the Torah’s meaning was not always clear to the congregation, the rabbi followed the Torah reading with a sermon, an explanation of the portion that had just been read.
During the first 1,400 years after Rabbi Yeshua was crucified, most Christians also did not know how to read. The few who could read could not afford to own a Bible. Monks in monasteries followed the tradition of the sofrim. Each Catholic Bible was hand copied by a monk in a scriptorium. The monks sat at a desk all day in a large room, copying in silence from a text spread before them, often lamenting, “Two fingers hold the pen, but the whole body toils.” Most scriptoria lacked heat and artificial light; the monasteries did not allow any fire in the scriptoria to assure safety of the manuscripts. In monasteries that did not have a large scriptorium, separate cells in the cloister called carrels were set up so that each monk would have a window and desk. Each scribe’s usual daily manuscript work was about six hours, which was all the bright sunlight available in winter, the rest of the day being taken up in prayer, meals, and private contemplation. After the work was completed and proofread, the vellum or parchment was given to another monk who illuminated it with beautiful illustrations and decorations. Finally it was sent to a bindery.
Each Catholic Church had a Latin Bible, chained to the ambo, not to prevent those who could from reading it but rather to assure that it would remain in the church so the priest could read it to his congregation. A single sefer copy of the Christian Bible took about three years of a monk’s time to produce, so it was extremely valuable. Holy Mother Church has always recognized the temptations of pride and avarice.
During the first 1,400 years virtually all Christians learned about Rabbi Yeshua through the spoken word from the Catholic Church, not from a Bible that they read on their own. The priest, again following the ancient rabbinic tradition, followed the readings with a homily, a sermon that explained the Scripture readings for that day to his particular congregation.
In 1455, in Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg used movable type to print a Latin Bible. Those who have visited the Library of Congress and seen its rare Gutenberg Bible, Giant Bible of Mainz, and other Bibles, have noticed that they look like the work of manuscript scribes, with no title page or page numbers, their Gothic type both majestic and medieval in appearance.
From Hebrew to Latin
From Hebrew to Greek
Rabbi Yeshua celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Hebrew. And, until the stoning of St. Stephen, Rabbi Kefa and the other shlikhim taught in Hebrew and Aramaic. But when the Jewish authorities began their persecution against the Church, Christians began preaching to Greek-speaking pagans. Rabbi Paul began celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Greek. Since it was the todah sacrifice, he used the Greek word eucharistia, thanksgiving, to describe Rabbi Yeshua’s Body and Blood. Pope Benedict XVI explains the transition.
And in fact the Septuagint did play a decisive role in directing many searching souls in late antiquity toward the God of Israel. The earlier myths had lost their credibility; philosophical monotheism was not enough to bring people to a living relationship with God. Many cultured men thus found a new access to God in Israel’s monotheism, which was not philosophically conceived, but had been given from above within a history of faith. Many cities saw the formation of a circle of the “God-fearing,” of pious “pagans,” who neither could nor wanted to become full-fledged Jews, but participated in the synagogue liturgy and thus in Israel’s faith. It was in this circle that the earliest Christian missionary preaching found its first foothold and began to spread. Now at last, these men could belong wholly to the God of Israel, because this God—according to Paul’s preaching about him—had in Jesus truly become the God of all men. Now at last, by believing in Jesus as the Son of God, they could become full members of the People of God.5
Rabbi Yeshua closed the era of public revelation when the last shaliakh died. The shlikhim knew Hebrew and Aramaic, and were well familiar with the great depth of all that Rabbi Yeshua taught. But after the Second Jewish Revolt the Jewish Christians separated entirely from the Judahite community and joined with the Gentile Christians. They lost their distinctive Judean culture with its Hebrew and Aramaic languages, and adopted the Greek-speaking culture of the diaspora Jewish Christians and the far more numerous Gentile Christians.
From Greek to Latin
In the Western Church the change from Greek to Latin was gradual. As Christians in Rome began to speak Latin instead of Greek, the language of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass followed. Pope St. Victor I (190-202) apparently was the first to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin. By around AD 400 Latin had become the language of the Church. At that time classical Latin had great poetic beauty, as we see in the writings of gifted fathers and doctors of the Church. By the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Latin had become far more prosaic, but with the angelic simplicity that comes with the clarity of ordered thought.
Rabbi Yeshua knew that Latin would soon cease to be spoken colloquially anywhere in the world. Its standards were therefore set in stone. From the time the Church adopted Latin it has not changed at all, except for the Church’s own addition of new theological or canonical words needed for the development of doctrine or liturgy.
Pope Pius XII wrote in Divino Afflante Spiritu, § 14.: “However, such was the state of letters in those times, that not many—and these few but imperfectly—knew the Hebrew language. In the middle ages, when Scholastic Theology was at the height of its vigor, the knowledge of even the Greek language had long since become so rare in the West, that even the greatest Doctors of that time, in their exposition of the Sacred Text, had recourse only to the Latin version, known as the Vulgate.”
Traditionally, we have been able to secure the teachings by which men gain eternal life only by a determined effort to preserve the words and symbols through which they have long been taught. The secure anchor of Latin has preserved for centuries the precise teachings revealed by God Himself to the popes as they have been distributed to the bishops. However, in some cases, teachings passed from a bishop to the priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay faithful have been distorted in a modern yeridat hadorot.
In our own time, information technology has advanced so much that the same Catholic bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay faithful can connect directly to the Vatican web site where they can find the great body of authoritative papal teachings published in numerous languages, replicating in a sense the Pentecost miracle in which Rabbi Kefa’s voice spoke to people from every land. “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language” Acts 2:5–6.
The Catholic Bible Today
St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate remained the Church’s official Latin translation of the sacred writers’ original texts from the fifth century, when St. Jerome completed it, until the late 1970s. It was reproduced entirely by hand copying until Gutenberg’s movable type arrived. Across the centuries, a small amount of yeridat hadorot, in the form of minor copying errors, set in. After the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Holy Mother Church began a careful review process to preserve St. Jerome’s original Latin Vulgate texts. St. John Paul II announced in Scripturarum Thesaurus the corrected edition, the Nova Vulgata Editio, in 1979. Holy Mother Church teaches in Liturgiam Authenticam § 37 that, “the Nova Vulgata Editio is the point of reference as regards the delineation of the canonical text.”
§ 109-119 The Holy Spirit, Interpreter of Scripture
This is the interpretive lens through which the Catholic Church reads the Holy Scriptures:
§ 112 Be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.
The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.
§ 113 Read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church.
§ 114 Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.