Among the early Fathers, we have seen that the oral tradition, and their unbroken connection back to the Apostles was essential. In addition, they were equally devoted to Scripture, and felt it absolutely essential to the transmission, and living, of the faith. St. Jerome wrote, “To be ignorant of Scripture is to be ignorant of Christ.”
With that in mind, how many Christians today can say that they are as familiar with Scripture as they are of the statistics and updates of their favorite sports team or TV show? Yet only one leads us to knowledge of Christ and our eternal destiny!
So how did Scripture come about anyway? The writings credibly attributed to the Apostles, today known as the New Testament, were widely circulated. However, many other writings were also circulated, claiming authorship by the Disciples. Therefore, the question of authenticity was essential, since many of these other writings were downright foolish and/or false. Within 100 years from Christ’s death, followers were already debating which books were authentic and should be part of the Church’s readings. Lists were drawn up which eventually came to be known as ‘canons’ – from the Greek word meaning “measuring stick”. Until the early 5th century, canons varied from region to region.
By the beginning of the 2nd century however, there was agreement on the 4 Gospels, and most of Paul’s letters. But practically everything else was under debate. The oldest surviving list of Christian books is the Muratorian Canon, from about 150. It includes all the books of the New Testament except Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter. It also included 2 books that were eventually excluded: the Apocalypse of Peter & The Shepherd by Hermas.
In 367, St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, became the 1st of the Fathers to declare the 27 books of the New Testament as a canon binding on the whole Church. Yet it was not settled until the North African synods of Hippos Regius (393) and Cathage (397, 419) whose conclusions were accepted by the universal Church.
Although the books were settled, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission noted in “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” in 1993, the Fathers believed that “there is nothing in (Scripture) which is to be set aside as out of date or completely lacking meaning. God is constantly speaking to His Christian people a message that is ever relevant for their time.”
The Fathers also looked at how to interpret Scripture; claiming there were at least 2 levels of meaning: the literal sense and the spiritual sense. Hence, each passage told a literal truth describing the historical event, person or precept; but, at the same time, the passage might also tell a moral truth about how Christians should live, an allegorical truth about Jesus and/or a revelation about the Christian’s heavenly destiny.
Lastly, the Fathers’ teachings all depend on the harmony between the Old and New Testaments; claiming that what lay hidden under the Old Testament was the mystery of Christ, and that it prefigured various truths concerning Him. So for example, Noah & the Flood prefigured Baptism; water from the rock prefigured the spiritual gifts of Christ; and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist – ‘the true bread from heaven’. (Catechism, n.1094). All the ‘prefigurements’ of Christ in the Old Testament could be a study itself!
And so.... did YOU know how the Bible came to be?
(Information obtained from “The Fathers of the Church” by Mike Aquilina)
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to hope in Love.