Why Should We Trust the Bible?

How do we know the we can trust the Bible? For that matter, how do we know which Books make up “the Bible” in the first place? And how do we know whose interpretation of Scripture is correct?

Here’s the talk that I gave on the subject last Wednesday. Here’s the talk (broken up into four parts), followed by the materials that I handed out:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

I. The Importance of the Bible 
Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (St. Jerome, quoted by Dei Verbum 25, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 133)) 
Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology.” (Dei Verbum 24) 

II. Objections to the Bible 
  1. How do we know it’s true?  

  1. How do we know it’s Divinely inspired? How can it be trusted, if it’s the work of men? 

  1. How do we know which Books belong in the Bible? 

  1. How do we know how to interpret the Bible? 

III. Does God Wish to Reveal Himself? 
Even the Bible testifies that God reveals Himself outside of, and prior to, Scripture. 

  1. God Reveals Himself Through Creation: 

The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1a);  
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) 
  1. God Reveals Himself Through Conscience: 

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16) 

  1. God Reveals Himself Most Fully Through Jesus Christ: 

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) 

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4).” (Dei Verbum 2)  
IVDoes God‘s Revelation Include Sacred Scripture?  
  1. The Jews, the original People of God, taught that it did. 

There were prophets claiming to receive revelation from God, and claiming that their writings were the inspired word of God. These teachings would often be introduced with phrases like “Thus says the Lord,” signaling that this was not simply the wisdom of man, but the word of God. 
Everyone agreed about the inspiration of the Torah (“the Law”), the first five Books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  
  1. Jesus Christ confirmed this teaching in several ways. 

– By quoting Scripture repeatedly. 
– By chastising the Sadducees for not knowing the Scriptures: “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) 
 By declaring that He came to fulfill the Law: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17). 
– By fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47). “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). 

  1. The New Testament affirms the inspired status of the Old Testament and shows that there will be new Scriptures with the Christian revelation. 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ JesusAll scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17) 

“And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16) 

V. How do we Know Which Books Belong in the Bible? 
  1. Certain Old Testament Books were Universally Accepted by the Jews; Others were disputed. 

The Sadducees believed that only the Torah was inspired.  
The Pharisees held to a longer canon of Scripture, generally corresponding to the modern Jewish Bible, and the Protestant Old Testament. 
The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) had an even longer canon of Scripture, corresponding to the Catholic Old Testament. 
The Books in dispute between the Pharisees and Hellenists are what we Catholics call the “Deuterocanon,” and what Protestants call the “Apocrypha.” 
  1. Certain New Testament Books were Universally Accepted by the Early Christians; Others were disputed. 

The ones in dispute were called the Antilegomena (meaning “Spoken Against”): 
Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.” (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Ch. 25). 

  1. The Apostolic Fathers Quote both the Old and New Testament as Scripture. 

My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy; neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered. But be meek, since ‘the meek shall inherit the earth.‘” (Didache 3, 1st century, quoting the Beatitudes [cf. Matthew 5:5]). 

Let us therefore be lowly minded, brethren, laying aside all arrogance and conceit and folly and anger, and let us do that which is written. For the Holy Ghost saith, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor the strong in his strength, neither the rich in his riches; but he that boasteth let him boast in the Lord, that he may seek Him out, and do judgment and righteousness,’ most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering, for thus He spake: ‘Have mercy, that ye may receive mercy: forgive, that it may be forgiven to you. As ye do, so shall it be done to you. As ye give, so shall it be given unto you. As ye judge, so shall ye be judged. As ye show kindness, so shall kindness be showed unto you. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured withal to you.'” (Pope St. Clement, 1 Clement 13, c. 96 A.D., quoting Jeremiah 9:23 and several New Testament passages) 

“It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience ‘
you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 2, c. 107 A.D., quoting 1 Corinthians 1:10). 

Additionally, a fragment of the Gospel of John [
Rylands Library Papyrus P52] has been found in Egypt, dating to c. 125 A.D. 
  1. The Church Fathers Attest to the Apostolic Authorship of the Gospels. 

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 1, c. 180 A.D.)  

See also
: Tertullian, Against MarcionBook IV, Ch. 2; Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Ch. 24.  
  1. The Church Fathers Were Skeptical, Not Gullible, About What They Considered Scripture. 

makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: “That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ [2 Cor. 11:6] that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.’ Farther on he adds: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’sBut who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it.”” [Eusebius, Church History, Book VI, Ch. 25, 4th century, quoting Origen (184-253)]
  1. The Church Settled the Canon Once and For All. 

Third Council of Carthage (397 A.D.):
“It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings [First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings], two books of Paraleipomena [Chronicles], Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)], the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah,Ezechiel, Daniel, TobitJudith, Esther, two books of Esdras [Ezra and Nehemiah], two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John.” 
*The Greek version of the Book of Jeremiah includes the Book of Baruch; modern Bibles separate these into two Books. 
“This version of the Bible was familiar to and read by Christians for over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530). The Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music as it served as inspiration for countless paintings and hymns. Early attempts to translate the Bible into contemporary languages were invariably made from the Vulgate, as it was esteemed as an infallible, divinely inspired text. Even when Protestants sought to replace the Vulgate for good with translations in the language of the people from the original languages, they could not avoid the enormous influence of Jerome’s translation, with its dignified style and flowing prose.” (Mark Hoffman, Latin Manuscripts Overview (Presentation), Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg). 
Lectionary Use: the use of the Deuterocanonical Books in the Mass and other Liturgies eliminated any ambiguity about their canonicity. 
  1. The Church is Indispensable to the Bible. 

Without the Church, you can’t don’t have the Bible.
  • The New Testament was written by Apostles of the Church; 

  • The New Testament was written to the Church; 

  • The Church clarified which Bible is the true Bible. 

  • The Church also clarifies how to interpret the Bible. 

VI. Why Favor the Catholic Bible Over the Protestant Bible? 
Trust in the Holy Spirit. Consider the logic of revelation:  if the Holy Spirit took the trouble to inspire Sacred Scripture, how can we claim that He let the entire Church fall into error about which Books were inspired? This would defeat the point of Divine inspiration. (In contrast, R.C. Sproul, James White, and various other Protestant commentators have suggested that “The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.”) 
This is the testimony of the Third Council of Carthage, of St. Augustine, of the Vulgate, of the Lectionary, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, etc. 
Removing the Church from the equation results in a crumpling Bible: you’re left with no authority on which to know which Books do and do not belong. Luther rejected the canonicity of the Deuterocanon (modern Protestants agree with him), but also rejected the canonicity of James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation (modern Protestants disagree with him). 
When the dispute is on whether something is or isn’t the Bible, you can’t settle the dispute using “the Bible alone” (since that’s what being disputed). You need the Church. 
There was no Protestant Bible in the early Church. Not every Church Father used the exact Catholic canon of Scripture, but none of them used the exact Protestant canon. Holding the Protestant position requires thinking that every Christian got it wrong prior to the Reformation. 
The First Council of Ephesus (accepted by Catholics and most Protestants) referred to the Book of Sirach as “divinely inspired Scripture.” 
The New Testament (Hebrews 8:9-10) quotes from the Greek version of Jeremiah, which included the Book of Baruch. 
When Jesus says that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), He is in the Temple, celebrating Hanukkah (John 10:22-23). The Jewish feast of Hanukkah is prescribed only in 1 and 2 Maccabees (1 Maccabees 4:36-59; 2 Maccabees 1:18). 
Hebrews 11:35-37 alludes to 2 Maccabees 7. 
Every one of the Deuterocanonical Books is quoted by the early Christians as inspired Scripture. 
The arguments against the Deuterocanon are faulty, usually based on the fact that the Jews don’t have these Books in their canonThere are two problems with this view.  
  1. The Jewish Talmud quotes Sirach 13:5, describing it as part of the Hagiographa (the third of the three Jewish divisions of Scripture) (Folio 92b of Tractate Baba Kamma). Additionally, Hebrew canons containing the Book of Wisdom have been discovered.

  1. The reasons for eliminating these Books from the Jewish canon involved two factors: a belief that all Scripture must be in Hebrew, and a belief that the Holy Spirit “departed from Israel” around 450 B.C. Christians can’t accept either of these arguments. “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:23), and we see people led by the Holy Spirit all through this period (e.g., Ana and Simeon in Luke 2). 

VII. How Should We Interpret Scripture? 
  1. According to the Mind of the Church 

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) 
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15) 
So Philip ran to him, and heard him [the Ethiopian eunuch] reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”” (Acts 8:30-31) 
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.  [….] But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. 
It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (Dei Verbum 10) 
  1. According to the Four Senses of Scripture (CCC 116-117)

  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

  • Example: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4).  

  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. 

  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism. [Cf. 1 Cor 10:2] 

  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”. [Cor 10:11; cf. Heb 3:1-4:11] 

  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. [Cf. Rev 21:1-22:5] 

VIII. Conclusion 
We can conclude 
  1. that God has chosen to reveal Himself,  

  1. that part of this revelation includes Sacred Scripture (meaning that Scripture is theinspired and inerrant word of God, not just the work of men), 

  1. that the Books of the Catholic Bible are the Sacred Scriptures revealed by God, and 

  1. that these Books mean what the Catholic Church says that they mean. 

Tonight, at Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Topeka, Kansas, I’ll be talking about the Eucharist from 7:00pm – 8:00 pm. Hope to see you there!


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