WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE:
Our Debt to the Catholic Church
Henry G. Graham
(Tan Publications, 2010, 159pp
ISBN: 978-0-89555-796-4. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Turn on free-to-air satellite TV any time of the day or night and you can 'channel surf' a plethora of Christian channels on which an array of preachers present their teachings - many of them contradicting preachers on other channels, or in some instances the preacher on the previous program on the same channel - but each of them appealing to the Bible as the rule of faith and the basis of their preaching.
A casual observer of this confusion could be forgiven for wondering what was the basis of their claim that the Bible is divinely inspired, and whether such preachers are correct in asserting that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith or whether it requires some body to act as an arbiter in cases of dispute about its interpretation.
Writing just over 100 years ago as large sections of the English-speaking world were celebrating the tercentenary of the first publication of the Authorised ('King James') version of the Bible in 1611, Graham examines and challenges many of the presuppositions of Protestants in relation to the Bible.
The author himself was a convert to the Catholic Church, having been a minister in the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland prior to his conversion.
Graham argues that the Bible did not simply drop out of heaven.
Rather, the Church existed before the Bible, and it was Church men who wrote the books that later comprised the New Testament.
Furthermore, it was the Church which ultimately decided which books were inspired Scripture and which were not, the list of 27 books not being finalised until the Council of Carthage in AD397.
Graham then looks at the question of the authenticity of the manuscripts, arguing that while there are some minor variations in various manuscripts, the copies were excellent and authentic copies of the original texts.
Thus, arguments that suggest that there were wholesale changes to the original New Testament made by the Church in a later age to justify its position are spurious.
The transmission of this biblical text, which all Christians including Protestants use, was done by Catholic monks.
One common myth about the Catholic Church has been that the Catholic Church forbade lay people to read the Bible.
Graham points out that, contrary to popular opinion, the Catholic Church did not in fact issue any such prohibition. However, she did ban the laity from reading heretical Bibles, such as those by Wycliffe and Tyndale.
In the case of the latter, Graham notes that Tyndale's translation contained numerous errors as he lacked the linguistic knowledge to translate the text accurately, a fact recognised by Protestant authorities who attempted to rectify the situation by issuing subsequent translations.
Numerous translations of the Bible or portions thereof into the vernacular existed - ironically, these were more prolific in countries such as Italy which retained the Catholic faith. However, the Bible was read mainly in Latin as the majority of those who could read had sufficient knowledge of Latin.
It must be remembered that the bulk of the population were illiterate.
After England broke with Rome in the 16th century and vernacular translations were produced, contrary to popular belief that English Bibles were eagerly sought out and read by the general populace, so tiny were the purchase rates that various acts of Parliament were needed to compel those of means to purchase copies!
Where We Got the Bible is a well-written articulation of the role of the Catholic Church in the formation, preservation and dissemination of the Bible that has the average lay person in mind.
Although Where We Got The Bible is polemical and was written well before the Catholic Church embraced ecumenism, it retains its currency, as evidenced by the fact that the 2010 edition on which this review is based is the 33rd printing of this work.
Michael E Daniel teaches at a Melbourne secondary school.