Why Trust the Bible?

How did we get the Bible?

The Bible as we know it today was composed over a period of about 1,000 years. The Old Testament Books were written mainly in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. They were copied by hand and preserved with remarkable accuracy as archeological findings such as the Dead Sea scrolls confirm. The scrolls are the oldest biblical documents that are preserved and they bear witness to a remarkable consistency with copies written hundreds of years later. God inspired the Biblical writers to write the Bible we have today, that means, without revoking their freedom, God so moved them that they wrote what He wanted them to write. In that sense, God is the primary Author of the Bible with the human authors serving as His instruments. This is the doctrine of Biblical Inspiration. It means that the Bible is the Word of God without ceasing also to be the words of men.


The Bible came to be in its present accurate form without being subject to Chinese whispers (a corruption in the oral transmission of the Word due to receivers of the Word receiving it wrongly from those who imparted it to them) of the like which might be caused from an initial period of oral transmission is because of 'living memory'. As long as some people are still alive who remember important past events and join in passing on oral tradition about them, the capability of the makers of oral tradition to err and deceive is greatly reduced. 'Living memory' is a very important factor in history. An event is still in living memory when some persons who remember it are still alive and aware of what is going on in the world. Since there are usually some people in their nineties still aware of what is going on in the world, the maximum span of living memory is about 90 years, and double that, 180 years, for persons who learned the truth as students of those who had personally experienced it. All the Gospels were written well within living memory of Christ, and the last Apostle, John, lived past ninety, dying about 70 years after the Crucifixion. Alternatively, we could consider the work of oral tradition expert Kenneth Bailey whose study has shown that the culture of the Middle East (where the Bible originated) is a far cry from our Western Civilisation. We in the West have an inherent skepticism of oral tradition and its reliability. Great feats of memorisation can be achieved when there are no tape recorders or printing presses available. Bailey has shown that the oral tradition that he found in the Middle East can help us understand how oral tradition accurately reflects Scripture. He proves the reliability of oral tradition in reference to the Bible by relating time and again instances of almost word-perfect oral tradition being preserved in communities from one generation to another. For example, he cites illiterate Muslims reciting the entire Koran. It is not uncommon to find people with a photographic memory, so it is not unrealistic to suggest that information can be accurately passed on orally, especially when God is behind it, as is the case with the Bible.


The Bible has far more ancient copies than any other book. So, misinterpretations, copyist errors & bad translations would have been greatly reduced by the excellent cross-referencing available from having so many copies. It matters little that we do not have any original manuscripts from the pen of the inspired writers of the Bible because today's approved copies are substantially intact & correct. You need a living, infallible Church founded and continually guided by God, to ultimately approve & guarantee the reliability of the copies of the Bible that we have today.


The Bible itself says the opposite. In 1Tim 3:15 we read that the pillar and foundation of the truth is not the Bible, rather, it is the Church. The Bible comes from the Church, not the other way round. Jesus did not write a Bible, He preached the Word of God and He told His followers to do the same. To begin with, the Church relied on oral tradition. The Bible, as we know it today, came later. The Church's Teaching Authority (Magisterium) authentically teaches the message of Jesus holding fast to whatsoever Christ taught, whether by word of mouth (Tradition) or by letter (Scripture) 2 Thess 2:14. The Catholic Church produced the Bible; it's a Catholic Book.


We know that the Bible is inspired because the Catholic Church has constantly taught that it is, and we have Jesus' promise that He won't allow the Church to err on such a basic issue (Matt 16:18). But, someone might ask, how do we know apart from the Bible that Jesus promised that He would preserve the Church from erring on such things, and, if we have to rely on the Bible to know that, isn't this circular reasoning? No, this is not circular reasoning, it's spiral. We start with the Bible as a purely historical record (the general reliability of which we can defend on historical grounds without appealing to Revelation) to show who Jesus is, namely: God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Jesus told His followers He would guide them and He has accomplished this through His Apostles and their successors. In other words, Christ established a Teaching Authority (Magisterium) in the Church and endowed it with special guidance. The Church Christ promised to guide has declared certain writings to be inspired. The list of inspired books which the Church put together is called the Canon of Scripture. Because Christ is the Son of God, when He promises something He has the power to make sure it happens. He promised to guide His followers and to do it through His Apostles. The Apostles in turn passed along a share in their Ministry to the Bishops who eventually officially declared the Biblical Books to be inspired. Their declaration didn't, of course, make the Bible inspired, God did that when He moved various men to write the various Books. What the Church did was to settle, once and for all, which Books are divinely inspired, and She did it with the authority of Christ who promised to be with Her. This argument is based on the fact that Christ is God and that He will do as He promised.


All the stories in the Bible are true but not all are intended to give us historical truth. Christ's parables were teaching devices that did not pretend to contain detail of things that actually happened. We don't have to think there really was a Prodigal Son, for example. On the other hand, when the Biblical author intended to say something that really did happen, then it did. The Gospel writers intended to say that Jesus Christ really lived, suffered, died and literally rose from the dead; such truths are not parables, and the Gospel writers didn't intend them to be viewed as such. Whether a given story is history depends on the intention of the author in telling it. How do we know what the writer intended? That requires properly interpreting the Bible which is the job of Jesus' Church: the Catholic Church.


The criterion which the Magisterium of the Church has used in order to define exactly which books are inspired and canonical is Sacred Tradition, which stems from Jesus and the Apostles, interpreted with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Quite simply, what had always been Scripture for the early Church was what eventually became canonised, and hence, regarded as always having been inspired. The revealed fact of the biblical canon is to be found in the faith of the Church from her beginnings, namely: whatever Scripture had been believed and was held to be inspired by the common or emerging belief of the Church. From apostolic times there were certain works associated with apostolic figures recognised as authentically rooted in the apostles, whereas others were not authentic in such associations, discernable either by content or by external witnesses or by association, such as with heretical groups (especially the Gnostics). Hence, the canon becomes manifested by the emerging common consensus of the Church, based upon what has been collected, copied, and used in the liturgy and life of the Church. This was provisionally settled under Pope Damasus I (366-383) and committed to translation by St Jerome (d. 420). The most important documentary evidence that we have of this faith are the decrees of some early Church Councils, and other later councils such as Florence (1441 AD) and Trent (1546). So, the very first Christian Bible was produced by the Catholic Church. It was compiled by Catholic scholars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries and approved by the Catholic Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).

Pinto, M. J. Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons? ; Navarre Biblical Commentary; Graham, H. G., Where We Got The Bible " Our Debt to the Catholic Church; detail of Kenneth Bailey's work on oral tradition was accessed from matt1618@ix.netcom.com

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.