In this segment of Compendium Clips, I would like to look at the Sacred Scripture, or the Bible, because, as we noted in our last episode, the Bible makes up a very significant part of apostolic tradition, which is the way in which God’s revelation is handed down to us.
So let’s start with the basics: the Bible is more than an ordinary book of writings. Notice it is called the Holy Bible or the Sacred Scripture. The words holy and sacred both mean ‘set apart’—meaning these writings in the Bible are set apart from all other books. The reason is because unlike other books, which only have human authors, the primary author of Sacred Scripture is God himself. This means that God the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors. He did this by working through their mental faculties and human powers so that, as true authors, they wrote what God, the primary author, wanted them to write and nothing more. Now, since the Bible is inspired by God, we also know that it teaches us, without error, that truth which leads to salvation because God, who is truth, can neither deceive nor be deceived.…
Yet, the Bible is also truly a book written by different people in different ages, and so has to be understood correctly. To do this we have to seek out the meaning which God and the inspired authors intended, taking into account the conditions of their culture, the literary genres, and the modes of thought and expression in use at that time.
Now, with all of these different books and styles of writing we have to ask how did the Church know which books to include when it was compiling the Canon of Scripture, that is, how the Church knew the books that would be included in the Bible? Well, the Church came to know the Canon of Scripture through apostolic tradition which enabled her to discern all the books which were truly inspired. We see an example of this in 397 at the council of Carthage when the bishops there, with the pope’s approval, identified the same Canon of Scripture that the Catholic Church holds today. And so, the complete number of books is 46 for the Old Testament and 27 for the New Testament.
But let’s now briefly look at the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. First, both are the Word of God and both reveal in different ways God’s one loving plan of salvation. The Old Testament, for example, continually prepares the way for Christ while the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, convey the ultimate truth of Christ. So the Old prepares for the New, and the New fulfills the Old; they both shed light on each other.
However, it needs to be remembered that the Christian faith is not merely a religion of the book but a religion of the living Word of God, meaning that it is not based upon a mute and written word in a book but upon the living and incarnate Word—Jesus Christ who himself speaks through the written word. Because of this truth, the Church venerates and is nourished by the Old and New Testament. She exhorts all to read Sacred Scripture frequently since, as St. Jerome the patron saint of Bible scholars said, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Next, a very important question which the Compendium Catechism asks is “how is Sacred Scripture to be read?” The answer is that it must be read and interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Magisterium who lay out three very helpful criteria. The first is that it must be read with an awareness of the content and unity of the whole of Scripture—meaning all the books and writings of the Bible, different as they may be, are a true unity because of the unity of God’s plan in Christ. The second criterion is that the Scriptures must be read within the living tradition of Catholic Church, recognizing that because of the help of the Holy Spirit, the Church is given the spiritual and true meaning of the Scriptures. The third criterion is that we must be attentive to the “analogy of faith” which means that all the truths of faith expressed in Scripture and Tradition form a unified and coherent whole, so that no passage of scripture, if rightly understood, will ever contradict the truths of faith, but rather confirm them.
So to conclude with a quick summary: all of Sacred Scripture is inspired by God who worked through human authors in order to record the truth that God revealed. The 46 books of the Old Testament prepare for and are fulfilled by the 27 books of the New, all of which need to be read and interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium. In our next Compendium Clip we will look at faith or belief, which is a person’s response to what God has revealed through tradition and scripture…”
I hope you take the opportunity to view the illustrated video on “Sacred Scripture” at www.compendiumclips.com.