Monday, July 14, 2014

Transmitting divine revelation: how did the Bible get to me?

The divine revelation which the Church holds today comes to her from the Lord Jesus Christ, who established the Church and planted within her the seed of the deposit of the faith.  This deposit contains the fullness of all of Jesus' teaching, and it is the full, final, and complete revelation of God to mankind.  Jesus first gave this deposit to his apostles.  They handed it down to those they taught, most especially to those men upon whom they laid their hands, conferring their authority and their power to guard and rightly interpret, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the truths contained in the deposit.  This handing down of apostolic authority is known as apostolic succession, and it is the basis for the claims of the Catholic Church to have the fullness of the revelation that Jesus Christ gave to his Church at her founding.  The apostolic authority of the apostles' successors is also the basis of their authority to interpret and guard Sacred Tradition, which Paul warns the Christian people to hold fast to in second chapter of his second letter to the Thessalonians.

The Sacred Scriptures are the definitive fruit of the deposit of the faith.  Containing the texts of the Old and New Testaments, the Scriptures were confirmed by Jesus' on use of the Old Testament and the apostles continued use of them as well.  As the young Church continued to grow and expand throughout the Roman world, it became necessary to encapsulate the preaching and teaching of the apostles so that their Good News could be transmitted to more and more people.  The first occurred in letters, like those from Paul, Peter, and James, to both specific persons and to whole church communities in cities spread across the Mediterranean.  Eventually, the apostles also saw to it that not only their doctrinal and exhortative teaching, but also their very encounters with Jesus and their recollection of Jesus' life story were written down.  

These Scriptural texts are not only human recollections of history and transcriptions of religious teaching.  Because of the supernatural nature of revelation, these texts themselves, despite having a human author, are also God-breathed: they were inspired by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Both the Old and New Testaments contain God's revelation of himself to mankind, and so each word contained in them, despite having been freely chosen by the human author who wrote the text and reflecting that human author's perspective and culture, was also guided by the Holy Spirit to reveal God to his people.  That these Scriptures are useful for knowing the truths about God can be found within the texts of the Scriptures themselves.  In Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds his protégé that Scripture should be used to teach and admonish those under Timothy's authority.  Peter, too, confirms that it is not only the Old Testament that is considered Scriptural, when he cites Paul's letters with authority in the third chapter of his second epistle.  

The inspiration of the Sacred Scripture is one of the reasons that the Church, in the teaching authority of her magisterium, which is the faithful exercise of the apostles' successors' mission to continuously hand down the deposit of the faith, has always recommended to the faithful that Scripture should be read in more than just its literal sense.  Indeed, the magisterium has identified four senses of Sacred Scripture that can only be based upon the inspiration of the original text.  The four senses are the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical.  The literal speaks to what is happening in the text, and properly understanding the text as it was written in its historical context.  Sometimes, the historical-critical method can be successfully used when interpreting this sense to gain a fuller understanding of what was meant literally.  The allegorical sense of Scripture helps the exegete understand how the Scripture relates to Christ and our Christian understanding of truth.  The allegorical sense often sees in Old Testament texts prefigurements of later Christian revelation.  The moral sense of Scripture speaks to the text's meaning for living the virtuous Christian life, and how the Scripture is call each person who encounters it to change in response to it.  Finally, the anagogical sense of Scripture speaks to the four last things: heaven, hell, death, and judgment, and how the text is calling the Christian toward his true purpose: eternity with God in heaven.  

Reading the Scriptures cannot be profitable, in any sense, unless it is agreed what texts make up the Scriptures in the first place.  This question is regarding the “canon” of the Scripture, from the Latin word for “rule.”  The rule of Scripture, then, is the answer to the question, “What books are in the Bible?”  
  • For the Catholic Church, the Old Testament is made up of the books in the Greek version of the Old Testament that the Christians used in the First Century, when the Church was founded.  Called the Septuagint, this version of the Old Testament contains forty-five books.  The New Testament, based upon the almost-universally accepted list, contains twenty-seven books.  The Catholic Bible contains more books than the Protestant Bible and less than the Orthodox Bible precisely because it adheres to the rule of the primitive Church in maintaining that the Septuagint is a reliable source for the books of the Old Testament.  
  • The Protestants, on the one hand, reject seven of the books of the Old Testament, and they do not include them in their own Bibles.  
  • The Orthodox include more books based upon the fact that these books were widely accepted during the apostolic period, despite their not having been included in the Septuagint.  Moreover, because the Orthodox were split from the Church before an authoritative church-wide ecumenical council declared what books were in the Bible, they have simply maintained the status quo within their canon.  

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