Thursday, July 5, 2012

Which Bible Do You Read?

Today I received the New American Bible (Official Catholic Bible) from I already had a Bible--more than one, in fact. Why yet another version? Ah, that's exactly the reason--there are so many versions. Years ago I heard the advice given that one should read several translations of the Bible in order to get a clearer picture of the meaning. We English speaking folks often forget that the Bible was not written in English. Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, the original writers of the Bible were inspired by God, but it does not follow that this is the case with all translators. Also, there can be many valid translations, of varying literalism and accuracy of meaning.

Then you have meanings that are simply lost in translation, because English does not have an equivalent word or concept with which to translate the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. What we read in English is many times an inadequate approximation that cannot transfer the full flavor of the original into our native tongue. So you have those issues regardless. But then you have the fact of inaccurate revisions and tampering, and people go around quoting things from a Bible that may not really be a valid, reliable translation. And that's not even to mention the taking of a verse out of the context of its entire passage and the Bible as a whole, and without regard to authoritative interpretation. Strong words? Harsh? Maybe--but true nonetheless. This is all a matter of historical record, not a matter of personal opinion. So let's get on with it, shall we?

Long story short, the Catholic Church did all of the work to bring us the Bible as we know it today. Hundreds of books were sorted through and argued over to determine, by the guiding of the Holy Spirit, which were truly inspired by God. Some books were deemed good to read, valuable for their religious teaching and historical information, but nonetheless did not make the cut into the canon, or list of official books. These works (such as the Protoevangelium of James) are called apocryphal, and some of them reflect Church Tradition and so are used by Catholics. But again, they have never been part of the Bible.

These books are not the same as the group of 7 books called the "Apocrypha" by Protestants. As you can read in my other post on this subject, these 7 books (including Sirach and Wisdom) have always been considered canonical by Catholics (who again, I must emphasize, put the Bible into writing and are responsible for the fact that we have it at all). However, non-Christian Jews removed these portions from their holy book (what Christians call the Old Testament), for one reason because those books strongly uphold the belief in Jesus as the Messiah of prophesy. Protestant reformers adopted this version of the Old Testament that these non-Christian Jews used (albeit for different reasons)--an incomplete version.

Now, the New Testament contains all the same books in both Catholic and Protestant versions. Sort of.  *By 367 A.D., St. Athanasius of Alexandria published for the first time the definitive list, including all 27 books that we know today. In 419 the Second Council of Carthage again confirmed the canon, and Pope Boniface promulgated it officially. The New Testament as we know it today was then born. So as we see, Catholics determined the entire Bible. And all went well for a thousand years. But in 1546, the Council of Trent, prompted by a serious outbreak of heresy, had to remind everyone very clearly what was the Bible and what wasn't.

"Like the heretic Marcion before him, Martin Luther had decided that only he and Paul really understood Christ and, like Marcion, he frequently thought that he knew better than Paul. Luther translated the Bible himself, altering it substantially to suit his own views, and published it in parts between 1523 and 1534". (As I have mentioned before, if it were up to Luther and other reformers, the book of James and three others would no longer be part of the New Testament, because their teachings contradicted the new form of Christianity that Luther invented.) After that, various incompatible translations came thick and fast all over northern Europe.  [Johnson--reference below]

Henry VIII (famous for his beheadings) and Elizabeth I, for instance, each commissioned heavily revised Bibles to support their claim to be supreme head of the Chuch in England. Elizabeth asked her commissioners to use more "convenient terms and phrases" for those passages that were not edifying or were of offense to the monarchy's power. Elizabeth's successor James I produced the King James version, which also changed a number of crucial passages in both the Old and New Testaments. What a Biblical can of worms was opened by the Protestant Reformation!

Today, some of these unreliable versions have done a little backtracking, fixing up verses that were changed during the Reformation. The Catholic Church, for her part, continues to update her own translations, but she never strays from the original texts that she has so carefully kept since they were written, because, "...having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author"  [Vatican I].

The Catholic Church has consistently kept the deposit of faith and the Church that Jesus founded safe from heresy. All Christians owe the availability of Sacred Scripture to the Catholic Church and should be grateful for it. We have seen what happens when the Bible is edited (that is, changed against the original, God-inspired text) by men who wish it to reflect their own pre-conceived notions of the Christian faith rather than considering the teaching of the Church (and therefore Jesus). This is why the Tradition of the Church (the keeping of both oral and written teachings) is so important and why one cannot receive instruction from the Bible alone.

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition act interdependently to give us the fullness and accuracy of our faith. One's own interpretations, though perhaps well-meaning, run the risk of  false teaching.  Think about this: The result of the break with the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church, built upon the authority given to Peter by Jesus himself, has resulted in some 40,000 Protestant denominations, all of whom differ significantly in what they believe yet all claim to be Christian. What Bible do you read (and quote), and on whose authority?

*Some information in this post has been quoted and paraphrased from Why Do Catholics Do That?, by Kevin Orlin Johnson, PH.D.

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