Where did we get the Bible and how did it come down to us today? In part 1 of this series, we saw that the Catholic Church infallibly chose the Canon of Scripture, choosing which books were and were not inspired. The Catholic Church also compiled the Bible under one cover as we know it today.
This Bible consisting of 73 books was formally defined and canonized in the late fourth century and was ratified by Pope Innocent I. The Catholic Church then copied the Scriptures for over a thousand years, translated it into different languages, protected it with her life, and gave it to the world.
Some confused people believe that the earliest Christians were “Bible Christians” who all owned, read, and studied their Bibles daily. They fancied that Christians carried the Bible under their arms to church each week. They also erroneously think that the Pope persecuted these “Bible Christians” for owning a Bible. However, as we will see, this is all nothing but a sad conspiracy theory void of truth.
The truth is that this scenario is historically impossible. The earliest Christians did not possess Bibles because as we saw in our last article, the Bible did not even exist as a book for nearly 400 years. So, how could the earliest Christians own and read their own Bibles?
After the Holy Scriptures were canonized and put together, did people then have Bibles to carry to church under their arms? Not at all. Bibles were extremely rare, monstrously expensive, and took years to copy just one, not to mention that until the time of the Printing Press, nine-tenths of the Roman Empire was not even literate.
Let’s go a little deeper.
History of How the Bible Came Down to Us
After the Catholic Church officially canonized Scripture in 397 A.D. and after it was once and for all ratified by the Pope, the Catholic monks got to work copying the Scriptures, page by page, line by line, letter by letter, day after day. This was an incredibly slow and arduous process in order to make sure every copy was as accurate as possible.
The process was also incredibly long and expensive. Originally, Biblical books were copied on papyrus which was fragile. This eventually gave way to the use of vellum and parchment. This meant many animals were killed for their skin. In truth, over 400 animals had to be killed just to make one Bible.
In addition to this, a single Bible could take up to three years to copy. Consequently, Bibles were rare, tremendously expensive, and very few existed until more could be copied over many centuries. Scholars estimate that it would cost a person up to three years’ salary to purchase a single Bible. That is the cost of a small house.
Thus, only the very wealthy could afford Bibles. This is precisely why the Catholic Church chained Bibles to the pulpits: because they were so expensive, rare, and holy. Holy Mother Church did not wish them to be stolen. Three years’ wages and up to three years of copying would be thrown out the window if it was stolen.
So, far from “keeping the Bible from the people,” the Catholic Church chained Bibles to pulpits so the people would always have the Scriptures. In fact, libraries in England still chain books to tables today so people do not steal them. This was an early security measure and nothing more.
Over the centuries, Catholic monks and friars – even nuns and bishops – painstakingly copied the Holy Scriptures paragraph by paragraph and letter by letter. Many noble souls dedicated their entire lives to the copying and preservation of Holy Scripture.
Throughout the Middle Ages, barbarians and vikings would sack, pillage, and burn villages throughout the Roman Empire – including churches and libraries. Thank God that the Catholic monks would rush to rescue the Scriptures when they could and begin the copying process over again. The Bible exists today because Catholics loved the word of God, preserved it, and passed it on down through the centuries.
No one of repute who understands history could claim that the Catholic Church did not give the world the Bible. Without the Catholic Church, there would be no Bible today. Additionally, Catholic leaders learned the Bible, quoted it, preached it, and the earliest Catholics used it extensively in their writings. They also brought the Biblical stories to life through dramas, plays, and other creative means.
When Bibles became more numerous, people still did not own them or carry them to church (which is a modern luxury) because nine-tenths of the Roman Empire was illiterate and could not read. People were illiterate for most of human history until the university system (started by the Catholic Church) began to expand education and even until more modern times.
Objections: The Catholic Church Kept the Scriptures from the People
Despite the false claim that the Catholic Church hates Scripture and tried to keep it from the people, history reveals without a shadow of a doubt that the Catholic Church made the Bible, preserved it, made it more numerous, and taught it to the people.
Anti-Catholics who have not studied history believe that Martin Luther rescued the Bible from the depths of what he considered the evil Vatican and gave it to the people. Of course, this is patently false.
When Martin Luther was a Catholic priest, he was commissioned by his superiors to not only study the Scriptures, but also to preach them and teach them. Even Ulrich Zwingli, a fellow Protestant Reformer, exposed Luther’s dishonesty in claiming that Catholics did not know the Bible at all and kept it from others.
“You are unjust in putting forth the boastful claim of pulling the Bible from beneath the dusty benches of the schools. You forget that we have gained a knowledge of the Scriptures through the translations of others. You are very well aware, with all of your blustering, that previous to your time, there were a host of scholars who, in Biblical knowledge and philosophical attainments, were incomparably your superiors” (The Facts about Luther, pg. 191).
Zwingli states that Luther did not find the Bible hidden away but that Protestants had gained knowledge of it when they were still Catholics, and that there were many Catholic scholars of Scripture who were far superior to Luther. Wow!
Also, let’s remind the world that Luther himself admitted his dishonest exaggeration when he stated:
“We concede – as we must – that so much of what they [the Catholic Church] say is true: that the papacy has God’s Word [the Bible] and the office of the Apostles, and that we have received Holy Scriptures, Baptism, the Sacraments, and the pulpit from them. What would we know of these if it were not for them” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 24, quoted in Crossing the Tiber, pg. 54)?
Consequently, Martin Luther, and indeed all Christian denominations, received the Holy Scriptures from the Catholic Church. Another myth inevitably arises that the Catholic Church kept the Bible in Latin so people could not understand it. It was Luther who printed a Bible in the language of the people.
The Catholic Church Kept the Bible in Latin
Again, fallacious and patently false. First, Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. While most people could not read, those who could read, read Latin. Second, the Catholic Church translated the Scriptures into the language of the people down through the centuries. Third, it is a historical fact that the first Bible to ever come off the printing press was the Catholic version of Holy Scripture. From there, the Catholic Church translated Scripture into different languages long before Luther’s first version in 1520.
In his book WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE, Henry Graham dispels this myth. He says that there were exactly 104 editions of the Bible in Latin before 1520, 27 versions in German (Luther’s own tongue) and nine of those editions were before Luther was even born.
In addition, there were over 40 editions in Italy, 18 versions in France, and numerous editions in Spain, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, and other countries. He states, “There were 198 versions of Scripture in the language of the people long before Luther’s version saw the light of day” (Pp. 74-75).
The Church wanted to preserve the Holy Scriptures and keep them as accurate as possible which is why not just anybody could translate it. They needed the necessary education, knowledge of the biblical languages, the needed skills, and the approval of the Church. Again, this was to ensure the faithful preservation of the Scriptures.
Lastly, it is a shame Luther ever got involved. He removed seven books of the Old Testament and personally rejected multiple books of the New Testament (Revelation, James, Hebrews, etc). In fact, Luther’s own version of Scripture was such a hack-job, there were as many as 30 errors per page, which is why nobody uses his version today.
The Catholic Church never burned the Bible but only erroneous versions of “Scripture” with up to 30 errors per page because they were not even true Scripture anymore. The Church wanted to preserve the true and pure Word of God. It would be the equivalent of burning the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible, in which they have intentionally changed many passages of Scripture to fit their own pre-conceived beliefs.
St. Jerome, a Catholic in the 4th century, is famous for saying that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Catholics agree!
Even the Catholic Church today states, “For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 3).
In conclusion, let it never be said that the Catholic Church is contemptuous toward the Bible. It is a fact of history that she compiled it, preserved it, memorized it, preached it, nourished her people with it, and blessed the world with it. Anyone who loves the Bible should thank the Catholic Church for giving it to them!