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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

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One of the several names denoting the inspired writings which make up the Old and New Testament

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Scripture.—Sacred Scripture, is one of the several names denoting the inspired writings which make up the Old and New Testament.


The corresponding Latin word scriptura occurs in some passages of the Vulgate in the general sense of “writing”; e.g., Ex., xxxii, 16: “the writing also of God was graven in the tables”; again, II Par., xxxvi, 22: “who [Cyrus] commanded it to be proclaimed through all his kingdom and by writing also”. In other passages of the Vulgate the word denotes a private (Tob. viii, 24) or public (Esdr. ii, 62; Neh., vii, 64) written document, a catalogue or index (Ps. lxxxvi, 6), or finally portions of Scripture, such as the canticle of Ezechias (Is., xxxviii, 5), and the sayings of the wise men (Ecclus. xliv, 5). The writer of II Par., xxx, 5, 18, refers to prescriptions of the Law by the formula “as it is written”, which is rendered by the Septuagint translators Greek: kataten graphen; para ten graphen; “according to Scripture”. The same expression is found in I Esdr., iii, 4, and II Esdr., viii, 15; here we have the beginning of the later form of appeal to the authority of the inspired books gegraptai (Matt., iv, 4, 6, 10; xxi, 13; etc.), or kathos gegraptai (Rom., i, 11; ii, 24, etc.), “it is written”, “as it is written”.

As the verb graphein was thus employed to denote passages of the sacred writings, so the corresponding noun e graphe gradually came to signify what is preeminently the writing, or the inspired writing. This use of the word may be seen in John, vii, 38; x, 35; Acts, viii, 32; Rom., iv, 3; ix, 17; Gal., iii, 8; iv, 30; II Tim., iii, 16; James, ii, 8; I Pet., ii, 6; II Pet., i, 20; the plural form of the noun, ai graphai is used in the same sense in Matt., xxi, 42; xxii, 29; xxvi, 54; Mark, xii, 24; xiv, 49; Luke, xxiv., 27, 45; John, v, 39; Acts, xvii, 2, 17; xviii, 24, 28; I Cor., xv, 3, 4. In a similar sense are employed the expressions graphai agiai (Rom., i, 2), ai graphai ton propheton (Matt., xxvi, 56), graphai prothetikai (Rom., xvi, 26). The word has a somewhat modified sense in Christ’s question, “and have you not read this scripture” (Mark, xii, 10). In the language of Christ and the Apostles the expression “scripture” or “scriptures” denotes the sacred books of the Jews. The New Testament uses the expressions in this sense about fifty times; but they occur more frequently in the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles than in the synoptic Gospels. At times, the contents of Scripture are indicated more accurately as comprising the Law and the Prophets (Rom., iii, 21; Acts, xxviii, 23), or the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke, xxiv, 44). The Apostle St. Peter extends the designation Scripture also to tas loipas graphas (II Pet., iii, 16), denoting the Pauline Epistles; St. Paul (I Tim., v, 18) seems to refer by the same expression to both Deut., xxv, 4, and Luke, x, 7.

It is disputed whether the word graphe in the singular is ever used of the Old Testament as a whole. Lightfoot (Gal., iii, 22) expresses the opinion that the singular graphe in the New Testament always means a particular passage of Scripture. But in Rom., iv, 3, he modifies his view, appealing to Dr. Vaughan’s statement of the case. He believes that the usage of St. John may admit a doubt, though he does not think so, personally; but St. Paul’s practice is absolute and uniform. Mr. Hort says (I Pet., ii, 6) that in St. John and St. Paul e graphe is capable of being understood as approximating to the collective sense (cf. Westcott. “Hebr.”, pp. 474 sqq.; Deissmann, “Bibelstudien”, pp. 108 sqq., Eng. tr., pp. 112 sqq.; Warfield, “Pres. and Reform. Review”, X, July, 1899, pp. 472 sqq.). Here arises the question whether the expression of St. Peter (II Pet., iii, 16) tas loipas graphas refers to a collection of St. Paul’s Epistles. Spitta contends that the term ai graphai is used in a general non-technical meaning, denoting only writings of St. Paul’s associates (Spitta, “Der zweite Brief des Petrus and der Brief des Judas”, 1885, p. 294). Zahn refers the term to writings of a religious character which could claim respect in Christian circles either on account of their authors or on account of their use in public worship (Einleitung, pp. 98 sqq., 108). But Mr. F. H. Chase adheres to the principle that the phrase ai graphai used absolutely points to a definite and recognized collection of writings, i.e., Scriptures. The accompanying words kai, tas loipas, and the verb streblousin in the context confirm Mr. Chase in his conviction (cf. Dict. of the Bible, III, p. 810b).


A. According to the Jews

Whether the terms graphe, graphai and their synonymous expressions biblion (II Esdr., viii, 8), ta biblia (Dan., ix, 2), kephalis bibliou (Ps. xxxix, 8), e iera biblos (II Mach., viii, 23), ta biblia ta agia (I Mach., xii, 9), tai era grammata (II Tim., iii, 15) refer to particular writings or to a collection of books, they at least show the existence of a number of written documents the authority of which was generally accepted as supreme. The nature of this authority may be inferred from a number of other passages. According to Deut., xxxi, 9-13, Moses wrote the Book of the Law (of the Lord), and delivered it to the priests that they might keep it and read it to the people; see also Ex., xvii, 14; Deut., xvii, 18-19; xxvii, 1; xxviii, 1; 58-61; xxix, 20; xxx, 10; xxxi, 26; I Kings, x, 25; III Kings, ii, 3; IV Kings, xxii, 8. It is clear from IV Kings, xxiii, 1-3, that towards the end of the Jewish kingdom the Book of the Law of the Lord was held in the highest honor as containing the precepts of the Lord Himself. That this was also the case after the Captivity, may be inferred from II Esdr., viii, 1-9, 13, 14, 18; the book here mentioned contained the injunctions concerning the Feast of Tabernacles found in Lev., xxiii, 34 sq.; Deut., xvi, 13 sq., and is therefore identical with the pre-Exilic Sacred Books. According to I Mach., i, 57-59, Antiochus commanded the Books of the Law of the Lord to be burned and their retainers to be slain. We learn from II Mach., ii, 13, that at the time of Nehemias there existed a collection of books containing historical, prophetical, and psalmodic writings; since the collection is represented as uniform, and since the portions were considered as certainly of Divine authority, we may infer that this characteristic was ascribed to all, at least in some degree. Coming down to the time of Christ, we find that Flavius Josephus attributes to the twenty-two protocanonical books of the Old Testament Divine authority, maintaining that they had been written under Divine inspiration and that they contain God‘s teachings (Contra Appion., I, vi-viii). The Hellenist Philo too is acquainted with the three parts of the sacred Jewish books to which he ascribes an irrefragable authority, because they contain God‘s oracles expressed through the instrumentality of the sacred writers (“De vita contempl.”, Antwerp edition, p. 615; “De vit. Mosis”, pp. 469, 658 sq.; “De monarchia”, p. 564).

B. According to Christian Teaching

This concept of Scripture is fully upheld by the Christian teaching. Jesus Christ Himself appeals to the authority of Scripture, “Search the scriptures” (John, v, 39); He maintains that “one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt., v, 18); He regards it as a principle that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John, x, 35); He presents the word of Scripture as the word of the eternal Father (John v, 33-41), as the word of a writer inspired by the Holy Ghost (Matt., xxii, 43), as the word of God (Matt., xix, 4-5; xxii, 31); He declares that “all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke, xxiv, 44). The Apostles fully endorsed, and handed down to posterity, this view of the Scriptures. The Apostles knew that “prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet., i, 21); they regarded “all scripture, inspired of God” as “profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice” (II Tim., iii, 16). They considered the words of Scripture as the words of God speaking in the inspired writer or by the mouth of the inspired writer (Hebr., iv, 7; Acts, i, 15-16; iv, 25). Finally, they appealed to Scripture as to an irresistible authority (Rom., passim), they supposed that parts of Scripture have a typical sense such as only God can employ (John, xix, 36; Hebr., i, 5; vii, 3 sqq.), and they derived most important conclusions even from a few words or certain grammatical forms of Scripture (Gal., iii, 16; Hebr., x11, 26-27). It is not surprising, then, that the earliest Christian writers speak in the same strain of the Scriptures. St. Clement of Rome (I Cor., xlv) tells his readers to search the Scriptures for the truthful expressions of the Holy Ghost. St. Irenaeus (Adv. hwr. II, xxxviii, 2) considers the Scriptures as uttered by the Word of God and His Spirit. Origen testifies that it is granted by both Jews and Christians that the Bible was written under (the influence of) the Holy Ghost (Contra Cels., V, x); again, he considers it as proven by Christ’s dwelling in the flesh that the Law and the Prophets were written by a heavenly charisma, and that the writings believed to be the words of God are not men’s work (De print., iv, vi). St. Clement of Alexandria receives the voice of God who has given the Scriptures, as a reliable proof (Strom., ii).

C. According to Ecclesiastical Documents

Not to multiply patristic testimony for the Divine authority of Scripture, we may add the official doctrine of the Church on the nature of Sacred Scripture. The fifth ecumenical council condemned Theodore of Mopsuestia for his opposition against the Divine authority of the books of Solomon, the Book of Job, and the Canticle of Canticles. Since the fourth century the teaching of the Church concerning the nature of the Bible is practically summed up in the dogmatic formula that God is the author of Sacred Scripture. According to the first chapter of the Council of Carthage (A.D. 398), bishops before being consecrated must express their belief in this formula and this profession of faith is exacted of them even today. In the thirteenth century, Innocent III imposed this formula on the Waldensians; Clement IV exacted its acceptance from Michael Palwologus, and the emperor actually accepted it in his letter to the Second Council of Lyons (1272). The same formula was repeated in the fifteenth century by Eugenius IV in his Decree for the Jacobites, in the sixteenth century by the Council of Trent (Sess. IV, deer. de can. Script.), and in the nineteenth century by the Vatican Council. What is implied in this Divine authorship of Sacred Scripture, and how it is to be explained, has been set forth in the article Inspiration of the Bible.


What has been said implies that Scripture does not refer to any single book, but comprises a number of books written at different times and by different writers working under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Hence the question, how could such a collection be made, and how was it made in point of fact?

A. Question of Right

The main difficulty as to the first question (quaestio juris) arises from the fact that a book must be Divinely inspired in order to lay claim to the dignity of being regarded as Scripture. Various methods have been suggested for ascertaining the fact of inspiration. It has been claimed that so-called internal criteria are sufficient to lead us to the knowledge of this fact. But on closer investigation they prove inadequate. (I) Miracles and prophecies require a Divine intervention in order that they may happen, not in order that they may be recorded; hence a work relating miracles or prophecies is not necessarily inspired. (2) The so-called ethico-sesthetic criterium is inadequate. It fails to establish that certain portions of Scripture are inspired writings, e.g., the genealogical tables, and the summary accounts of the kings of Juda, while it favors the inspiration of several post-Apostolic works, e.g., of the “Imitation of Christ“, and of the “Epistles” of St. Ignatius Martyr. (3) The same must be said of the psychological criterium, or the effect which the perusal of Scripture produces in the heart of the reader. Such emotions are subjective, and vary in different readers. The Epistle of St. James appeared straw like to Luther, divine to Calvin. (4) These internal criteria are inadequate even if they be taken collectively. Wrong keys are unable to open a lock whether they be used singly or collectively.

Other students of this subject have endeavored to establish Apostolic authorship as a criterium of inspiration. But this answer does not give us a criterium for the inspiration of the Old Testament books, nor does it touch the inspiration of the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, neither of whom was an Apostle. Besides, the Apostles were endowed with the gift of infallibility in their teaching, and in their writing as far as it formed part of their teaching; but infallibility in writing does not imply inspiration. Certain writings of the Roman pontiff may be infallible, but they are not inspired; God is not their author. Nor can the criterium of inspiration be placed in the testimony of history. For inspiration is a supernatural fact, known only to God and probably to the inspired writer. Hence human testimony concerning inspiration is based, at best, on the testimony of one person who is, naturally speaking, an interested party in the matter concerning which he testifies. The history of the false prophets of former times as well as of our own day teaches us the futility of such testimony. It is true that miracles and prophecy may, at times, confirm such human testimony as to the inspiration of a work. But, in the first place, not all inspired writers have been prophets or workers of miracles; in the second place, in order that prophecies or miracles may serve as proof of inspiration, it must be clear that the miracles were performed, and the prophecies were uttered, to establish the fact in question; in the third place, if this condition be verified, the testimony for inspiration is no longer merely human, but it has become Divine. No one will doubt the sufficiency of Divine testimony to establish the fact of inspiration; on the other hand, no one can deny the need of such testimony in order that we may distinguish with certainty between an inspired and a non-inspired book.

B. Question of Fact

It is a rather difficult problem to state with certainty, how and when the several books of the Old and the New Testament were received as sacred by the religious community. Deut., xxxi, 9, 24 sqq., informs us that Moses delivered the Book of the Law to the Levites and the ancients of Israel to be deposited “in the side of the ark of the covenant”; according to Deut., xvii, 18, the king had to procure for himself a copy of at least a part of the book, so as to “read it all the days of his life”. Josue (xxiv, 26) added his portion to the law book of Israel, and this may be regarded as the second step in the collection of the Old Testament writings. According to Is., xxxiv, 16, and Jer., xxxvi, 4, the prophets Isaias and Jeremias collected their respective prophetic utterances. The words of II Par., xxix, 30, lead us to suppose that in the days of King Ezechias there either existed or originated a collection of the Psalms of David and of Asaph. From Prov., xxv, 1, one may infer that about the same time there was made a collection of the Solomonic writings, which may have have been added to the collection of psalms. In the second century B.C. the Minor Prophets had been collected into one work (Ecclus., xlix, 12) which is cited in Acts, vii, 42, as “the books of the prophets”. The expressions found in Dan., ix, 2, and I Mach., xii, 9, suggest that even these smaller collections had been gathered into a larger body of sacred books. Such a larger collection is certainly implied in the words II Mach., ii, 13, and the prologue of Ecclesiasticus. Since these two passages mention the main divisions of the Old-Testament canon, this latter must have been completed, at least with regard to the earlier books, during the course of the second century B.C.

It is generally granted that the Jews in the time of Jesus Christ acknowledged as canonical or included in their collection of sacred writings all the so-called protocanonical books of the Old Testament. Christ and the Apostles endorsed this faith of the Jews, so that we have Divine authority for their Scriptural character. As there are solid reasons for maintaining that some of the New-Testament writers made use of the Septuagint version which contained the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, these latter too are in so far attested as part of Sacred Scripture. Again, II Pet., iii, 15-16, ranks all the Epistles of St. Paul with the “other scriptures”, and I Tim., v, 18, seems to quote Luke, x, 7, and to place it on a level with Deut., xxv, 4. But these arguments for the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, of the Pauline Epistles, and of the Gospel of St. Luke do not exclude all reasonable doubt. Only the Church, the infallible bearer of tradition, can furnish us invincible certainty as to the number of the Divinely inspired books of both the Old and the New Testament. See Canon of the Holy Scriptures.


A. Old and New Testaments

As the two dispensations of grace separated from each other by the advent of Jesus are called the Old and the New Testament (Matt., xxvi, 28; II Cor., iii, 14), so were the inspired writings belonging to either economy of grace from the earliest times called books of the Old or of the New Testament, or simply the Old or the New Testament. This name of the two great divisions of the inspired writings has been practically common among Latin Christians from the time of Tertullian, though Tertullian himself frequently employs the name “Instrumentum” or legally authentic document; Casslodorus uses the title “Sacred Pandects“, or sacred digest of law.

B. Protocanonical and Deuterocanonical

The word “canon” denoted at first the material rule, or instrument, employed in various trades; in a metaphorical sense it signified the form of perfection that had to be attained in the various arts or trades. In this metaphorical sense some of the early Fathers urged the canon of truth, the canon of tradition, the canon of faith, the canon of the Church against the erroneous tenets of the early heretics (St. Clem., “I Cor.”, vii; Clem. of Alex., “Strom.”, xvi; Orig., “De princip.”, IV, ix; etc.). St. Irenaeus employed another metaphor, calling the Fourth Gospel the canon of truth (Adv. haer., III, xi); St. Isidore of Pelusium applies the name to all the inspired writings (Epist. iv, 14). About the time of St. Augustine (Contra Crescent., II, xxxix) and St. Jerome (Prolog. gal.), the word “canon” began to denote the collection of Sacred Scriptures; among later writers it is used practically in the sense of catalogue of inspired books. In the sixteenth century, Sixtus Senensis, O.P., distinguished between protocanonical and deuterocanonical books. This distinction does not indicate a difference of authority, but only a difference of time at which the books were recognized by the whole Church as Divinely inspired. Deuterocanonical, therefore, are those books concerning the inspiration of which some Churches doubted more or less seriously for a time, but which were accepted by the whole Church as really inspired, after the question had been thoroughly investigated. As to the Old Testament, the Books of Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, I, II Machabees, and also Esther, x, 4-xvi, 24, Daniel, iii, 24-90, xiii, 1-xiv, 42, are in this sense deuterocanonical; the same must be said of the following New-Testament books and portions: Hebrews, James, II Peter, II, III John, Jude, Apocalypse, Mark, xiii, 9-20, Luke xxii, 43-44; John, vii, 53-viii, 11. Protestant writers often call the deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament the Apocrypha.

C. Tripartite Division of Testaments

The prologue of Ecclesiasticus shows that the Old Testament books were divided into three parts, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the Hagiographa). The same division is mentioned in Luke, xxiv, 44, and has been kept by the later Jews. The Law or the Torah comprises only the Pentateuch. The second part contains two sections: the former Prophets (Josue, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and the latter Prophets (Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and the Minor Prophets, called the Twelve, and counted as one book). The third division embraces three kinds of books: first poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, Job); secondly, the five Megilloth or Rolls (Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther); thirdly, the three remaining books (Daniel, Esdras, Paralipomenon). Hence, adding the five books of the first division to the eight of the second, and the eleven of the third, the entire Canon of the Jewish Scriptures embraces twenty-four books. Another arrangement connects Ruth with the Book of Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremias, and thus reduces the number of the books in the Canon to twenty-two. The division of the New Testament books into the Gospel and the Apostle (Evangelium et Apostolus, Evangelia et Apostoli, Evangelica et Apostolica) began in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (St. Ignatius, “Ad Philad.”, v; “Epist. ad Diogn., xi) and was commonly adopted about the end of the second century (St. Iren., “Adv. haer.”, I, iii; Tert., “De pmscr.”, xxxiv; St. Clem. of Alex., “Strom.”, VII, iii; etc.); but the more recent Fathers did not adhere to it. It has been found more convenient to divide both the Old Testament and the New into four, or still better into three parts. The four parts distinguish between legal, historical, didactic or doctrinal, and prophetic books, while the tripartite division adds the legal books (the Pentateuch and the Gospels) to the historical, and retains the other two classes, i.e., the didactic lit., I, ii). But all these various partitions were too and the prophetic books.

D. Arrangement of Books

The catalogue of the Council of Trent arranges the inspired books partly in a topological, partly in a chronological order. In the Old Testament, we have first all the historical books, excepting the two books of the Machabees which were supposed to have been written last of all. These historical books are arranged according to the order of time of which they treat; the books of Tobias, Judith. and Esther however, occupy the last place because they relate personal history. The body of didactic works occupies the second place in the Canon, being arranged in the order of time at which the writers are supposed to have lived. The third place is assigned to the Prophets, first the four Major and then the twelve Minor Prophets, according to their respective chronological order. The Council follows a similar method in the arrangement of the New Testament books. The first place is given to the historical books, i.e., the Gospels and the Book of Acts; the Gospels follow the order of their reputed composition. The second place is occupied by the didactic books, the Pauline Epistles preceding, the Catholic. The former are enumerated according to the order of dignity of the addresses and according to the importance of the matter treated. Hence results the series: Romans; I, II Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; I, II Thessalonians; I, II Timothy; Titus; Philemon; the Epistle to the Hebrews occupies the last place on account of its late reception into the canon. In its disposition of the Catholic Epistles the Council follows the so-called western order: I, II Peter; I, II, III John; James; Jude; our Vulgate edition follows the oriental order (James; I, II Peter; I, II, III John; Jude) which seems to be based on Gal., ii, 9. The Apocalypse occupies in the New Testament the place corresponding to that of the Prophets in the Old Testament.

E. Liturgical Division

The needs of liturgy occasioned a division of the inspired books into smaller parts. At the time of the Apostles it was a received custom to read in the synagogue service of the Sabbath day a portion of the Pentateuch (Acts, xv, 21) and a part of the Prophets (Luke, iv, 16; Acts, xiii, 15, 27). Hence the Pentateuch has been divided into fifty-four “parashas” according to the number of sabbaths in the intercalary lunar year. To each parasha corresponds a division of the prophetic writings, called haphtara. The Talmud speaks of more minute divisions, pesukim, which almost resemble our verses. The Church transferred to the Christian Sunday the Jewish custom of reading part of the Scriptures in the assemblies of the faithful, but soon added to, or replaced, the Jewish lessons by parts of the New Testament (St. Just., “I Apol.”, lxvii; Tert. “De praescr.” xxxvi, etc.). Since the particular churches differed in the selection of the Sunday readings, this custom did not occasion any generally received division in the books of the New Testament. Besides, from the end of the fifth century, these Sunday lessons were no longer taken in order, but the sections were chosen as they fitted in with the ecclesiastical feasts and seasons.

F. Divisions to facilitate reference

For the convenience of readers and students the text had to be divided more uniformly than we have hitherto seen. Such divisions are traced back to Tatian, in the second century. Ammonius, in the third, divided the Gospel text into 1162 Greek: kephalaia in order to facilitate a Gospel harmony. Eusebius, Euthalius, and others carried on this work of division in the following centuries, so that in the fifth or sixth the Gospels were divided into 318 parts (tituli), the Epistles into 254 (capitula), and the Apocalypse into 96 (24 sermones, 72 eapttula). Cassiodorus relates that the Old-Testament text was divided into various parts (De inst. div. lit., I, ii). But all these various partitions were too imperfect and too uneven for practical use, especially when in the thirteenth century concordances (see Concordances of the Bible) began to be constructed. About this time, Card. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died 1228, divided all the books of Scripture uniformly into chapters, a division which found its way almost immediately into the codices of the Vulgate version and even into some codices of the original texts, and passed into all the printed editions after the invention of printing. As the chapters were too long for ready reference, Cardinal Hugh of St. Cher divided them into smaller sections which he indicated by the capital letters A, B, etc. Robert Stephens, probably imitating R. Nathan (1437) divided the chapters into verses, and published his complete division into chapters and verses first in the Vulgate text (1548), and later on also in the Greek original of the New Testament (1551).


Since Scripture is the written word of God; its contents are Divinely guaranteed truths, revealed either in the strict or the wider sense of the word. Again, since the inspiration of a writing cannot be known without Divine testimony, God must have revealed which are the books that constitute Sacred Scripture. Moreover, theologians teach that Christian Revelation was complete in the Apostles, and that its deposit was entrusted to the Apostles to guard and to promulgate. Hence the apostolic deposit of Revelation contained not merely Sacred Scripture in the abstract, but also the knowledge as to its constituent books. Scripture, then, is an Apostolic deposit entrusted to the Church, and to the Church belongs its lawful administration. This position of Sacred Scripture in the Church implies the following consequences:

(1) The Apostles promulgated both the Old and New Testament as a document received from God. It is antecedently probable that God should not cast his written Word upon men as a mere windfall, coming from no known authority, but that he should entrust its publication to the care of those whom he was sending to preach the Gospel to all nations, and with whom he had promised to be for all days, even to the consummation of the world. In conformity with this principle, St. Jerome (De script. eccl.) says of the Gospel of St. Mark: “When Peter had heard it, he both approved of it and ordered it to be read in the churches”. The Fathers testify to the promulgation of Scripture by the Apostles where they treat of the transmission of the inspired writings.

(2) The transmission of the inspired writings consists in the delivery of Scripture by the Apostles to their successors with the right, the duty, and the power to continue its promulgation, to preserve its integrity and identity, to explain its meaning, to use it in proving and illustrating Catholic teaching, to oppose and condemn any attack upon its doctrine, or any abuse of its meaning. We may infer all this from the character of the inspired writings and the nature of the Apostolate; but it is also attested by some of the weightiest writers of the early Church. St. Irenaeus insists upon these points against the Gnostics, who appealed to Scripture as to private historical documents. He excludes this Gnostic view, first by insisting on the mission of the Apostles and upon the succession in the Apostolate, especially as seen in the Church of Rome (Haar., III, 3-4); secondly, by showing that the preaching of the Apostles continued by their successors contains a supernatural guarantee of infallibility through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Hair., III, 24); thirdly, by combining the Apostolic succession and the supernatural guarantee of the Holy Ghost (Hair., IV, 26). It seems plain that, if Scripture cannot be regarded as a private historical document on account of the official mission of the Apostles, on account of the official succession in the Apostolate of their successors, on account of the assistance of the Holy Ghost promised to the Apostles and their successors, the promulgation of Scripture, the preservation of its integrity and identity, and the explanation of its meaning must belong to the Apostles and their legitimate successors. The same principles are advocated by the great Alexandrian doctor, Origen (De print., Praef.). “That alone”, he says, “is to be believed to be the truth which in nothing differs from the ecclesiastical and Apostolical tradition”. In another passage (in Matth. tr. XXIX, n. 46-47), he rejects the contention urged by the heretics “as often as they bring forward canonical Scriptures in which every Christian agrees and believes”, that “in the houses is the word of truth”; “for from it (the Church) alone the sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world”. That the African Church agrees with the Alexandrian, is clear from the words of Tertullian (De praescript., nn. 15, 19). He protests against the admission of heretics “to any discussion whatever touching the Scriptures”. “This question should be first proposed, which is now the only one to be discussed, `To whom belongs the faith itself: whose are the Scriptures’?… For the true Scriptures and the true expositions and all the true Christian traditions will be wherever both the true Christian rule and faith shall be shown to be”. St. Augustine endorses the same position when he says: “I should not believe the Gospel except on the authority of the Catholic Church” (Con. epist. Manichwi, fundam. n. 6).

(3) By virtue of its official and permanent promulgation, Scripture is a public document, the Divine authority of which is evident to all the members of the Church.

(4) The Church necessarily possesses a text of Scripture, which is internally authentic, or substantially identical with the original. Any form or version of the text, the internal authenticity of which the Church has approved either by its universal and constant use, or by a formal declaration, enjoys the character of external or public authenticity, i.e., its conformity with the original must not merely be presumed juridically, but must be admitted as certain on account of the infallibility of the Church.

(5) The authentic text, legitimately promulgated, is a source and rule of faith, though it remains only a means or instrument in the hands of the teaching body of the Church, which alone has the right of authoritatively interpreting Scripture.

(6) The administration and custody of Scripture is not entrusted directly to the whole Church, but to its teaching body, though Scripture itself is the common property of the members of the whole Church. While the private handling of Scripture is opposed to the fact that it is common property, its administrators are bound to communicate its contents to all the members of the Church.

(7) Though Scripture is the property of the Church alone, those outside her pale may use it as a means of discovering or entering the Church. But Tertullian shows that they have no right to apply Scripture to their own purposes or to turn it against the Church. He also teaches Catholics how to contest the right of heretics to appeal to Scripture at all (by a kind of demurrer), before arguing with them on single points of Scriptural doctrine.

(8) The rights of the teaching body of the Church include also that of issuing and enforcing decrees for promoting the right use, or preventing the abuse of Scripture. Not to mention the definition of the Canon (see Canon (person)), the Council of Trent issued two decrees concerning the Vulgate (see Revision of Vulgate), and a decree concerning the interpretation of Scripture (see Biblical Exegesis; Hermeneutics), and this last enactment was repeated in a more stringent form by the Vatican Council (seas. III, Conc. Trid., sess. IV). The various decisions of the Biblical Commission derive their binding force from this same right of the teaching body of the Church. (Cf. Stapleton, Princ. Fid. Demonstr. X-XI; Wilhelm and Scannell, “Manual of Catholic Theology“, London, 1890, I, 61 sqq. Scheeben, “Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik”, Freiburg, 1873, I, 126 sqq.).


The attitude of the Church as to the reading of the Bible in the vernacular may be inferred from the Church‘s practice and legislation. It has been the practice of the Church to provide newly-converted nations, as soon as possible, with vernacular versions of the Scriptures; hence the early Latin and oriental translations, the versions existing among the Armenians, the Slavonians, the Goths, the Italians, the French, and the partial renderings into English. As to the legislation of the Church on this subject, we may divide its history into three large periods:

(1) During the course of the first millennium of her existence, the Church did not promulgate any law concerning the reading of Scripture in the vernacular. The faithful were rather encouraged to read the Sacred Books according to their spiritual needs (cf. St. Irenaeus, “Adv. hwr.” III, iv).

(2) The next five hundred years show only local regulations concerning the use of the Bible in the vernacular. On January 2, 1080, Gregory VII wrote to the Duke of Bohemia that he could not allow the publication of the Scriptures in the language of the country. The letter was written chiefly to refuse the petition of the Bohemians for permission to conduct Divine service in the Slavic language. The pontiff feared that the reading of the Bible in the vernacular would lead to irreverence and wrong interpretation of the inspired text (St. Gregory VII, “Epist.”, vii, xi). The second document belongs to the time of the Waldensian and Albigensian heresies. The Bishop of Metz had written to Innocent III that there existed in his diocese a perfect frenzy for the Bible in the vernacular. In 1199 the pope replied that in general the desire to read the Scriptures was praiseworthy, but that the practice was dangerous for the simple and unlearned (“Epist.”, II, cxli; Hurter, “Gesch. des Papstes Innocent III”, Hamburg, 1842, IV, 501 sqq.). After the death of the Innocent III, the Synod of Toulouse directed in 1229 its fourteenth canon against the misuse of Sacred Scripture on the part of the Cathari: “prohibemus, ne libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti laicis permittatur habere” (Hefele, “Concilgesch”, Frei-burg, 1863, V, 875). In 1233 the Synod of Tarragona issued a similar prohibition in its second canon, but both these laws are intended only for the countries subject to the jurisdiction of the respective synods (Hefele, ibid., 918). The Third Synod of Oxford, in 1408, owing to the disorders of the Lollards, who in addition to their crimes of violence and anarchy had introduced virulent interpolations into the vernacular sacred text, issued a law in virtue of which only the versions approved by the local ordinary or the provincial council were allowed to be read by the laity (Hefele, op. cit., VI, 817).

(3) It is only in the beginning of the last five hundred years that we meet with a general law of the Church concerning the reading of the Bible in the vernacular. On March 24, 1564, Pius IV promulgated in his Constitution, “Dominici gregis”, the Index of Prohibited Books. According to the third rule, the Old Testament may be read in the vernacular by pious and learned men, according to the judgment of the bishop, as a help to the better understanding of the Vulgate. The fourth rule places in the hands of the bishop or the inquisitor the power of allowing the reading of the New Testament in the vernacular to laymen who according to the judgment of their confessor or their pastor can profit by this practice. Sixtus V reserved this power to himself or the Sacred Congregation of the Index, and Clement VIII added this restriction to the fourth rule of the Index, by way of appendix. Benedict XIV required that the vernacular version read by laymen should be either approved by the Holy See or provided with notes taken from the writings of the Fathers or of learned and pious authors. It then became an open question whether this order of Benedict XIV was intended to supersede the former legislation or to further restrict it. This doubt was not removed by the next three documents: the condemnation of certain errors of the Jansenist Quesnel as to the necessity of reading the Bible, by the Bull “Unigenitus” issued by Clement XI on September 8, 1713 (cf. Denzinger, “Enchir.”, nn. 1294-1300); the condemnation of the same teaching maintained in the Synod of Pistoia, by the Bull “Auctorem fidei” issued on August 28, 1794, by Pius VI; the warning against allowing the laity indiscriminately to read the Scriptures in the vernacular, addressed to the Bishop of Mohileff by Pius VII, on September 3, 1816. But the Decree issued by the Sacred Congregation of the Index on January 7, 1836, seems to render it clear that henceforth the laity may read vernacular versions of the Scriptures, if they be either approved by the Holy See, or provided with notes taken from the writings of the Fathers or of learned Catholic authors. The same regulation was repeated by Gregory XVI in his Encyclical of May 8, 1844. In general, the Church has always allowed the reading of the Bible in the vernacular, if it was desirable for the spiritual needs of her children; she has forbidden it only when it was almost certain to cause serious spiritual harm.


The history of the preservation and the propagation of the Scripture-text is told in the articles Manuscripts of the Bible; Codex Alexandrinus (etc.); Versions of the Bible; Editions of the Bible; Criticism (Textual); the interpretation of Scripture is dealt with in the articles Hermeneutics; Biblical Exegesis; Commentaries on the Bible; and Criticism (Biblical). Additional information on the foregoing questions is contained in the articles Introduction (Biblical); Old Testament; New Testament. The history of our English Version is treated in the article Versions of the Bible.


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