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Magazine • A to Z of Apologetics

Sacred Scripture

The collection of holy and inspired writings officially and solemnly recognized in the Christian canon

Sacred Scripture is the collection of holy and inspired writings officially and solemnly recognized in the Christian canon. They are written through the instrument of human hands but authored by God (CCC 105-106).

In the time of Christ it is well known that the Jews possessed several books that were distinguished in use and character from every other writing, though some of these collections varied. These scriptures recorded history, collected wisdom and poetry, and preserved the events and prophecies of major and minor characters in the history of the Hebrew people. The most prominent of these pre-Christian collections was the Septuagint, a Greek translation from about 300-200 B.C. Many New Testament authors quote from the Septuagint, thus demonstrating its widely accepted authority.

After the apostolic age (A.D. 33-100), the early Christians were also in possession of many writings from apostles, their successors, and others. Some of these were immediately debated for authenticity and heterodoxy (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas), others were widely accepted as useful in Christian moral teaching (e.g., The Shepherd of Herman, the Didache), and others were nearly universally known to be authentic teachings and records of the apostles and their successors (the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps a third letter from Paul to the Corinthians, and the epistles of Clement).

Because of the implications of disagreements about these writings, especially the question of which books may be read at Mass and which ones are authoritatively binding to Christians, the Church met several times to decide the issue. The process for a firm and final canon required more than two centuries, and though several ecumenical councils may be cited, the chief authorities confirming which books belong to the Christian canon are the decree issued by Pope Damascus from the Council of Rome (A.D. 382) and first and second councils of Carthage (A.D. 397 and 419). This canon contains forty-six books for the Old Testament and twenty-seven books for the New Testament.

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