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What Were the Criteria for Determining Which Books Belong in the Bible?

Tom Nash

Tom Nash lists some of the criteria the early Church used to determine which scriptural writings were truly inspired and refutes the claim that we need not belong to any one church to be saved as long as we believe in Jesus.


Host: Danny in Jackson, New Jersey, listening on EWTN, you are on with Tom Nash. What is your question, Danny?

Caller: Hi guys, doing a great job over there.

Host: Thank you.

Caller: Well, my question is this: what was the Church’s criteria of canonizing the Bible in the fourth century? Now I know, the Gospels, we have four, right? But I know there’s, like, about, maybe 20 out there or something like that. And, you know, other epistles and stuff like that. So how did the Church come up with what books were inspired and what weren’t? And the second part of the question was: a lot of people say, “Well it doesn’t matter what Church you belong to, as long as you believe in Jesus.” How do you answer that?

Tom: Sure. First question, with regard to criteria: among other things, you know, that it dates back to the apostolic era, and that you have either one of the apostles or one of their close associates who are writing. Of course, you’ve got St. Paul; not one of the original twelve, but indeed a great apostle who encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. So he’s the most prolific of the writers.

Also: how it was used in the Liturgy. So there we see that sacred tradition in action; when was it used in terms of—was a particular writing used, proclaimed in the sacrifice of the mass? The Breaking of the Bread, as it’s known in Acts 2:42 and Luke 24 as well, that…was this used in the Liturgy, the Church’s Liturgy? So those are two right there that are a couple of the criteria.

For further reading, I’d suggest Ignatius’ Catholic Study Bible, New Testament. That is put out by Ignatius Press, and the editors are Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. Very good resource for you for the future.

With regard to “Doesn’t matter whether you belong—what Church you belong to as long as you believe in Jesus:” well, what is it about Jesus? Jesus founded a Church. He didn’t say, “I founded (plural) Churches.” And he also said that He wants us to be one as He and the Father are one. Well, how can we approach to that—even approach that intimacy, that level of oneness that the Father and Son have, if Jesus did not give us a means by which to know the Faith and to know when something’s being taught correctly or not?

And so we go back and say: yes, Jesus founded a Church, we can see that in the Bible, we can see it substantiated through history, and so that’s why we would encourage everyone to either remain Catholic and grow closer to the Church, and Christ thereby, or to become Catholic.

As far as the salvation of non-Catholics—Christians, since we’re talking about Church and therefore Christians—the Catechism on 846-848 is very helpful, Catechism of the Catholic Church. But why do we do it? Because part of believing in Jesus is following what Jesus says, and He founded a Church and wants us to be part of it, and also receiving the Eucharist, which He talks about in John.

So we’re doing—we’re being obedient to Jesus in being faithful Catholics, and staying in the Church, and in welcoming people in, making disciples of all the nations.

Host: Does that help you, Danny?

Caller: Yeah, thank you. Thanks a lot.


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