Q: How did the Bible come to be? Did apostles keep a journal passed down through the ages? Or did someone one day find these documents and put them all together?
— Tigerlily Sorensen, seventh grade, Notre Dame Junior High School, Burlington
Please note that there have been many books written on this subject. A little, but mighty, book that I am going to suggest to you is the “Bible Blue Print” by Joe Paprocki. It is easy to follow and the cartoons are great. This month’s column includes ideas from Paprocki’s book.
Your questions really make me think. I want to explain to you in a way that is honest and not long-winded. So here goes.
How did the Bible come to be? The Bible is called the sacred book or Scriptures, and may be viewed as a big library divided into two large wings. The first wing, the Hebrew scriptures of the Tanakh (known as the Old Testament to Christians) is the written record of the Jewish people from Abraham (1800 B.C.) until Maccabees (168 B.C.) Some of the oldest known Old Testament manuscripts are fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were discovered in 1947 at Qumran. The second wing of the library is the New Testament. This smaller wing contains the life and work of Jesus and the faith experience of the early Christians until about 100 A.D.
The Bible is like a blueprint that God has provided for us. It is the blueprint for salvation. “For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as a support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons (and daughters), the food of the soul, and the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (Dei Verbum, 21)
The Old Testament wing is more than twice the size of the New Testament wing. In this larger wing we can find four stack rooms dedicated to the Pentateuch, History, Wisdom and the Prophets. There are 46 books in the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible. In the New Testament wing, we can find the stack rooms for the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Letters and Revelation. In this wing we have 27 books. The Catholic canon (catalog) has 73 books whereas the Protestant canon has 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
The Old Testament was formed gradually; its books were composed over many centuries. Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic scholars agree that the Pentateuch is a composite of several sources. An oral tradition of stories continued for years before the stories were written; we use translations from Hebrew, Greek or Latin because the books for the Bible were written in a language other than English.
God has loved us into existence as St. Thomas Aquinas says. In the Bible, God is trying to show us how to build a love relationship with the Triune God. The Word of God is a dialogue that continues today. It is always a living and effective Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Sunday Mass is so important; we are fed by the Word of God in Scriptures as well as by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Did apostles keep a journal passed down through the ages? Or did someone one day find these documents and put them all together? We like to think that the Gospels were written as the events took place. The reality is that the Gospels were proclaimed orally before they were put together in written form.
It is not likely that the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) actually put pen to paper. They were probably dead by the time their accounts were written down and recorded by their loyal followers. Remember that when we say the Gospels were inspired, we are really saying that the entire process was guided by the Holy Spirit.
The best way for you to determine if the Bible you are reading is approved by the Catholic Church is to look for what is call the imprimatur (im-pri-MAH-tur) near the inside cover. This is followed by the Catholic authority issuing it. It means that the translation is acceptable.
If your class and teacher have the time, I’d love to come and discuss the Bible. Just call or email.
Thanks for your questions.
— Mary Wieser, director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Davenport
(Students in grades kindergarten through 12 are invited to submit questions about the Catholic Church for The Catholic Messenger’s new Young & Curious feature. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804.)