Letter to My Non-Catholic Friend (3)
The Church established by Christ existed about 65 years before St. John wrote the last book of the Bible. During these years how did the people know what they had to do, to save their souls? Was it from the Bible they learned it? No, because the Bible as such was not yet composed. They knew it precisely as we know it, from the teaching of the Church of God. The New Testament writings were not gathered together and declared to be divinely inspired until late in the fourth century. Moreover, these witnesses were Catholics, and accepted the Scriptures as divinely inspired because their Church declared them to be so. Protestants hold that the writings, known as the Sacred Scriptures, are inspired. But it is on the Catholic Church's word that they hold this truth! They take for granted that followers of the Catholic Church transcribed and translated the original writings without making any errors, that they never altered a line, that they preserved them until the 16th century in their original purity and integrity. Unless they grant all this, they cannot logically appeal to the Scriptures as divine authority. Thus Protestants are breaking away from their theory of "Nothing but the Bible" and basing their arguments on tradition, or on the authority of the Catholic Church, which, on principle, they repudiate.
The Jewish religion existed before the Old Testament was written, just as the Christian Church existed before the New Testament was written. Peter converted three thousand before the first word of the New Testament was put on paper. Paul had converted hundreds of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians before he wrote his epistles to those congregations; and all the Apostles were dead, and millions had died Catholic martyrs, before St. John wrote the last part of the New Testament. Until the end of the first century, the "Word of God" could have been delivered only by word of mouth.
How the Apostles Regarded the New Testament
The Apostles seem to think it an important matter to leave us their recollections of Christ's life and character, but they make no pretense of giving us a complete written account of his teaching. They show no signs of regarding it as a duty to leave behind them full written particulars. St. John himself declares the impossibility of writing anything like an exhaustive account of all that Christ did (John 21:25). As far as we can gather, nearly all the Apostles were dead or dispersed before half the New Testament was written. None of the Apostles ever saw the Gospel of St. John, except the author himself. Only St. John lived long enough to have seen the whole series which made up the New Testament; but there is no evidence to show that he actually did see it. The only clear reference made by one Apostle to another Apostle's writings is that of St. Peter, who tells us how hard St. Paul's epistles were to understand, and how some had wrested them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Scripture was regarded as a witness to the Church's teaching, not as a sole and adequate Rule of Faith to be substituted in its place.
St. Paul Used the Scriptures
In the Acts of the Apostles 17:2, we are told that St. Paul reasoned with the Thessalonians on three Sabbath days "out of the Scriptures," and in verse 11, Paul says that Bereans "searched the Scriptures." Verse 2 implies that St. Paul used the Bible and verse 11 that the Bereans had it, but this was not the New Testament, for very little of it had been written at that time. Read verse 3, and it will be clear that he was appealing to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, showing them that Christ was to suffer and to rise again. He did not prove from the Scriptures that Christ had already suffered. The same applies to verse 11.
The First Christians Were Not "Bible" Christians
The various parts which now make up the New Testament were carefully treasured and read in the local churches where they had been received, but it was only by degrees that copies were spread to other places, and the whole came to be circulated throughout Christendom. It was late in the fourth century before the present New Testament writings were gathered together into one book. It was this late in the Christian era before the Catholic Church declared which of the many doubtfully inspired writings scattered throughout the world were really inspired.
How the Early Christians Received Their Faith
We find in the New Testament many references to Christian doctrine as derived from oral teaching. The Thessalonians are told to "hold fast the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word or by epistle." (2 Thess. 2:15). Timothy, who had been ordained Bishop of Ephesus by St. Paul, is instructed to "Hold fast the form of sound words which he had heard from his teacher among many witnesses;" "to continue in the things learnt" (that is, "the gospel which was committed to his trust"), "knowing from whom he had learnt them," "and to commit the same to faithful men who shall be able to teach others." (1 Tim. 1-11; 4:11-16, 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:6, 13; 2:2, 3:10, 14; 4:2, etc.) -- all of which certainly stands in favor of the Catholic doctrine of apostolic authority in a line of successors, for an oral transmission of Faith, and against the Protestant idea of substituting the Bible as the sole and adequate guide to salvation. The Bishops were universally regarded as the authoritative successors to the Apostles, responsible for the preservation of Christian doctrine. The New Testament was not completed until 65 years after Peter and Paul and most of the other Apostles were dead; many of their immediate successors had been martyred, and it is likely that the third or fourth successors of the several Apostles were converting souls without the Bible when St. John completed his writings. In fact, the whole Roman Empire was Christian, at least ten million people remained true to Christ and suffered a martyr's death, and the Church was enjoying her golden age, before anybody ever saw the New Testament bound up into one volume. For four centuries people received their faith only by hearing it preached in Catholic churches.
Most Protestants enter the Protestant religion through family ties or evangelistic services -- not by Bible reading. Very few people are led to embrace this or that religion by "searching the Scriptures." Nine times out of ten, they enter a religion first, and do their Bible reading afterwards.
The Bible was not given from heaven like the Ten Commandments were -- as the Christian's sole rule of faith, and Christ did not write the New Testament; and the Apostles were not ordered to write it as a text book. Tradition is also a rule of faith; for "Faith cometh by hearing." (Rom. 10:17).
Is Scripture Inherently Clear?
Suppose: an Episcopal minister reads the Bible in a prayerful spirit and says it is clear and evident that there must be "bishops." The Presbyterian, a sincere and well-meaning man, deduces from the Bible that there should be no bishops, only "Presbyters." A number of religions hold that baptism by immersion is correct, while others approve of baptism by sprinkling. Next comes the Unitarian who calls them all a pack of idolators, worshipping a man for a God, and he quotes several texts from the Bible to prove it. So we have here a number of denominations understanding the Bible in different ways. What then, if we bring together 500 denominations, all differing? One says there is no hell; another says there is. One says Christ is God; another says He is not, etc. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Must infants be baptized? Are good works necessary, or is faith alone sufficient? The correct answer to these questions is surely essential, but zealous Bible readers do not agree concerning them. Is anyone foolish enough to believe that the changeless and eternal Holy Spirit is directing those five hundred denominations, telling one Yes and another No; declaring a thing to be black and white, false and true, at the same time? If the Bible were intended as the guide and teacher of man, would St. Peter have declared that "In the scriptures are things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)?
On the contrary, the Bible itself declares that it contains many passages, the meaning of which is not clear. Read Acts 8:27-35; Luke 24:25-27; 2 Peter 3:16. Moreover, if the Bible is the Protestants' authority for everything, how is it that they cannot quote the Bible in favor of the "private judgment" theory? Not only can it not be found, but you will find this declaration in the holy book: "No prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20). St. Paul warned Titus not to concede to anyone the right of private judgment. (Titus 3:9-11).
Private Interpretation Has Made of the Bible a Babel of Confusion
Individual opinions have divided Christianity, and occasioned more infidelity than anything else. W. E. Lecky, in Rationalism in Europe, Vol. II, p. 174, states: "It has been most abundantly proved that from Scripture, honest and able men have derived and do derive arguments in support of the most opposite opinions." And from the London Times of Jan. 13, 1884: "England alone is reputed to contain some 700 sects, each of which proves a whole system of theology and morals from the Bible."