The Bible: Written Revelation

The Word of God revealing Himself to His People through the sacred authors was first of all oral. Periods of oral transmission varied. The revelation of Genesis, from prehistory to the time of Moses is an example of oral transmission; the period from the resurrection and ascension of Jesus (about 30 AD) until some of Paul's letters (about 51 AD) or the writing of the first Gospel, Mark's (about 65 AD), is another example of oral transmission of revelation. The Word of God as eventually written down is contained in the Bible. The Bible is the collection of sacred books, written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and recognized by the Church as such.

The title of this collection of sacred books comes from the Latin biblia, which in turn comes from the Greek, ta biblia. The Greek word means "The Books." Hence, the Bible is a library of books rather than a single book.

The two divisions of the Bible are called Testaments, the Old Testament (or the Hebrew Scriptures) written before the coming of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament, written after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The canon of the Bible refers to the definitive list of the books which are considered to be divine revelation and included in the Bible. ("Canon" (Gk. kanon) means a reed; a straight rod or bar; a measuring stick; something serving to determine, rule, or measure.) Over the centuries, the different faith communities which use the Bible (e.g. Jews, Catholics, Protestants) have developed different canons, i.e. different lists of which books belong in the Bible "library."

The original language of the Old Testament was predominantly Hebrew, with some later books having been written in Greek and Aramaic. The entire Old Testament was translated into Greek well before the time of Christ. The New Testament was entirely written in Greek. Not a single original manuscript (i.e. autograph) for either Testament exists today.

This library contains among its books, many kinds and types of literature. There are law books or literature (e.g. Leviticus), there are books of history (e.g. the books of Kings and Chronicles), poetry (e.g. Song of Songs) and hymn books (e.g. Psalms), parables or stories (e.g. Job), biography (e.g. Gospels), prophetical (e.g. Revelation), collections of sayings (e.g. Proverbs), etc.

Much printed currently within this library is not a part of the revelation of the Word of God. The writers of the books of the Bible did not title the books (with the possible exception of Mark's Gospel). Hence the titles of the books are not the Word of God. The sacred authors did not write in paragraphs or use punctuation or label sections or outline their books. Cardinal Stephen Langton created the chapters of both the Old and New Testaments in the Latin version of the Bible in 1228. Verses within chapters in the Latin version of the Old Testament were the work of the Dominican friar Santes Pagnini in 1528. The verses for the Greek New Testament were created by the Protestant Robert Estienne in 1555. Some brief books have no chapters but only verses (e.g. Philemon).

The Church has always believed that the Word of God is not wholly contained in the library of the Bible. As the opening of the Gospel of John proclaims, the Word of God existed eternally and became flesh in Jesus to dwell among us (John 1:1-14). The Church, birthed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, existed, grew before, during and after the New Testament was written and the books of the Bible determined. The Church recognizes that the books of the Bible are but one source of information about God's revelation, although a very important source. The Word of God and the Spirit of Truth are too dynamic to be limited to the written Word only.

Because the Bible is an important source for God's revelation, we should know:

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: July 17, 2004