Bible believer ... When?

In many posts written by Non-catholics many describe themselves as Bible Christians or Bible believers. From a historical standpoint … when did this happen? Where is the root of Biblical Believers?

We know illiteracy was commonplace from the time of Jesus on earth to around the 1700’s and to be a Bible believing Christian you have to be able to read. Books were not readily available but the technology that could change this began in the mid 1400’s with the first printing presses.

For Christianity to spread to the masses (especially the poor and illiterate) before the widespread availability of the written Bible … where were Bible believing Christians, did they exist? How did Christianity spread without people reading a Bible, not because they did not want to but were incapable?

What about my assumption of having to be able to read to be a Bible Christian … is it correct?

Would a Bible believing Christian consider those Christians who never read a Bible in those early centuries Christian?

I say this because Catholics believe both the Bible and teaching Magesterium are equal and necessary to spread the Gospel. This is supported by the mechanism by which the Catholic Church is built … God breathed Scripture and a teaching authority to pass on those truths.


According to Acts 2, the Church functioned in all her fullness before ONE WORD of the NT was written down.

I don’t have sources as I looked at this years ago. But I recall when I was studying the early Church and the question of the person of Jesus Christ at the first council of Nicea there was a large faction of Bishops that wanted only Scriptural verbiage for everything in the Creed. This lead to quite a debate that centered on the term Homoousion because it was lifted from Greek philosophy and not from Scripture. So the idea of prima Scripture dates back to at least as early as the first Nicean council in AD 325 by Catholic Bishops.

I am sure the more studious apologists here will have greater knowledge of the Homoousion controversy and can shed further light on it.

Here are several ECF’s ideas on it:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+ca.195):
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
(Against Heresies, 3:1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 414.)

St. Athanasius (c.296-373):
The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.
(Against the Heathen, I:3, quoted in Carl A. Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983], p. 147.)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.310-386):
For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.
(Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. VII, p. 23.)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395):
…we are not entitled to such license, namely, of affirming whatever we please. For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine. Upon that we are obliged to fix our eyes, and we approve only whatever can be brought into harmony with the intent of these writings.
(On the Soul and the Resurrection, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971], p. 50.)

St. Gregory of Nyssa:
Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.
(On the Holy Trinity, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. V, p. 327.)

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):
Let them show their church if they can, not by the speeches and mumblings of the Africans, not by the councils of their bishops, not by the writings of any of their champions, not by fraudulent signs and wonders, because we have been prepared and made cautious also against these things by the Word of the Lord; but [let them show their church] by a command of the Law, by the predictions of the prophets, by songs from the Psalms, by the words of the Shepherd Himself, by the preaching and labors of the evangelists; that is, by all the canonical authorities of the sacred books.
(On the Unity of the Church, 16, quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 159.)

St. Augustine of Hippo:
What more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For Holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wise more than it behooves to be wise,” but be wise, as he says, “unto soberness, according as unto each God has allotted the measure of faith.”
(On the Good of Widowhood, 2, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. III, p. 442. The quotation is from Romans 12:3.)

To be continued …

continued …

St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407):
Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer to [our own] calculation; but in calculating upon [theological] facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things…
(Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII, p. 346.)

St. John Chrysostom:
Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.
(Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 96, p. 118.)

St. John Chrysostom:
They say that we are to understand the things concerning Paradise not as they are written but in a different way. But when Scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our eyes to all things and follow the canon of Holy Scripture exactly.
(Homily 13 on Genesis.)

St. John Chrysostom:
There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.’” No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.
(Homily 33 on the Acts of the Apostles [NPNF 1, 11:210-11; PG 60.243-44])

St. Basil the Great (c.329-379):
They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases [persons], and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.
(Letter 189 [to Eustathius the physician], 3, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. VIII, p. 229.)

St. Basil the Great:
What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.
(The Morals, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, p. 204.)

St. Basil the Great:
We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.
(On the Holy Spirit, 7:16.)

St. John of Damascus (c.675-c.749):
It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.
(On the Orthodox Faith, I:2, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37.)

Saint Ambrose
I do not wish that credence be given us; let the Scripture be quoted. Not of myself do I say: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but I hear it; I do not feign but I read what we all read… (“The Sacrament of the Incarnation of our Lord,” 3:14, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 44 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963], p. 224)

On consideration…of the reason wherefore men have so far gone astray, or that many – alas! – should follow diverse ways of belief concerning the Son of God, the marvel seems to be, not at all that human knowledge has been baffled in dealing with superhuman things, but that it has not submitted to the authority of the Scriptures. (“Of the Christian Faith,” IV:1, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. X, p. 262)

The idea that Protestants came up with the idea out of thin with no grounding in historical Christianity what-so-ever is simply untrue. The Reformers (or Rebels depending on your perspective) of the Church took their actions in part because they discerned that the Church had drifted away from the Tradition of relying on Scripture and instead relied more heavily on the traditions, which Luther pointed out dramatically, were in conflict with Scripture.

Great quotes … but the basic question was how did the ordinary joe read Scripture from 33 AD to such time that Scripture was easily available and the reading skills necessary were common.

My assumption was to be a Bible believer one has to read it. Do you agree?

The term Bible believer is a relatively new one … one does not find the terms, Bible believer or Bible Christian historically through the centuries. The quotes you gave give the due importance to Scripture but you have to admit … most people could not read in the years of those quotes. Those teachings were passed orally thus the importance of teaching Magesterium. Was an infalliable text passed on in teaching incorrectly then?

This still does not answer for the common man being a Bible believing Christian.

In the Middle Ages, the Bible was preserved through the painstaking efforts of the monks, who not only copied the biblical texts by hand but also the commentaries of the Early Church Fathers. It is no exaggeration to suggest that if it were not for the medieval Church, there would have been no Scriptures around which Martin Luther could rally with his slogan of sola Scriptura.

Of course, no disagreement there (or at least “hear” it - not to detract from the visually or hearing impaired but I think you know what I mean). The first and earliest Christian communities were households, agreed? Before too long Christianity was pushed underground by being made an illicit religion by Nero. To be like the first century Church in the United States today is just impossible. They didn’t have bibles, they didn’t have the luxury of open public meeting places, or anything like that. Those first Christians were the most hard core of the hard core! Is it any wonder they are all Saints?

But they did have their roots in Jewish tradition and the OT was known to them and those stories would have taken on a new meaning as they became revealed by the light of the Cross of Christ, just like bible believing Christians do today. Whether those stories are told verbally or read from a book makes no difference, it is still the same process of discerning what is the will of God in your life based upon the faithful that have proceeded us as recorded in Scripture.

I think the Catholic logical argument of there were no bibles in those early days so therefore it no necessary is a good and valid argument. But we do have the bible now and Sacred Scripture has played an enormous part in the life of the Church and the development of doctrine, as attested to by the ECF’s.

I personally would love to see a return to the primitive Church. Small, relational, and meeting in homes. But I doubt the Catholic Church would be willing to trade the stature it has grown into today for the basic and simple Christianity of her roots.

Are you suggesting there was a Roman Curia and Magisterium at the time of St. Augustine? When did that body form and become what it is today? It wasn’t clearly defined until when, the 1800’s? What took so long if it was always believed and handed down from the Apostles?

Though the terms Bible believer and or Bible Christian are relatively new and culturally specific the ideas centered on the terms are not new at all.

I am one of those “Big Tent Christian” guys which drives almost every denomination crazy because I don’t get too bend up about a lot of stuff. And my personal creed is for everyone to draw close to Christ in the way they prayerfully discern. If that is in the Catholic Church then I rejoice with you if that it as a Southern Baptist then I rejoice with you.

The first thing people need to remember is that Scripture and the Bible are two different things. The first "Bible didn’t exist until the 4th century. Scripture, written and ORAL existed starting with the Old Testament. Until the 4th Century, the only written Scripture was the Old Testament, whenever “Scripture” was mentioned in the New Testament they were talking about not only the Old Testament but oral tradition from the time of Moses.

Anyone who is a Christian is technically a Bible Christian. Catholics just take ALL Scripture into account for their foundation of faith and not just the book.

What is ignored in these arguements.

The bible is God breathed
God desired that we have a bible
The bible is to be used as the rule of faith
Peter in 2 Peter equates Pauls letters with OT scripture, so even before the death of the apostles we had NT scripture.
Everytime Jesus uses the word scripture He is refering to the written word.

Will you please help me with this statement “Peter in 2 Peter equates Pauls letters with OT scripture, so even before the death of the apostles we had NT scripture.”

I think the premise of your statement is faulty. A person is not a Christian, Catholic or non because they believe in the bible. They are a Christian because they believe in the one whom the bible is about and that would be Jesus Christ. And that would mean the whole bible. Jesus said Jn5:39Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. The only bible that Jesus had was the old testament, and He says that that would be enough for eternal life. As for your assumption that most where illiterate, the bible seems to imply otherwise. Jesus Himself says in the verse quoted above to search the scriptures. Do you suppose He would suggest that if no one could read, and in Acts17 Luke tells us that the Ephesians 11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. He says that those of a more noble mind recieve the scriptures with all readiness, but check it out with the written word to make sure.
However literacy is not a requirement Jesus says:
Jn 5:24Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
The dead here spoken of are not necessarily those in the grave, altho that will be the case at the resurrection, those spoken of here are those that hear the word spoken (preached), believe in Jesus and pass from death to eternal life. This is also brought out in Ephesians 4 That Christ through the Spirit gives gifts to men. Eph 4:11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

So, nc God has it covered.

What is ignored in these arguements.

The bible is God breathed
God desired that we have a bibleThis does answer the question of how it is used … As a Christian we know written word, though written by men, was inspired by the HS … of course if someone was inspired to write God must have decided it so.

I dont think you can say bible … you can say written word … the bible didn’t exist as a seperate entity until around 325 or so.

Peter did recognize good preaching.

Which is God’s revelation.

This still does not address how one could have been a Bible believer … before there was a Bible or until the Bible became available to the masses … and those masses could read.

This is more or less true, although I think people often exaggerate the degree of illiteracy in premodern times.

For Christianity to spread to the masses (especially the poor and illiterate) before the widespread availability of the written Bible … where were Bible believing Christians, did they exist? How did Christianity spread without people reading a Bible, not because they did not want to but were incapable?

They could have the Bible read *to *them. (Remember that the practice of reading Scripture in vernacular at the Mass is a relatively modern one–I don’t think it was widespread before the late 19th century, though I may be wrong and would be glad to see evidence contradicting me.)

Furthermore, many “Bible Christians” would argue that illiteracy was itself something promoted by the Catholic Church to further its hold on the people, and that one of the characteristics of a true revival is that people want to learn to read.

One interesting counter-example to this is that some 18th-century evangelicals, such as Hannah More, didn’t want working-class people taught to read because she was afraid they would read atheistic and revolutionary books. So insofar as some Catholics historically may have thought in this way, they were not alone. However, of course the Church has historically done a lot to educate the common people and it’s not true that the Church systematically discouraged the spread of literacy. Quite the reverse, in my opinion.

All of that being said, I think you are on to something in focusing on the 18th century. That is when the modern movement of evangelicalism can best be said to have begun, in my opinion. And I read a scholarly article in grad school which argued that in Germany it was the 18th-century Pietists (backed by the Prussian government), not the Reformers, who seriously attempted to put a Bible in the hands of every family. I think this is true across Europe.

What about my assumption of having to be able to read to be a Bible Christian … is it correct?

No, because you could hear Scripture read to you. But of course it helps. . . .


The Roman Curia is a term that defines the people who support the Pope, much like the Cabinet does for the president (the Apostles other than Peter). The term does not have to be in use for it to have existed. So yes, the Curia has always existed.

The Magisterium is defined today as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Wikipedia and other sources say “The word is derived from Latin magisterium, which originally meant the office of a president, chief, director, superintendent, etc. (in particular, though rarely, the office of tutor or instructor of youth, tutorship, guardianship) or teaching, instruction, advice.” Thus, any time there was a “teaching authority” or a head leader (Peter anyone?) there was a Magisterium. Since Peter was appointed the leader of Christs Church on earth and thus, at pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, he became that first leader or head of the Church. So yes, the Magisterium has existed since the Death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.

If I am wrong in any of this, please feel free to correct me.

And I apologize for using Wiki, I am just somewhat lazy today.



The Bible IS the word of God, no argument there.

Where did Jesus or God the Father say, “write this down and make a book” He said “preach” not “write”

Yes we had Scripture but we didn’t have a Bible.

As for your last comment, Not always. When He was talking about written Old Testament Scripture, He said “it is written” the rest was oral tradition which was how the majority of Jews of that time were taught their faith.

What about John 21: 24 - 25 It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, 14 and we know that his testimony is true. T**here are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written. **
2 Thessalonians 2: 15 - 17 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.
1 Corinthians 15:2-4 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died or our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
(had to be oral since none of this was written down yet.)

I like this one too. 2 Peter 1: 20 - 21 Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the **Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God. **

Maybe … I really don’t know but it is true that complete Bible texts were not something available in a household … like today.

Still it had to be worse than today … and given what’s on TV … maybe not. :smiley:

Ahh … being read to … and also having it explained … this is getting somewhere. I don’t know how the shape of the Mass has changed though I am sure others have some thoughts on how/what/when Scripture reading came to it’s current form.

That is an argument and has been debated before. I am sure those in pre-modern times had an itch to learn though it may have been impossible given how society was structured.

Interesting … I did not know this.

Who were the Pietists? I wonder if elements of the Enlightenment were a part of this … more self directed, autonomous … those types of things.

In answer to your questions, there were no “Bible Christians”, only Catholics until the 16th century. “Bible Christian” was an invention of Martin Luther and he even changed the Bible by removing books and phrases from the one that existed at that time and adding a word here and there to fit his interpretation. Protestants are luck to have what they do because he wanted to take out even more.

The ECF in the first 4 centuries only had Scripture, no Bible.

“There are many other things which rightly keep me in the bosom of the Catholic Church. The consent of the people and nations keeps me, her authority keeps me, inaugurated by miracles, nourished in hope, enlarged by love, and established by age. The succession of priests keep me, from the very seat of the apostle Peter (to whom the Lord after his resurrection gave charge to feed his sheep) down to the present episcopate [of Pope Siricius]” Augustine (*Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” *5 [A.D. 397]).

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