Bible or the Church?

Which came first the Bible or the Church? Also if anyone could show give me links or advice on how old the Bible is and what are the historical documents relating to the Bible and the earliest of the Church. Thankyou for any advice.

(I presume you refer mainly to the New Testament)

According to the Bible, the Church came first.

The Church began at Pentecost (a few days after Our Lord’s Ascension). This is recorded in *Acts *(Chapter 2). Clearly, *Acts *could not have been written before the events it describes. None of the New Testament was written at the time of Pentecost. Three of the four Gospel writers (Mark, Luke, and John) had not yet become Christian - they were still pagans at Pentecost.

Just to get you started (others have more detailed info on the subject), part of the Bible preceded the Church, that which we call the Old Testament. The New Testament is the writings of the Apostles: Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, James, and Jude, and their immediate disciples, Mark and Luke. The Church commissioned St. Jerome to compile the canon of the Bible. The full canon was not approved until the Council of Trent. I hope I have my facts right. If not, I’ll be corrected, I’m sure. :wink: Anyway, a good book on the topic (here is the online text) is: Where We Got the Bible, Our Debt to the Catholic Church by The Right Rev. Henry G. Graham.

The Old Testament came before the Church. The New Testament came after the Church.


For the writings of the Jews, the Jewish people lived a life of faith. Then it was written down.

Using another term for Jewish people or the Church-- the People of God lived lives of faith and later wrote down their experiences with God.

Yes, the Scripture is the witness to the action of God in the lives of his people. We refer to it for guidance in matters of faith and morals, but the authority to teach God’s word lies with men–with those in whom he placed that authority.

Church came first. Around 300AD a council was held and a group of books were declared the inspired Word of God. This is the Bible we know today.

Wasn’t Mark potentially a follower of Jesus during His lifetime? The young fella who ran off naked from Jesus’ arrest is often held to be an authorial self-insert. He might, then, have been baptized prior to Pentecost, though we don’t know for sure.

Also, since you seem to be treating the Gospels as the work of individuals with those names, shouldn’t John be in the same category of Matthew? I know it’s a common view that none of them were written by the attributed authors, but this is the first time I’ve seen someone credit Matthew to the Apostle but John to someone else.


That is an unfortunately simplified view that we need to be careful about asserting.

As others have pointed out, the Old Testament books all precede the lifetime of Jesus, much less the founding of the Church. The New Testament books that ended up in the Christian canon were all written by the end of the first century. So from that point, the complete Scriptures were available.

On the other hand, it’s true that over the next couple centuries, additional works continued to be written that some folks claimed as Scripture, and not every Christian community held to the identical canon. It does seem to have been in the late 300s that local Church authorities started issuing lists of the canon that closely resemble our current Bibles. So in that sense, “the Bible” as we think of it now did not exist everywhere in that form until then, even though the inspired writings themselves had been around for centuries.

Heck, it took the Catholic Church as a worldwide entity until the sixteenth century, after the Reformation, to declare the canon in ecumenical council. So one could state that the canon wasn’t finally settled for Catholics until then, but we would hardly say there was no Bible before that.


There is a disconnect in terminology here.

Some are discussing the Bible as the written word of God and some are discussing the Bible as the Canon of Scripture.

The written word of God came both before and after the Church began to exist. The list of inspired books which are collectively assembled into what we know as the Bible - the Canon of Scripture - came after the Church began to exist.

The OP needs to clarify. Does the Bible mean the written word of God or Canon of Scripture?

Jesus did not say he came to establish a book - he came to establish a church the body of Christ - all of us - whom the keys were handed to St Peter.

Even our Prodesant brothers and sisters

Its in ths Gospel no need for qoutes.

Correct, I was just trying to simplify it. The OPer was just asking for a distinction between which “came” first. The writings existed, but the concept of the “Bible” really didn’t until after Jesus’s death. Hence, the technical existence of the Bible came after the technical existence of the Church.

Always appreciate a kind correction, though! = )


and I’m actually serious about this.

The son of God who is the word of God, the logos predates all creation and is eternal. So clearly the Bible came first because the Bible is the Word of God.

At the same time the Church came before the Bible as we know it today. The cannon determining what books are in the bible can only exist if there is a Church.

:ouch: I’d expect an Evangelical/Fundamentalist to make such a statement, but not a Catholic. The Bible is not the Word of God who is Christ Jesus. The Bible is the written word of God, given to men by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time the Church came before the Bible as we know it today. The cannon determining what books are in the bible can only exist if there is a Church.

Yes and no. The OT predates the Church and foreshadows Christ in its prophecies and typology. The NT is the writings of certain Apostles and their close disciples written in the first century AD. Yes, the canon was determined by the Church, which is why we have the Bible we now have.

sorry for the error. I can’t believe I said that and didn’t notice my error :(.

also the cannon of the OT wasn’t set till after the Church.

A small slip of the brain. It happens to us all. :tiphat:

also the cannon of the OT wasn’t set till after the Church.

Yes. We have a fuller version of the OT than some of our Protestant brethren because we use texts that the Jewish leaders decided would not be in their canon. But then the Church had different criteria and reasons for setting her canon from theirs.

That’s what happens when I post before I have my coffee.

Yes, I should have said Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John is commonly considered to be the Apostle.

We know nothing of the identity of the person who wrote Matthew.

But the real point is that not one word of the New Testament had been written when Pentecost took place.

There was a lot of inspired writings, however, which never made it to the OT. Probably a lot of it was lost as well. Someone had to make the decision on which books to include in the OT, as we know it.

How do you know that there were inspired writings which never made it the Old Testament?


Maybe because they were lost or maybe they were just of very poor quality, among other things? Can you read everyone’s handwriting, for example? Or maybe others just couldn’t decode them. Plenty of reasons why they never made it. Of course, one could argue they weren’t inspired if one couldn’t read them, but still…someone had to decide what went into what we know as the OT. Ever notice the style (broken up into short versicles, etc.) of all the writings. (Compare that against old Church documents or Greek or Roman writers.) Why are they mostly the same, despite all the writers and paraphrasers that put work into them? A lot of originality must have been stripped, though the gist of what they wrote survives in the form of book, chapter, and verse. You do know they weren’t written that way, don’t you? We see only the final product. Or did God give instructions on how to organize the Bible that way as they wrote them, I don’t know? :shrug:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit