Did Catholics canonize the Bible?

Hello everyone. I’ve been discussing with a Protestant on the history of the Bible and who exactly canonized it. My case that it was the Roman Catholic Church - the council of Nicea under Constantine that canonized the scripture, but to him it was the undivided church.
Here is his quote

Anyone who knows anything about church history knows that there was a period when the Greek and other Eastern churches and the Latin church (plus, for that matter, some others) were united and not divided as they later were. It’s that period that’s referred to as the era of the “Undivided Church,” and people usually think of it as lasting until the Great Schism, even though the Oriental Orthodox had split earlier and there were many heretical groups. It’s this church that canonized the Scripture, not any particular part of it.

Ask him how he knows that the 27 NT books are inspired? The Holy Spirit inspired them but what human process initiated this?

If he says anything other than the “Decree of Damasus”, 382AD , he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Thank you for your reply. I did reply with this before, but he initially said it didn’t eliminate his argument that the Undivided Church was the one who canonized the Bible, not Roman Catholicism in general. He said the Eastern, West, and Latin were all one church during a period of time and that period of time was during the bible’s canonization therefore the claim that the RCC is responsible is inaccurate because the Eastern Orthodox can claim the same. I don’t think he is correct, but i just can’t find the words to refute this.

Anyone who knows anything about church history knows that there was a period when the Greek and other Eastern churches and the Latin church (plus, for that matter, some others) were united and not divided as they later were. It’s that period that’s referred to as the era of the “Undivided Church,” and people usually think of it as lasting until the Great Schism, even though the Oriental Orthodox had split earlier and there were many heretical groups. It’s this church that canonized the Scripture, not any particular part of it.

That is quite correct. The Church was united East-West at the time. The Council of Nicea was Catholic, not “Roman Catholic.”

It is a rather unusual point for a Protestant to make.

His argument is still weak because the Undivided church was still very much Catholic. Tell him to look at the ante Nicene fathers and tell us that it ain’t so. Here’s a link you can give him…if he has the courage to actually read authentic Christian history.
Church Fathers Index

He’s not really wrong per se, it was the undivided church. Most of what he says is correct, but I think his understanding of the undivided church needs a little more research. History also shows us that this undivided church was under the leadership of the successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome: the Pope. As you know, this is same Christian leader appointed by Christ to lead the Church, and the same one that we as Catholics look to for leadership today.

As far as I know, we don’t have a list of scripture approved in Nicea, but we know it was discussed. The Decree of Damasus from the Council of Rome, outlined exactly which books and I think even in what order. This council was of course commissioned by Pope Damasus I.

Also, the Eastern Orthodox canon of scripture is not the same one determined in 382. They have additional books, like 3 & 4 maccabees, another psalm, and even some books that vary among the different Orthodox Churches. Their scriptures were defined later. So while they can make a claim to having been involved with deciding the canon of scripture in 382, as they were certainly present and the council was universal, speaking on behalf of ALL Christians east and west, they cannot claim that canon the same as we can. 1) they don’t use it, their’s is larger. 2) It was decided under the auspices of the Bishop of Rome, not the Patriarch of Constantinople or any other eastern patriarch.

So it is absolutely a “Roman Catholic Bible”, and always has been. We are that same Church, even if the term “Roman Catholic” didn’t come about until much later.

The “undivided church” was the Catholic Church, as in Ignatius of Antioch’s letter of 107 AD, and it’s primary apostolic see was at Rome. Rome had primacy and the bishop of Rome settled disputes between other bishoprics. All other churches broke away from it and are now known by different names. The church at Rome still bears the original name.

It sounds like this protestant wants the early church to be a formless, nameless mass which eventually broke apart like a smashed vase, with each piece re-naming itself and going on their merry way. That’s not how it was.

Yes, the One Church, founded by Christ, canonized the Bible. It was an undivided Church. There were lists of canonical books by persons and councils that were “particular parts” but they were consistent with what was ratified by the successor of Peter.

He is correct.

Catholicism is not now, nor has ever been “Roman”.

Thanks for all your replies.

There seems to be a lot more of his arguments that he brought in after i discussed what you guys posted.

"Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was defined, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative… Altaner, the patrologist from Wurzburg¦had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the 5C; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the “apostolic tradition. And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared.”

Is this your debate partners words, or is this a quote from another source?

Who is “our teacher” here?

The fact that the Assumption was not a matter of hot debate for the early church does not mean that it was “unknown”. That is like saying the doctrine of the Trinity was “unknown” until the Council of Nicea, or that the hypostatic union was “unknown”, or that the Scriptures of the NT were “unknown” before they were canonized. The Church was occupied with defending against heresies, and the assumption of His mother was not a point of contention.

Only the Catholic Church canonised the Sacred Scriptures as the Word of God.

The books that actually are declared the inspired Word of God were authorized by Pope Damasus at a Council of Rome in 382, confirmed at the Councils of Hippo, 393, Carthage III 397, Carthage IV in 419 and canonised at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) – 46 books in the Old Testament, 27 books in the New Testament – clearly showing the authority of Christ’s Church, and culminating in the defined Canon of Sacred Scriptures at the Council of Trent.

Answer by Fr. John Trigilio on Sept 17, 2010 (EWTN):
“The first Bible translated from Hebrew & Greek by St. Jerome in 400 AD had all 46 OT + 27 NT as did the Latin Guttenburg Bible of the 15th c. Only Protestant Bibles from 16th c. to today are missing the 7 books. But 2/3 of the world’s Jews at that time (3rd c. BC, from 250-100 BC) lived outside the Holy Land and were more literate in Greek than Hebrew. Christians from the time of the Apostles and during Jesus’ time knew and accepted these 7 books, hence their presence in St. Jerome’s Bible and every other Bible until Luther. IRONICALLY these 7 books were in the ORIGINAL King James Bible but Parliament removed them in subsequent editions.”


Dave Hunt claims that the canon of Scripture was commonly accepted before Pope Damasus promulgated the canon. He says that the councils/synods at Antioch (266 AD), Nicaea, and Laodicea (363 AD) mentioned the canon as if it was already determined by a consensus of Christians “inspired by the Holy Spirit”. I’ve already found that one of the councils he lists (Laodicea) gave an incomplete list of books:


I know Hunt’s book is a compete travesty but I could do with some more solid facts to refute this argument as I’m debating about it with someone.

I heard elsewhere on CA that these councils were held to believe in books that did not belong in the canon. Did the councils at Antioch and Nicaea ever give a list of the books which they believed to constitute the Bible?

Any common acceptance - was by who? The Christians who were yes Catholics.

Members of the Catholic Church.

Several books were yes not accepted everywhere or were debated.

Yes the Catholic Church canonized the Bible.



Well…it was known as the Catholic Church.

The “Roman” was added to the name Catholic Church at around the time of the Protestant Reformation, sometime in the 1500s.

He is quite correct somewhat, you just need to tell him when the “Roman” was added to the name “Catholic Church”.

The early councils, Hippo, Carthage that determined the canon can be described as Western councils, but the East later adopted the Carthage Canon led by St. Augustine.

Is it true that at Trent the Church added the seven Deuterocanonical books (Judith, Tobit, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Baruch, and Ecclesiasticus) to the Bible ?
No. The Council of Trent (1545-1564) infallibly reiterated what the Church had long taught regarding the canons of the Old and New Testaments. Pope Damasus promulgated the Catholic canons at the Synod of Rome in A.D. 382, and later, at the regional councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419), the Church again defined the same list of books as inspired.
The canons of the Old and New Testaments, as defined by Pope Damasus and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, were later ratified (though the books were not enumerated individually) by the later Ecumenical councils of II Nicaea (787) and Florence (1438-1445). Although the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant violation of the Bible by deleting the seven Deuterocanonical books plus portions of Daniel and Esther, was the first infallible conciliar listing of each individual book, it certainly did not add those books to the canon.

Ask them to explain the Catholc church existing almost 300 years before the cannon of scripture and how their church can be the true church at least 1200 years later and insisting on sola scriptura. The logic boggles the mind.

It wasn’t the “Catholic Church in general” that canonized the Bible. It was the Magisterium in particular.

  • Some agency decided there should be a written portion of God’s word - a “New Testament”; this was not at all obvious since Christ never said it should, or should not exist.
  • Some agency decided the existing Scriptures would still be considered inspired - an “Old Testament” - except where superceded by the New Testament.
  • Some agency decided what criteria should be decided to help select books - and which criteria not to use; no “autopilot” used here. They had to use judgement, not bound by criteria.

They identified certain scholars as reliable, and accepted certain of their insights, rejecting others. They identified certain people as Early Church Fathers, and others as Heretics. The vast majority of possible books were rejected as Scripture. Then the Magisterium closed the canon. Most Christians, most scholars, most Christian communities used many other canons, but they must have accepted the Magisterium, because they gradually accepted the Magisterium’s incredibly short canon.

If the “Catholic Church in general” had chosen the canon, I suspect it would have 270 books, whether they did it in ancient times, or today. For all I know, most Catholics at first may not have agreed at all with the canon the Magisterium chose. But they do today. Think about your Catholic or Protestant parish choosing Scriptures. Would they have chosen such a short canon?

[multi post, longish]

Here’s another of my text essays I use for online apologetics, free to use as you wish

In regards to Christian listings of the OT canon, like the NT listings, what was considered authoritative, varied by person and location.

The infamous Gnostic heretic Marcion in the mid-2nd CEntury declared that NONE of the OT scriptures hCE any authoritative status. This exclusion of the OT (as well as a severely trimmed NT consisiting of “Gospel and Apostle”, e.g. Marcion’s edited versions of Luke and 10 Pauline epistles) promted actual Christian writers to list what they knew as cannonical.

Justin Martyr considered Septuagint cannonical

Iranaeus considered Septuagint cannonical

Tertullian considered Septuagint cannonical AND ALSO the Jewish apocraphyl book of Enoch.

Melito, bishop of Sardis (c 170 CE) recognized Palestinian canon MINUS Esther.

Origen recognized Palestinian canon AND Letter of Jeremiah from Septuagint.

Athanasius listed Palestinian canon but he INCLUDED Baruch and OMITTED Esther. He considered other six books from Septuagint having inferior quality.

Council of LaodiCEa (c 363) duplicates Athanasius’ list but INCLUDED Esther.

Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem from 348 to 386 follows recognized Palestinian canon AND Letter of Jeremiah AND Baruch

Gregory of Nazianzus (c 330 - 390) listed the Palestinian canon but he INCLUDED Baruch and OMITTED Esther.

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