Is there really such a thing as Scripture?


#1

Or is it really just a subset of Sacred Tradition?

I ask for two reasons:

  1. The canon of Scripture, whatever denomination you are, did not fall out of the sky. The Church had to recognise it. As far as I can tell, there are no criteria for Scripture being Scripture: this is purely a declaration of the Church, that carried little import - and in some Churches still isn’t all that important - until Luther made an issue of it.

  2. According to the Catechism - and Dei Verbum, which the CCC quotes: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” But only the original Old and New Testaments were “put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit”, right?

We do not have the originals. And we do not even know if we have perfect copies of the originals. We have thousands of manuscripts with thousands of - granted, minor - variances between them each. Ergo, we cannot be sure we have even a copy of the original writings. (Think about the meticulous measures Jews and Moslems go to preserve their Scriptures.) Ergo, we must compare the different copies to reach a sense of what the original must have been.

Ergo, the different manuscripts and our attempts to understand what’s original and what’s not, is not an exercise of Scripture but of Tradition.

Furthermore, translation involves interpretation, and no translation or interpretation is inspired - unless it is in conformity with Tradition. Therefore, all Bibles are really exercises in Tradition - or the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, rather than Scripture itself.

Therefore, practically speaking, we do not have Scripture, but only Tradition, to guide us.

Does this sound right? Or am I missing something?


#2

I think it’s a false dichotomy. Something can really and distinctly exist while being a subset of something else.


#3

Yes, but it seems redundant to me.:confused:


#4

TarkanAttila #1
The canon of Scripture, whatever denomination you are, did not fall out of the sky. The Church had to recognise it. As far as I can tell, there are no criteria for Scripture being Scripture: this is purely a declaration of the Church, that carried little import - and in some Churches still isn’t all that important

Why do you think this section is specifically called “Sacred Scripture”? The denigration of Christ’s Church implied indicates an indifference to reality.

The criteria is that Christ instituted His Church, wrote nothing, and His teaching was committed to writing by His Apostles and disciples and authenticated by His Supreme Vicars as the Word of God in the Sacred Scriptures, no more, no less.


#5

A man is a rational creature. An angel is a rational creature. Is it redundant to refer to men as such, and also to refer to rational creatures as such? No, it is not redundant, because a man is a specific kind of rational creature.

Scripture is part of Tradition, yes, and so is the oral teaching of Jesus, among other things. Is it redundant to refer to Scripture as such, and also Tradition? No, it is not redundant, because Scripture is a specific aspect of Tradition, and there are other aspects besides.

I do not get why the confusion.


#6

The CCC in #80-82 in fact explains “The Relationship Between Tradition and Sacred Scripture” as “One common source…two distinct modes of transmission”


#7

I think you make some good points - “Scripture” in the strictest sense of the word doesn’t entirely exist (although portions of it remain), and I sometimes wonder if it ever did, since when St. John was putting pen to paper to write the Book of Revelation, the original Books of the Law had already gone up in flames in the destruction of the Temple.

But that which we call “Scripture” - our current Bible - can be relied on to convey the truths of our Holy Tradition, and in that sense, it certainly exists and is useful to Godly persons for instruction and for the building up of faith. :slight_smile:


#8

I think the wisdom found in Scripture challenges us to be good ethical human beings. Take for example the sermon on the mount. Christ gives us what seem to be simple ways of living, but in reality they are very complex and difficult to purely follow.


#9

Jmcrae #7
“Scripture” in the strictest sense of the word doesn’t entirely exist

On the contrary, *Dei Verbum *#11, of Vatican II definitively teaches:
“Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”


#10

I agree with a lot of what is in the original post. See Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible is It? for discussions of these matters.

Elsewhere Pelikan come up with the maxim that “scriptura has never been sola.” and for the very reasons stated in the OP.

first, a previous comment has referred to the great effort there has been in Judaism to maintain the scriptures. This is greatly true. As Pelikan points out, Hebrew has no punctuation, no upper/lower case, no footnotes, appendices, NO VOWELS, etc. including usually no spacing between letter characters (although there seems to have been some spacing introduced at some point). The most relied-upon text is the Masoretic text(s) which have pronunciation aids and musical notations (I think). But, largely, just the proper reading relied on a lot of tradition – handing down in non-written form – of what the text even was.

Consider the difficulty of a single example in English: b_g == ok, this can be bag, beg, big, bog, or bug. Which is it? If you solve or speculate on the first word, then you merely advance to the next cryptic word, and so on. Modern Jewish scholars believe there must have been a lot of teaching of the text itself. My idea is that maybe the scribes were the group who tried to verbally pass on the tradition of what the text says.

Consider then the assumptions that are embodied in all the various editions of modern Bibles which are mass produced – mass assumptions!

In addition to the above-mentioned difficulties, there was no Hebrew dictionary laying around for anybody to consult. I’m not trying to pass myself off as anything more than a reader of Jewish commentaries (Jewish Publication Society) and other works.

And, subtlety! Not only does the first chapter of genesis talk about seven days of creation, but the verses are composed of either seven Hebrew words or multiples of seven words. This subtlety is evident only in the Hebrew, and then only if you look deeply for it. This meaning of the original is totally lost in the translation.

The current version of the Hebrew Bible is the 1985 Tanakh from JPS (there may be others). My copy shows very frequent translater footnotes that indicate that a word or verse is obscure. This uncertainly never filters into any Catholic Bible that I’ve seen in my lifetime – indicating a strong dependence on scholarship and …tradition.

If you asked 10 Christians, not to say 10 Catholics, how many different explanations would you get of “daily bread” in the ever-popular Lord’s prayer?

When I look at Jewish commentaries, I have to keep in mind what The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press) cautions about, that there are no official interpretations of any verse in the Hebrew Bible. And, to boot, there is no “magisterium” or central authority that speaks for all of Judaism.

I recently got a copy of The Orthdox Study Bible which notes that the orthodox church hasn’t even an official list of the books of scripture. More tradition !!

The Catholic Church recommends scripture reading accompanied by prayer and reference to ongoing scholarship and published (traditional) commentaries.

We have the assurances of Christ that “those who hear you hear me” and that he would send another paraclete to lead the church into all truth.


#11

I’m subscribed to the Intervarsity Press’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series. I’m reading through the volume on Acts.

Well, there are two versions of Acts in the early church? Which do you think is in our modern bibles?

Without word processors, etc. St. John Chrysostum (who wrote the only eastern church commentary on Acts, among the early fathers) notes that there are discrepancies between the gospels, St. Paul, and Acts on how many days passed between the Resurrection and the Ascension. One citation refers to both on Easter Sunday. Luke, in Acts, cites a span of 40 days between the two. One of the other citations is in-between (as I recall).

OK, so which is it? 0, 14, or 40 days. HMMM? I’m waiting…for an answer.

So, it’s not only the OT that gives us problems. And, such problems were obvious way back in the days of the early church fathers.

There are many contradictions in the OT and the Jewish commentaries sometimes point them out. The Talmud “Talmud Torah” – study of the Torah ] contains discussions in Hebrew of these problems and the Talmud gives tentative answers. The problems are always open to further, future investigation.

Some people like St. Augustine found their faith – in the Church, although a big group of modern people reject that authority – but they can reject that authority only if they deliberately look in another direction.

**every church has scripture, tradition, and magisterium. What distinguishes them is how they define each of these, no? **


#12

JMCrae, sirach, THANK YOU FOR ACTUALLY READING MY POST! :smiley: And remembering who is writing it. Wonderful insights you’ve provided.

I am not saying Scripture does not exist, nor that it is unprofitable. I’m not saying “OMFGourds we can’t trust the Bible!11!1”. We absolutely need Scripture - not least of which to see how God worked from the beginning, all the way up, and established and formed His Covenant.

Like “outside the Church there is no salvation”, I think I can word this more positively: “Everything we Christians believe comes from Tradition, one way or another.”

This, and your other post to jmcrae. That’s exactly my point. We know it is Scripture because the Church says so, and that’s the load-bearing criterion.

There are other writings - few, but extant - that were also written by the Apostles that are not Scripture. In fact one used to be in the Vulgate. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans.

My point, though, is not to look for the criteria that make up Scripture, strictly, as a matter of theological science. It is only to point out that, whatever the criteria, those criteria were come up with under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit by the Church, and that Scripture rests on Tradition.

Absolutely. The Entire Old and New Testaments are very filled with insights. We must study it, and find God in it. And let Him find us through it.

Nevertheless, we only think them Scripture because of Tradition teaching us so. That alone is my point.

Scripture is part of Tradition, yes, and so is the oral teaching of Jesus, among other things. Is it redundant to refer to Scripture as such, and also Tradition? No, it is not redundant, because Scripture is a specific aspect of Tradition, and there are other aspects besides.

Ad Orientem:

I agree that Scripture is another aspect of Tradition, and rightly made a category. I have no problem saying Scripture is itself, the way I am both myself and an human being.

I think where we disagree is on what constitutes Scripture. As I understand it, Scripture proper only exists in the original writings of the writers of the Bible. Translations, commentaries, and copies (unless one happens to be a perfect copy, which we do not know for sure) are not inspired by God in the same way Scripture is.

Ergo, there is a difference between the RSV-CE and the original letters of Paul. The originals are, properly, both Scripture and Tradition. But the RSV-CE - or any English Bible - is a translation of Scripture, and thus only Tradition.

You see what I mean?


#13

There is no perfect or pure Scripture. Even Luke’s exquisite classical Greek is not sufficient to communicate the mind of God. Yet millions of people throughout history have opened the Holy Books and come to knowledge of God and been brought to repentance and conversion. The Holy Spirit makes up for our weakness.

To me, whether a modern translation of the Bible is pure Scripture or a translation of Scripture is academic. What it is called is besides the point for me. John 6:55 in the NAB was enough to knock me off my chair and bring me trembling to the confessional after 37 years and that’s close enough for me.

And let’s not loose our perspective. However Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition fit together, neither are products of the Church but rather gifts which the Church has received.

-Tim-


#14

Yes, at least in the abstract sense.


#15

And let’s not loose our perspective. However Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition fit together, neither are products of the Church but rather gifts which the Church has received.

You know, that’s a good point, Timothy. :slight_smile: Thank you.

But, then, I wouldn’t be rooting around in questions like these if I didn’t think there was a reason.

It eases my mind a little that, even though we don’t have the original copies, we still haven’t been abandoned. And my mind is eased into that fact because we have the Church Christ founded, anyway.

I must wonder what a Protestant would think of sola scriptura if he understood what, practically, that actually means.


#16

Your last two sentences are sublime.

-Tim-


#17

Thank you. :slight_smile:

I wonder if God has blessed me with some sort of charism for this sort of thing? Or maybe it’s simply one of the luxuries of being able to stay at home and read on my computer all day (not that I always, or usually, use my time well)?

In any case, all glory to God, none to me. :o


#18

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