From Little Catholic Bubble website

Dear Protestant: Where did you get your New Testament?

At least a couple of times every week, Protestants use New Testament verses to show me where the Catholic Church is wrong about something. I always make them take the necessary step back by asking the following:

“Where did you get your New Testament?”

When they answer that it came from God (as indeed it did), I say, “Yes, but what was the mechanism God used to bring it to you today? How did it come to you, historically and in real-time, since it did not drop out of Heaven into your hands, leather-bound?”

Nine times out of ten, they have no answer because they have never considered the question.

The quick answer:

The Catholic Church officially determined and set the canon of the New Testament approximately 400 years after Christianity began. The canon was declared by the body of Catholic bishops at the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) and confirmed by Pope Boniface (419 A.D.).  

Greek Manuscript
  • Save
Greek Manuscript

This is a historical fact.

Let me flesh out a few more of the details, which very few Christians (Protestant or Catholic) know.

After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, the Church thrived and grew exponentially for years before even one line of the New Testament was written. Let that sink in: Baptisms, catechesis, communal worship, conversions of thousands of sinners, Apostles and their companions traveling to other lands and risking imprisonment, torture, and death to evangelize the world with zeal — all went on for over a decade before the New Testament was even begun, much less completed.

Without having written a word, the Church was teaching, preaching, growing, and flourishing for many years.

Eventually, a very few Apostles and their disciples started writing down some of the Church’s oral Tradition: The Gospels, which recorded the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and also the Epistles (letters) of St. Paul and others, which gave encouragement and instruction to local churches being established throughout the world. The young Church cherished those gospels and letters and began to incorporate them into her liturgies and Masses.

  • Save
More and more written accounts and testimonies materialized as the Church grew, but contrary to today’s popular belief, it was not obvious to the early Christians which of these writings were truly God-inspired.

As brutal persecution of the Church continued in those first centuries, clarity about Christian writings became important. After all, Christians were being martyred routinely, and it was necessary to know which books were worth dying for.

Three categories of writings existed at that time:

1. Those writings that were universally acknowledged/accepted
2. Those writings that were disputed or controverted
3. Those writings that were known to be spurious or false

The first group included divinely-inspired books that we have in our Bible today, such as the four Gospels, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Acts of the Apostles.

The second group included books that were simultaneously accepted in some Christian regions, rejected in others, and disputed in others. Some of these were indeed divinely inspired, such as the Epistles of James and Jude, one of Peter’s, two of John’s, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation, even as many Christians did not believe they were. Some were books that never made it into the final canon of the New Testament, but which several Christian communities considered inspired (and even used for catechizing and in the liturgy), such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, Apostolic Constitutions, the Epistle of St. Clement, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans, etc.

The third group consisted of the fakes floating around, spurious works which were never acknowledged or claimed by the Church, such as about 50 false gospels including the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of James, a couple dozen “Acts” (Acts of Pilate, Acts of Paul and Thecla, etc.), and some epistles and apocalypses.

  • Save
Under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit and after a long series of historical events, a gathering of Catholic bishops went through the process of authoritatively and infallibly setting the books of the Christian canon, using the following criteria: a) The book in question must have been written in apostolic times by an Apostle or one close to an Apostle, and b) The book in question had to be doctrinally sound, completely conforming to Catholic Church teaching.

Several books met those criteria, and so it happened that some four centuries and 20 generations after Christ’s Resurrection, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church authoritatively set the canon of the New Testament, ending all confusion and doubt among the faithful.

Rome had spoken, and the canon was closed.

This leaves us with some takeaways:

— If the Catholic Church (bishops and pope) had the authority from God to set the New Testament canon, then she cannot be the corrupt and un-Christian “Whore of Babylon” as is claimed by many Protestants.

— If one accepts the canon of the New Testament, one must also accept the authority of the entity who gave it to us, i.e., the Catholic Church.

— If one rejects the authority of the Catholic Church, one should and must also reject the canon of the New Testament that came to us through the authority of the Catholic Church. (It makes sense that Martin Luther, the rebel behind the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, wanted to throw out several of the New Testament books that he despised.)

— The New Testament cannot be “personally interpreted” by each individual Christian because it was never meant to be taken outside of the Church from which it came.

— The New Testament cannot and does not contradict Catholic doctrine, as it was Catholic doctrine that was used as a criterion for its authenticity and authority.

— The New Testament was discerned and canonized by men who had divine authority to do so — men who believed explicitly in the Mass, the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, Confession, Purgatory, veneration of Mary, infant baptism and infused grace, justification by faith and works, the Communion of Saints, etc., etc.

— The Bible came from the Church. In other words, the Bible is Church-based, not the other way around. If you get this paradigm wrong, you get some messed-up theology.

— If a Protestant uses Scripture to attack the Catholic Church, it’s like ripping off a man’s arm to beat him with it. Using a Catholic Book to beat up the Catholic Church makes no sense.

— If you believe that your eternal salvation is based entirely on a Book, isn’t it important to know where the Book came from and who was given authority to proclaim it? Who meticulously copied, preserved, protected, and guarded it with their lives, and who ultimately vouched for the fact that it is indeed the written Word of God?

There is so much more to discuss, and I would love to do so in the comments. Meanwhile, one of the best books on the subject, which I devoured when I came back to the Church, is Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry G. Graham.

**Note: I did not include the Old Testament canon in this post, because I wanted to work with something that both Protestants and Catholics agree on, namely, the 27 books of the New Testament.


This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. George

    Love the premise!
    Very factual too.

    Without Catholicism there would be no Bible.


  2. Carl Edwards

    Love this!

  3. Leslie

    I'm having an online discussion with someone whose claims appear to be "Early Christians knew what books were in the Bible because the books agreed with the books, and all the Councils did was ratify what everybody already knew, except maybe they weren't sure about a few of the books but those don't really say anything the others don't also say so it really doesn't matter." It's like trying to hold an intelligent discussion with wallpaper paste. The other argument is, "Only the Bible has authority, not the Church, and I won't listen to you if you say anything about Tradition. But if you quote the Bible so that I'll listen then you're admitting that only the Bible has authority and not the Catholic Church." And then accuses me of circular reasoning.

    STEVE RAY HERE: Well said. I’ve had similar conversations!

  4. Leslie

    What’s really bizarre is that they are claiming that *they* know what the Bible means because God gives them the light to understand it; yet if you point out that equally sincere people interpret the Bible differently than they do, they don’t seem to grasp that in insisting that theirs is the only correct interpretation, they are claiming that they are infallible. I’ve come to the point that I often post, “Sez you. Why should I take your word for it?”

    By the way – thank you for your CD’s from Lighthouse Media (which I’ve listened to in my car so many times I can practically recite them along with you), and your videos online, and your In the Footprints of God series. And now I need to go order your book on the primacy of St. Peter…

  5. Leslie

    I have a question that doesn’t really belong under this topic but because it has to do with the discussion I mentioned above I’m going to post it here. I hope you can help me.

    I’ve heard you discuss, and read your writing about, the fact that when the Bible says “whosoever believes in Him” it’s in the present tense, not the aorist, so it means ongoing and not once-and-it’s done. In your article “Does John 3:16 Teach Eternal Security Through Faith Alone?” you wrote,
    “The present tense “that whosoever is believing in Him” puts a different light on the verse. One would expect the word believe to be aorist, to show it’s a “once-and-for-all” act, a “one-point-in-time” event. I used to say, “I believed in Christ on such and such a date so I know I am saved.” But now I say, I did believe in Christ, I am believing in Christ and I am being saved.” One could ask why Jesus switched to the present tense in a verse full of aorists. The present tense implies continually believing, a process of believing, and not the past mental assent I once thought.”

    My question is this: In the Gospel of St. John, 6:54, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day,” is the word “eats” also in the present tense, so that it should be more like “is eating,” indicating continually eating, as “believe” is in what you wrote?

    I don’t read Greek. I did some searching online and I think that what I found indicates that it is the present tense, but I decided I’d better ask to be sure. (If there’s already an article on your website about this, I haven’t been able to find it).

    I’ll paste the statement with which I need to argue, written by the other party in the discussion I mentioned, but perhaps if you approve this for your website it might be best to omit this, since I did not ask his permission to post it to another website:

    “There is really a simple logical argument that unravels your whole contention.
    “1. Under Catholicism, many of those who take the Eucharist will nonetheless not have eternal life, due either to taking it without real faith, or because of the sacramental treadmill (…. [note: You can see how courteous and pleasant – ha! – this person is]
    “2. But whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks his blood will have eternal life (John 6:54).
    “3. Therefore, the Eucharist is not Jesus’ flesh and blood.
    “So what is it?
    “I have provided this argument to a number of Catholics and no one has engaged it. All I get in response is … well … the type of response you have provided. No real engagement, just a repetition of the same assertions.
    “You see, my presupposition is that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. That implies that the Bible is internally consistent. If an interpretation results in an internal inconsistency then the issue is not the Bible but the interpretation. A correct interpretation resolves all supposed internal inconsistencies or contradictions.
    “The above argument logically highlights a contradiction. The argument itself is logically sound.”

    I replied to him pointing out that St. John himself wrote in other places in his Gospel and elsewhere words that show that it is possible to lose one’s salvation; and he himself admits that the Bible is internally consistent, and so therefore there is no contradiction. I didn’t say explicitly, but probably should have and will, that clearly the problem is that he’s misinterpreting the passage he quoted, and I will mention that it is in present tense.

    He claims to be logical, but I can’t figure out from what he writes how, even if he disagrees with the Church that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ and thinks It is only a symbol, he reconciles the his belief with the fact that St. John clearly indicates that salvation can be lost.

    I think part of the problem is that I don’t speak Protestant. You wouldn’t know of a trained apologist and Biblical scholar who’d like to jump in and take over the discussion, would you? The posts are getting longer and longer and taking more and more and more time for me to write…

  6. Tony

    It all depends on whether you are talking about the Catholic Church or the catholic Church. Steve even you agree that Jesus only founded one Church.

    I am of course speaking of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. This is the church that is headed by the pope and the college of bishops that Peter and Paul established in Rome and which continues today. Yes, I am referring to the Catholic Church Which Has Had 266 Pumps and Can Trace Their Lineage All the Way Back to Peter. That Is the Catholic Church I Am Referring to.

  7. Robin DySard

    Beautifully written Steve! You raise some excellent points! Very few Protestants are aware the Catholic Church set the Canon of the New Testament.

  8. Fred Marion

    …and I like to pose this question, "If I were a 'Bible-only' Christian in the year 50 A.D., exactly what did I read?"

    STEVE RAY HETE: Exactly!

  9. Ninson

    Hello Steve! I have been looking for a better column on your site to ask this but I could not.
    Please I am a bit challenged with Ephesians 4:11 where it says that Jesus gave some to be prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are offices clearly defined by Jesus. We do not see priest mentioned here or anywhere else as clearly as it is defined here. Why does the church prefer to use priest rather than these? I know a bishop is an apostle. And do we even have prophets in the Catholic church?

    STEVE RAY HERE: Hello Ninson:

    Steve Ray here. God bless you!

    We have several different lists of “Spiritual Gifts” and each list is different. The church was in a period of development. The “offices” of the Church listed here, I would suggest, is not a complete list but a developing list.

    Remember, there was no New Testament “book” yet. It was also in the process of development. This process would not be completed until the end of the 4th century when the canon of Scripture was finally collected into an authoritative collection of 27 books.

    I would suggest you read the 7 letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch. You can read them here:

    In his writings in 106 AD this disciple of the Apostles, demonstrates that at that early date it was well established in the churches: Bishops, priests and deacons.

    The word priest comes from the word “presbyter” which Paul uses frequently in his writings. Remember that the Church is the new Israel. The old Israel had High Priest, Levitical ministerial priests who assisted the High Priest, and the priesthood of all believers.

    Why would we expect the new Israel to NOT be the same. We have the High Priest (Jesus in heaven), the ministerial priests and us, the priesthood of all believers.

    If you check through the Catechism you will see apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers used of the often for the bishops and priests (pastors) and us who still fulfill those roles.

    939 Helped by the priests, their co-workers, and by the deacons, the bishops have the duty of authentically teaching the faith, celebrating divine worship, above all the Eucharist, and guiding their Churches as true pastors. Their responsibility also includes concern for all the Churches, with and under the Pope.

    942 By virtue of their prophetic mission, lay people “are called … to be witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and at the very heart of the community of mankind”

    1241 The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.

    939 Helped by the priests, their co-workers, and by the deacons, the bishops have the duty of authentically teaching the faith, celebrating divine worship, above all the Eucharist, and guiding their Churches as true pastors. Their responsibility also includes concern for all the Churches, with and under the Pope.

    PRESBYTER: An “elder” or priest, a member of the order of priesthood; the presbyterate is one of the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders (1536, 1554). Presbyters or priests are co-workers with their bishops and form a unique sacerdotal college or “presbyterium” dedicated to assist their bishops in priestly service to the People of God (1567). Through the ministry of priests, the unique sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church

    PRIESTHOOD: (1) Of the faithful: The priestly people of God. Christ has made of his Church a “kingdom of priests,” and gives the faithful a share in his priesthood through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (784, 1119, 1546). (2) Ministerial: The ministerial priesthood received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders differs in essence from this common priesthood of all the faithful. It has as its purpose to serve the priesthood of all the faithful by building up and guiding the Church in the name of Christ, who is Head of the Body (1547). See Priesthood of Christ; Presbyter.

  10. Ninson

    Thanks Steve for the long write-up.

Leave a Reply