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A collection of writings which the Church of God has solemnly recognized as inspired.
The name is derived from the Greek expression biblia (the books), which came into use in the early centuries of Christianity to designate the whole sacred volume. In the Latin of the Middle Ages, the neuter plural for Biblia (gen. bibliorum) gradually came to be regarded as a feminine singular noun (biblia, gen. bibliae, in which singular form the word has passed into the languages of the Western world. It means "The Book", by way of eminence, and therefore well sets forth the sacred character of our inspired literature. Its most important equivalents are: "The Divine Library" (Bibliotheca Divina), which was employed by St. Jerome in the fourth century; "the Scriptures", "the Holy Scriptures" — terms which are derived from expressions found in the Bible itself; and "the Old and New Testament", in which collective title, "the Old Testament" designates the sacred books written before the coming of Our Lord, and "the New Testament" denotes the inspired writings composed since the coming of Christ.
It is a fact of history that in the time of Christ the Jews were in possession of sacred books, which differed widely from one another in subject, style, origin and scope, and it is also a fact that they regarded all such writings as invested with a character which distinguished them from all other books. This was the Divine authority of every one of these books and of every part of each book. This belief of the Jews was confirmed by Our Lord and His Apostles; for they supposed its truth in their teaching, used it as a foundation of their doctrine, and intimately connected with it the religious system of which they were the founders. The books thus approved were handed down to the Christian Church as the written record of Divine revelation before the coming of Christ. The truths of Christian revelation were made known to the Apostles either by Christ Himself or by the Holy Ghost. They constitute what is called the Deposit of Faith, to which nothing has been added since the Apostolic Age. Some of the truths were committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and have been handed down to us in the books of the New Testament. Written originally to individual Churches or persons, to meet particular necessities, and accommodated as they all were to particular and existing circumstances, these books were gradually received by the universal Church as inspired, and with the sacred books of the Jews constitute the Bible.
In one respect, therefore, the Bible is a twofold literature, made up of two distinct collections which correspond with two successive and unequal periods of time in the history of man. The older of these collection, mostly written in Hebrew, corresponds with the many centuries during which the Jewish people enjoyed a national existence, and forms the Hebrew, or Old Testament, literature; the more recent collection, begun not long after Our Lord's ascension, and made up of Greek writings, is the Early Christian, or New Testament, literature. Yet, in another and deeper respect, the Biblical literature is pre-eminently one. Its two sets of writings are most closely connected with regard to doctrines revealed, facts recorded, customs described, and even expressions used. Above all, both collection have one and the same religious purpose, one and the same inspired character. They form the two parts of a great organic whole the centre of which is the person and mission of Christ. The same Spirit exercised His mysterious hidden influence on the writings of both Testaments, and made of the works of those who lived before Our Lord an active and steady preparation for the New Testament dispensation which he was to introduce, and of the works of those who wrote after Him a real continuation and striking fulfilment of the old Covenant.
The Bible, as the inspired recorded of revelation, contains the word of God; that is, it contains those revealed truths which the Holy Ghost wishes to be transmitted in writing. However, all revealed truths are not contained in the Bible (see TRADITION); neither is every truth in the Bible revealed, if by revelation is meant the manifestation of hidden truths which could not other be known. Much of the Scripture came to its writers through the channels of ordinary knowledge, but its sacred character and Divine authority are not limited to those parts which contain revelation strictly so termed. The Bible not only contains the word of God; it is the word of God. The primary author is the Holy Ghost, or, as it is commonly expressed, the human authors wrote under the influence of Divine inspiration. It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical "because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church". The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject-matter of the statement.
It will be seen, therefore, that though the inspiration of any writer and the sacred character of his work be antecedent to its recognition by the Church yet we are dependent upon the Church for our knowledge of the existence of this inspiration. She is the appointed witness and guardian of revelation. From her alone we know what books belong to the Bible. At the Council of Trent she enumerated the books which must be considered "as sacred and canonical". They are the seventy-two books found in Catholic editions, forty-five in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New. Protestant copies usually lack the seven books (viz: Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and I, II Machabees) and parts of books (viz: Esther 10:4-16:24, and Daniel 3:24-90; 13:1-14:42) which are not found in the Jewish editions of the Old Testament.
The Bible is plainly a literature, that is, an important collection of writings which were not composed at once and did not proceed from one hand, but rather were spread over a considerable period of time and are traceable to different authors of varying literary excellence. As a literature, too, the Bible bears throughout the distinct impress of the circumstances of place and time, methods of composition, etc., in which its various parts came into existence, and of these circumstances careful account must be taken, in the interests of accurate scriptural interpretation. As a literature, our sacred books have been transcribed during many centuries by all manner of copyists to the ignorance and carelessness of many of whom they still bear witness in the shape of numerous textual errors, which, however, but seldom interfere seriously with the primitive reading of any important dogmatic or moral passage of Holy Writ.
In respect of antiquity, the Biblical literature belongs to the same group of ancient literature as the literary collections of Greece, Rome, China, Persia, and India. Its second part, the New Testament, completed about A.D. 100, is indeed far more recent than the four last named literature, and is somewhat posterior to the Augustan age of the Latin language, but it is older by ten centuries than our earliest modern literature. As regards the Old Testament, most of its contents were gradually written within the nine centuries which preceded the Christian era, so that its composition is generally regarded as contemporary with that of the great literary works of Greece, China, Persia, and India. The Bible resembles these various ancient literatures in another respect. Like them it is fragmentary, i.e. made up of the remains of a larger literature. Of this we have abundant proofs concerning the books of the Old Testament, since the Hebrew Scriptures themselves repeatedly refer us to more ancient and complete works as composed by Jewish annalists, prophets, wise men, poets, and so on (cf. Numbers 21:15; Josue 10:13; II Kings 1:18; I Paralip. 29:29; I Mach. 16:24; etc.). Statements tending to prove the same fragmentary character of the early Christian literature which has come down to us are indeed much less numerous, but not altogether wanting (cf. Luke 1:1-3; Colossians 4:16; I Corinthians 5:9). But, however ancient and fragmentary, it is not to be supposed that the Biblical literature contains only few, and these rather imperfect, literary forms. In point of fact its contents exhibit nearly all the literary forms met with in our Western literatures together with other peculiarly Eastern, but none the less beautiful. It is also a well-known fact that the Bible is so replete with pieces of transcendent literary beauty that the greatest orators and writers of the last four centuries have most willingly turned to our sacred books as pre-eminently worthy of admiration, study, and imitation. Of course the widest and deepest influence that has ever been, and ever will be, exercised upon the minds and hearts of men remains due to the fact that, while all the other literatures are but man's productions, the Bible is indeed "inspired of God" and, as such, especially "profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice" (II Timothy 3:16).
Providentissimus Deus in the Great Encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII (New York, 1903); BARRY, The Tradition of Scripture (New York, 1906); VAUGHAN, The Bible: Its Use and Abuse; BREEN, Introduction to Holy Scripture; HUMPHREY, The Written Word; GIGOT, General Introduction; CORNELY, Introductio Generalis; HUNTER, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, I.
FRANCIS E. GIGOT