Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Journey to the Whole Bible

I have always had a love and fascination for the Bible. When I was twelve, I took the money saved from my birthday and began a life-long collection of Bible translations. I bought a tiny, pocket sized leather-bound RSV and began highlighting passages that meant so much to me as a child. Interestingly, even as a Seventh-day Adventist growing up educated in their schools with all the legalism of the day, I look back and many of my favorite verses were about grace. 
With that same money I bought several other Bibles, I found a large Bible on sale: $12. I remember it perfectly. This Bible was odd, it was called the Jerusalem Bible and had some extra parts to it. Only later did I learn this was a Catholic Bible and I placed it carefully, maybe even with a bit of fear on my shelf and as the years went by more Bibles were set next to it, without it being disturbed. When I returned from an Adventist boarding academy, I had a couple more translations to add to my Bible shelf. Eventually as an adult I picked the Catholic Bible up and read it. Those books called Judith and Tobit and Maccabees--those books that I was told were not supposed to be in there, just didn’t seem much of a threat. Yes, I agreed, they didn’t seem like the rest of scripture to me, so I didn’t think much about it.
After having children (with my Bible collection growing into the dozens), I pursued one of my other passions--art. My art book collection rivaled and surpassed my Bible collection (after all, there are only so many translations!) But one day I bought a book that would bring my two passions together: a book about Bible manuscripts. Inside was examples of the Latin Vulgate from the earliest insular script on vellum through the gorgeously illuminated Bibles of the middle ages through the printed Bibles of the 19th century. The book was about the history of the Bible written by a curator who worked at the British Museum, and it came from a strictly artistic position with no agenda. Page after page I read about and saw manuscripts that contained books I recognized from the Catholic Bible I had on my shelf. It made me wonder, why those books were in there? When did the Catholics put in those extra books? 
Over the next few years I began to study this subject of how the Bible came about. I took classes, bought many books on the making of the canon and the history of the Bible. I wanted to know: What books were in the original manuscripts? We even took vacation time to go to Bible meccas of the US such as the King James Version shrines at the Pensacola Christian College and at Bob Jones University. Wherever there was a place we could see very old Bibles, we went. We saw early Indian American versions in their native language, Pacific Islander Bibles, Gutenberg Bibles, Uncial Bibles, Psalters, gospels, Great Bibles, microscopic Bibles, Constantine Bibles (Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc.)  --Bibles Bibles everywhere! 
Then providentially we moved for a year to the DC area and I spent many hours at the Library of Congress in their Bible manuscript department. I got special permission to go deep into their vaults to look at their Bible collection with the curator standing beside me (with white gloves and special equipment to turn pages). I just couldn’t believe it and I certainly don’t expect Protestants to believe it on my word alone. But in ALL the Bibles pre-17th century there were those “extra” books. I never saw ONE Bible pre-Reformation that had the same exact set of books as the Protestant of today. Some of the early canons in different areas of the world, I heard about from the scholars, even had books like “The Epistle of Clement” and “Shepherd of Hermas” and the “Didache” included in their list of scripture. Spending so much time with the Library of Congress Bible Manuscript Archive curator gave me time to ask a plethora of questions. All that made me rethink my Protestant assumptions about Sola Scriptura.
All scholars both Protestant and Catholic--including world renown Christian theologians Dr. James I. Packer and Dr. Bart Ehrman who I personally correspondence with--and who I took classes from and read their books.... ALL agreed that the “apocryphal” books known to Catholics as “deuterocanonicals” were always in scripture up until the Protestant Reformers took them out. Protestant scholars defended taking them out to be sure, but they admitted they had always been there up until the Westminster Confession.
Why they took them out is another long story I will not broach in this post. 
But I thought it very strange that the Reformers, who claimed the Bible to be the only and sole authority for the Christian would actually think they had the right to begin disassembling their very authority based upon what they personally believed shouldn’t be in there. As if God had just allowed His word to be corrupted by extra books through those long centuries to trick the Christians into believing in purgatory and penance, praying for the dead and Marian doctrine. I guess if those books had been in there and the Christians had actually thought at that time the Bible was really from God and infallible, then certainly THEY could not be blamed for the doctrine which arose from those scriptures. It was the Bible’s fault for tripping them up into false doctrine. 
But then I wondered, did God really tell the Reformers to take books out of scripture? If so, then why did different Reformers take out different books at first? Martin Luther wanted James and Revelation gone. Different Protestant factions, for a while, simply tore out the books they didn’t like and left the rest. There are 17th and 18th-century Bibles we still have today in which the Index has all the books, including the deuterocanonicals, but the inside has only the Protestant books. (Upon closer detection, the cover had been replaced and the extra binding where the books were torn out, was folded over to make it look complete.) 

This is one of the reasons Catholics and Protestants have a hard time communicating. The Catholics have a larger Bible that DOES support some of the doctrines the Protestants say are not BIBLICAL! Now, that is a problem. When a Protestant premises themselves on Sola Scriptura, you have to ask, which Bible?
The subject is worth the research. Here are some suggested readings to get you started: 
Whose Bible is it?: A Short History of the Scriptures by Jaroslav Pelikan (I think he is Orthodox, not sure).
The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce (Protestant)
Bruce M Metzger has many books available on this subject. (Protestant)
If you wish the Catholic side, let me know, I try to find some Catholic books about this subject.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Catholic to Protestant Dictionary

One objection I keep hearing from my Protestant friends about Catholicism is that it is too complex. God would not have made it so difficult. The gospel is simple, no?

I have two responses, neither of which are profound, but just thinking....

First response. Japanese is a very complex language. I cannot even begin to understand how they speak or write. Yet babies born in Japan seem to get it. It is only when you have been raised speaking another language and are trying to learn it as an adult that it is complex. This is how it is with Catholicism. If you have been raised in its doctrine, it isn't at all complicated--deep yes, but very understandable. When you are trying to go from Protestant to Catholic, this is when it becomes tricky. Japan is obviously a different language than English, so when you need to communicate you go get an interpreter.

However, Protestants simply assume that because we use the same words, that there is communication going on between our faiths when we speak. That is not true. Catholicism is based upon a belief system that began in Jerusalem by HEBREWS, influenced by the GREEKS, who then dispersed into LATIN and GERMANIC speaking areas---almost two millennia ago!

It is a ancient Italic-Germanic-Hellenized-Jewish culture that Catholicism grew up and developed in. Add to this trying to translate its doctrines into 21st century American English.... This is a formidable task. It takes a lot of interpreting for a Protestant to understand. There is a fundamentally different worldview with a faith language that is profoundly different and Protestants are not even aware of this and assume they can understand Catholicism on a superficial discussion. It took me years to learn the language of Catholicism.

We need to be very patient and understanding of Protestants. They need to understand that they cannot "get" Catholicism in soundbites, just as they cannot understand Japanese in soundbites. It takes time and patience and tenacity. None of which anyone seems to have today.

Second response. Who said the gospel was simple? I don't see that anywhere in scripture. To me, it seems a little insulting to our Creator to characterize the plan of salvation, the great mystery kept from the foundation of the earth, upon which the angels look in breathtaking wonder, shrouded in symbols until the fulfillment of time when God became man, born of a virgin who then saved the world by dying on a cross--what about that is simple?

When I look at creation, I see nothing simple. It is excruciatingly, amazingly complex and intricate and yet streamline. God simple? Wow. That wouldn't come close to how I would try and explain the gospel. It took tongues of fire falling down from heaven in order for those who had been with him for years to begin to understand. His thoughts are far, far above our thoughts.


Catholicism, as the language of those who live in Japan, is very, very complex and mysterious to us Americans. And yet, if you are raised within its culture, it is natural to you, just as those little children who came and looked upon the face of Christ understood His love. It is natural to begin to understand when you see Him.

We need to remind Protestants that Catholicism was born of a very different and ancient culture that can be very confusing to us today. Interpretation is needed, patience and tenacity is vital in true communication between us.