Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (7)

“ ‘The Bible was codified and given to the world by the Catholic Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. It’s indisputable. The Catholic Church gave us the Bible.’

‘Er ... so what? Think God couldn’t have managed if they didn’t?’ ”

— Exchange in a website commentary

Miracles are rare things. If they weren’t, more people would believe in them. How many have there been? Christian Answers lists 124, some of which I think are a little dubious. About Religion lists 37 different miracles attributed to the Lord Jesus, but we know he did many more. When Jesus went through Galilee healing “every disease and every affliction among the people”, that had to seriously bump up the number.

The answer is probably in the tens of thousands.

A Relatively Tiny Incursion

Still, even tens of thousands of miracles dotted across the landscape of human history makes for a relatively tiny incursion into the dominion of the god of this world. And when you consider that those miraculous events are largely clumped together rather than evenly dispersed, it means that untold billions of lives have never been touched by supernatural events of the sort we can legitimately refer to as miraculous. This means that God does the bulk of his work through perfectly ordinary people, nations and sometimes even institutions.

Including Catholicism.

But it was God who gave us the Bible.

Who Else “Gave Us the Bible”?

If Catholics wish to take credit, they can take it up with him. Or they can take it up with the Jews, who might have a stronger claim where the Old Testament is concerned. Or perhaps with the Greeks, who gave us the language in which most of the New Testament was originally written. More to the point, it’s an assertion with which any of the original human authors — without whom there would be no written word of God to codify and compile — might wish to take issue.

Furthermore, as much as it is a lovely and precious thing to have all the known words of God bound inside a single cover, consider how many devoted believers served their Master faithfully over the centuries and never had a full Bible to work with. I would argue it’s most of them. For most of history the mass of believers couldn’t have read a Bible if they had one. The Holy Spirit made tens of thousands of Jewish and Gentile converts in the first century. In many cases he almost surely did so with little more than a few dozen memorized texts from the Old Testament and a few hundred words of orally transmitted prophetic truth.

The word of God to mankind goes back to the very first man, to Adam. This thing we call “the Bible” is, comparatively speaking, the new kid on the block.

Many Times, Many Ways

God spoke at many times and in many ways (“at sundry times and in divers manners”, as the KJV so eloquently puts it). Most perfectly and finally, he spoke in a Person. And no set of words in any known language, however beautifully and accurately penned by the most eloquent of saints, can ever do justice to the person of Jesus Christ. As John puts it:
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
Unsurprisingly, God took into account that our planet has space restrictions, not to mention that its inhabitants have time restrictions of the rather severe three-score-and-ten sort. He did some appropriate editing.

Prophets, Priests and Rocks

But hey, even if we don’t have every second of the Lord Jesus’ life on record, the written word of God is a truly great gift. The versions of it we have today may be among the finest and most accurate renderings of that word ever. The Council of Nicaea was a significant event, no doubt. But to see the contribution of Catholicism as anything more than one final link in a chain forged by God himself through his Holy Spirit over centuries of human experience is to miss the point that the Bible is not merely a religious manual, it is God speaking. It’s bigger than any church, even one that styles itself as “catholic”. It’s bigger than Israel. It’s way bigger than anyone’s agenda.

When God has something to say, he’s going to say it whether or not his human instrument decides to cooperate. Ask Balaam, who found himself saying wonderful things about Israel against his own financial interests. Ask the stones by the path of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem: had the people shouting “Hosanna!” been silenced, those rocks were ready to jump right in and raise the volume. Ask Caiaphas, the enemy of God who unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation.

When God Has Something to Say

God doesn’t need anyone to do his work for him. We’re blessed if we do and it’s our loss if we don’t, but God will have his way regardless of our cooperation — or the lack thereof.

The Council of Nicaea did its job. Good for them. But if they hadn’t done it, or if they’d botched it horribly, God would have simply found another way to make his will known to us.

And THAT, my friend, is what’s indisputable.

1 comment :

  1. Don't concede too much ground to modern Catholicism on this. It's worth keeping in mind that Catholicism would claim the events of Matthew 16 as the inception of the Catholic church - Peter there becoming, so they claim, the very first Pope. Of course Peter never referred to himself as Pope, was not treated as Pope, was not infallible ex Cathedra, didn't teach about purgatory or indulgences, the formal church process to become a "saint", the immaculate conception of Mary or her assumption and so on and so forth. All these things and many more were added later, sometimes much later, and without biblical authority. Despite being called Catholic now, Peter would not have understood the title Catholics give him. To Peter, there was a church. One. It was not Catholic with a capital C. And it was very, very simple.

    What we now have as the Catholic church is built on a long series of accretions over time. Councils and traditions added bits and the formal teaching of Catholicism changed quite dramatically. Some Councils were largely good, some rather awful.

    Over time, faithful adherents left the mainstream of Catholicism and returned to the simplicity of first century Christianity. They operated under different names in different places, but they left Catholicism as their consciences and the Spirit of God prompted them to do so. I would argue that it is these splinter groups, not the mainstream called Catholicism, that are the true Church. I suspect you and I would have a very great deal in common with first century so-called Catholics, very little in common with the modern variety.

    So who can lay claim to having "given" us the Bible? You're right of course - it's divinely given. But how "Catholic" was the Council of Nicaea in the first place way back in 325? Those in attendance there would barely recognize many of the current Catholic doctrines and it was not that Council that canonized the Apocrypha - that didn't happen until 1546. So which Bible do modern Catholics now want to lay claim to having "given"? The one from 325 which was largely a formality recognizing what was already the fact on the ground? Or the new one from 1546 which adds to it? Were they wrong then or are they wrong now?