How the Bible Became the Bible: Class 4

How the Bible Became the Bible

Class 4: The Reformation Changes the Bible

(This post is for my internship project at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Franklin, TN: a series of classes on the Christian biblical canon.)

 1,000+ Years Pass…

  1. Debate over which books belonged in the Bible basically closed by beginning of 5th century (No “official” closing of the canon, just a general agreement)
  2. Eusebius’s lists taken as basis
    1.  Last “critical assessment”
    2.  Later councils continued to approve “acknowledged” and (occasionally) some “disputed” writings.
  3. Athanasius: Easter Letter of 367
    1.  First known list of New Testament books which matches ours
    2.  Old Testament books combined differently, includes a few apocrypha
  4. Latin Vulgate
    1. Translation of OT and NT into Latin by Jerome and others (commissioned 382)
    2. Jerome used term “Apocrypha” (so, non-canonical) for books that were not in the Bible used by Israeli Jews but were in the Bibles used by Jews outside of Israel. Jerome considered these to be the scriptures known by Jesus Christ.
    3. Became the official translation used by the church in the West
  5. The writings which were copied and distributed as scripture was largely determined by recognition (common use in churches) rather than by imposition of a rule. (Why hand-copy books if not going to be used?)

Big Ideas of the Protestant Reformation (16th century)

  1. Protestant Leaders influenced by movement called “Renaissance Humanism”
  2. One major principle of movement: “Back to the Sources” (Ad fontes)
    1. Desire to return to old standards and ideas
    2. Desire to read documents in original languages (so, read Bible in Greek and Hebrew rather than Latin)
  3. Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)
    1. Return to original sources of faith, trying to get as close to Jesus and the apostles as possible
    2. For Protestants, Bible is supreme authority in matters of faith and practice
    3. Example: Luther subjected the church, the Pope, and tradition to the authority of the Bible.

Debate over the Old Testament Books

  1. Hebrew Bible
    1. Jewish Scriptures used in Palestine; books originally in Hebrew (some Aramaic)
    2. Books we have in our (Protestant) Old Testament
  2. Apocrypha
    1. Jewish Scriptures used only outside of Palestine; books originally in Greek (some Aramaic)
    2. Examples: Wisdom of Solomon; Maccabees; additions to the books of Esther and Daniel
    3. Many reformers thought these were good to read but did not consider them to be scripture

Luther’s Translation of the Bible

  1. Translation of New Testament from Greek, 1521-1522.
  2. Translation of Complete Bible (w/others) first published 1534. Luther continued to help refine this translation until his death.
  3. Luther’s Old Testament:
    1. Hebrew Bible
    2. Apocrypha, separated as non-canonical
  4. Luther’s New Testament
    1. 27 books, as we have today
    2. James, Hebrews, and Revelation present, but non-canonical; separated into their own section at the back of the Bible with instructions not to “found doctrine upon them”

Luther’s Quibbles:

  1. James
    1. Luther didn’t like this epistle’s emphasis on works.
    2. “If a man says he has faith but has not works, can his faith save him?” (James 2:14)
  2. Hebrews
    1. Same qualm people have had since ancient times:
    2. “for it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened…” (Hebrews 6:4)
  3. Revelation
    1. Luther called it “confusing and dangerous”
  4. The Council of Trent (1545-1563)
    1. Council of Trent part of the Counter-Reformation (attempt by Catholic church to bring unity back to the church)
    2. Called the most important council since Nicaea
    3. The fourth session of the Council of Trent dealt with the scriptures (April 1546)
      1. Jerome’s Vulgate = authoritative version of scripture (Note: this determined not only the official books of the Roman Catholic church, but also their language)
      2. Included Apocrypha in the canon
      3. Declared that no books could be added or removed from the Vulgate scriptures

Western Traditions and Their Understandings of Scripture

  1. Roman Catholic
    1. Council of Trent: Traditions and Scriptures have equal authority
    2. Church has final authority of interpretation
  2. Reformation Churches
    1. , Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopal), Methodist, Presbyterian
    2. Do not view themselves as a new church; reform of ancient church
    3. Scripture has supreme authority, but consider tradition important as well
  3. Restoration Churches
    1. Baptist, churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, “non-denominational”
    2. View selves as a total re-creation of the early, pure church
    3. Believe and practice according to the explicit teachings of scripture


Dungan, David L., Constantine’s Bible, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006).

McGrath, Alister, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, (New York: HarperOne, 2007).

Next Class: July 26. Topic: But What is the Bible?


One thought on “How the Bible Became the Bible: Class 4

  1. Pingback: How the Bible became the Bible: Class 3 | aladypreacher

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