Hello Rosary Lovers! Our question today is: What is the holy book of Christianity?
This post covers a lot of ground, but by the end of it I hope you have a better understanding of the holy book of Christianity, and it’s position within this amazing religion.
The World Religions
The largest religions in the world are (in descending order of size):
- Christianity (2.5 billion)
- Islam (2 billion)
- Hinduism (1.1 billion)
- Buddhism (500 million)
- Judaism (generally classed as a major world religion, but numbering only 15 million)
After Buddhism, the number of adherents for the other religions in the world drops dramatically. For this reason, the big 5 are in a league of their own, and are generally the most studied religions.
The Holy Books of the World Religions
Of these religions, all of them have holy books. We see this as follows:
- Islam – the Quran
- Hinduism – various, but the main ones are generally the Vedas (especially the Upanishads) and the Bhagavad Gita
- Buddhism – the Tripitaka
- Judaism – the Torah
Interestingly, it is often the case that these holy books have other books alongside them which are of almost equal authority.
These secondary books are also holy in a sense, and are used to interpret the Holy Book.
For example, in Islam, the Quran is the main authority because it is believed to be God’s word. But the Hadith (the records of the words and life of Muhammad) is also of tremendous weight.
This is because Islam believes that Muhammad’s life and words must be emulated, since Muhammad was the perfect representative of Islam (submission to Allah). If one wants to know what Islam actually looks like in a human life, they are directed to Muhammad’s life and therefore to the Hadith.
As for Judaism, the Torah is supplemented by the Talmud in many Jewish traditions.
The Talmud is an enormous compilation of the teachings of Rabbis down the ages, as they sought to interpret the Torah and the Jewish tradition.
Many Jews believe the Talmud to be the main source of Judaism as it is practiced today.
What about the Bible and Christianity?
When it comes to the Bible, different Christian traditions have different views on the Bible’s place in the religion.
Protestant Christianity believes that the Bible is the only infallible rule for all faith and practice. Though there are lots of other confessions of faith and creeds which can certainly help to interpret the Bible, the supreme rule of authority is the Bible on its own.
In theory this means that the Bible trumps all the historical councils of the Churches, and all creeds. The Bible comes before it all in authority as God’s written word and therefore is really the only thing absolutely binding on Christians.
Different Protestant traditions have various shades of this belief, but this is generally what is claimed.
There are also many Protestants – such as from the Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic camps – who believe that creeds, confessions and traditions of any kind are not necessary and that all we really need is the Bible.
So Protestants disagree about the place of traditions, creeds, teachings by Church leaders and so forth.
What they don’t disagree on is that the Bible is infallible, and is the only infallible source of true Christianity.
The following groups do not share this Protestant conviction.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
The Eastern Orthodox include household names like the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church. Between 250-300 million Christians in the world are Eastern Orthodox.
They are, generally, passionately monolithic in their approach to how the Christian faith should be practiced. They almost all use exactly the same Worship service (the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom).
The Eastern Orthodox believe that the Bible must absolutely be supplemented with, and interpreted by, the 7 Ecumenical Councils.
The 7 Councils were historic Church councils held in the East, in union with the Western Church. They defined really important ideas, such as the Trinity and how the union between Christ’s divinity and humanity was to be understood.
The 7th Ecumenical Council is a dogmatic declaration on the necessity of icons/images in Christianity, and that such images should be venerated.
The Catholic Church also holds to these 7 Ecumenical Councils (in addition to many more councils beyond these!).
The 7 Ecumenical Councils are regarded as infallible in their teachings by the Orthodox. They therefore have the same level of authority as the Bible itself. Both were inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus both are infallible.
Then there are the Oriental Orthodox. These include the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and so on.
The Oriental Orthodox are a wide-ranging and diverse collection of Churches. They are nowhere near as monolithic in their approach to the practice of Christianity as the Eastern Orthodox are.
For instance, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Churches) practice circumcision and unique fasting rituals. They also have their own unique Bible.
So what holds the Oriental Orthodox Churches together? They all believe that the Bible must be supplemented by only the first 3 Ecumenical Councils (rather than the 7 of the Eastern Orthodox).
Their big issue is with the 4th Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon. They generally have a negative view of this council, and don’t believe it to be a true Ecumenical Council.
The Oriental Orthodox communion also holds passionately to the tradition of Oriental saints, such as Saint Dioscorus and Saint Severus. These saints are condemned by the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils of the Eastern Orthodox.
There is hope that someday the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox Churches may all reunite, if only partially. There is much to work through, however.
The Catholic Church
Lastly, there’s the Catholic Church.
She believes that “Christianity is not a religion of a book” (Catholic Catechism). This is an interesting claim, given that so often people think this is precisely what Christianity is.
The Catholic Church believes that Christianity is a religion of the incarnate Christ, God the Word who became flesh. The Word of God is Jesus Christ. The Orthodox Churches share this belief.
Therefore, the Bible will always be lesser than Christ because the Bible – at the end of the day – is only a book, whereas Jesus is the living God. The Bible is not God.
So, the Catholic Church supplements the Bible with herself, since she believes herself to be the living Body of Christ, the living Body and Voice of God.
The Church’s visible presence on earth is summed up in a certain sense by the person of the Pope of Rome. He is believed to be the Vicar (Representative) of Christ on earth.
Protestants generally find this claim highly distasteful. The Orthodox Churches also have a negative reaction to it.
What is the Bible, Anyway?
The subject of ‘the Bible’ as the Holy Book of Christianity is made far more complex by the fact that all of these different Christian groups have different Bibles!
There’s a shocker, if ever there was one. I bet you never saw that coming!
Protestants use a Bible with 66 books.
The Eastern Orthodox use a Bible with no defined number of books, but generally they accept the same books that the Roman Catholic Church accepts, plus a few others.
The Oriental Orthodox accept the same sorts of books as the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics.
However, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is part of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and yet they use the biggest Bible of all, with even more books than the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox use!
Confused yet? You should be!
In other words, in saying that ‘the Bible‘ is the holy book of Christianity, we are clearly oversimplifying a highly complex problem: that each of the Christian groups use different Bibles.
Which begs the question …
Which Bible is the ‘right’ Bible?
Well, let’s do a logical deduction experiment.
Suppose one of these Bibles is correct and flawless. Let’s suppose one Christian group has all of the right books and none of the ‘wrong’ books in their Bible.
The Protestant Problem
Protestantism appeals to sola scriptura for all matters (the Bible alone is infallible).
And yet the Bible itself never deals with this issue in its pages. You don’t find anywhere in the Bible the following: ‘Thou shalt leave out the book of Tobit from Holy Scripture.’
Therefore, Protestantism requires something infallible outside of the Bible to give Protestants an infallible Book to begin with.
Whatever that something is, it is not the Bible.
Therefore, sola scriptura cannot be true. This is the largest intellectual reason why I am no longer a Protestant.
Moreover, the Protestant Bible might be wrong, because there is no text of Scripture which deals with this question as to which Christian group has the right Bible.
The Orthodox Problem
So we move to the Orthodox. But we know that their Bible isn’t strictly defined. They don’t have an Ecumenical Council which has defined all of the books concretely.
In particular, how many books of Macabees are part of Holy Scripture? Different Orthodox will give different answers.
And what of the Ethiopian Orthodox, who have the largest Bible of us all?
There is no ‘one Bible’ of the Orthodox, and so the idea that they have the ‘right’ Bible perhaps seems far-fetched.
So by process of elimination, we are left with the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church has strictly defined by her authority and by an Ecumenical Council (the Council of Trent) precisely which books are part of Holy Scripture, and which ones are not. This is set in stone by infallible authority.
The Catholic Church is the only Church which:
- Is consistent with her own beliefs
- She doesn’t believe in sola scriptura
- She does believe she has infallible authority to determine such things concretely as what books of the Bible are the correct ones
- Has defined the books of the Bible concretely
I think that’s enough for now on this massive topic! Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.
God bless you!
2 Replies to “What is the Holy Book of Christianity?”
I find your research into the Holy Book to not only be valid but to be accurate as well. Protestants often believe that the Word of God is found in the bible only. They often forget that the Saints and Doctors of the Church were directed by God to spread his word of redemption in other ways. I loved your article and look forward to seeing more of your posts.
Thanks a lot Jerry! Yes, I appreciate your comment. Catholics and Orthodox Christians begin with the view that the Word of God is Jesus Christ. No matter how wonderful the Bible is, it is not Jesus in this maximal sense. Jesus is not a book, or cannot be reduced to a book. I like to think of it as this:
Jesus Christ is the WORD of God. The Bible is the Word of God. Something like that.
Also, Christ is God, whereas the Bible is not God. So there is a clear and very important difference.
If Jesus is the WORD of God, then it would seem that he would communicate himself to us through more than just one means (such as the Bible).
And also, the apostles believed that the word of God was the words they spoke and the traditions they passed down. So the word of God cannot be merely scripture. Though of course, this is not in anyway to deny that Scripture is truly the very word of Almighty God. It’s just that that word is found in other places, because Christ is everywhere, and he’s the true WORD.
Preeminently, the WORD of God on earth is the Holy Eucharist.
So I find that in Catholic Christianity, the WORD of God and the knowledge of God are EXPERIENCED by tasting of the living Bread of the Eucharist. It’s a profoundly simple route to the true knowledge of God. Much easier than memorising the entire Bible and using your brain a lot! Many of us cannot do this