For those of us who came from Protestantism, the idea that the Bible would be credited to Holy Tradition was strange, if not disturbing, but Church history supports the claim.
Scholars debate when the books of the Bible were written, so assuming the earliest proposed dates for New Testament books, the following were available before A.D. 50: James, Matthew, Hebrews, Mark and Galatians.
The date of Christ’s crucifixion has been calculated based on time of Pontius Pilate’s prefecture, Herod’s reign, the conversion of Paul, astronomy… So, taking the latest dates, Christ was crucified before A.D. 40. Therefore, most of the New Testament did not exist for at least ten years following Pentecost. Based on the most likely dates, Galatians (A.D. 48) was the only book written before A.D. 50.
Meanwhile, the Church met and grew and practiced the traditions passed onto them from the Apostles, who learned those traditions from Christ. Concurrently, the New Testament was written to
- Record the gospel (Good News) of Christ.
- Record the early history of the Church.
- Address problems in the Church.
- Encourage the Church.
- Proclaim the hope of the Church (the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come).
Many books were written, but there was no official canon (collection of inspired books). The canonicity of the writings was debated over the years. In A.D. 367, Saint Athanasius listed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament in his Pascha (Easter) letter. This list was accepted by the Church, which had flourished since the feast of Pentecost.
These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy 3:14,15
The Church has always recognized the authority of Scripture, but Scripture is not her only authority. She must submit to Holy Tradition, which is not the tradition of men.
The idea of sola scriptura, scripture alone, was not born until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. We witness corruption and vice in religious institutions, corporations, governments, charitable organizations and even in our own families; therefore, it is difficult to place our faith in anything controlled by people. How can we believe that a book edited and compiled by men is truly the word of God?
We can trust the Bible, because it is born of Holy Tradition. We can trust Holy Tradition, because it is born of the Church, and we can trust the Church, because Christ is her Head. If not for the last phrase, “because Christ is her Head,” this statement would be arrogant. The Church knows that apart from her Lord she would collapse like a house of cards.
Our Bible is an interwoven and coherent collection of Old and New Testament books written over millennia by men of diverse backgrounds guided by the Holy Spirit. Such a work is impossible apart from God. All glory belongs to Him.