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Did the Early Christians Possess the Scriptures?

Question: You need the guidance of Sacred Tradition to help you figure out the truth. In the early church the people could not have listened to the apostles speak and then gone home to check what they said in their Bibles. People had to accept what the apostles told them by word of mouth because it had not been written down or put into a text for anyone to read.

Answer: Over the past couple of years I have encountered every kind of argument seeking to undermine the centrality and the ultimate authority of the Holy Bible. A popular argument notes that the early Christians did not have the complete Bible and that it took almost four centuries before the canon of Scripture was finally and officially recognized. Hence, the implication that the Bible could not be that important.

This argument is flawed because it fails to recognize that the church was going through a maturation phase, and it is rather silly to belittle the perfection of the mature state on the grounds that it was not always that way. It is like arguing that we donít really need our lungs because there was a time when we lived well without them in our mothers' womb! Or that it was not really necessary that Christ should come to this world because before him, God still spoke to His people by the prophets!

We are living in an age when we have the complete written Word of God in our hands. What, or who can replace the Bible in the heart of the church? Or who can claim to have equal or higher authority to the Word of God?

You seem to be preoccupied that Evangelicals do not blindly accept the Churchís teachings but insist on verifying everything by the Bible. Well, we have biblical precedent for doing so. Once an apostle of Jesus Christ and his associate preached the Gospel in a certain city. They proclaimed the Gospel and the people listened attentively. But the people of that city did something more. Every day they studied the holy scriptures to check whether the things they heard were true or not.

What do you think? Isn't it a little bit arrogant and presumptuous to question the teaching of an apostle? Isn't the teaching magisterium of the apostle the highest authority on earth? Is it not the prerogative of the apostle to interpret the Bible infallibly, rather than for common, ordinary people to check his teaching by the Bible? And how can they understand the Scripture since they didnít have the guidance of 'Sacred Tradition'?

As you may have realized, I am referring to the Bereans mentioned in Acts 17:10-12. Luke says (v 11): 'These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.'

Two important points can be deduced from this passage:

  1. For the Bereans the ultimate and highest authority was the holy Scriptures. They did well to receive the words of the apostle for he is the messenger of Christ; but they did better to check out his doctrine by the standard of the written Word of God. As a Protestant, I believe that every Christian must submit to the teaching authority of the teachers that Christ gave to His church as far as their teaching is consistent with the Holy Scriptures.

  2. The Berean believers already had the Scriptures (evidently not the whole of our Bible) to which they could refer. And they knew that they were the Word of God even before any pope or council declared them to be so. Many are deceived by the Catholic propaganda which insists that a person could not know what is authoritative Scripture if it was not for the authority of the church.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi