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Anthony wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am teaching a class and these are the questions my students are asking me that I don't know how to answer.

  • Why is the Old Testament important?
  • How true is the Old Testament?
  • How do you know whether the interpretations of The Gospel are reliable?

There were a lot of other books besides those found in the Bible, and other Christian faiths have different sets of books.

  • How do we know the Vatican chose the right ones?

Anthony

  { Why is the Old Testament important and how do we know the interpretations are correct plus? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Anthony —

The Old Testament is important because it gives the background necessary to understand the
New Testament. As St. Augustine said,

"The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New."

Jesus, being the Jewish Messiah, must be understood in the context of the history of Israel.

Without it, Jesus's mission doesn't make sense (nor frankly much of anything else in the
New Testament). The Old Testament also contains prophecies that prove that Jesus is the Christ and foretells His sacrificial Death. It's all a beautiful woven tapestry that tells a story.

Eric

Mike replied:

Hi Anthony,

Some of your questions are pretty basic, so if you don't mind, I'll just share with you what the Catechism says. You can read it on-line here.

You said:

  • Why is the Old Testament important?

The Old Testament

121 The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, (cf. Dei Verbum 14) for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.

122 Indeed, "the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men." (Dei Verbum 15) "Even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional," (Dei Verbum 15) the books of the Old Testament bear witness to the whole divine pedagogy of God's saving love: these writings "are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way." (Dei Verbum 15)

123 Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism).

You said:

  • How true is the Old Testament?

121 The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, (cf. Dei Verbum 14) for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.

You said:

  • How do you know whether the interpretations of The Gospel are reliable?

You don't! This is why before ascending into Heaven Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom to Peter, to safeguard, protect, defend, and interpret correctly those few Scripture passages that need clarification. That Petrine ministry today is called the Magisterium of the Church.

The Catechism gives a good overview of biblical interpretation in these paragraphs:

III. The Holy Spirit, Interpreter Of Scripture

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words. (cf. Dei Verbum 12 § 1)

110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression." (Dei Verbum 12 § 2)

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.(Dei Verbum 12 § 3)

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it. (cf. Dei Verbum 12 § 4)

112 1. Be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.

Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover. (cf. Luke 24:25-27,44-46)

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in Ps. 21,11; cf. Psalm 22:14

113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church".

According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church") Origen of Alexandria, Hom. in Lev. 5,5:PG 12,454D.

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. (cf. Romans 12:6)

By "analogy of faith" we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture:

  1. the literal and
  2. the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into:
    1. the allegorical
    2. moral, and
    3. anagogical senses.

The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation:

"All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

(St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 1, 10, ad I.)


117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:2)

  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction". (1 Corinthians 10:11; cf. Hebrews 3:1-4:11)

  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
    (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:5)

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.

Lettera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia; Augustine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I: ed. A.

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God." (Dei Verbum 12 § 3)

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.

St. Augustine, Contra epistolam Manichaei, 5,6:PL 42,176

You said:
There were a lot of other books besides those found in the Bible, and other Christian faiths have different sets of books.

  • How do we know the Vatican chose the right ones?

I would re-phrase your question a little and ask:

  • How do we know the Church chose the right ones?

In both questions, the answer is because the Holy Spirit assisted the Holy Father and the bishops at the council of Rome in 382 A.D. Remember the promise Jesus gave to St. Peter and his successors in Matthew 16:13-19.

I don't believe there was any Vatican in the early Church, as we know it today, though my colleagues can correct me if I am wrong. There were Catholic councils.

It wasn't until 382 A.D. that the Pope met with Catholic bishops at the Council of Rome to decide, guided by the Holy Spirit, which books belonged in the Bible, meaning which were inspired, and which were not. Before 382 A.D. there was no canon, or collection of known inspired books.

This creates a common sense, logical problem for those that believe in the theology of Sola Scriptura, unless they also believe that before the Council of Rome, everyone when to Hell because they didn't have a known set of Scriptures. The problem is compounded by a denial of Oral Tradition that is incorporated into the Sola Scriptura theology.

This posting has the inspired list of books that was chosen by the Pope and bishops of the Council of Rome, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Every time a Protestant opens their Bible, they are implicitly saying, whether they know it or not:

I trust the decision that Catholic bishops made at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D., guided by the Holy Spirit, on which books in the New Testament were inspired and should be in my Bible.

My only question to those who are humble enough to acknowledge this statement is:

If you trusted the Holy Spirit back then to determine which books make up the
New Testament, why don't you trust the Church in determining and discerning:

  • the Old Testament canon, and
  • other Teachings our Blessed Lord wants you to believe?

I hope this helps,

Mike

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