What in the world did Christians do without a Bible for Over 360 Years? I wonder if the Sola Scriptura crowd gives this question much thought?
According to the Protestant Reformers, the Church didn’t get a proper bible until the sixteenth-century when Luther abandoned seven books that had been considered scripture for about nine-hundred years, by the time of the reformation.
Something that is not as well known is that Luther and the other reformers also rejected the complete text of the Hebrew scripture which was used by Jesus, the Apostles and the early church, the “Septuagint” in favor of the newer and edited "Masoretic text.”
Brief History of the Septuagint
After Alexander the Great conquered much of the know world, the Greek language become the common language in the Mediterranean. Over time Jews outside of Jerusalem ceased to understand Hebrew, but only Greek. Soon a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible was commissioned. It was translated by 72 scribes (according to legend) in 72 days called the Septuagint, which means “70” in Latin or LXX for short. The Septuagint was approved by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as an accurate translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
By the time of Christ, the Septuagint was the translation used throughout the Greek-Speaking world. Both Jews in and out of Jerusalem were familiar with it and considered it Holy Scripture. It is evident that Jesus and the Apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint because of the 350 (approx) quotes of the Old Testament contained in the New Testament, 300 are attributed to the Septuagint. The Apostles used the LXX on their missionary journeys. Greek speaking Jews were converting to Christianity because, in part, of what they were presented with messianic references in the Septuagint texts.
Brief History of the Masoretic Text
The Jewish leaders did not appreciate that Christians using their Scriptures to convert Jews to Christianity. So, in response, the Jews essentially reestablished the canon of the Old Testament.
They disavowed the Septuagint and declared the only true Scriptures to be written in Hebrew. (The timing of this is hotly debated) They removed all the books that they thought were not first written in Hebrew and they intentionally changed many verses that were in agreement with Christian doctrine. This created an environment where Jews considered the Septuagint to be the “Christian” Old Testament and full of lies. After all, due to all these changes, the Hebrew Scriptures didn’t look exactly the same as the Septuagint anymore. So, it was not just those seven “questionable” books that were removed. The evil ran much deeper.
Many of us who read scripture regularly have had the experience of reading a verse in the New Testament, then looking at the footnote, and comparing it to the Old Testament verse it references. When we compare the OT verse to the NT verse, they seem barely related. That is because the footnote is referencing the right verse, but the wrong translation. Here is an example:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened (Masoretic)
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; but thou has prepared a body for me (Septuagint)
The young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Masoretic) (This is corrected in many Protestant bibles)
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Septuagint)
There are hundreds of these differences that don’t make a lot of sense till you read them from the Septuagint.
This new form of the Hebrew canon was accepted widely by the many Jews of the 2nd century. Between the 6th to 11th century a group called the Masoretes would become the predominant copiest of this Hebrew canon. Out of this group would eventually become what we now know today as the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic text is the basis for the majority of modern Old Testament translations since the 1500’s.
Many Protestant Christians insist that the Masoretic text was in use in Jesus’ day and the apostolic era. This is simply not the case. Of course there were some other translations available at that time, but, none were as widely disseminated and in popular usage as the Septuagint.
Why do many modern Christians use the Masoretic text for the Old Testament when it was specifically created to counteract Christians spreading the Gospel message? The answer can be found in the errors and misunderstandings of Martin Luther in the 1500’s.
By the time of Christ, the Septuagint was the translation used throughout the Mediterranean. Jesus and the Apostles were very familiar with the Septuagint because of the 350 (approx) quotes of the Old Testament contained in the New Testament, at least 300 are from the Septuagint.
Luther desired to create a translation of the Scripture into his native language of German. However, he wrongly assumed the best way to get an accurate translation of the Old Testament was to use the Hebrew bible that the Jews in his community read. His blunder was that he did not know that the Old Testament they were familiar with was not the same that Paul and the Apostles read. He did not know the Septuagint had been in existence more than 1,000 years before the altered Masoretic Text.
That version of the Hebrew Scriptures also did not contain all the books of the Old Testament. The books they did not contain would later come to be called the Apocrypha (also referred to as Deuterocanonical books — less pejorative). To both early Christians and the Jews in the time of Jesus they were just called Scripture. Though he did not remove the so-called Apocrypha from his translation, he did move them to the back of his bible. Later the apocrypha would go from being in the back to being removed completely.
Even using the less pejorative term “deuterocanonical” seems to be a nod to Jewish and Protestant sensitivities (errors). I, personally find it pretentious to diminish any portion of the texts quoted so heavily by the New Testament writers, yet modern Catholic scholars and Apologists routinely relegate those books to being somehow less than inspired, and therefore not as authoritative.
This prideful blunder of Luther has affected bible translation for the last 500 years — driving another wedge of separation between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic Orthodoxy has held to the Septuagint as the faithful translation of the Hebrew scriptures since the times of Paul and the Apostles.
The Bible in use by the Catholic Church was canonized after over 360 years of living the Catholic faith relying on a combination of holy tradition and an informal collection of Apostolic letters.
The structure of the Holy Mass can be pulled from the New Testament Scriptures and is further clarified in the earliest extra biblical documents such as the Didache, The First Apology of Justin Martyr, and the Didascalia. Tradition tells us that the apostles wrote the first liturgies which are clearly drawn from the synagogue. Irenaeus said that all of the apostles were priests. There were priests, deacons and bishops from the earliest days of Christianity.
The unifying factor of early Christianity, that is, from the very beginning, was their reliance on the oral traditions passed on to them from the time of Christ and his Apostles. The early church took very seriously the admonition of the Apostle Paul to hold on to both what they had received in writing and via word of mouth. Significant parts of this oral tradition included apostolic succession of the episcopate, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the Holy Mass which is the true Passover for the sins of the entire world.
Contrary to what modern LGBTQ revisionist theologians expound, not every word uttered by Jesus found its way into scripture. The same is true for the teachings of the Apostles.
Without reliance on the full deposit of the historic faith, both written and oral traditions, the Church loses out on some significant aspects of faith. This is probably most important when we consider the Eucharist. In Catholic tradition we experience the real presence of Christ in our midst. In reformation theology, the sacrifice is reduced to being a shared meal, or a remembrance.
Without experiencing that real presence, that “real food” we find it questionable whether or not other Churches have life within them? Read what Jesus had to say about the importance the Eucharistic meal in John 6:53. Catholics find this aspect of our practice of faith to be of the utmost significance.
When Catholics speak of the importance of tradition, we are not talking about pharisaic, self-serving teachings of men. Rather, we are relying on some of the earliest teachings passed down from the Apostles and early Church.
Did the early church simply get everything wrong for the first sixteen centuries, until Luther came along? The errors of reformed theology go even deeper when you consider that they reverence their own “fathers” and authoritative traditions.