Erosion of the Canon of Sacred Scripture

In recent decades, Biblical scholars have been removing words, phrases, and even whole verses, from the Bible. This is a very serious problem, which undermines Scripture one of the three foundational sources of truth in the Catholic Faith (Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium). These scholars claim that certain parts of any book of the Bible (words, phrases, whole verses) can be omitted, or relegated to a footnote, due to their analysis of the text and variations in different manuscripts. The reason that this approach is untenable is that it contradicts the infallible teaching of the Magisterium on the Canon.

The Council of Trent infallibly defined the Canon of Sacred Scripture. After listing the books of the Sacred Bible, the Council taught:

“But if anyone receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.”

The phrase “entire with all their parts,” in my understanding, does not allow for a scholarly decision to omit any verse, or any substantial part of any verse, as it is found in the old Latin vulgate, in any of these books. If a verse or even part of a verse has been in use in the Living Tradition, and has been found in the Vulgate for many hundreds of years, it is part of the inspired Canon of Scripture. Opinions of scholars and variations in manuscripts cannot stand in opposition to this infallible teaching of Trent.

Yet, contrary to the anathema of the Council, many scholars and many editions of the Bible have deleted phrases and entire verses, or demoted them to footnotes. And this process of eroding the Canon of Scripture continues in the present day. This erosion of the Canon has affected not only modern vernacular translations, but even the Neo-Vulgate. Here is my article giving examples of the omission of words, phrases, and verses in the Gospel of Matthew of the Neo-Vulgate.

At the Council of Trent, the Magisterium infallibly defined the Canon of Scripture, not only as all the books (73) of the Catholic Bible, but as all the parts of each book, as these books exist in the ‘old Latin vulgate’ and as they have been used and read in the Living Tradition. But the ‘old Latin vulgate’ at that time had no one standard edition, nor could any (at that time) recent edition of the Vulgate be considered ‘old’. Therefore, the Council was referring to the Latin scriptural tradition, independent of any one edition, as this scriptural tradition has been used in the Church, by the Living Magisterium and the Living Tradition. For the Word of God in the Church is not primarily the written text of any edition or set of manuscripts, but is the Living Word of God alive among the faithful.

So the question as to which parts of each book are in the Canon, and are therefore inspired and inerrant, is determined by the Latin scriptural tradition. But the Neo-Vulgate (Nova Vulgata) is not a continuation of the Latin scriptural tradition, but a break from it. The New Testament of the Neo-Vulgate is based on the Protestant United Bible Societies edit of the Canon, which omits many words, phrases, and even whole verses. The editors of the Nova Vulgata chose to alter the Latin text (which they base on the critical Protestant Stuttgart edition), in small details as well as important points, to conform to the UBS Greek text, which is mainly the work of Protestant scholars. That text omits many words and phrases from the Bible, and more than a few verses, on the grounds of scholarship, and so does the Nova Vulgata.

The teaching of Trent that the books of the Latin tradition, with all their parts, is sacred and canonical has been utterly contradicted by most Catholic Biblical scholars, in favor of using a critical evaluation of various manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The Latin is utterly ignored, and is permitted by them neither to determine the Canon, as the Council taught, nor to even influence their scholarly decisions as to what should be in the Canon. The teaching of Trent that the Canon is determined by the Latin scriptural tradition has been deliberately rejected by most modern Biblical scholars, and has been replaced with scholarship — as if scholars determine the Canon, but the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition do not.

Worse still, the majority opinion of scholars, esp. concerning the NT, has coalesced around one particular text, the United Bible Societies text, with critical apparatus, of the Greek NT. This text is mostly the work of Protestant scholars, and their methodology seems to have a strong tendency to drop words, phrases, and verses from the Bible, on scholarly grounds. This is a relatively new approach, since older Greek texts (Textus Receptus, and Majority Text) as well as the Latin texts do not use this approach. They prefer to retain, so that nothing is lost; whereas the newer approach prefers to omit.

One result of this has been a transfer of practical control over the Canon from the Magisterium and the Living Tradition to a relatively small subset of scholars, mostly Protestants, at the United Bible Societies. Another result is the erosion of the Canon of Scripture, so that hundreds of words and phrases, and more than a few entire verses, are relegated to footnotes or omitted altogether.

And very few persons are concerned about this problem.

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