Question: Who decided which books were to be included in the Bible? I can't always find the books mentioned in your "Scripture Readings" section.
Answer: Occasionally we come across people who seem to think that the Bible came down from heaven, written in the King's English, neatly bound in genuine leather with gilt edge pages and stamping. It is tempting to picture our Lord, waving a Gideon Bible "borrowed" from the Holiday Inn, as He preached His Sermon on the Mount. Obviously, no such thing could have happened, for a complete collection of the canonical books did not exist until well after our Lord's time on earth, let alone a printed and bound edition.
Divine inspiration prompted various authors to write in different languages over a period of many centuries. In written form, the first books date, perhaps, to a thousand years before Christ. The last books were not put down on paper until sometime after our Lord's Ascension, the Apocalypse coming as late as the year 96 A.D. Most of the Old Testament books were written in Hebrew, with a few of the more recent ones set down in the Greek that could be read by the Jews of the Diaspora (those spread throughout the then known world). The surviving texts of the New Testament are all written in Greek, but Matthew's Gospel may have been composed in Hebrew or Aramaic.
The texts of the New Testament took some time to be gathered into anything like the collection of our modern Bible. It should be remembered that most of these books were biographical accounts of our Lord's public life, or letters directed to a particular community. They were all hand written, as were any copies made by the author or the recipient. Printing was 1400 years in the future; Xerography almost 1900. There were tremendous logistical difficulties in obtaining the complete collection.
There were also difficulties in separating the truly inspired works from those of merely human authorship. It is not clear from any of the letters that they are intended to be included in the canon of Scripture. To this day there exists a body of literature written by some of the Apostles and their contemporaries, but not accepted in the canon of Scripture.
It was, of course, the Church that determined which books were to be given the status of Scripture. Her bishops, after all, had written the books that became the New Testament. Hers was the commission to "teach all nations." It certainly made sense for her authorities to determine the extent of her written teaching. This she did, both for the New Testament, and for the Old; admitting to the latter books that had been written in Greek, and therefore unacceptable to parochial Jewish scholars (and to most Protestant scholars as well).
The determination of the books of the Bible is an example of the living tradition of the Church. No official list of the books was compiled until the time of St. Augustine, and then only by a regional council in North Africa. Several papal pronouncements followed shortly thereafter. The same list was declared canonical by the Councils of Florence in 1442 and Trent in 1546. In any event, there was little or no controversy among medieval Catholics as to which books made up the inspired Scripture, for this was clearly known from tradition.
The differences in naming the books generally stem from whether the translator was working with a Greek or Latin text, and whether he expected his readers to be Catholics or Protestants, speaking a Romance language or an Anglo-Saxon one. In many cases the difference is no more than a spelling change of a few letters. The New Testament books accepted by Catholics and contemporary Protestants are the same. Only the last book, "the Apocalypse," has the alternative name, "Revelation."
A noteworthy feature of the Bible is its division into chapter and verse. This was first accomplished around 1214 by Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury, who provided chapter divisions and numbers for the Biblia Parisiensis. Later in the thirteenth century, Hugo de Sant Cher rather arbitrarily divided each chapter into seven verses. The French printer, Robert Estienne modified this in 1555 to produce the versification accepted today by both Catholics and Protestants. (There is some disagreement, however, particularly in the Psalms.) The 1582 Douay edition set the text in logical paragraph format, but the Challoner revision of 1749-50 set each verse with a paragraph indentation, causing a loss of intelligibility in much the same way as setting a piece of prose with the initial word on each line capitalized makes it harder to sort out the sentences. Most modern Bibles revert to the more logical order of the Douay version.
The uniform division into chapter and verse is a great aid to citation of the various texts, both by scholars and by religious people. The reference is always to book, chapter, and verse. For example, Matthew XX: 5-10 refers to Matthew's Gospel, the 20th chapter, verses 5 through 10. The book names are often abbreviated (Matt., Mt., etc.), and the use of Arabic and Roman numbers may vary, but the order is always the same: book, chapter, and verse. In scholarly writing, such a reference stands alone, without need of mentioning that it comes from the Bible. (The particular translation of the Bible being employed is referenced in the first footnote and in any notes citing different translations.) A quaint scene from the Sidney Poitier movie, "The Lilies of the Field" comes to mind, in which a Black Baptist American is able to communicate with a White Catholic German nun by referencing texts in their respective bibles; hers enormous, his pocket sized.
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture. A plenary indulgence is granted if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour. (Enchiridion #50)
A Prayer to be Recited
Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle them in the
fire of Thy love.