Can Rome Even Identify the Word of God?

A frequent claim by Roman Catholics is that Protestants need Rome to know what the Bible is. After all, how could we infallibly know the contents of the Bible? We need an infallible authority, and Rome is just that authority they claim. However, I’d like to pose a question: Can Rome actually identify what the contents of the Bible are? I know they claim they can, but their official pronouncements are contradictory, which leads me to conclude that even on their own terms Rome cannot tell us what the word of God is.

I’d like to investigate the difference between what the Reformation-era Roman Catholic Church says is contained in the Bible, and what modern Rome says. The first thing to understand is that the Latin Vulgate was affirmed as the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church at the council of Trent.[1] However, in the 20th century the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was adopted as the official Latin text of the church.[2] So the question is: are there significant differences between these two editions of the Vulgate? I’d like to look at two texts to demonstrate that Rome can’t even identify the true contents of the bible.

Acts 8:37

Acts 8:37 is a contested verse because it is not well represented in the Greek manuscripts we have that survived to this day[3]. It reads as follows in the New King James Version:

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 8:37). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

This verse was included in the Latin Vulgate of the Reformation era. An easy way for an English speaker to see this is to look at the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, which was an approved Catholic translation of the Vulgate into English[4]:

And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Acts 8:37, The Holy Bible Douay Rheims Version.

However, this verse is not included in the Nova Vulgata. As you can see from the Vatican’s website, the verse itself missing. All that remains is the verse number in parenthesis.

1 John 5:7

1 John 5:7 (known as the Comma Johanneum) is a hotly contested verse, because it doesn’t appear in very many Greek manuscripts, and the ones it does appear in were made very late[5]. Again, this verse is included in the Latin Vulgate of the day:

And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one

1 John 5:7, The Holy Bible Douay Rheims Version.

So is it in the Nova Vulgata? This will be a little more difficult for non-Latin readers, as it does include a verse 7. However, it does not have the same contents as the verse 7 from the Old Latin Vulgate. A modern Roman Catholic translation will show the difference:

So there are three that testify,

1 John 5:7, New American Bible

There is a significant portion of the verse that is gone. So how much does this really matter for the Roman Catholic? It matters a great deal because as the Council of Trent declared:

But if any one 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.

Council of Trent, Session IV, First Decree

Note that is says the “books entire with all their parts”. This would include Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7. So what are we to make of this then? Has Trent condemned modern Rome saying it is anathema for holding different parts of the Bible? Is modern Rome correct, and Trent mistaken? If Trent can be mistaken about this, can it be mistaken about other things, most importantly justification by faith alone?

To get back to my original question, it does not appear that Rome is able to tell us what the word of God is. Roman Catholics might say that, while perhaps they don’t know what the exact words of the books of the Bible are, we still need Rome to tell us what books should be in the Bible. However, this is nonsensical. Should we trust Rome on the macro level when it comes to the canon, when it cannot tell us even the littlest part of it?

Now, the Roman Catholic may ask at this point how I, as a Reformed Baptist, know what the word of God is. And this is a very fair question to ask. To quote from my confession of faith:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 5.

The testimony of the Church may indeed be helpful for identifying the word of God. However, ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that gives us testimony that the Bible is the word of God, and he being God is able to communicate us this knowledge infallibly. Does this mean that every true Christian is always knows exactly what the word of God is? No it does not, but it does mean it is possible in this life to know exactly what the word of God is. So I invite my Roman Catholic readers to come out of the institution that is the Roman Catholic Church, which makes enormous claims about the certainty it can provide, but ultimately cannot deliver. I’ll close with a passage from the word of the living God:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Jn 10:27–28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[1] https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2014/nine-things-know-council-trent/?fbclid=IwAR2ATiRhKQFnkyshmUo4gX8w4g0iLCaACR5SfnWUWrRvJl7S4LjCNnZ3zq0

[2] https://m.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/is-the-vulgate-the-catholic-churchs-official-bible?fbclid=IwAR2D69Eibl2XQH7hDdzKwTcdoVevN1XDC9pGbs3a-Qf3Q92bWVTz1suTWZw

[3] It should be noted that author of this post considers Acts 8:37 to be part of the inspired word of God

[4] https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/uncomfortable-facts-about-the-douay-rheims?fbclid=IwAR2XyGlB6LOHRO6RiTFfl563p14d_7jg2OqjoAFUUlgm0tdh46fOxMU9xjk

[5] It should be noted that author of this post considers 1 John 5:7 as found in the majority of editions of the Textus Receptus to be part of the inspired word of God

Published by Sean Cheetham

There is nothing better in this life than to know God. There is nothing better to do in this life than to serve Him.

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