WHAT IS A BIBLICAL CANON. WHY DURING THE MIDDLE AGES, THE CHURCH FORBIDS THE LAYMEN FROM READING THE BIBLE?
“Human history becomes more and more, a race between education and catastrophe.” – George Orwell, 1920, Outline of History
The Scaligerian chronology of biblical books, manuscripts, and their dating is precarious and insufficiently substantiated. It rests on the authority of chronologists and theologians of the era of Reformation when the question of biblical chronology and history became an essential weapon in the struggle between the Catholic and Protestant camps, which swept the whole of Western Europe in the XVI–XVIII century.
Today the Bible is a very definite collection of books. There are several options: Orthodox canon, Catholic, Jewish. Some books from one Canon are not included in another. However, this only applies to a few books.
In general, the modern Bible is practically the same canon. But one should not think that it existed before the XVI-XVII century in this, or almost in such, form, and this is not true. Of course, some books of the modern Bible, often in other editions that differ from modern ones, existed and were copied in the XIV–XVII century.
Some of these truly ancient manuscripts of the XIV–XVI centuries have survived to our time. But, firstly, their totality does not give the modern Bible. And secondly, even those parts of the modern Bible that can be found in the manuscripts of the XIV–XVI centuries are often presented there by other editions.
The exact composition of the modern biblical canon is by no means as ancient as many probably think. In the first half of the XVII century in Russia, for example, it was completely different. This is seen from the complete list of the Old and New Testaments books, placed in the Helmsman—the canonical church book, the text of which was verified very carefully.
We provide this list in Annex 2 of this book. It turns out, for example, that the New Testament included then several times more books than today. Many of the listed books are unknown to us today, and we do not know what ‘was written in them.
It is noteworthy that in the New Testament there were, it turns out, such books as the New Testament Joshua (along with the Old Testament one), the New Testament Chronicles (along with the Old Testament ones), a particular book Pedigree (?!), a certain book Jesus Semiramus (?!), New Testament Palea, the second Apocalypse, etc. And in the Old Testament, for example, the Book of Esther is absent. And this was in 1620!
In addition, it should be borne in mind that, in general, the Bible is not a book of worship, and that is, it is not used in its complete form in the church service. Both Christian and Jewish.
Liturgical—that is, read in the church and existing in separate canonical liturgical books—are only different parts of the Bible. Namely, the New Testament (except for the Apocalypse) and the Psalter in the Christian church.
These books exist separately from the Bible as liturgical books and have their names: Gospels, Apostle, Acts, Psalter. In addition, there is the so-called Paremeinic, containing individual passages from the Old Testament arranged in the order of their reading. They are indeed occasionally read in church but by no means exhaust the Old Testament. In addition, it is possible that the Paremeinik could have been changed in the XVI-XVII century since it is not read much in the church, and the parishioners could not notice his changes.
And in the Jewish church, the Torah (version of the Pentateuch) and the Talmud (interpretation of the Law) are used. Again, not the complete Bible.
Thus, the modern Bible, not a liturgical book, could easily undergo changes and editing even in the XVI-XVII century. Back then, books were expensive, so the Bible was a rarity like other books for home reading. Consequently, changes in it could occur imperceptibly for everyone, except for a narrow circle of professional theologians.
Moreover, in the Catholic Church, it was forbidden to read the Bible. Moreover, the ban was canceled only in the XX century. It is known that by “the bull of Pope Gregory IX in 1231, it was forbidden to read it [the Bible—Auth.].
The ban was formally canceled only by the Second Vatican Council” (, p. 67). Historians report: “The Church prohibits the distribution of the books of the Holy Scriptures among the laity and considers it a grave crime to translate these books from incomprehensible Latin into popular languages” (, p. 24).
The resolution of the Cathedral in Béziers allegedly of 1246 says:
“As for the divine books, the laymen should not have them even in Latin; as for the divine books in the vernacular, do not allow them at all either to clerics or laymen.”
In the edict of Charles IV at the end of the XIV century, it is said: “According to the canonical regulations, it will not suit laymen of both sexes to read anything from the Scripture, even in the vernacular, so that through poor understanding they would not fall into heresy and error” (, p. 25).
Furthermore: “In the era of the Reformation, Cardinal Gozi wrote, on the order of the Roman Kuria, a discourse on the use of the Bible (Hosius, De expresso Verbo Dei), in which he put it this way: “To allow the people to read the Bible means to give the shrine to the dogs and throw pearls in front of pigs.”
The Council of Trent (in the XVI century) forbade the laity the reading of the “heretical” translations of the New Testament unconditionally. It allowed the reading of the Old Testament books only under the bishop’s supervision (, v. 1, p. 234).
Thus, in everyday life of the parishioners of the Catholic Church, the Bible appeared, as it were, gradually, “illegally” and, strictly speaking, it is not clear when. It is unclear too, when the pope’s church decree banning the reading of the Bible ceased to be implemented in practice.
That is why in the Catholic environment in the XVI-XVII century, they could do a lot with the Bible unnoticed and without permission. And then pretend like “it always was.”
It turns out that the Orthodox Jewish Church (except for the Karaites) was in the same position. “The Orthodox Jews did not allow the Bible reading, they could only get acquainted with the Talmud, which interpreted the archaic biblical statutes in a more modernized form” (, p. 99).
Therefore, in the Judaic, Jewish, Bibles some, significant but not noticeable to anyone—except for a narrow circle of people—changes could also occur until the appearance of the first printed editions. Those appeared not so long ago. For example, only “in 1731 [that is, only in the XVIII century!—Auth.] the first printing house in Crimea was founded, and published the first book in ancient Hebrew language three years later” , p. 112.