I was recently invited to lead a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults session at a local parish on the topic of “the Magisterium as the official authority the Church.” The discussion focused on how the books of the Old and New Testaments were deemed inspired by God and approved for the official canon of sacred Scripture while other writings were left out.
Following our session, the group coordinator asked me why the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah since the “Hanukkah Feast” is not recorded in the Jewish Bible nor in the Protestant Bible but, only in the books of First and Second Maccabees, which are found only in the Catholic Bible.
The truth is that I had never considered this matter before and could only answer the question after doing some additional research.
The question of why the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is only recorded in the Catholic Bible is related to the bigger question of why differences exist between the Catholic Bible and the Protestant/Jewish Bible. This is partly treated in the fourth and fifth chapters of the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (Dei Verbum, hereafter referred to as DV).
In chapter 4 (articles 14-16), the Council Fathers explain that the 46 books of the Old Testament “remain permanently valuable” (DV, 14) because their “principle purpose” is “to prepare for the coming of Christ” (DV, 15). Article 16 elaborates: “the books of the Old Testament with all their parts … acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament.”
Curiously, the only time Christians and Jews shared the canon of the Old Testament were the few years during the public life of Jesus and the 60 or so years that followed. We know this because the four evangelists record numerous instances when Jesus Himself cited texts from these sources and considered them as inspired books from the Jewish Testament. These would later be included among the 46 books of the Old Testament, the same writings that the Jewish people used at the time of Christ. (This canon is called the Septuagint or Alexandrian Canon).
These Old Testament books are no longer present in the Jewish or Protestant Bibles for a variety of reasons. Primarily, for the Jews, the rabbinical discussions that took place at the Jewish Council of Jamnia in 90 AD, about 60 years following the death of Jesus, answers this question. Here, the Jewish elders embraced another canon, referred to as the Palestinian Canon, as a way to distance themselves from the Septuagint (or Alexandrian Canon) that they had used for some 400 years but was now being used by the Christians. Some 1,500 years later, the reformers also rejected this Septuagint (or Alexandrian Canon) based on the content of such books as First and Second Maccabees as well as the Book of Wisdom that teach such doctrines as praying for the dead and seeking intercession from the saints. Such ideas were contrary to the theology of Protestant reformers like Martin Luther.
In Dei Verbum, the Council Fathers declare as well that “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (DV,  16). When “the fullness of time arrived,” therefore, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (DV, 17).
Based on the experience and reliable eye witness of the first disciples and apostles, the New Testament was written with the Gospels given “special preeminence” since they are “the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior” (DV, 18). The formation of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John came from information about the life and activity of Jesus and the early Church “handed on by word of mouth or in writing” and “from their own memory and recollections”(DV, 19). This information was later synthesized, outlined and explained “always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus” (DV, 19). The letters of St. Paul and other apostolic writings that became part of the 27 books of the New Testament canon were likewise “composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (DV, 20).
The final chapter of Dei Verbum discusses sacred Scripture in the life of the Church. The Council Fathers offer an analogy between the sacred Scriptures and Jesus in the Eucharist when they say, “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the Bread of Life from the table both of God’s Word and of Christ’s.”
As a young lay Catholic I once heard a priest use this teaching of Vatican II to argue the point that Christ is as fully present in the written word of sacred Scripture as He is in the bread and wine at holy Mass following the consecration. In the sanctuary of the parish Church where this priest was assigned, a Bible was prominently displayed by the tabernacle to give equal prestige to the presence of Christ in both the sacred Scriptures and the Eucharist. This of course is far from what the Council Fathers meant to communicate in Dei Verbum.
What the Council Fathers wanted to communicate here was the “similarity” in both and not their “identical” qualities. Both, says the Second Vatican Council, are given “for the sake of our salvation” (DV, 11). The inspired written Word of God, the Bible, is like any other book, except without error. Jesus in His human nature is like any human being, except without sin. The Bible is singularly unique in world literature as divinely inspired, while Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, is singularly unique in human history as fully divine. However, we do not worship the Bible but we do worship Christ.
Although sacred Scripture is not the entire Word of God, it is a most significant component of the Word of God. As such, Dei Verbum offers challenges that still remain unfulfilled almost 50 years later. For example, the Council Fathers declare that “easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful” (DV, 22). In addition, all bishops are instructed “to offer suitable instruction in the right use of the divine books” to the people of God under their pastoral care. They are likewise requested to provide suitable editions of the Bible “for the use of non-Christians” (DV, 25).
While the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) encourages Catholics and non-Catholics alike to use good translations of the Bible for spiritual nourishment, it cautions that we “should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended and what God chose to manifest through their words” (DV, 12). St. John Chrysostom further reminds us how we ought to approach Scripture. He says, “To get the full  flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.” The Church is telling us through Dei Verbum that sacred Scripture has indescribable riches that each of us, with the guiding light of the Holy Spirit, ought to pursue.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D. serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop. To read his previous columns on Vatican II please visit www.diometuchen.org/father-hillier