No doubt, as Catholics, we’ve had conversations with our Protestant sisters and brothers about how the New Testament Canon of Scripture came to be. We can run the risk of falling prey to a strawman argument when, as Catholics, we think of our Protestant friends as merely asserting that the Bible “just dropped out of the sky.” While no one literally believes that, we think it is a light-hearted (even if hyperbolic) description of how our Protestant friends think the New Testament Canon materialized.
We all recognize that the literary device of the analogy can be a powerful means to communicate a point. Oftentimes an analogy can make clear in a conversation what has been obscure and confusing. In a conversation once with a Protestant friend, this analogy of my grandma’s gumbo came to my imagination in an attempt to explain how the New Testament Canon was developed.
I described this story to my friend:
Imagine telling someone that your grandma’s gumbo is absolutely incredible. The friend replies, “Where can I get some?” You respond, “It can be found at that large grocery store on 3rd & Main.” Days later, after returning from multiple trips to the grocery store without finding it, the friend says to you, “I searched high and low for something called ‘Grandma’s Gumbo’ but I couldn’t find it—can you tell me the product name and in which aisle I can find it?”
You tell them, “It is not in a single aisle or in a single package, but you can find her gumbo in the Meat Department (for the chicken and sausage) and in the Seafood Department (for the crabmeat or shrimp). You will find the vegetables (bell peppers, onions and celery) in Produce. And of course, in about 8 other aisles, you’ll find the flour (for the roux) and tons of other culinary elements of her gumbo. Indeed, her gumbo is “truly in the store,” you confidently affirm.
Your friend replies with some impatience. “Wait a minute, I thought Grandma’s Gumbo was going to be an already pre-packaged product, found on a single aisle!” You quip, “I never said that; I merely said that my Grandma’s Gumbo can be found at the large grocery on 3rd & Main St., and indeed it can be found there—in about 11 different locations in the store.”
The analogy does not conclude until the point is made: Grandma’s Gumbo does not just materialize out of thin air into one place, but it is indeed true that it can be found in the midst of that large grocery store, surrounded by thousands of products not used for the recipe.
This is analogous to the truth that in the early Church, for the first 400 years, the 27 Books that would become known as the “New Testament Scriptures” were indeed “there,” intermixed with many other writings. So, it is true that the 27 Books of the eventual New Testament were indeed among all the other writings—just as my grandma’s gumbo ingredients could be found in the midst of all other ingredients.
However, it took rationality, intentionality, and indeed the love of my grandmother to bring the gumbo to its full and delicious reality. More importantly, regarding the Scriptures, it was the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church which led intentionally and lovingly to the identification and proclamation of the true, authentic, and inspired 27 Book Canon of the New Testament.
This Lenten Season, let’s enjoy a warm bowl of Seafood Gumbo, while we prayerfully consider the wonderful Sacred Scriptures of Lent—given to us by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of the Catholic Church.