Destroying the Bible

Author: John Young


In the past Catholics have been unjustly accused of being opposed to the Bible. But the charge can justly be leveled against some of the most prestigious Catholic biblical scholars in the world today. They claim reverence for God's written word; in reality, they industriously reduce it to fallible human words.

I want to illustrate the current state of affairs by reference to the , published in 1989. This 1,500-page work so undermines the teaching of Scripture that a logical person who accepted its conclusions would consider himself bound to reject the Catholic Church as a reliable guide to the Bible.

However, a person who had glanced quickly at the work and then read what I have just asserted would be likely to think my position quite unbalanced. For he would have noticed the eminent names among the authors: scholars internationally recognized in the world of Scripture studies. He would have seen the impressive erudition, the moderate language, the endeavor to penetrate beneath the surface meaning of the texts. He would have noticed, right at the beginning, the laudatory words about St. Jerome, Pius XII, and Paul VI. He would have been impressed by the fact that there is not one but three nihil obstats!

He might have a twinge of doubt, however, if he observed that the three editors of the book are the three censors. They have certified the orthodoxy of the book they themselves produced, and a large part of which they wrote! The three men are Fathers R.E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy.

In this article I will concentrate on some of the material in the New Testament sections, particularly concerning the infancy narratives. As we consider this, we might keep in mind the statement of Vatican II that the Church unhesitatingly affirms the historicity of the Gospels.[1]

The reduces the infancy narratives to imaginary stories based on Old Testament incidents and prophecies, and having little connection with what really happened. Let us first look at the commentary on , written by Benedict T. Viviano, O.P. The quotations are from page 636.

"The star that leads to Christ is probably a midrashic element derived from 2224." In other words, there probably wasn't any star. Fr. Viviano continues: "If historical, it could be a supernova, a comet . . . or a planetary conjunction." Note how the miraculous is excluded: If there really was a star it is assumed to have been natural.

On the gold, frankincense, and myrrh: "The list of gifts may be inspired by 60:6, 11, 13 . . . " That is, there may not have been such gifts. Likewise, concerning the slaughter of the Innocents: " . . the story may not be historical...."

The last assertion implicitly questions the Church's veneration of the Holy Innocents and assumes the Church may be in error by having liturgical celebrations in honor of babies who never existed.

The flight into Egypt is similarly questioned: "Matthew has used Moses traditions as reshaped in Josephus...."

Turning to the commentary on Luke's Gospel, by Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., we find the same skepticism. Regarding the Visitation: "It strains credulity to imagine a 14-year-old Jewish virgin making a four-day journey by herself. Rather Luke's intent in the Visitation is literary and theological."[2] In plain English: Fr. Kerris thinks Luke made it up. Notice how the point that "strains credulity" is a mere assumption, for Luke does not say Mary traveled alone.

Fr. Kerris doesn't accept Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace, and suggests the census was another Lucan invention. "The census provides Luke with a means of getting Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem."[3]

Fr. Kerris comments on the finding in the Temple: "The story may have its origin in the human tendency to find the man in the boy."[4] So that may not have happened either!

Coming to Christ's public life, we find the same attacks on the historicity of the Gospels. J.P. Meier, in his article "Jesus," says: "We do not know whether JBap ever acknowledged Jesus as a special figure."[5] This implies that we don't know whether we can believe the evangelists when they tell us of occasions when John the Baptist clearly acknowledged Jesus as a special figure, even pointing Him out as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."[6]

Fr. Raymond Brown argues that Jesus only intended to renew Israel, but not to found a Church.[7] "The older blueprint supposition by which Jesus had the Church clearly in mind and had already planned its structure, sacraments, etc., has little or no textual support...."[8] What of our Lord's famous words to St. Peter, declaring him the rock on which He would build His Church, and promising that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it? This doesn't impress Raymond Brown, who calmly assures his readers that this and other passages to which appeal may be made ". . . have no parallel in the other Gospels and probably represent post-resurrectional understandings specifying Jesus' intentions."[9] To translate: Jesus didn't say these things; they were invented afterward and don't represent what He intended.

Another example of the presuppositions employed in the occurs when Fr. Kerris is discussing the date of He states: " 21:5-38 presupposes that Jerusalem has been destroyed; thus a date after A.D. 70 is required."[10] The text in Luke relates Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, so Fr. Kerris reasons that this event must already have happened before the Gospel was written. Why? Clearly because he doesn't accept it as a true prophecy. The implication is that Jesus couldn't have known it beforehand.

Turning now to comments on the crucifixion, we get the same dismissal of historicity. I'll mention three examples in the article "Jesus" by J.B. Meier, all on page 1,328.

"The placing of Jesus' mother and the beloved disciple at the cross may be Johannine symbolism." The second example: ". . . the edifying repentance of the 'good thief' is probably Lucan redaction." The third example: "The account of setting a guard at the sealed tomb must be judged a later creation of Jewish-Christian debates." To put it bluntly, these apparently historical incidents, generally accepted as such for close to 2,000 years, are probably fiction.

Many more examples of the deficiencies could be given, including its treatment of miracles and of the Resurrection of Christ. But enough has been said to illustrate the approach taken by this commentary.

Proponents of the kind of thinking exemplified in the as in so many other modern studies of Scripture (their number is legion) attempt to justify themselves by claiming they are simply concentrating on what history shows, without denying that faith can shed further light on the topics. J.P. Meier, in the article already quoted, says the sole focus of his article is ". . . the Jesus of history ... that [11] Similarly, Viviano says: "Both the Bethlehem birth and the virginal conception are potentially so highly influenced by the author's reading of OT prophecy that the historian hesitates where the believer need not."[12]

But Scripture cannot be understood unless it is seen as having God as its principal Author, and unless it is read in the light of Tradition and the pronouncements of the [13] To focus instead on what history alone can show is to produce an impoverished result. This could be admissible as an academic exercise which would then be viewed in the light of Tradition and the but the doesn't do that.

One has only to glance at the quotations I have given to realize that the authors are denying or doubting that various events really happened; they are not claiming these things happened, but that history alone can't establish this.

The inerrancy of Scripture is constantly rejected by implication. When the question is looked at explicitly in the article "Inspiration" by Raymond Collins, he asserts that Cardinal Koenig, during Vatican II, "pointed out errors in the biblical books." Collins, in accepting this view, contradicts Catholic teaching. He says: "The term 'inerrancy' has never appeared in a conciliar text (although found in papal encyclicals. . . )."[14]

Whether or not the term has been used in conciliar texts is beside the point; the doctrine of inerrancy has been constantly taught in the Church. Further, the papal encyclicals which use the term make it perfectly plain that the doctrine of inerrancy must be held.

Pope Leo XIII, after stating the unchanging teaching of the Church that God is the principal Author of the Bible, continues: "It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration or make God the Author of such error."[15] Nor is divine inspiration restricted to matters of faith and morals. Leo rejects such a restriction, and later Popes have repeated his teaching. Benedict XV repeats it in his encyclical .[16] So does Pius XII in and .[17] In the latter encyclical he says that some ". . . put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters."

The is radically flawed because it approaches Scripture in a way alien to the true Christian approach. Its spirit is secular rather than Christian. Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, is seen as a teacher who didn't even know the Christian Church would come into existence. With that assessment of Christ, it is not surprising when the commentators ignore the authority of the evangelists, the fathers, the doctors, and the Popes.

Yet this book is widely regarded as a sound work produced by some of the best Catholic scholars. Carlo Cardinal Martini of Milan, in his foreword to this edition, praises it as "born of the patient and devoted dedication of the best of English-speaking Catholic exegetes." I hope he didn't read it before writing that!


1 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, n. 19.

2. Page 681.

3. Page 683.

4. Page 684.

5. Page 1,320.

6. in p. 25.

16. pp. 51-54.

17. pp. 81f. and 113.

This article was taken from the April 20, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.