SCRIPTURE FULL OF ERRORS?
Is Scripture full of errors? Many say so today. At Vatican II, On Oct. 2,
1964, Cardinal Koenig of Vienna rose, said there were many, gave off a
list. Many Bishops chimed in. But Holy Spirit was on hand, and final
document shows no trace of that. Yet some today say Scripture has so many
errors, to try to answer all, is like putting patches on a sinking ship.
These charges can all be answered.
We do not mean we take all crudely. The words "literal sense" have two
meanings: 1) take text as if written by 20th century American: that is
silly. Ancient Semites are not modern Americans; 2) Learn how the ancient
Semites wrote, understand it the way the author meant it, the way the
first readers took it.
We need several things for that. First, we need to know what are called
literary genres, which means patterns of writing. To illustrate, think of
a modern historical novel about Civil War. Main line is history,
background fits--but we expect fill-ins that are fiction, e.g., long
conversations between Lincoln and Grant. Or a bit of romance among minor
sideline characters. The key word is ASSERT. Writer meant to assert that
the mainline is history that the background fits--did not assert these
fill-ins are real. So we do not charge him with error. We, as natives of
this culture, naturally know how to take these things. But in a very
different culture--Ancient Semitic--we must study to see what genres they
For there are many genres in English, and in ancient Semitic. Each has as
it were its own rules, such as we illustrated with the case of a
historical novel. In English, we adjust automatically, we are natives. But
to understand ancient Semites, we must learn their ways of writing, their
genres. For this we do not just guess, we must study to find historically
what genres were in use in those times in those lands. This is being
faithful to Scripture--to ignore that is to impose one's own ideas on
Scripture, and that is very unfaithful.
To illustrate, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, according to Pope John
Paul II are myth--he picked a poor word, it doesn't mean just fairy tale,
no basis. No he meant an ancient story made to bring out some things that
really happened. Here are the chief things: God made all things--in some
special way (note the broad way of speaking) He made the fist human
pair--He gave them some command--we do not know if it was about a fruit
tree--whatever it was, they violated His orders and fell from favor or
Starting at chapter 12 genre shifts, and is mostly epic--the story of the
beginnings of a great people. It is basically history, but with some
fanciful elements added.
In Daniel there are 2 genres: first, apocalyptic--a pattern that uses
bizarre images which must be toned down to get the sober sense--and
edifying narrative--these are stories, which need only a little truth, but
they give a lift, something like the relation of science fiction to real
science. Cardinal Koenig did not understand this, and so thought there was
an error in very first line of Daniel. Not so.
So if we carefully work this way we can solve countless problems in
Scripture--early this century scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, saw
many difficulties. They could solve some, not all. But they had faith and
said: Even if we cannot solve them, there must be an answer. Today we do
know how to solve countless things they could not solve-- and the ironic
thing, at this very time, the very scholars who know how to use this genre
approach plus other things, are claiming extensive errors.
We need to know other things about ancient Semitic ways to understand some
things. Often we need to know what Hebrew or Aramaic word is in the mind
of the writer to understand the Greek. E.g., in Lk. 14:26 Jesus tells us
we must hate our parents. We should know Hebrew lacks the degrees of
comparison, such as good, better, best. We would say: love one more, the
other less. Again in 1 Thes. 4:5 Paul speaks of the Gentiles who do not
know God. But he has in mind Hebrew "yada" which means love, obey as well
as know. Again, Paul often uses Greek "dikaiosyne" to mean not our sense
of justice, but the Hebrew sense of "sedaqah" the virtue that gets us to
do all that morality requires.
Vatican II wrote, in "On Revelation" #11: "Since all that is asserted by
the human author should be considered as asserted by the Holy Spirit,
therefore the books of Scripture are to be held as teaching firmly,
faithfully, and without error, the truth which God wanted to be confided
to the sacred letters for the sake of our salvation."
We note the Council says whatever the human writer asserts is asserted by
the Holy Spirit. We just saw that word "assert" in connection with genre.
The Council means to use that framework.
Some foolishly take the underlined words as restrictive and say only
things needed for salvation are free of error--all else, science, history,
even religion, may be in error. But those who make this mistake do not
notice that the Council itself added some footnotes. Note 4 sends us to a
text of Leo XIII which excludes errors of every kind. And other notes
cite Vatican I (DS 3006) saying the principal author is the Holy Spirit.
But He cannot be in error. Therefore, Pius XII, in His "Divino afflante
Spiritu" said that these words of Vatican I are a "solemn definition". So
the foolish commentators think Vatican II is contradicting a solemn
Wm. G. Most, "Free From All error" (Marytown Prow Press, 1600 W. Park,
Libertyville, IL 60048) gives many examples of how to solve problems,
including that of Job 14:13, which someone says indicates there is no
survival after death! The same book also explains other techniques for
Specially important is Form and Redaction Criticism. It starts by saying
Gospels arose in 3 stages: 1) Words and acts of Jesus. He would adapt His
words to current audience. 2) The Apostles and others at start preached
these things, but also adapted their language to current audience. So they
may not give exact words of Jesus, but their concern for their own
eternity led them to be really careful to keep the sense. 3) Some
individuals in the Church, under inspiration of Holy Spirit, wrote down
some part of this primitive preaching. That became the Gospels. So the
Gospels are just part of the ongoing basic teaching of the Church set down
under inspiration. So the Church has something more basic than the
Gospels, its own ongoing teaching, also protected by the Holy Spirit, cf.
Lk. 10:16: "He who hears you, hears me."
Rationalist critics talking of stage 2, do not mention Apostles--as if
there could be a headless community in Judaism!. And they say the first
Christians just made things up, "created". But let them read the Letter of
St. Ignatius of Antioch to Rome on his way to be eaten alive by the
animals. He told the Romans: In case some of you have influence and might
get me off: don't. I want to die for Christ. So, take a copy of his letter
to the zoo, read it by the lions' den, and ask: Is he just creating,
making things up?
Genre approach solves many problems. Form Criticism does so too, but is
more easily abused. Here is a good example. In Mk. 13:30:
"This generation will not pass away until all these things be
accomplished." It did not mean Jesus thought the end was near. No, we
gather from Mt. 24 that the disciples had asked two questions: what are
signs for fall of Jerusalem? signs for your return? Form criticism shows
that often passages are put together out of lines that once were
independent. So we can see that Mk. 13:30 originally referred to the fall