Fr. William G. Most
They say the Greeks had a word for it. Not always. They had none for Hebrew
hesed, the covenant bond. That lack has greatly obscured general
understanding of the covenant. But to get a word for the present state of
Scripture studies, we turn to the Germans. They would say: Durcheinander - a
confused tangle, so that one thing sticks out from the middle of another
That is remarkably true in Scripture study today. On the one hand, we find
some who relentlessly - I am using Fuller's word criticizing R. Brown --
pursue Form Criticism. On the other hand, some of those who had been most
eminent Form critics are now abandoning not only that discipline, but the
entire historical critical method, some of them even calling it "bankrupt."
Specially prominent among those who have declared the historical critical
method bankrupt is Reginald Fuller, one of the chief Form critics, who
charged bankruptcy in St. Luke's Journal of Theology 23, 1980, p. 96. He
said the study should be supplemented by input from the believing community!
Now Vatican II in LG #12 did say that the universal belief of the whole
Church is infallible. But that is quite different from what Fuller wants.
Others just quietly drop the historical critical method, and go instead into
various other approaches - many go to Reader Response Criticism, a heavily
subjective approach that tries to imagine who is the implied author, the
implied reader, and the narratee. Still others turn to a sociological
analysis - which in itself is good and useful - but one should not make it
the core of exegetical method. And of course some like Semiotics.
We are not going to merely give a recital of horror stories, though that
would not be difficult. It would be entertaining but not useful. Rather, we
want to positively suggest what can be done in a scholarly way. Mostly we
will focus on historical critical method, its abuses, and propose a remedy.
For more profit is to be had in return to the maligned historical critical
method, looking first at its excesses, then at its potential for sound use.
A leading cause of the condition of alleged bankruptcy is the work of Rudolf
Bultmann who misapplied Form and Redaction criticism to the Gospels, and
became the undisputed king of eisegesis, which is the opposite of exegesis.
For after saying we cannot know much of anything about Christ in Himself, he
said we must interpret the Gospels to mean the same as existentialist Martin
Heidegger (in Kerygma and Myth, Harper. NY 2d ed. I. p. 27). So, for
example, getting free of original sin means achieving authentic being -
making the decision to go through with life even though this universe makes
no sense and is absurd (ibid. 194). After that tour de force of eisegesis
one would think all real exegetes would shun him. Instead many still worship
at his shrine, in that they often quote him respectfully even if not on
precisely the points we mentioned.
Bultmann insisted that certitude is impossible in any field (KM 195) - yet
he himself was certain that if science cannot explain a cure, it would be
superstition to call it a miracle - yet if science can explain, it would be
all right to call it a miracle. (ibid. 197, 199) He also wondered how Jesus
could work a miracle if He had emptied Himself, as Phil 2:7 says - did
Bultmann think Jesus could stop being divine? Or did he not know that not
just God but saints with God's power can work miracles.
Bultmann also said he wanted to go Luther one better (ibid. 210-11). Luther
had taken away the security of merit from us, Bultmann would take away all
foundation for our beliefs , it is even sinful to want a foundation (ibid.
211 & 19). Disciples of this aberration are still with us today. Thomas
Hoffmann SJ of Creighton University in CBQ of July 1982 dismissed Scriptural
inerrancy in just a footnote, and insisted Scripture is so full of errors
that to try to answer all charges would be like putting patches on a sinking
ship. However, following in the footsteps of Bultmann, Hoffmann said even
though we know Scripture is so full of errors, we should still just have
faith! A gigantic leap up onto Cloud Nine.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 1169) even thinks Vatican II
authorizes us to think there are errors of all kinds in Scripture: in
science, history, and even in religion. Only those things needed for
salvation are protected. The critics here lean on a clause in DV #11, which
says we must say there is no error in "those things which God wanted
entrusted to the Sacred Letters for our salvation." They claim the clause is
restrictive, i.e., only things needed for salvation are inerrant. But they
did not read well the footnotes by the Council itself, sending us to many
earlier statements of the Magisterium especially one of Vatican I which says
God is the chief Author of Scripture. Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu
of 1943 said that text was a solemn definition, even though found in a
capitulum, not in a canon.
The critics will reply: But that is the a priori approach -we should use the
a posteriori approach, that is: look at all the errors we see in Scripture.
It really is full of errors. In fact, a favorite spot is Job 14:13, in
which, it is alleged, Job considers the possibility of an afterlife, but
then rejects it. To try to answer that claim is said to be "unmitigated
disaster." Pardon me for committing an unmitigated disaster. Really, Job,
which is mostly in high flown poetry, is indulging a fancy, as the Anchor
Bible commentary on this passage notes. He wishes he could hide in Sheol
until God's anger would pass. But Job knows that cannot be done, and so no
one finally stands up against God.
Approach of saying that since God is the author there can be no error: We
cannot escape the fact that God is the Author of all Scripture by merely
saying that such an assertion is a priori. Of course: God is simply not the
author of any error. The critics are too dull to notice that DV says we must
consider everything asserted by the human author as asserted by the Holy
Spirit. So, within the framework of genre approach, not everything is
asserted, just as in a modern historical novel, the author asserts only that
the main line is history, but not the fictional fill-ins provided for
vividness and enjoyment.
The tendency to give up on Scripture got impetus also from the strange fact
that some scholars who knew the new techniques that let us answer previously
insoluble difficulties, insist on saying so many things are insoluble, even
though the answers have been know long, even before the development of our
new resources. Thus in regard to the three accounts of Paul's conversion in
Acts, Joseph Fitzmyer points out that one account says his companions did
not hear the voice, and another says they did. But he misses the elementary
fact that Greek, akouein , like so many ancient words, has a broad spectrum
of meaning - indeed even English hear or listen is broad. Listen can mean:
Hear the sound; or from Mother to child it can mean: Do as I say. So it can
mean to know there was a sound, or can add understanding of the sound.
Even stranger is the claim of contradiction because one account says Paul's
companions fall to the ground; the other says they stood amazed. Not even
elementary Greek is needed here, just try to picture yourself in the
situation. On such a marvel from the sky, a man could be literally knocked
off his feet. But quickly he would scramble to his feet and stand there
Again, one prominent critic insists Jesus and Paul superstitiously believed
devils inhabited desert places or the upper air (R. Brown, in St. Anthony's
Messenger May 1971, 47-48, referring to Mt 12:43-45 and Eph 2:2). Now any
good exegete knows about literary genre, and so should see Jesus was using a
sort of parable, as we can tell from the final line: "So also it will be
with this wicked generation". And Paul was merely using the language of his
odd opponents to counter them.
That is a case of blindness we regret to say. Another case of strange
blindness is found in the approach to messianic prophecies in the OT, which
are said to be so obscure one can get something out of them only by
hindsight, by seeing them fulfilled in Christ. Now the NJBC has a rather
good essay on targums near the end of the volume. These, of course, are
ancient Aramaic versions of the OT, mostly rather free, but letting us see
how the Jews understood the prophecies without hindsight - for they hated
Christ. If time permitted I could offer double evidence of the early date of
these Targums. But yet, after explaining fairly well what Targums are, the
NJBC, in the body of the commentary, when it takes up individual messianic
prophecies, seems at a loss on how to take many of them. For example, they
think Gen 3:15 says women dislike snakes. And Gen 49. 10, the prophecy of
the dying Jacob that there would always be a ruler from Judah until the time
of the Messiah -- this was fulfilled most dramatically, because historically
there was always some sort of leader from Judah until 41 BC, when Rome
imposed Herod on them as Tetrarch, and soon after as King. Herod was not of
the tribe of Judah, by birth he was half Idumean and half Arab.
We said the NJBC does not seem to know what to do with Gen 49:10. But one of
the greatest of modern Jewish scholars, Jacob Neusner, in Messiah in Context
, cites that text and adds: What else could it be but a prophecy of the
Messiah? So, even Jews see more than many Catholic scholars!
A problem is raised about the dullness of the Apostles in not understanding
the command to teach all nations. The Apostles were dull all right. But it
is no solution to say that probably Jesus spoke no words after His
resurrection, just used interior locutions, so that the Apostles at first
did not understand what the locution meant. How contrary to sound theology
this is! St. Teresa of Avila, who had much experience with such locutions,
tells us that when God speaks this way, we have to understand, since the
all-Powerful makes us understand. Later certitude may fade. So the picture
is precisely the opposite of what some critics propose.
No wonder that Martin Hengel of Tubingen, fountainhead of so many far out
errors in Scripture, pointed to a great source of trouble when he commented
on Catholic aberrations (Time , Aug. 15, 1988, p. 42): "Sometimes I ask my
Catholic counter-parts why they must make all the same mistakes in 20 years
when we Protestant theologians needed over 200 years."
If we go back to the early years of this century, Scripture scholars, both
Catholic and Protestant, were aware of very many problems, seeming errors or
contradictions in Scripture. They could answer some of the problems, not
nearly all. But they were men of faith. They said: Even if we cannot solve
the problems, we know there is an answer. And indeed there is. Today, thanks
to the great progress in exegesis, through the approach via genres and by
Form an Redaction Criticism, we can readily solve problems that once seemed
hopeless. Yet the very scholars who know the new techniques are the ones who
insist strongly there is no solution. That really is an unmitigated
For a really unmitigated disaster we take note that some very recent
writings do tempt one to think the historical critical method is really
bankrupt: three writers are reported on in Time of Jan 10, 1994: Dominic
Crossan of De Paul University, in Jesus: a Revolutionary Figure, and Burton
Mark, The Lost Gospel; and the "Jesus Seminar" in The Five Gospels. Time
reports that these three think Jesus may have been a carpenter, but if so he
was probably illiterate, or of a low caste, did not preach salvation through
sacrifice, probably never delivered the Sermon on the Mount, never cured any
diseases. Crossan and the Seminar think He was crucified all right, but,
according to Time they think He was not buried in a rich man's tomb, His
body was probably left to be consumed by wild dogs. Then, the Apostles put
faith in such an abject failure, gave their lives for such empty faith and
even deified such a failure, with no evidence at all in His favor, with so
much against Him!
But Mack seems confident that the lost Gospel is Q, a mere collection of
sayings, no doings. Since it does not report His crucifixion, Mack doubts
even that. Of course Q is the imaginary second source in the Two Source
theory which holds that Mark wrote first, Matthew and Luke copied much from
Mark. But then Matthew and Luke run together on many things which Mark does
not have. These added things came from the imaginary Q. Even though all
three Evangelists report on the death and resurrection of Jesus, yet since Q
does not mention these things, therefore they are probably false. But we
ask: Not only how does one prove the existence of a Q, but also: Since all
three Synoptics do agree on reports of the death of Jesus, these three had
no need to draw on a Q document if indeed it ever existed, for data on His
death and resurrection. The fact that they agreed among themselves, and
therefore did not find it in Q, shows that the reports of the death and
resurrection by all three are faked! We say: Even if there was a Q , Matthew
and Luke simply had no need to use it for the accounts of the death an
resurrection of Jesus. So the lack of these things in the imaginary Q proves
nothing at all.
We could fill the rest of our time explaining such strange lapses by
prominent scholars. But our conclusion will not be that the method is
bankrupt, just that one needs to show judgment in using it.
We get a good start by looking at a strong example of misuse of historical
critical method by John P. Meier of Catholic University, in his book, A
Marginal Jew. Meier can find few things true about Jesus, so few and so
scanty that Jesus is left a poor marginal Jew. Yet in spite of himself,
Meier will serve us as a starting point for providing positive help. We wish
to explore chiefly how to answer his central claim that we cannot get the
facts on Jesus. For that we will see how to construct a bypass around his
endless quibbles asking how can we be sure a given item in the Gospels is
real or not. Then we will pay special attention to his repeated insistence
in arguing against Our Lady's perpetual virginity. (We will not, as some
reviewers have done, just say: "Have faith". That is begging the question.
We must build an apologetics base before we invoke faith. Otherwise it is
just a leap up onto Cloud 9).
We mentioned above that Fuller today says the historical critical method is
bankrupt. Some years back Fuller began to move in that direction, when in a
review of R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (CBQ 40, 1978, p. 120): he
wrote: "It is ironic that just at the time when the limitations of the
historical critical method are being discovered in Protestantism, Roman
Catholic scholars should be bent on pursuing it so relentlessly."
That word "relentlessly" really applies to John P. Meier. He opens with
imagining that a Catholic, a Jew, and an agnostic, and perhaps a few varied
others were locked in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity Library until they
could agree about a statement on Jesus." He says there are four steps to
descend in studying the data on Jesus. First, he says that the "total
reality" of a person "is in principle unknowable." He means all that the
person ever thought, felt, experienced, did and said. Of course we do not
have that information on anyone, not even on modern figures. In fact, the
French are right in saying: "What a solitude is the heart of man." And the
ancient oracle of Delphi advised: Gnothi sauton: get to know yourself.
Descending to a less demanding picture he said that for many modern persons
the abundance of empirical data makes it possible to get a "reasonably
complete" picture. Then he adds, thirdly, that for some a few great ancient
figures, such as Cicero and Caesar, we might get that reasonably complete
portrait. But the fourth level is that in which we lack sufficient sources
to make even a reasonably complete portrait. He gives as examples of those
for whom this is not possible Thales or Apollonius of Tyana, and says our
knowledge of Jesus belongs on this same fourth very low level.
The comparison is very bad. First, we know hardly anything about Thales, the
earliest of the Ionian philosophers who sought to know the world stuff.
Thales, according to reports from Aristotle (Meta 1. 3. 5) thought the world
stuff was water. Herodotus added that Thales proposed a federation of all
Ionian states, with capital at Teos. So, our knowledge of Thales is scant
indeed. Yet, even though the quote from Thales is obtainable only through
another person, Aristotle, we have no reason to doubt its basic accuracy.
Aristotle was a careful scholar.
What about Apollonius of Tyana? He is a favorite with irresponsible critics.
Randel Helms - not a Scripture scholar but an English professor-- in his
book, Gospel Fictions (Prometheus Books) says the genre of the Gospels is
fiction, and after giving us a description of a person who at first seems to
be the same as Jesus, springs his surprise: That is Apollonius, not Jesus.
The conclusion is that Jesus is not at all special.
Helm's work is shoddy to put it mildly. For Apollonius we have only one
source, Philostratus, writing around 210 AD, while Apollonius died -- if
indeed he died, for the accounts are confused -- about 97 AD. If one really
reads Philostratus, the similarities vanish into thin air. Apollonius is
only a Pythagorean philosopher, not one who said he was sent by God to bring
eternal salvation by His suffering. Proteus appeared to the pregnant mother
of Apollonius, making it seem Apollonius is a reincarnation of Proteus. The
matter in the account is often fatuous. There is a discussion on the
intelligence and breeds of elephants. In India, Apollonius saw dragons about
60 feet long, whose eyes contained mystic gems, which if hollowed out would
hold enough drink for four men. He also saw robot tripods that served meals.
He sought the source of the Nile, and found it in a place of giant geysers,
and feared permanent deafness from the roar - so far is Apollonius from
having supernatural power. He never works a miracle in a framework which has
a connection between the wonder and a claim of Apollonius. And his miracles
are not impressive. He found a satyr who was annoying women, quieted the
satyr with wine - not with a command of power. He met a woman whose son was
possessed by the ghost of a man who fell in battle. The man had been
attached to his wife, so that he became angry when she married three days
after his death. Then he became disgusted with women, and, after his own
death, turned homosexual over the 16 year old boy he was possessing. Again,
Apollonius did not by supernatural power expel the demon. He just gave the
woman a letter with threats to the ghost.
No one who has really read Philostratus would confuse Apollonius with Jesus.
Only an irresponsible scholar - if that name is proper for him - would make
such a claim.
So Meier is playing foul when he says our knowledge of Jesus is on so low a
But we need to explore in detail, for Meier's relentless work will give us a
key to what we are searching for.
First of all, we should not just give up in the search for the truth about
Jesus, and say that "Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction" as did
Cardinal Ratzinger in 1988 and that it will take a whole generation to find
out how to do Scripture study so as to mesh with dogmatic teachings? We can
do better than that, and right now.
Nor do we need to know everything Jesus thought, felt experienced did and
said to accomplish our goal, namely to show the teaching commission of the
Church. We will see much less is required for that basic fact.
Meier starts with the Gospels, after saying that is hardly any information
about Jesus elsewhere. He says he will start with Mark, which he considers
the earliest Gospel. But here Meier is too loose. The consensus that Mark
wrote first is being shaken considerably today. H. F. D. Sparks, in a study
on the Semitisms of Luke (JST 44, 1943, p. 130 says Luke is noted for
"continual rephrasing of St. Mark to add Semitisms". Zerwick (Graecitas
Biblica, Rome 1960) has shown that Luke often uses an Aramaic pattern, the
verb to be plus participle instead of an imperfect indicative. Luke has 50%
of all instances of this in the NT. And where Mark does have this structure,
Luke normally does not have it, but does have it in parallel passages where
Mark does not have it. My own research (JSNT July 1982) on Apodotic kai
shows that this strongly Semitic structure is special to Luke, not found in
the parallels of Mark.
We too will start with the Gospels, but it is important to notice that we
will not look on them as sacred or inspired: that is still to be proved
later on. So, we can avoid a vicious circle on this point.
Meier next goes on to imply that since Jesus died in 30 and Mark wrote 40
years later, how could Mark get at the facts? Still more hopeless would be
Matthew and Luke, who wrote later in the century, probably between 80 and
90, according to many leftist critics, even though they cannot explain how
Matthew, with his penchant for showing fulfillment of prophecies, would pass
up pointing at the fulfillment of the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. And
it is equally foolish to say Luke must have written after 70 AD, on the
grounds that he writes so vividly as to report that Jesus foretold that an
army would surround Jerusalem. In ancient sieges armies always surrounded
the besieged city.
But even if we were to grant Meier's unproved late dates, we can still show
where the Evangelists could get the facts about Jesus. First of all, Pope
St. Clement I, who was probably elected about 88 or 92, wrote to Corinth
around 95 AD. In this letter he says that Peter and Paul were of his own
generation. Now if we recall that Peter and Paul died about 66 or 67, we see
the gap between that and the letter of Clement is so small that most likely
Clement heard Peter and Paul preach in person. Or at least, there would be
many in Rome who had heard them at Clement's time.
Or we think of St. Ignatius the lionburger. He was shipped to Rome to be
eaten alive by the animals. He was, around 107-110 AD. He was Bishop of
Antioch not long after Peter. Data on Christ would be plentiful in Antioch.
And Paul returned there after nearly every expedition. We have seven letters
of Ignatius written on the way to Rome, filled with data on Christianity. In
the one to the Romans, he tells them that in case some of them might have
influence with the authorities, and could get him off, he asks them not to
do it. He wants to die for Christ. Now Meier insists at least 16 times that
the first Christian community was "creative" as he called it. Though Meier
is meticulous in demanding tight proof about almost everything else, on this
point he offers not one shred of proof any of the 16 times. Suppose we take
a copy of that letter of Ignatius to the zoo, and read it by the lions'
cage, and ask how much such a man is apt to just make up out of nothing.
Or how about Quadratus, the first Greek apologist, writing around 123. He
tells us that in his day, there were still persons alive who had been cured
by Christ, or raised from the dead by Him. We need not push that time as
late as 123, but it surely would mean such persons were alive in the period
80-90, when Matthew and Luke are supposed to have written. And if a man is
repaired by His Maker, he should last quite a while!
And even if we had none of these, we should not forget that teenagers at the
time of the death of Jesus would be 65 by 80 AD, when Matthew and Luke began
to write. Yes, not so many lived to age 60 then as now, but enough did, for
example Zachary and Elizabeth or Simeon and Anna.
So there were ready sources for the Evangelists to use.
What about the claim that it is absurd to hope for objectivity? It is true
that very often we do have a good bit of subjectivity. But not always. When
a leper stood before Jesus asking to be healed, and Jesus said: "I will it.
Be healed". The structure of the event is so simple there is really no room
for subjectivity to enter into the telling of it. So if we could build our
case for the teaching commission of the Church on incidents of that type --
and we can -- we will have a solid means of proving that Jesus, who
according to charges lacked our sophistication and was only marginal, really
did found a church and did commission it to teach.
Before going ahead, we pause to notice that we really do not have to know
the names of the Evangelists. It is enough to know three things: they were
concerned to get the facts about Jesus. That is evident, for they knew their
eternity depended on the truth about Him. Secondly, they had many a source,
even if none of the Evangelists might be an eyewitness, as is claimed. And
finally, they could report at least some things without subjective
All this adds up to the conclusion that we can get from the Gospels, looked
on as merely ancient documents, a few facts of such simple structure that
there is no room for subjectivity in retelling them.
Now we need, and will find, just six things of very simple structure. First,
there was a man named Jesus. Even the first class pagan historian Tacitus
testifies that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate in the reign of
Tiberius. Second, He claimed He was sent from God. We do not use the word
prophet, for that word in Scripture has more than one meaning, is complex.
But someone sent -that is intelligible in any culture. Third, He did enough
to prove He was sent, by miracles. But not just any miracle. It needs to be
one with a tie between the miracle and the claim, such as in the case of the
paralytic let down through the roof. Jesus says: Sins are forgiven. Scribes
growl interiorly. He calls them on it: What is easier to say? Sins are
forgiven, or take your bed and go? He clearly means: If I say sins are
forgiven, you cannot check that. But you can see if he takes up his bed and
goes. So He did one to prove He did the other. At this point if those of a
rationalistic bent deny all miracles, we can quote some current ongoing
cases, such as the host of Lanciano, or the tilma of Guadalupe or Lourdes.
In many of the miracles of Lourdes, such as the cure of organic blindness in
Madame Bire in 1908 happened precisely when the Blessed Sacrament passed. If
there is no Real Presence in it, how could it cure? -- incidentally, the
Church has approved only a bit over 60 out of the thousands reported there.
Crossan, Mack and the Jesus Seminar seem to think Jesus worked no miracles.
But in His own day, even His enemies admitted He did work them: they merely
attributed them to the devil or to magic. Further, if Jesus did no miracles,
of course Paul and the other Apostles did none. How then could Paul and the
others convert even sophisticated Greeks to a demanding and difficult
doctrine, with no support at all other than his own empty word. To do that
would be a sort of miracle indeed! And how could the Apostles have been
converted to give their lives for an illiterate man who did no miracles,
died in disgrace, and never rose?
The NJBC foolishly claims, on p. 1371 that Jesus consistently refused to
work a miracle to support His claims. Then they give a list of 5 passages.
If one reads them, the picture is incredible. He refused to work a miracle
to amuse Herod, refused to come down from the cross. On the contrary He so
often did appeal to miracles: e.g., Mk 5:21-43; Mt 8:5-13; Mt 9:27-29; John
The fourth and fifth items are just what anyone would expect, namely, in the
crowds, He had a smaller group to whom He spoke more, and told them to
continue His teaching. Finally, once we know from the foregoing what sort of
personage He is, with such a commission from God, and such powers, it is
hardly surprising if both the Gospels and those whom He sent to teach tell
us He also said: "He who hears you hears me". Actually He said basically the
same more than once.
Should we listen to Protestants (e.g., Expositor's Bible Commentary,
Zondervan) who say this mean merely that all Christians, not just the
authorities, should go and preach justification by faith, and that will be
hearing Christ, and will forgive sins? The folly is incredible. First,
Luther's notion was intellectually bankrupt. He did not know what
justification means, thought it was merely extrinsic, a declaration of not
guilty, leaving he soul totally corrupt - even though 2 Pet 1. 4 says we
share in the divine nature, and 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19 say we are temples of
the Holy Spirit, who is not apt to dwell in total corruption. Much worse was
his mistake on the word faith, not knowing it includes obedience (Rom :5) he
said if we have faith we can disobey all commandments.
What do we have once we have worked our way to this point? We see before us
a group, or a church, commissioned to teach by a messenger sent from God,
and promised protection on their teaching. Then we have a bypass around the
criteria of John P. Meir, Bultmann and others, as well as Crossan, Mack and
the Jesus Seminar.
We need only these 6 very simple things, all of them obvious, to show the
teaching commission of the Church. We can then ask the Church: "What about
the ancient documents we used. Are they inspired? Yes. Is the messenger
divine? Yes -- this is easier than fighting our way through numerous NT
texts, as they did in the days of Arianism, with little result for nearly 75
years. We can ask too: Is there a Pope? Yes. What power does he have? They
can tell us.
So we can then, logically follow the principles given us by Dei Verbum ##
11-12. In #11: "Holy Mother Church holds as sacred and canonical the
complete books of Old and New Testament, with all their parts, because,
being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as
their author, and as such have been handed on to the Church... . Since,
then, everything that the inspired authors assert is asserted by the Holy
Spirit, for this reason, the Scriptures are to be confessed as teaching
firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God for our salvation
willed to have consigned to the sacred writings."
We comment: First, the NJBC is shockingly wrong. It looks at the clause we
have underlined, and insists it is a restrictive clause, so that only things
needed for salvation are free of error.
But the council itself added five footnotes to DV #11 referring us back to
earlier documents of the Magisterium especially to the statement of Vatican
I that the Scriptures have God as their Author. Pius XII, In Divino afflante
Spiritu (EB 538), said that that text of Vatican I was a solemn definition.
Could we then suppose Vatican II contradicted a solemn definition? And did
it precisely while referring us back to that definition! And in fact, DV #11
actually quoted that text of Vatican I, and in the note identified it as
from Vatican I.
We note too that whatever is asserted by the inspired author is asserted by
the Holy Spirit. We recognize that word, of course. Not everything in a text
is asserted by the author, e. g, in a modern historical novel the writer
asserts the main line is historical and also the background descriptions. He
does not assert that some fictional fill-ins, such as long conversations
between Lincoln and Grant, are historical. So if we hold to the line given
us by the Council, we will easily solve numerous difficulties, which some
ignorant scholars call errors.
The leftists love to point out that Cardinal Koenig, on Oct 2, 1964, rose in
the Council and announced there were many errors in Scripture, and read off
a list of some of them. Of course he was wrong. Any competent Scripture
scholar could easily answer his objections. Yet the leftists prefer to
believe him, though they know well enough what techniques are needed to
answer such folly. I answered all of them in my book, Free From All Error.
In DV #12 we read: " But since Scripture is to be read and interpreted by
the same Spirit by which it was written, to understand rightly one must look
not less diligently to the content and unity of all of Scripture,
considering the living Tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of
So we may and even should note the differences in scope and slant of each
Evangelist. But we must not at all suppose one Evangelist contradicts
another. God Himself is the Author of all parts of Scripture. So we cannot
do what Wilfred Harrington did, in his commentary on Mark published by
Glazier. In studying the passage of Mk 3:20-35 he concluded that Our Lady
was "outside the sphere of salvation." That is, on the road to hell. Really,
it would be better to suppose someone else is outside the sphere of
salvation, for refusing to obey the divine words: "He who hears you, hears
me". Luke presents her as the first believer. Hence LG #56 says that already
at the annunciation, she, "held back by no sin, totally dedicated herself to
the person and work of her Son." Without that there would have been no
sphere of salvation to be outside of. Form and Redaction criticism show us
that often a pericope is made up of more than one originally separate units
, so the three units in Mk 3:20-35 may be such. And even if Our Lady was
included in the first segment, she could have gone along not out of
disbelief, of course, but to try to hold down those faithless ones! Even
ordinary mothers often stand up for sons who are clearly guilty. Harrington
would make her less than an ordinary mother, as well as on the road to
Martin Luther, and Calvin, archheretics, believed in the perpetual virginity
of Our Lady. Yet many today, including Meier, argue against it. A chief
argument of theirs comes from the use of the word " brother" in the NT for
brothers of Jesus. They admit that in Hebrew the word ah can be very broad,
since Hebrew lacked most words for kinds of relationships. But then they
add: "However the NT is written in Greek. Greek does have words for cousins
etc. So when we meet adelphos in the NT it must mean blood brother". But
they forget something. The speech habits from one's native language may be
very persistent even in a second language. Thus St. Paul in 1 Cor 1:17 says:
"Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach." Should we ask: "Why did
he then disobey by baptizing?" No, for Hebrew and Aramaic both lack the
degrees of comparison. We would say more for the one than for the other. But
instead Hebrew and Aramaic say it as Paul did. Another example: Paul always
uses Greek polloi, as a noun, to mean all, even though in normal Greek it
means only many. Behind it is the Hebrew rabbim, a strange word, first
attested in Isaiah 53. It means the all who are many. If we did not
recognize this, we might think that Romans 5:19 means original sin comes
only to many, not to all. Again, Paul often uses the work know in the sense
of Hebrew yada, not in the English sense. And holy has not the English
sense, but the sense of Hebrew qadosh.
Still further, on the cross Jesus asked John to take care of His Mother. How
strange, if he had 4 younger brothers (He was firstborn) plus at least two
sisters!. We know at least one of them James, called the "brother of the
Lord" was alive at the council of Jerusalem in 49 AD. Again, a strong
rabbinic tradition, beginning with Philo, said Moses, after his first
encounter with God, never again had sex with his wife: What of Our Lady,
with a 9 months encounter! Or Joseph, who knew Jesus was conceived
virginally - for he himself had not done it!
Finally, we should not be afraid of the new techniques, not even of Form and
Redaction criticism. Too many today seem to consider them something arcane,
which only a few specialists can understand. We have seen too many cases
already of dullness on the part of the same specialists. But here is a fine
present we can have from Form and Redaction Criticism. As we know, it says
rightly that the Gospels originated in three stages: 1)the words and acts of
Jesus, with words adapted to the current audience; 2)The way the Apostles
and others of their time reported what Jesus did and said. Again, we must
realize that they too, quite properly, at times would adapt the wording to
the current audience; 3)some individuals in the Church, under inspiration,
wrote down some part of this basic teaching. That became the Gospels. So if
we understand this, we see that the Church has something more basic than the
Gospels, namely, her own ongoing teaching. Of course, Meier and others like
him seldom if ever mention the Apostles in stage 2, and instead say the
primitive community was creative, just made things up. We answered that
above, and saw how vain it is, especially with the help of the letters of
St. Ignatius of Antioch read by the lions' den.
So we can and should trust that ongoing teaching, from the body commissioned
to teach by a one sent from God, and with a promise of God's protection. If
then we take into account the living Tradition of the Church as DV # 12
says, and the analogy of faith, we shall stay within the field of salvation,
and draw endless nourishment from the inspired writings.
Appendix: Confusion of Later Prophets with Jesus?
Objection: Bultmann (HST, 127 ff) argued : "The Church drew no distinction
between such utterances by Christian prophets... and the sayings of Jesus in
Support for that objection comes from :1)There were prophets in the early
community. 2)History of Religions shows I sayings where the I was the Lord
of the cult. Cf. Od. Sol. 42:6. 3)Relative lack of interest in the earthly
life of Jesus in the kerygma in Acts and in Paul. 4)Some texts are cited as
Scripture texts we cannot find in any known OT texts. . 5)Mt 18:20: "Where
two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them."
Reply: The most basic and sufficient reply is this: There is no room for
such enthusiastic prophets as the source of the 6 points we have used in
1)Wherever we look we find the distinctive character of prophecies are noted
as words of a prophet. In the OT no book names God as the author: if there
were no human author named, it would not be accepted.
2)Wherever Luke quotes a prophetic utterance he always names the prophets:
11:27; 13:1ff; 21:9ff.
3)On Apoc 1:1 we have "the revelation of Jesus to his servant John". So a
distinction was kept. And the revelations said to be from the exalted Christ
are clearly kept distinct from those of the earthly Christ.
4)Paul in 1 Cor 7:10, 25, 40 distinguishes what comes from Jesus' tradition
and his own views even though he considers his own opinion as inspired:
5)When the Gnostic Gospels claim Jesus as author of a saying it is clearly
attributed to the exalted Jesus, not to the
6)In Judaism there was great care taken to pass on authoritative tradition
and to identify the source, a human Rabbi.
7)At Qumran there was keen awareness that a false spirit could be present: 1
QS 3:18-4:26; CD 8:1ff. The spirit of a member of the community was to be
checked not only on entrance, but every year: 1QS 5:20-24.
8)Mt 7:15 ff warns against false prophets. Acts 13:6 tells of a false
prophet Elymas in Cyprus and Acts 8 has Simon Magus.
9) 1 Cor 14:29 gives rules for judging prophets in the community. Also 1 Ths
5:19-22 tells them to check every spirit and keep only what is good.
10)1 John 4:1 tells them to not believe every spirit.
11)The Didache gives detailed rules for judging prophets in 11:7;12:1.
12)Hermas in Mandate 11:7 and 11:16 is warned about false prophets.
13)Gal 1:8 says even if an angel came down with a different Gospel, the
angel is to be cursed.