SCRIPTURE FULL OF ERRORS?
By Father William Most
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 now 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
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
fairytale, 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 grace.
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 which means love, obey as well as know.
Again, Paul often uses Greek to mean not our sense of
justice, but the Hebrew sense of , the virtue that gets us
to do all that morality requires.
Vatican II wrote, in #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 ."
We note the Council says whatever the human writer asserts is
asserted by the Holy Spirit. We just saw that word 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 said
that these words of Vatican I are a . So the
foolish commentators think Vatican II is contradicting a solemn
Wm. G. Most, (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 working.
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 of Jerusalem.