Vatican II and the Inerrancy of the Bible

Oct 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This is a guest post by Jeffrey Pinyan. Jeffrey is the seventh of eight children and a life-long Catholic. A graduate of the Computer Science program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, he works in the Princeton area as a software developer for an Internet investigation company. In 2007 he experienced a reawakening of his faith, resulting in a deeper love of Scripture and the liturgy. He put his programming expertise to work for his faith, resulting in a USCCB-approved online search engine of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is now the author of a series on the new English translation of the Roman Missal, entitled Praying the Mass. The Prayers of the People was published in September 2009 and The Prayers of the Priest will go to print this November, with a third volume, The Eucharistic Prayers, due out in the summer of 2011.

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew
Caravaggio (1602)
San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

The Claim
In the October 2010 issue of Ordained Servant Online, an organ of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, an article by Danny E. Olinger titled “A Primer on Vatican II” presented the Orthodox Presbyterian understanding of the four constitutions promulgated by the Second Vatican Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, and Gaudium et Spes.

Olinger begins his article by calling attention to an article written by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in First Things two years earlier in which Fr. Neuhaus reviewed two books offering competing viewpoints on the Council: What Happened at Vatican II by John O’Malley, and Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering. O’Malley’s argument — which Neuhaus summarized as proposing that Vatican II constituted “a radical break from tradition” and “proposed … a different Catholicism” — is the one accepted by Olinger; he ends his article by stating that “Rather than bringing Rome closer to a biblically-based Christianity, Vatican II has moved it further away.” If this is true, then communion with the Catholic Church is less desirable than ever for Evangelical and Reformed Protestants.

The most distressing change, according to Olinger, is not in the Catholic Church’s liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) nor her ecclesiology (Lumen Gentium) nor her relation to the world (Gaudium et Spes). Instead, it is the perceived change in the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Olinger begins his commentary on Dei Verbum, the constitution on divine revelation, by stating matter-of-factly that “Dei Verbum represented a break with Catholic past regarding the doctrine of revelation.” By his interpretation of the constitution, the Catholic Church no longer believes that revelation is “propositional truth” — that is, “information about God” — but is rather “an inspired testimony to the living Word of God (Jesus).” This change means that the Church “no longer need[s] to protect the Bible from accusations of historical and scientific error.”1 Olinger claims that paragraph 11 of Dei Verbum declares that the inerrancy of inspired Scripture “only concerns the religious message and not the historical information conveyed by its human authors.” (emphasis added)

The Traditional Doctrine
Olinger’s claim, that the Catholic Church has abandoned the traditional doctrine of the total inerrancy of Scripture, is not based on the Council’s documents, but on a faulty interpretation of them. This interpretation belongs to the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” a way of reading the Second Vatican Council as a break from tradition and a rupture with the Church’s history.2 This faulty interpretation, based on a selective reading of the Council’s documents out of the context of the Church’s Tradition, is countered by the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in continuity with Sacred Tradition.3

Before we consider the text of the Council which Olinger believes deviates from the traditional doctrine of inerrancy, we should briefly survey previous documents from the Church Fathers and Magisterium. These quotations clearly and plainly state the traditional and constant teaching of the Church: the entirety of the Sacred Scriptures, as written by their original authors, is inspired by God (thus making Him its primary author) and completely inerrant.

St. Augustine, c. 400

It is also frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture. […] But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation. (De Genesi ad Litteram II, 9, 20)

From this first quotation we can draw two important conclusions: first, according to St. Augustine the Holy Spirit did not wish to teach things that “would be of no avail for [our] salvation” such as the “form and shape of heaven,” and second, that whatever the Holy Spirit teaches (through the sacred writers, for example) is taught for our salvation. Elsewhere he writes:

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. (Letter 82 [to St. Jerome], 3)

St. Thomas Aquinas, 1256-1259

We believe the prophets only in so far as they are inspired by the spirit of prophecy. But we have to give belief to those things written in the books of the prophets even though they treat of conclusions of scientific knowledge, as in Psalms (135:6): “Who established the earth above the waters,” and whatever else there is of this sort. Therefore, the spirit of prophecy inspires the prophets even about conclusions of the sciences. (Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, A. 2, C)

Pope Clement VI, 1351

In the fourteenth place, if you have believed and now believe that the New and Old Testaments in all their books, which the authority of the Roman Church has given to us, contain undoubted truth in all things [veritatem indubiam per omnia]. (Super quibusdam: Denz. 570q [English], 1065 [Latin])

Pope Leo XIII, 1893

[I]t is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it — this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. […] Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write — He was so present to them — that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. […] 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. (Providentissimus Deus 20-21)

Pope Benedict XV, 1920

[Pope Leo XIII taught] that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: “It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.” Those, too, who hold that the historical portions of Scripture do not rest on the absolute truth of the facts but merely upon what they are pleased to term their relative truth, namely, what people then commonly thought, are — no less than are the aforementioned critics — out of harmony with the Church’s teaching, which is endorsed by the testimony of Jerome and other Fathers. (Spiritus Paraclitus 21-22)

Ven. Pope Pius XII, 1943

[When] some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the “entire books with all their parts” as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as “obiter dicta” and — as they contended — in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules. (Divino Afflante Spiritu 1)

Ven. Pope Pius XII, 1950

[A] number of things are proposed or suggested by some even against the divine authorship of Sacred Scripture. For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council’s definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they 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. (Humani Generis 22)

The Paragraph in Question: Dei Verbum 11
So then, what did the Second Vatican Council pronounce that has led Olinger to claim that the Catholic Church has changed her doctrine on the inerrancy of Scripture? You will not find it quoted or directly referred to in his article, nor even relegated to a footnote. The paragraph in question, Dei Verbum 11, reads as follows in the most widely available English translation, found on the Vatican web site (emphasis added):

Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

The footnotes for paragraph 11 direct the reader to St. Augustine’s De Genesi ad litteram and his Letter 82 to St. Jerome, and to St. Thomas’s Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, and to the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Ven. Pius XII; all of these sources, which are quoted above, affirm the complete inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. Why, then, would Olinger claim the Council has abandoned this traditional doctrine?

The reason is that numerous Catholic theologians and biblical scholars came to the same erroneous conclusion based on an impartial and incorrect interpretation of paragraph 11 of Dei Verbum. Exemplifying the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” they read the paragraph in isolation from the nineteen hundred years of tradition preceding it (as well as the rest of the document itself), and interpreted it to mean that “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error only that truth pertaining to salvation which God wanted put into sacred writings.” The false interpretation — which can be described as “limited inerrancy” — is that there are parts of Scripture that do not pertain to our salvation, and that there could be errors in those parts in matters of history and science. Only the doctrinal and moral truths in the Scriptures are taught “solidly, faithfully and without error.”

This problem of misinterpretation is not exclusive to laity and priests. The instrumentum laboris (“working document”) of the recent XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” included the following troubling excerpt:

In summary, the following can be said with certainty: […] with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” (15c)

While the “working document” is not an official teaching document, and thus carries no magisterial weight whatsoever, it is distressing to see such a misconception of the Church’s doctrine on inerrancy in a document related to a Synod on the Word of God.4 However, even when individual members of the Church call into question a certain doctrine, we as Catholics can know that the Church will perpetually and faithfully maintain and hand on the faith in its fullness. The doubt of St. Thomas did not negate the veracity of the Apostles’ testimony of the risen Christ.

The Potential Repercussions
If limited inerrancy were true, it would have a disastrous implication: that God inspired all of Scripture but only kept part of it free from error, that part which pertains to salvation. This would require an (infallible) arbiter who could determine which parts of Scripture pertain to salvation and which parts do not. Logically, any part of the Bible determined to contain an error could not pertain to salvation, so if some “experts” determined that the Apostles did not actually see the risen Christ with a resurrected, glorified body — a body capable of passing through walls and also of eating fish! — those passages of Scripture would be deemed errant and thus not pertinent to salvation. That would result in a radical redefinition of our doctrine on the Resurrection; such a redefinition has already been advanced by certain theologians who consider the Resurrection a “shared experience” rather than an historical and transcendent event as the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it.5

Scripture is hard enough to understand as it is. (cf. Acts 8:30ff; 2 Peter 3:16) But limited inerrancy would also mean that God made it deliberately hard for us to believe in His Word as recorded in Scripture. People would wonder if the doctrinal content of Scripture (that is, that which pertains to salvation) is really inspired and inerrant if the non-doctrinal content is inspired but errant. This would inevitably lead to a continually changing faith (decreasing in content, no doubt) over time.

Dei Verbum 11 states that the human authors of Scripture wrote “everything and only those things which [God] wanted,” and that “everything asserted by [them] must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit.” If limited inerrancy were true, that would mean that God deliberately willed the human authors to write things that are not true: it “make[s] God the author of […] error,” a scenario explicitly condemned by Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus 21. It would mean that, in the writing of Scripture, God’s word is not necessarily truth, and that the Holy Spirit asserts untruths through the human authors of Scripture. On the contrary, Jesus says that His Father’s words “are truth” (John 17:17) and that the Holy Spirit — the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17) — would “guide [the Apostles] into all the truth” (John 16:13). The Catholic Church does not believe that God teaches and instructs His people with untruths and lies.

Restoring Context
The “limited inerrancy” interpretation is produced by isolating the words “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” This error can be corrected simply by restoring these words to their context, taking into account these statements in the very same paragraph:

In composing the sacred books, God chose men [so that] they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit […]

[A]ll Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error […]”

When all four statements are read together, it is clear that the Council is saying that the sacred authors wrote only what God wanted them to write, that everything they wrote was inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus attributed to God, and that everything they wrote was written for the sake of salvation. The phrase “for the sake of our salvation” is not a restrictive clause which separates the “truth” in Scripture from the rest of its contents. On the contrary, it affirms for us that what is taught in Scripture is the truth, and it is taught for our salvation.

In a 1998 doctrinal commentary on the Oath of Fidelity (Professio Fidei), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) included the belief in “the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts” — without qualification — as belonging to the divinely and formally revealed articles of the Catholic faith. Since the whole of Scripture is inspired (as taught by Vatican II), the absence of error “in the inspired sacred texts” means that the whole of Scripture is without error. The CDF commentary cites Dei Verbum 11 in support of this belief in the absence of error in Scripture. This is the most clear post-conciliar indicator that Dei Verbum teaches the traditional doctrine of inerrancy, and it is a magisterial affirmation of the “hermeneutic of continuity,” rather than the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” as the proper approach to the Second Vatican Council.

Lost in Translation
There is another way to refute the misinterpretation of Dei Verbum 11, as demonstrated by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.P., in his masterful defense of the document and the traditional doctrine of inerrancy. His article “Does Vatican Council II Allow for Errors in Sacred Scripture?” from a 2009 issue of the Roman theological journal Divinitas6 calls into question the English translation of the original Latin text of the constitution; the latter reads:

Cum ergo omne id, quod auctores inspirati seu hagiographi asserunt, retineri debeat assertum a Spiritu Sancto, inde Scripturæ libri veritatem, quam Deus nostræ salutis causa Litteris Sacris consignari voluit, firmiter, fideliter et sine errore docere profitendi sunt.

Fr. Harrison notes that the word veritatem (‘truth’) is mistranslated as “that truth,” which would only be a proper rendering of “eam veritatem” or “illam veritatem.” Instead, the word ‘veritatem’ should be translated with the definitive article: “the truth.” He argues that

Gratuitously adding this demonstrative adjective [‘that’] reinforces the false impression that the Council is singling out a certain restricted species of biblical truth — a certain subset of the set of all biblical truths — as the “only” one guaranteed to be free from any admixture of error.

One can see from the Latin text that the popular English translation does not respect the punctuation of the Latin either: “veritatem, quam Deus” should be translated as “the truth, which God” rather than “that truth which God.”7 Fr. Harrison provides a more accurate translation of the entire sentence which removes any ambiguity:

Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors or hagiographers affirm must be held as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must in consequence acknowledge that, by means of the books of Scripture, the truth that God, for the sake of our salvation, wanted recorded in the form of the Sacred Writings is taught firmly, faithfully, and without error.

Abbot Denis Farkasfalvy, O. Cist., a contributor to Lamb and Levering’s Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition, voiced the same concern as Fr. Harrison in his essay “Inspiration and Interpretation” (pp. 77-99), that “in some ambiguous translations and intepretations, Dei Verbum misleadingly appears to teach that inerrancy covers only those statements that regard our salvation.” (p. 87)8

Setting the Record Straight
The “Jesus of history” is not different from the “Jesus of faith,” as Pope Benedict XVI argues in the introduction of his non-magisterial book Jesus of Nazareth. Given the analogy between the enfleshed Word of God and the written Word of God, it follows that the history set forth in the Bible is not a “history of faith” to be distinguished from some “actual” history. For the perfection of the written Word can be argued from the perfection of the incarnate Word. This argument was, in fact, put forward by the Second Vatican Council:

For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men. (Dei Verbum 13)

We know from Scripture that the Word “had to be made like his brethren in every respect.” (Hebrews 2:17) But the same sacred author then clarifies himself, that Jesus, throughout His temptations, remained “without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) So too the Word of God in written form is without flaw. In fact, Dei Verbum was only paraphrasing Ven. Pope Pius XII:

For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, “except sin,” so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error. (Divino Afflante Spiritu, 37)

Since the Council Fathers could not possibly be suggesting that the Word-made-flesh was not without sin, we should believe that they were simply echoing — regrettably without a reference to Hebrews 4 or Divino Afflante Spiritu, but echoing nonetheless — a previous magisterial statement, not changing it.

One of the aims of the Second Vatican Council was “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 1) To have deviated from the traditional doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, and so lose such precious common ground between Reformed and Catholic Christians, would have been contrary to the Council’s intentions. It should now be clear that the Second Vatican Council did not deviate from the traditional teaching of the Church on the inerrancy of the whole of Sacred Scripture. We should adopt for ourselves the rule of St. Augustine, that Scripture is inerrant, although how it is so may not always be readily apparent to us. As he says in one place,

“[I]f in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript9 is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.” (Letter 82, 3)

  1. Olinger’s footnote for this claim: “The whole Bible is without error — but with an eye to salvation, not with an eye to historical or scientific accuracy.” (Edward Hahnenberg, A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II (Cincinnati: St. Anthony’s Press), 32-33) []
  2. See Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia. []
  3. The “hermeneutic of reform” has also been explicitly called a “hermeneutic of continuity.” See Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, footnote 6. []
  4. The final product of the Synod is the list of “propositions” for the Holy Father to consider and address in another Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Proposition 12 reads: “The Synod proposes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarify the concepts of inspiration and truth of the Bible, as well as their reciprocal relationship, in order to understand better the teaching of Dei Verbum 11. In particular, it is necessary to highlight the originality of the Catholic biblical hermeneutics in this field.” This proposition does not take any stand on the doctrine of inerrancy, unlike the “working document.” []
  5. cf. nn. 639-647 []
  6. Year LII, No. 3, pp. 279-304, reproduced at http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt145-6.html []
  7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the same popular English translation of Dei Verbum in paragraph 107. The normative text of the Catechism is the Latin, which matches the Latin text of ‘Dei Verbum.’ []
  8. It should be noted that, contrary to Olinger’s claim that the history of the formulation of Dei Verbum points to a victory for the progressivists in the Church, Farkasfalvy comes to the opposite conclusion, that the final wording “saved the document from ambiguity and possibly error as well. […] Moreover, since the phrase ‘sine errore’ was eventually reinserted into the text, ‘inerrancy’ in its traditional sense also returned.” (p. 87) []
  9. That is, the copy, not the original. []
Tags: , ,

54 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. This leads to some very serious questions for me personally. I think you’ve made a very persuasive case that the Catholic Church is committed to the total inerrancy of the Bible, and pointed out some serious practical problems for those who would hold to limited inerrancy.

    Inerrancy is a very difficult position to maintain, however. While Augustine’s attitude seems pious to some, it can seem like dishonesty and denial to others. Here are the main questions that arise for me from this article…

    1) If inerrancy is false, does that mean Catholicism is therefore false? And if limited inerrancy doesn’t work, does the falsehood of inerrancy constitute strong evidence against the truth of Christianity in general?
    2) I’m assuming that inerrancy applies to the original autographs. However, biblical scholarship as far as I’m aware has shown that certain parts of Scripture (the ending of Mark) are not in the original autographs. And yet, doesn’t the Catholic Church say that these are still truly inspired Scripture? So which copies are inspired or inerrant? If we say “the original autographs” we discount certain parts of Scripture that the Catholic Church has declared inspired, but I don’t know what other options there are.
    3) Does this mean that as long as I reject inerrancy, I cannot be in good standing/full communion with the Catholic Church? Does denying it amount to heresy?

  2. TDC,

    Isn’t the traditional Catholic teaching consistent with interpreting difficult passages in ways that make them true in one sense but not true in other (more obvious) ones?

    If so, then why does one need to reject inerrancy? Science, history, etc all fit in nicely with inerrant scripture as long as one can interpret difficult passages in ways that sound like — in the absence of extra-scriptural scientific or historical evidence — a “stretch.” Don’t the stretch interpretations make this conundrum quite solvable?

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  3. Jeffery,

    Thank you for this post. In fact, the Catholic Church puts forward perhaps the strongest formal affirmation of the complete inerrancy of scripture one can find within Christianity generally. This came as a surprise to me as it does many a convert from Protestantism.

    For others interested in this topic:

    There is another way to affirm Jeffery’s point regarding the correct interpretation of the contested clause in Dei Verbum. That is by referencing the commentary of Cardinal Bea, who was principally responsible for overseeing that potion of the document. Bea affirms that the traditional interpretation is what was intended by the Latin clause. Scott Hahn has a very in depth audio series which delves deeply into Dei Verbum, Cardinal Bea, and the micro details of this particular debate. He also fleshes out the rich, sophisticated, and naunced guidance to biblical interpretation offered by papal encyclicals such as Providentissimus Deus, Divino Afflante Spiritu and Humani Generis – the very same documents that Jeffery has used to show the Catholic Church’s strong position on inerrancy.

    The Church has not given an inch on inerrancy; while at the same time offering detailed philosophical and hermeneutical guidance to biblical scholars working within the context of a historical/higher-critical academic setting which has embraced metaphysical and exegetical presupositions for which a serious defense has never been given. It is absolutely crucial, before embracing whole cloth the ruminations of biblical scholars, to take a very hard look at the underlying philosophical (and therefore exegetical) POV which they are bringing to their work (often in a clandestine way since they never offer up these presuppositions in the preface to their works). As Cardinal Ratzinger once remarked (I paraphrase): those employing a historical- critical/higher-critical methodology have turned their tools to the evaluation of the biases and suppositions of every historical author but themselves. I believe the audio series is called “Can You Trust the Bible”.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  4. TDC, thank you for your questions. I’ll do my best to answer them, but I defer to the greater expertise of the regular contributors to CTC.

    To Question 1
    If any of the things the Catholic Church claims to be divinely revealed truth (such as the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture) is, in fact, false, then I think it would show that the Catholic Church is not what she claims to be. As for limited inerrancy, I think it ultimately leads to a minimalist interpretation of the Scriptures, with the “revealed faith” dwindling from one generation of “believers” to the next. Its end will be the consideration of the Bible to be a poorly written, poorly assembled morality tale that some people took too far. So yes, if inerrancy is false, limited inerrancy is a poor substitute, and I think Christianity and Temple Judaism lose their foundations as revealed religions.

    To Question 2
    From what I understand, inerrancy applies to the texts individually and as an assembled whole. I don’t think Moses wrote the verses in Deuteronomy describing his death and burial. (Deut. 34:5ff) There are parts of Scripture which, while describing an historical event, suddenly become very contemporary — just search for “to this day” and you’ll find dozens of examples. And certain parts of books are arranged thematically, such as the apparent anachronism in Exodus 16:33-34 concerning the manna and Ark (which did not exist in Exodus 16); I think I have done a satisfactory job of clearing up the confusion of that last one on my blog.

    All these instances, which could be called edits or redactions, are part of the inspired and inerrant corpus of Scripture, regardless of who actually wrote them or when they were written (in relation to the “original” writing).

    To Question 3
    As the 1998 commentary from the CDF says, the doctrine of inerrancy is “divinely revealed.” If you reject that doctrine, it would appear to me that you cannot consider yourself a “Catholic in good standing.” Ignorance is another matter, but — for better or for worse — we are beyond ignorance at this point.

    I think it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that it is important to hold the whole faith, because who denies one article of faith denies the whole faith as “faith” — it makes you the arbiter of the truth, instead of God and His Church to whom He has deposited that truth and through whom He wills it to be spread throughout the earth.

    I hope I have provided satisfactory answers to your questions.

    Benedicaris!

  5. TDC,

    A stab at a your questions:

    1) If inerrancy is false, does that mean Catholicism is therefore false?

    This requires clarification. IF the Catholic Church affirms in an infallible/non-reformable way (as she herself understands the requirements for such non-reformable definitions) that the entire canon is inerrant in all it parts (not only those dealing with faith and morals); then, yes, IF the canon could somehow be shown conclusively to be errant; I think that fact would undercut the Catholic Church’s authority claim and, hence, the central artery of Catholic ecclesiology and self understanding. But those are two big IF’s:

    IF number 1:
    I am not sure that “complete” inerrancy, as opposed to “limited” inerrancy has been technically “defined” in an infallible/non-reformbale way; though the encyclicals sited in the article, as well as Dei Verbum itself, affirm that complete inerrancy is the current teaching of the Church (and I think such teaching would be the grounds for a non-reformable definition in the direction of “complete” inerrancy, should the issue rise to a sufficient level of dispute within or without the Church). I am open to correction by Brian or others if my understanding of the Magisterial status of the doctrine of “complete” inerrancy is amiss.

    IF Number 2:
    If you have not read the entire contents of the encyclicals which Jeffery sites, I highly encourage you to do so. Jeffery only sited small portions of them (as makes sense given his purpose); but they were largely written in response to trends in modern scholarship. They may give you a feel for just how complex and nuanced the issue of correct interpretation of the author’s (both human and Divine) meaning and intent really are. When all the proper hermeneutical principals are employed and applied to the text, and when the errant philosophical presuppositions of many prominent scholars are purged from the methodology; the “obvious” errors and contradictions often said to exist within the text reduce substantially. This fact, combined with many archaeological discoveries over the last 100 years (which have affirmed the veracity of biblical accounts long thought to be spurious); gives one pause when it comes to making snap assertions about remaining difficulties. I am not at all convinced (as some are) that complete inerrancy is dishonest or a denial.

    And if limited inerrancy doesn’t work, does the falsehood of inerrancy constitute strong evidence against the truth of Christianity in general?

    Ex hypothesis, I am not convinced that “limited” inerrancy cannot work on a Catholic model.

    Here is something Jeremy said in his article:

    If limited inerrancy were true, it would have a disastrous implication: that God inspired all of Scripture but only kept part of it free from error, that part which pertains to salvation. This would require an (infallible) arbiter who could determine which parts of Scripture pertain to salvation and which parts do not. Logically, any part of the Bible determined to contain an error could not pertain to salvation, so if some “experts” determined that the Apostles did not actually see the risen Christ with a resurrected, glorified body . . . That would result in a radical redefinition of our doctrine on the Resurrection; such a redefinition has already been advanced by certain theologians who consider the Resurrection a “shared experience” rather than an historical and transcendent event as the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it.

    To take slight exception with Jeremy’s conclusions regarding “limited” inerrancy; the Catholic Church understands herself to be just the kind of authority which might, in theory, make the needed distinction. One could see the difference in interpretation between “some theologians” and the “catechism of the Catholic Church” as an example of just such an authoritative distinction-making event which might preserve the salvific efficacy of scripture. IN FACT, I think that the position of limited inerrancy is wrong BECAUSE the Church actually teaches complete inerrancy. I am just saying that “limited” inerrancy – on the face of it anyway – does not appear unworkable on a Catholic view of ecclesiology and doctrinal authority.

    However, if not only complete inerrancy, but also limited inerrancy, were shown to be false (I cannot see how limited inerrancy could ever really be shown false given the flex in the term “limited); then I think such a proof would destabilize or ruin all forms of Christianity (other than liberal Protestantism which has already gone this route and therefore has a very questionable claim to the title “Christian”); because all forms of Christianity affirm some level inerrancy for the canon of scripture. Even the Catholic Church, who holds to a strong (even supernatural) view of ecclesial authority, could not (in my estimation) entirely dispense with ALL notions of inerrancy without undermining her own authority claim, given past “authoritative” doctrinal teaching.

    2) I’m assuming that inerrancy applies to the original autographs. However, biblical scholarship as far as I’m aware has shown that certain parts of Scripture (the ending of Mark) are not in the original autographs. And yet, doesn’t the Catholic Church say that these are still truly inspired Scripture? So which copies are inspired or inerrant? If we say “the original autographs” we discount certain parts of Scripture that the Catholic Church has declared inspired, but I don’t know what other options there are.

    Assuming biblical scholarship has it correct about the ending of Mark being a later addition not written by Mark (I do not think this is a universal consensus BTW); that ending was “originally autographed” by someone. I do not think that a Catholic hermeneutical approach is tied down to exactly “who” the author was or the exact date that the original autograph was written. Her assessment of canonicity does not/did not stand or fall with either of these facts. Whoever wrote and whenever written, the ending of Mark had an “original” author and autograph.

    3) Does this mean that as long as I reject inerrancy, I cannot be in good standing/full communion with the Catholic Church? Does denying it amount to heresy?

    If you reject complete inerrancy, but not limited inerrancy, then you MAY still be in formal communion with the RCC, IF the doctrine of “complete” inerrancy is not proposed as non-reformable (see my disclaimer above). However, a Catholic should give assent of mind and will to the authoritative teaching of the Church, even if not yet “infallibly” defined. In this sense, I think such a rejection would represent an improper orientation to the Magisterium and its teaching – given the force of Jeffery’s argument regarding complete inerrancy.

    If you were to reject inerrancy altogether, I think you would indeed cease be in communion with Rome.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  6. Jeffrey / Bryan,

    oops soory for the name mispellings (Jeffery / Brian)

  7. K. Doran,

    I suppose that’s possible. I don’t want to hijack this into a thread about bible contradictions, so I’ll just stay general.

    At least for me, there comes a point when having to accept so many “stretch” interpretations begins to feel like sticking my head in the sand in the face of contrary evidence. Whether you agree or disagree, surely you can understand why some of us would feel that the more honest thing to do is accept some of these apparent contradictions at face value.

    To give some background for my questions… If you look at Christian apologetics today, you’ll quickly realize that very few are defending inerrancy as a necessary aspect of the Christian faith. You always hear them say something like, “I personally believe in inerrancy, but it is not required to be a Christian. Many Christians believe in a more nuanced form of inspiration.” In other words, Protestants have a back up plan. They generally accept inerrancy, but don’t need to worry because their faith can still be true even if inerrancy is false (at least, in their mind). This is very important for some because inerrancy is so difficult for them to affirm. They realize how difficult inerrancy is to defend. However, this article demolishes that escape route for Catholics, leaving us in a very uncomfortable position with no “back up plan”. Once inerrancy is an official teaching of the Church, the falsehood of inerrancy seems to lead to the falsehood of Catholicism.

    I do still hope someone will answer my questions in comment one.

  8. For Those Interested:

    Here is a brief listing of the highlights of the Hahn audio series I mentioned:

    Highlights Of This Series:

    How the skeptical methods of liberal Protestantism hijacked Catholic Biblical criticism

    The difference between the divine inspiration of the Bible and the divine assistance that is given to popes and Church councils

    Why the idea of “limited inerrancy” has been repeatedly rejected whenever the Church has considered it

    How the true teachings of recent Popes and Vatican II have been “hijacked” by liberal scholars

    Why top Protestant scholars are abandoning many so-called “scientific” methods of Biblical criticism

    The difference between modern methods of Scriptural research

    How Catholic confusion about Biblical inerrancy can be traced back to a deliberate misreading of Dei Verbum

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  9. @TDC October 11th, 2010 10:52 am

    Some alleged contradictions in Scripture are copyist errors. Pope Leo XIII allows for that possibility in Providentissimus Deus 20 “It is true, no doubt, that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible; this question, when it arises, should be carefully considered on its merits, and the fact not too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear.”

    One good example of this is 2 Sam. 21:19 vs. 1 Chr. 20:5. One says that Elhanan slew Goliath, the other says that Elhanan slew the brother of Goliath.

    “And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, slew Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (2 Sam. 21:19, RSV) [NB: the KJV glosses the brother of between “slew” and “Goliath”]

    “And there was again war with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (1 Chr. 20:5, RSV)

    Rather than posit that Elhanan was another name by which David was known, this Protestant web site which seeks to refute alleged contradictions in Scripture points out that the underlying Hebrew of these two verses indicates a copyist’s error in the existing text of 2 Sam. 21:19:

    1) a copyist first mistook the sign of the direct object before “Lahmi,” which was ‘-t, for a b-t and got Bethelehemite;
    2) the copyist also misread the word for “brother” (‘-h) as the sign of the direct object before “Goliath” and made “Goliath” the object of “killed” instead of “brother” as Chronicles does;
    3) the word “weavers” was also misplaced after “Elhanan” to make the name “son of the woods of weavers,” which is quite an unlikely name.

    The very next sentence from Pope Leo’s encyclical addresses another source of alleged contradictions: “It may also happen that the sense of a passage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity.” This would later be developed by Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu. Simply put, the literary genre of a text can help us determine if a perceived “error” is an artifact of the genre.

  10. Hey TDC,

    You said: “At least for me, there comes a point when having to accept so many “stretch” interpretations begins to feel like sticking my head in the sand in the face of contrary evidence. Whether you agree or disagree, surely you can understand why some of us would feel that the more honest thing to do is accept some of these apparent contradictions at face value. ”

    I guess much of it comes down to things such as the order of creation in Genesis 1. Are Catholics required to believe that the sun and the moon were created so late in the game? As far as I know, during the entire period in which the unbroken Catholic tradition attested the “inerrancy” of scripture, the idea that the sun and the moon were literally created after a bunch of other stuff which was really younger then them was created was not very popular. You can find a bazillion historical examples of Catholics in good standing saying things like: “well, here, Genesis is describing the creation of the ‘idea’ of the sun, not the sun itself, etc, etc.” And this was during the period in which Catholics supposedly uniformly believed in inerrancy. See Stanley Jaki’s excellent, short, and action-packed book on 2000 years of interpretations of Genesis 1 to see what I mean. The whole “no, I really mean inerrantly inerrant” thing doesn’t seem to arrive in a big way in his book until he covers the opinions of the Protestant reformers. It does not ever seem to have been required of Catholics.

    So, if that counts as legitimate bible interpretation among believers in “inerrancy” maybe we can remain honest while just admitting that there have been many people in Christian history whose views of the meaning of the word “inerrant” are different than our interpretation of that word today. They agreed with Augustine and the others quoted in Jeffrey’s article. And yet at the same time they wrote interpretations of Genesis as recorded in Stanley Jaki’s book. Thus, they must have meant “inerrant” in a different sense then we mean it today. And that different sense doesn’t require complicated explanations of how the sun was literally created out of order with the rest of creation. It admits interpretations that remove the difficulty of such acrobatics entirely.

    That’s how

  11. I agree with Bryan that, in making the following statement, Vatican II was restating the traditional and irreformable doctrine of complete biblical inerrancy (‘CBI’ for short):

    since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.

    At the same time, I share St. Augustine’s attitude. In fact, I am convinced that the apologetical defense of CBI should not usually depend on resolving alleged “contradictions” between the Bible and scientific discoveries or even, in some cases, within the Bible itself. It depends, rather, on developing a progressively greater understanding of what its various literary genres are, and are doing.

    A good example of the approach I’m talking about is Ratzinger’s In the Beginning. Instead of trying to reconcile the two creation accounts in Genesis with each other, or with modern science, as if they were both intended as science, he argues that the sacred writers were simply adapting pre-existing myths from the surrounding cultures so as to make certain theological points. He then expounds those points in an orthodox yet creative way. Another example would be what’s done by certain exegetes, patristic and modern, with the fact that the four canonical gospels contain chronologies and other accounts that are not entirely reconcilable with each other if viewed as “historical” as we have come to understand that genre. We just have to recognize that the sacred writers were doing something else there–related to “history,” to be sure, but not precisely the same as what we mean by that. Indeed, I venture to say that if the early Church had read such accounts the way today’s fundamentalists do, not all the Gospels would have made it into the canon. So the “truth” of such accounts had to have been understood in a different manner that we need to re-appropriate.

    I could go on with other examples, but that would only invite squabbles about particular passages, which I’m not interested in participating in. The point is this: we can and should affirm CBI while being very careful about what we claim is being “asserted” by the sacred writers. Often, that can only be understood in the light of many external factors, including both the canon as a whole and the sacred Tradition of the Church.

  12. Mike,

    Thanks for clarification about the irreformable nature of CBI – I have always understood CBI to be, at minimum, the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church. Does your assessment of the irreformable nature of CBI flow from the fact that Vatican II was an exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium?

    I think my hesitation stemmed from the issue of what constitutes “definition”. In the case of papal infallibility, my understanding is that a “definition” is required; and THAT a definition is being given is indicated by the use of a clear formula: “I the successor to Peter solemnly define that . . . “ or some such wording. I have heard people say things to the effect: “while Vatican II was an ecumenical council, it was not about the business of defining things”.

    The implied idea is that nothing (or at least very little) in the documents is being put forward as irreformable, since there are no anathemas, etc. The idea would seem to be that there can be an exercise of the EM which is not at the same time an irreformable action. I have never been quite clear on how to think about or respond to that kind of commentary. I read the book you recommended “Magisterium: Teacher and Gaurdian of the Faith” by Cardinal Dulles a few months back; but I cannot remember getting clarity on this point. Have you encountered this kind of argument? Any insight would be appreciated.

    BTW, I very much agree with your statement that:

    . . . the apologetical defense of CBI should not usually depend on resolving alleged “contradictions” between the Bible and scientific discoveries or even, in some cases, within the Bible itself. It depends, rather, on developing a progressively greater understanding of what its various literary genres are, and are doing.

    That is the key to resolving the vast majority of difficulties associated with the idea of inerrancy and inspiration. That has always been the Catholic approach, and has only become confused in the minds of some Catholics with the advent of the more restrictive and rigid notions of inspiration / inerrancy adopted within certain quarters of Protestantism.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  13. Ray:

    I haven’t done enough homework to say whether CBI has been formally defined by the EM or not, but I think Bryan’s evidence make clear that CBI has at least been infallibly taught by the OUM. The issue worth exploring is not CBI’s degree of authority, but rather the sense in which it’s true. That in turn depends on how we understand and evaluate the various literary genres deployed in the Bible. It seems we agree on that.

    Best,
    Mike

  14. All,

    Here are a few comments by St. Augustan which show how different the Catholic exigetical approach to inspiration and inerrancy have always been when compared to more recent and rigid understandings which often cause people of good will and intellectual integrity to adopt a biblical skepticism due to a truncated understanding of these realities.

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

    Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

    The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.
    If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

    Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

    and with special relevance to science and religion debates:

    “In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.”

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  15. I think its good that Catholics affirm the inerrancy of Holy Scripture the way people have done at CTC — how could an affirmation of the truth not be good? But I think people like TDC get scandalized unless we equally emphasize that the Catholic church has Always (not just since Vatican II) simultaneously affirmed inerrancy of scripture with the belief that the obvious interpretation of a passage may be a false one. The history of the interpretation of Genesis 1 alone amply demonstrates this. TDC, when we say “inerrant” we don’t mean: the obvious interpretation of this passage is true. We don’t even mean that we know which interpretation is true. It is more like saying: God doesn’t waste words, so there is some true interpretation of this passage. In that sense it is inerrant. And because there is some true interpretation there, it would be disastrous to give into the current (often protestant) approach of saying: “well, it’s just wrong, plain and simple.”

    It’s actually really difficult for even a passage written by a regular human being to be wrong without any true interpretation. So it is not surprising that words inspired by God are never wrong through and through. It is only natural that they be only wrong in some senses. I guess the potentially scandalous thing is merely that the most obvious interpretations of scripture are sometimes wrong. But I can’t think of any theological reason why the inerrancy of scripture ought to extend to the most obvious interpretations of it.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  16. Ray Stamper: I am not sure that “complete” inerrancy, as opposed to “limited” inerrancy has been technically “defined” in an infallible/non-reformbale way; though the encyclicals sited in the article, as well as Dei Verbum itself, affirm that complete inerrancy is the current teaching of the Church (and I think such teaching would be the grounds for a non-reformable definition in the direction of “complete” inerrancy, should the issue rise to a sufficient level of dispute within or without the Church).

    I don’t know if a dogma of “complete inerrancy” has ever been solemnly defined by an extraordinary exercise of the teaching office of the Catholic Church. For those following this thread, I would note that most of the doctrines taught infallibly by the Catholic Church have never been solemnly defined by an extraordinary exercise of the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Typically, it is only when a doctrine infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium rises “ to a sufficient level of dispute ” that the living magisterium responds with an extraordinary exercise of the magisterium – a response that results in a solemnly defined dogma of the faith (de fide definita).

    A faithful Catholic must accept all the infallible doctrines promulgated by the teaching office of the Catholic Church. That means the practicing Catholic accepts not only those doctrines that have been infallibly defined in an extraordinary manner (i.e. dogmatic definitions promulgated by valid ecumenical councils and papal ex cathedra definitions); he or she must also accept all the doctrines that are infallibly taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium (i.e. the doctrines that have been taught infallibly but have never been solemnly defined.)

    I would think that it would be very difficult to make the case that “complete inerrancy” of the scriptures is NOT the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium. That, of course, is my opinion – in the end, the living magisterium has the final say on what the magisterium infallibly teaches.

    K. Doran: … maybe we can remain honest while just admitting that there have been many people in Christian history whose views of the meaning of the word “inerrant” are different than our interpretation of that word today.

    Excellent point.

    A six day creationist’s understanding of the inerrancy of Genesis isn’t necessarily the Catholic Church’s understanding of the inerrancy of Genesis. The CCC speaks to that issue:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    How to read the account of the fall

    390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. [264] Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.[265]

    264 Cf. GS 13 § 1.
    265 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1513; Pius XII: DS 3897; Paul VI: AAS 58 (1966), 654.

    III. THE HOLY SPIRIT, INTERPRETER OF SCRIPTURE

    109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75

    110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”76

    75 Cf. DV 12 § 1.
    76 DV 12 § 2.

    In Genesis “God speaks to man in a human way.” The fall of Adam and Eve is indeed a historical event, but that truth is expressed in “figurative language.” To correctly read scriptures, “the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time.” … “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”

    I would say that the author of Genesis used a specific literary genre to convey historical truths, and that particular literary genre is NOT the genre of a modern scientific textbook. If one tries to force interpretations of Genesis to make Genesis conform to the genre of a modern scientific textbook, then, IMO, one is doing violence to the sacred author’s intention.

    The Book of Revelation is also inerrant, but if one has no understanding of the literary genre of apocolypse, then one can easily draw false conclusions about the truths the author of Revelation intended to convey.

  17. K. Doran

    I guess the potentially scandalous thing is merely that the most obvious interpretations of scripture are sometimes wrong.

    Definitely. Even if someone could come up with an interpretation that makes the Scripture true, it often does not seem like the original intent of the author. It doesn’t matter how you interpret a statement if the author meant it in a different way.

    Of course, sometimes the less obvious interpretation IS the original intent of the author. This is doubly complicated by the fact that Scripture has God as its primary author writing through humans. I suppose this could give strength to the Catholic method of interpretation as you guys have been laying it out.

    Alot of excellent points have been made. The genres, copyist errors, and other factors can all greatly reduce the number of apparent biblical contradictions/errors. I’m not certain whether it solves the problem entirely, but it is certainly giving me a lot to think about.

  18. Ray,

    that CD set from Scott Hahn is quite pricey. Would you recommend it anyway (is it worth it)? And how long is it, if I may ask? For a price like that, I hope its a decently sized CD set.

  19. TDC – Did you see my reply at #4? It was approved after you had already asked a second time about your initial questions.

  20. TDC,

    I have the series in cassette form (Obviously I purchased it several years ago :>). If you want to send me your address at ray ‘at’ stamperclan ‘dot’ net, I will be happy to mail it to you. Keep it as long as you like and just mail it back when you are done.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  21. Jeffrey,

    I did. I read it after I posted my second comment, so my “I wish someone would answer my questions” comment no longer applies.

    Your answers were very straightforward, clear, and helpful, and I appreciate it. I think you’re right

    It does present a very challenging view of the faith we are to hold, of course. As I mentioned in comment 7, Protestants have a sort of “back up plan”, just in case inerrancy is proven false or someone is unable to believe it. Catholics don’t have that back up plan- if the Church is wrong on one of its true teachings, that shows its authority to be false, leading to huge doubts about the validity of the sacraments. If the Church is false…then I may be worshiping bread at mass, and I’m an idolater.

    This line of thinking, in fact, is what has driven me from full participation in the sacraments. It’s very difficult already to trust the Church on salvation, the saints, statues, and the Eucharist. Add to that the huge plethora of challenges against biblical inerrancy and papal infallibility, and raise the stakes as high as Catholics do (If the Eucharist is not Jesus, we are idolaters), and you’ve got quite a difficult act of faith to make.

    This is quite a contrast to the “minimal facts” approach taken by Christian apologists like Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and William Lane Craig. All they really want to prove is the existence of God and the Resurrection. Sometimes (but rarely) they defend “the general reliability” of the Bible. That’s enough in their book to be a Christian. Even THAT much is hard to accept at times in the face of skeptical challenges, but it seems alot easier than accepting the entire Catholic teaching.

    Ray,

    Thank you, I really appreciate it, but that will not be necessary. I may just invest in the cd set. We’ll see.

  22. TDC October 11th, 2010 5:01 pm :

    This is quite a contrast to the “minimal facts” approach taken by Christian apologists like Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and William Lane Craig. All they really want to prove is the existence of God and the Resurrection. Sometimes (but rarely) they defend “the general reliability” of the Bible. That’s enough in their book to be a Christian. Even THAT much is hard to accept at times in the face of skeptical challenges, but it seems alot easier than accepting the entire Catholic teaching.

    I wonder what makes them so sure that those parts of the Bible (which support their belief in God and the Resurrection) are accurate.

  23. Well, their case for the Resurrection is based on historical research. It doesn’t require the authority or even the general reliability of the Bible, only that it is a library of ancient historical documents that historians can analyze for historical data.

    The “minimal facts” approach only uses facts that are accepted by the “vast majority” of critical scholars (Christian or not). They do this specifically in order to avoid the “is the bible reliable” and the “is the bible inerrant” question.

    As for the existence of God, they use science and philosophy.

    There are lots of criticisms made of this method (especially from the presuppositionalist Reformed camp), of course. I suppose they would describe the method as a kind of “mere Christianity”.

  24. What jumps immediately to mind for me is how all this might relate to a proper understanding of, for example, Genesis 1 and 2. Any thoughts?

  25. TDC:

    If one examines Catholic doctrines one by one, of course one is going to have serious difficulties. The same could be said of the doctrines of any religion alleged to be divinely revealed; for the subject matter of divine revelation includes, by definition, much that humans could not figure out by themselves and cannot fully comprehend even when stated. But when I explored various religious options as a college student, I eventually became convinced that the fundamental issue was authority. I submit that, if you come to look at the authority question carefully, your faith issues will gradually resolve themselves.

    You said you have a problem “trusting” the Catholic Church. Now to be a Christian means, among other things, accepting a body of ecclesially proposed doctrines alleged to express divine revelation, to the extent that the encounter of God with man can be verbally expressed. And because reason alone cannot suffice to reach and know the content of divine revelation–else divine revelation would be unnecessary–we can accept divine revelation only on divine authority. But God does not appear to most of us as individuals and tell us, directly, what he wants us to believe. If we are going to accept such-and-such doctrines on his authority, we must accept this-or-that human authority as divinely authorized. For the Christian, the candidates for such authority are Scripture, Tradition, and the Church.

    The Catholic Church teaches that each of those is necessary and that all are mutually supporting. Scripture alone does not suffice, because a set of writings composed and collected by people over a period of centuries cannot certify itself as divinely inspired and inerrant. Of themselves, they tell us what various people said and did about God, but they do not tell us why what some of those people said is true or why what they did was appropriate. Indeed, the ideas recorded in Scripture came through the Tradition of the people of God; for that matter, the very belief that Scripture is divinely inspired belongs to that Tradition. After Christ, the people of God expanded out from the Jews to become “the Church.” The disagreement between Protestants and Catholics is not really about that, or even about whether Scripture and Tradition somehow transmit what God wants us to believe. Together, Scripture and Tradition constitute the word of God for us. The disagreement is about whether something called “the Church,” the people of God, is divinely authorized to interpret Scripture and Tradition in such a way as to be preserved by God from teaching with her full authority anything that is false.

    I have spent years advancing two theses: (1) if it isn’t clear, from the beginning until now, which visible body counts as “the Church,” then the question what counts as Scripture and Tradition is open to a debate that can never be definitively settled; and (2) if whichever body counts as “the Church” is never preserved from error when interpreting Scripture and Tradition, then the meaning of Scripture and Tradition is up for indefinite debate, even if their content is not. In the final analysis, the Christian religion would reduce to a matter of opinion. And if that’s so, then there is no principled way to distinguish between divine revelation on the one hand and human opinion about the “sources” thereof on the other. I’m sure that’s not a result you desire.

    This is why I am a Catholic not a Protestant. Few Protestant churches even claim to be “the” Church, and the few that do make the claim cannot do it credibly. And no Protestant church claims to be preserved in any instance from error in interpreting the sources of revelation or formulating doctrine on such a basis. So if there is such a thing as “the Church”–the divinely authorized locus of Tradition and certifier of Scripture–it cannot be a Protestant church. “The” Church is either the Eastern-Orthodox or the Roman communion. My reason for choosing the latter over the former is that the latter’s criteria for identifying when the Church teaches with her full authority are clearer and more consistent than the former’s. That doesn’t logically compel a decision-in-faith to trust the Catholic Church, but it puts that trust on a firmer rational footing than the Orthodox seem to have.

    Now if you’ll notice, I have said almost nothing about the actual content of any particular doctrine proposed by such an authority. When I was striving to decide what sort of Christian to be, I got nowhere with considering such doctrines one by one. It all struck me as a matter of opinion, when what was really needed was a reliable way to identify and interpret divine revelation by means of some ensemble of human authorities. It seems to me that you too are getting nowhere considering doctrines one by one. Just focus on the authority question. If and when you do, not all difficulties will evaporate right away; but you will find, as I did, a means of resolving them over time.

    Best,
    Mike

  26. DM (#24):

    See my #11.

    Best,
    Mike

  27. Mike,

    Your analysis is very insightful. I am indeed getting nowhere fast. Focusing on the authority question may speed things up somewhat (although it may still take a while to get through all the relevant scripture, history, and philosophy), but I have a question about your method.

    Although it would be nice and simplifying to make it all about authority, isn’t authority tied up with all sorts of doctrines, beliefs and practices? Shouldn’t we take disconfirming evidence into account? That is, even if I find the Catholic version of authority to be the most compelling, wouldn’t evidence against the Catholic Churches teachings be evidence against the Catholic theory of authority? Believe me, I’d like to simplify my search, but it seems like it is all connected.

    Now, if what you meant is that the central aspect of the debate should be authority, and that all my other studies should center around and focus on that, than I think I agree with you. Could you clarify a bit for me?

  28. TDC: Of course, sometimes the less obvious interpretation IS the original intent of the author.

    One reason scripture is unique is that it is a record of prophecy that was uttered under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Men inspired by the Holy Spirit spoke of things that were beyond their understanding. The deepest understanding of the OT scriptures had to be revealed by God.

    … Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church … Matt 16:16-18

    What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Psalm 89:48

    Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. John 20:8-10

  29. Hey TDC,

    You said: “Of course, sometimes the less obvious interpretation IS the original intent of the author. This is doubly complicated by the fact that Scripture has God as its primary author writing through humans. I suppose this could give strength to the Catholic method of interpretation as you guys have been laying it out.”

    Yes, I don’t know of any good reasons why the inerrancy of scripture ought to extend to the most obvious interpretations of it. It is superficially easier to say: “this passage of scripture is just plain wrong, full stop.” But it’s very hard for anything to be wrong completely, whether its scripture or not. So why insist that our religion give us the right to say that any given passage of scripture is potentially wrong completely? It’s a strange thing to stake one’s faith on.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  30. Jeffrey,

    You said: “If limited inerrancy were true, it would have a disastrous implication: that God inspired all of Scripture but only kept part of it free from error, that part which pertains to salvation.”

    We need to express the truth that you’re expressing while simultaneously affirming that the big supporters of inerrancy such as Augustine, as far as I know, held to interpretations of Genesis that sound very much like limited inerrancy to modern readers. Likewise, Ratzinger’s interpretation of Genesis, as Mike described it, does not try “to reconcile the two creation accounts in Genesis with each other, or with modern science, as if they were both intended as science; [instead] he argues that the sacred writers were simply adapting pre-existing myths from the surrounding cultures so as to make certain theological points.”

    Augustine and Ratzinger both believe in inerrancy, and would no doubt affirm a very traditional interpretation of Dei Verbum. But they didn’t think that the Genesis account was literally true in its most obvious interpretation. Whatever the literal truth of Genesis is, it is a literal truth about something other than the timing of the creation of the sun and the moon.

    And some people would thus say, “Genesis is wrong about the timing of the creation of the sun and the moon. Thus, Genesis is wrong in part, and true in part.” It might not be the most theologically correct thing to say. Perhaps it would be more theologically correct to throw in the relevant qualifiers, and remove the word “part.” But you shouldn’t be too hard on people who say it. If you are, they may think that Catholics are required to make very strained biblical interpretations that many of our very orthodox forebears (including those who established the tradition of defending scriptural inerrancy) did not feel obliged to make. To everyday people, Genesis is wrong in part, and true in part, and the true part is more about faith and morals than the false part. I agree that everyday people need to clean up their language, but I think that if an everyday person reads a scriptural interpretation of Genesis by Catholics like Augustine or Ratzinger, he would never know that his language needed modification!* So let us be easy on the everyday man, even while we defend truths that must not be glossed-over.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    * At least if he only read the interpretation itself, and not the accompanying paragraphs that defend scriptural inerrancy.

  31. K Doran,

    Ratzinger’s interpretation of Genesis, as Mike described it, does not try “to reconcile the two creation accounts in Genesis with each other, or with modern science, as if they were both intended as science; [instead] he argues that the sacred writers were simply adapting pre-existing myths from the surrounding cultures so as to make certain theological points.”

    Right, and this brings a thought to mind. TDC has made comments to the effect that some understandings of inerrancey/inspiration require stretching or accomodation that almost reach to the point of intellectual dishonesty (at least that is the drift I get from some of the above posts), and I really do understand what leads TDC to perceive things this way. But I really think that a large part that perception is rooted in one’s physcology and not in fact. The reason is that we are so very, very far removed in modern Western culture from the mindset, outlook, acceptable modes of communication, etc. indicitive of an ancient Near Eastern culture. Take the Genesis account. The first reaction of a modern person who has not been purified of his own cultural prejudices when approaching the Genesis text is to assume that the Hebrew writer has roughly the same notions of what counts as history, science, myth, valid forms of truth communication and transmission etc. as a modern person does; only the ancient Hebrew is less educated and so conveys these notions back at us several thousand years removed in a less sophisticated way than we might expect from a university educated author.

  32. K Doran continued,

    Oops, accidentally hit “submit”

    At any rate, I think that assumption is entirely wrong headed. We have no right to demand that our particular MANNER of commuicating ideas is necessarily the best. In fact, given the state of culture and communication in that ancient time, the use of stories, myths, unfamiliar (to us) narrative and repetitive techniques and constructs, were exactly what was needed to pass on a crucial (THE crucial) meaasge and truths that our religious forefathers cared about. It requires a serious effort at pealing back our own conceptual layers in order to actually understand what the Hebrew writier was doing AND what he saw himself as doing! Getting to the point where we approach an understanding of how the ancient author understood his own effort, communication and literary tools, is when we begin to approach the TRUE locus and nature of the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration. That is – AFTER – we have divested ourselves of pre-conceptions as to how we are accustomed to undertanding the proper manner of truth-telling.

    There is nothing intellectually dishonest in such a divestiture, it is actually incumbent upon us to do so if we are to approach the text with true intellectual integrity. So we know the ancient writer was not a scientist, he had not the tools. Unless we want to imagine God dictating the exact cosmological and physical events of creation to the Genesis author, we must assume that what he records was passed down to him. But that culture was one which communicated primarily orally. Hence, encasing the central themes of creation and man, and God’s relation to both, in a story / mythical format with clearly recognizable story-telling structures, techniques and indicators which make the telling easier is exactly what one would expect an ancient Hebrew author who is recounting the history and origin of his people to employ. We should not – if we really think about it -expect him to be a grossly uneducated version of a modern Cambridge scholar. But that is very much what most people who have huge problems understanding how Genesis can be inerrant/inspired (in any honest) sense do unreflexively expect.

    If we get our heads on straight about this issue and then ask whether it is Cardinal Ratzinger or the Creation Science folks who are approaching the text with actual intellectual integrity; we find that far from stretching and mutilating the text to fit or yield to modern scientific pressures, Ratzinger is actually handling the text in the most “obviously” honest way. Rather, the Creation Science crowd is failing to make the most basic and honest hermeneutical adjustment to what the ancient author UNDERSTOOD HIMSELF TO BE DOING Instead, they are forcing their own modern (albeit contested) notions of science, history and valid communication structures upon a poor Hebrew who had no intention whatsoever of affirming such notions. Ratzinger’s approach is the intellectually honest one REGARDLESS of whether modern cosmological or evolutionary theories turn out to be right or wrong.

    My overall point then is that the feeling or sense that one is behaving in an intellectually dishonest way because one perceives that he must increasingly read the text in a way which is NOT in accord with the “normal” way WE, in the modern era, approach or produce historical texts is simply a physcological error rooted in a failure to think deeply about the text, its intent, and the means of its production from the POV of the actual human author (much less the Divine Author). When we start by REALLY REALLY placing ourselves in the cultural, communicative and epistemic shoes of the actual author, the notions of inerrancy and inspiration in the sense understood by the Catholic Church emerge naturally and with complete intellectual integrity.

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  33. TDC (#27):

    Of course I meant that authority should be the primary issue to focus on, not that it be the sole issue. The latter would be impossible in any case since, as you suggest, “all is connected.” That said, I do have a comment about your use of the concept of “evidence” in assessing Catholic doctrine.

    As he neared death, agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked what he would ask God if he met him on the other side. Russell replied: “I would ask him why he didn’t provide sufficient evidence for his existence.” As a convinced theist, what I would have said to Russell is: “The evidence is all there. You just don’t see as evidence, because your very concept of evidence precludes there being evidence for something beyond the universe.” I think a similar degree of narrowness is operative among many of the Protestants I’ve debated.

    They seem to think that the way to determine which doctrines we ought to see as revealed by God is to study the written sources from the early Church (primarily but not exclusively Scripture) and figure out what propositions can be logically deduced, or induced, from them. What can be so inferred commands the assent of faith; what cannot be, does not. But that could not suffice even in principle. For one thing, it closes the mind to all sorts of things that can and should count as evidence, such as latter-day miracles and the lives of the saints. Worse, even though such a method can tell us much that happens to be of faith, it cannot by itself yield any assent by faith. It can yield only human interpretations of what’s counted as the relevant sources, and it cannot even tell us in what sense those sources should be taken as authoritative. It can uncover only human statements, and can yield only human opinions.

    What’s needed is a concrete, communal, continuous locus of “the sources” that is the divinely authorized subjectum of those sources. In other words, what’s needed is not “a” church but “the” Church that Jesus founded. Apart from such an body, the sources have no authoritative meaning; they are just “data” that we interpret in ways that may seem plausible to us, but which have no divine authority. Thus they leave us no way to distinguish divine revelation from human opinions about the sources.

    So if we’re going to see the relevant “evidence” as such, we have to see it in the way such a body sees it over time. Just as we have no access to the Father without the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, so we have no access to Christ, cognitive or sacramental, without “the” Church that is his Mystical Body.

    Best,
    Mike

  34. Mike #33
    “In other words, what’s needed is not “a” church but “the” Church that Jesus founded. Apart from such an body, the sources have no authoritative meaning; they are just “data” that we interpret in ways that may seem plausible to us, but which have no divine authority. Thus they leave us no way to distinguish divine revelation from human opinions about the sources.”

    You and Ray keep hammering this basic idea, and it makes remarkable sense. He said he is working on something for CTC along these lines, do you have something you have put together in the past, maybe on your blog?

  35. Canadian,

    I’m sure Ray will do a better job than I have; my plate is too full at the moment with work and family matters to do more than post comments. But on my blog I’ve often handled objections to our approach. You might start with these:

    http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/06/bad-arguments-against-magisterium-part.html
    http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2010/08/organizing-apologetics.html

    Best,
    Mike

  36. Regarding this issue, it may be helpful to quote from the 1998 CDF’s “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei” (itemized listing added):

    This new formula of the Professio fidei restates the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and concludes with the addition of three propositions or paragraphs intended to better distinguish the order of the truths to which the believer adheres. The correct explanation of these paragraphs deserves a clear presentation, so that their authentic meaning, as given by the Church’s Magisterium, will be well understood, received and integrally preserved.

    The first paragraph states: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed”. The object taught in this paragraph is constituted by all those doctrines of divine and catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable.

    These doctrines are contained in the word of God, written or handed down, and defined with a solemn judgement as divinely revealed truths
    – either by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks ‘ex cathedra,’
    – or by the College of Bishops gathered in council,
    – or infallibly proposed for belief by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

    These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law

    The Magisterium of the Church, however, teaches a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed (first paragraph) or to be held definitively (second paragraph) with an act which is either defining or non-defining.

    In the case of a defining act, a truth is solemnly defined
    – by an ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncement by the Roman Pontiff
    – or by the action of an ecumenical council.

    In the case of a non-defining act, a doctrine is taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world who are in communion with the Successor of Peter. Such a doctrine can be confirmed or reaffirmed by the Roman Pontiff, even without recourse to a solemn definition, by declaring explicitly that it belongs to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium as a truth that is divinely revealed (first paragraph) or as a truth of Catholic doctrine (second paragraph). Consequently, when there has not been a judgement on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei, is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which necessarily includes the Pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly. The declaration of confirmation or reaffirmation by the Roman Pontiff in this case is not a new dogmatic definition, but a formal attestation of a truth already possessed and infallibly transmitted by the Church.

    Examples. Without any intention of completeness or exhaustiveness, some examples of doctrines relative to the three paragraphs described above can be recalled.

    To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various christological dogmas21 and marian dogmas;22 the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace;23 the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist24 and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration;25 the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ;26 the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff;27 the doctrine on the existence of original sin;28the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death;29 the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts;30 the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.31

    30 Cf. DS 3293; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 11.

  37. Regarding the translation of DV 11, here goes a literal word-by-word translation from the Italian text at Vatican.va (emphasis added):

    i libri della Scrittura insegnano con certezza, fedelmente e senza errore la verità che Dio, per la nostra salvezza, volle fosse consegnata nelle sacre Scritture.

    the books of the Scripture teach with certainty, faithfully and without error the truth that God, for our salvation, willed was written down in the holy Scriptures.

  38. I now see that I had missed in my first reading of the article the paragraph quoting the CDF document. So my first comment quoting from it seems redundant.

    What I do see essential to quote is the following passage from Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus (emphasis added):

    There can never, indeed, be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own lines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us, “not to make rash assertions, or to assert what is not known as known.”(51) If dissension should arise between them, here is the rule also laid down by St. Augustine, for the theologian: “Whatever they can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so.”(52) To understand how just is the rule here formulated we must remember, first, that the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Ghost “Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation.”(53) Hence they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the sacred writers-as the Angelic Doctor also reminds us – `went by what sensibly appeared,”(54) or put down what God, speaking to men, signified, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to.

    19. The unshrinking defence of the Holy Scripture, however, does not require that we should equally uphold all the opinions which each of the Fathers or the more recent interpreters have put forth in explaining it; for it may be that, in commenting on passages where physical matters occur, they have sometimes expressed the ideas of their own times, and thus made statements which in these days have been abandoned as incorrect. Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith-what they are unanimous in. For “in those things which do not come under the obligation of faith, the Saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions, just as we ourselves are,”(55) according to the saying of St. Thomas. And in another place he says most admirably: “When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is perhaps so presented by the philosophers, nor to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith.”(56) The Catholic interpreter, although he should show that those facts of natural science which investigators affirm to be now quite certain are not contrary to the Scripture rightly explained, must nevertheless always bear in mind, that much which has been held and proved as certain has afterwards been called in question and rejected. And if writers on physics travel outside the boundaries of their own branch, and carry their erroneous teaching into the domain of philosophy, let them be handed over to philosophers for refutation.

  39. “But limited inerrancy would also mean that God made it deliberately hard for us to believe in His Word as recorded in Scripture.”

    Here is the key issue: Who is “us”? Ancient Israelites, Jesus’ contemporaries or XXI century people? If God had moved and impelled the sacred writers to use a language that was exact in terms of the third group’s command of physical, biological and historical sciences, wouldn’t had it been much harder for the first two groups to understand his Word?

  40. BTW, the quote from St Thomas, and particularly the example he gives (“Who established the earth above the waters,”) is in clear contradiction with the emphasized quote from Leo XIII in my post above. Which is no big deal since St Thomas denied Immaculate Conception.

    Having said that, anyone somewhat familiar with modern cosmology will perceive that Gen 1 account of light as the first thing created is in line with Big Bang theory, and that Isaiah 44:24: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens;” is remarkably in line with the concept of expansion of space introduced by Friedmann and Lemaître (the FLRW metric, with the L most often ignored).

  41. @TDC #21

    “If the Eucharist is not Jesus, we are idolaters.”

    We must distinguish between material or objective idolatry and formal or subjective idolatry. You would not be a formal idolater even if the Eucharist were not Jesus.

    You would be a formal idolater if you adored a piece of bread thinking it was just a piece of bread But since you think it is Jesus, you are adoring Jesus.

  42. Johannes,

    Here is the key issue: Who is “us”? Ancient Israelites, Jesus’ contemporaries or XXI century people? If God had moved and impelled the sacred writers to use a language that was exact in terms of the third group’s command of physical, biological and historical sciences, wouldn’t had it been much harder for the first two groups to understand his Word?

    Exactly, that is the key consideration in determining how we think about inerrancy/inspiration (I/I). To insist upon a notion of I/I rooted in the cultural setting of the reader of scripture, seems to me to entail a forever changing notion of I/I; whereas, a notion of I/I rooted in the discernable cultural paradigm of the scriptural author enables a more consistent and stable picture of I/I which, in fact, can become clearer over time as the original cultural paradigm of the author is understood better and better. Of course, the later (Catholic) approach takes serious intellectual work. But as much is implied in “rightly handling the word of God”, and the result is an intellectually satisfying and honest notion of I/I which removes most (perhaps not all) of the common objections just by virtue of getting the I/I notion itself correct. Thanks for the other info posts as well!

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  43. Since the value of translating the Italian text might rightfully be questioned (after all Italian is not the official language of the Church), I felt I should provide a Latin translation of the DV 11 sentence that anyone could follow line by line, with the necessary permutation to avoid Yoda-like syntax:

    inde
    Scripturae libri
    veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causa Litteris Sacris consignari voluit,
    firmiter, fideliter et sine errore docere
    profitendi sunt (21).

    Therefore
    we must profess that
    the books of Scripture
    teach firmly, faithfully and without error
    the truth, which God for the sake of our salvation wanted recorded in the Sacred Writings (21).

    So, the Italian translation effectively ignored the comma after “the truth”. Now, does the absence or presence of that comma really change the scope of what is taught without error in the books of Scripture? To answer this, I note that reference (21) in Latin DV 11 includes:

    St. Augustine, “Gen. ad Litt.” 2, 9, 20:PL 34, 270-271; CSEL 28, 1, p. 46-47 and Epistle 82, 3: PL 33, 277: CSEL 34, 2, p. 354.
    St. Thomas, “On Truth,” Q. 12, A. 2, C.
    Council of Trent, session IV, Scriptural Canons: Denzinger 783 (1501).
    Leo XIII, encyclical “Providentissimus Deus:” EB 121, 124, 126-127.
    Pius XII, encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu:” EB 539.

    From Leo XII’s “Providentissimus Deus”, I see this statement as particularly relevant to this point:

    the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Ghost “Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation.”(53)

    And reference (53) in Leo XII’s “Providentissimus Deus” is (resolving the ibidem to reference 52):

    53. St. Augustine “De Gen. ad litt.” ii., 9, 20.

    which is precisely the first item in reference (21) in Latin DV 11. Therefore, it is clear that the Magisterium teaches that “the Holy Ghost … did not intend to teach men … things in no way profitable unto salvation.” Which for me settles the issue of what is taught without error in the Scriptures.

  44. Having showed (at least to my satisfaction) that the viewpoint of the bishops who wrote in the “Instrumentum Laboris” of the last synod:

    In summary, the following can be said with certainty:

    — with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (DV 11);

    is not a departure from the traditional doctrine of the Church, I will show an instance of this approach in Benedict XV’s encyclical “In Praeclara Summorum” about Dante Alighieri:

    If the progress of science showed later that that conception of the world rested on no sure foundation, that the spheres imagined by our ancestors did not exist, that nature, the number and course of the planets and stars, are not indeed as they were then thought to be, still the fundamental principle remained that the universe, whatever be the order that sustains it in its parts, is the work of the creating and preserving sign of Omnipotent God, who moves and governs all, and whose glory risplende in una parte piu e meno altrove; and though this earth on which we live may not be the centre of the universe as at one time was thought, it was the scene of the original happiness of our first ancestors, witness of their unhappy fall, as too of the Redemption of mankind through the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

  45. Johannes:

    I believe this issue can be resolved fairly easily, at least in principle. As per Catholic doctrine, we can and should say that the Bible is completely inerrant. Thus, whatever is “asserted” by the sacred writers is true. But we also can and should say that the truths contained in the Bible are are those pertinent to salvation–i.e., those which are divinely revealed for that purpose. Accordingly, whenever a biblical passage seems to conflict with what we moderns regard as science or history, or even with other biblical passages, we can be sure that we’re reading something into them beyond what the Holy Spirit inspired the sacred writers to put into them.

    Best,
    Mike

  46. I’ve read Jeffrey’s excellent article, along with all of the above comments, but I still find myself in a pickle as a Catholic. I still don’t see how to reconcile the following two premises:

    – The Bible, in part and in whole, is completely inerrant, including its historical and scientific details
    – Many parts of the Bible hold–at least as far as I can understand–obvious historical and scientific inaccuracies (the details surround the Lukan census; the genealogies throughout Scripture; the dates, locations, and details of many OT people groups; the creation accounts; etc.)

    It seems biblical archaeology–and I don’t have any precise examples off the top of my head, just my (possibly wrong) understanding–has produced many findings that contradict Biblical histories.

    This seems like we Catholics are falling into a fundamentalist pit, tying ourselves to untenable interpretations. If Scripture says this ruler ruled at this specific time, at this specific place, yet historical records show that to be inaccurate, what are we to do?

    As faithful to the Church’s magisterium, I can only hang my hat on Augustine’s final quote in Jeffrey’s article. Maybe I, someone with no training in theology, may be failing in my understanding.

  47. Brandon:

    See my #11 above.

    Best,
    Mike

  48. I just wanted to add another (very) important source that I didn’t see covered, and that is Pope St Pius’ X, Lamentabili Sane. Here are some common Liberal Errors that are Condemned:

    9. They display excessive simplicity or ignorance who believe that God is really the author of the Sacred Scriptures.

    11. Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.

    12. If he wishes to apply himself usefully to Biblical studies, the exegete must first put aside all preconceived opinions about the supernatural origin of Sacred Scripture and interpret it the same as any other merely human document.

  49. Biblical Inerrancy Under Discussion! Your Prayers Needed!” by Jimmy Akin.

  50. I took the adult confirmation class at my parish last fall. The subject of how to read/interpret scripture came up multiple times.

    A few examples of teaching from the class:

    * “All of the bible is true, and some of it really happened”.
    * The story of the fall is a “mythological” literary form. For example, the story portrays a snake as talking, but snakes can’t talk.
    * In the “legend of Elijah”, ravens supposedly bring him meat and bread. The point of the story is that God kept him alive during his wanderings, not that ravens actually brought him food.
    * God did not cause Jericho’s walls to fall down, because an evil act in which innocent people are killed is incompatible with His nature. The writers of this story simply perceived what happened as an act of God.
    * The seven days of creation cannot represent seven literal days because science has proved that the earth evolved over billions of years.

    The point behind these discussions is that Catholics read the bible in context and with attention to the literary form. Catholics don’t take every word literally, like some Protestants do.

    Since the class, I have been wrestling with a couple of things:

    * Is the way to interpret scripture, taught in the class, compatible with Catholic teaching on inerrancy?
    * If inerrancy doesn’t mean that the words are literally true, then how is inerrancy helpful in understanding the truth behind the text?

  51. Jonathan,

    I’m not sure the language they used in your RCIA class; they were probably saying stuff that is mostly true about Catholic theology but were putting a misleading spin on it because they do not fully understand it themselves. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in RCIA by uneducated instructors.

    It sounds misleading to start the question by : “if inerrancy doesn’t mean that the words are literally true” – I think it should be “if inerrancy doesn’t mean that the words are necessarily to be taken literally…” Then the question is answerable. I’m sure we all agree that not all of Scripture is meant to be taken literally. If I say, “It’s as hot as an oven outside” or something like that, no one would ever wonder whether I was telling the truth simply because it turns out that ovens are much hotter than outside was at that time. So, since my statement, while true, wasn’t meant to be taken literally, was it helpful? Sure it was – I conveyed exactly my meaning – it’s hot! I think Scriptural inerrancy is like that.

    On the Protestant theory of divine authority, a lack of total inerrancy does great damage to the doctrine’s usefulness. Hence – once the academic world figured out beyond any reasonable doubt that Scriptures cannot be said to be totally inerrant (if taken literally in all cases) Protestant theology collapsed into the mess you have today. That is to say, even given that not all Scripture is to be read literally, who cares if it is 100% inerrant when there might be multiple ways of interpreting a given passage (e.g. allegory and myth, etc.) How does inerrancy help me if there is no infallible arbiter? This is basically what we’ve been saying for 3 years on this site.

    However, total inerrancy makes perfect sense given Catholic theology. Scripture is like a fish – and sola scriptura is like a fish out of water.

    As for your first question, I don’t know exactly what you mean there. But the way to interpret Scripture for a Catholic is through the Church; and since she has repeatedly affirmed the doctrine, that method is compatible with inerrancy.

  52. Jonathan Brumley, here are some of my thoughts about the reasoning you heard in RCIA:

    “All of the bible is true, and some of it really happened”

    That is a true statement, although probably not in the way the person who said it meant it. There are plenty of passages of the Bible which do not contain a “historical” narrative but are nonetheless true. Parables are one class of examples. But to argue that Genesis 1-11 is “true” but didn’t “really happen” requires one to provide definitions of “true”, “real”, and “to happen”. Thus Pius XII speaks of the early chapters of Genesis as historical, but written in an ancient historical method:

    “[T]he first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters […] in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people.” (Humani Generis 38)

    the story portrays a snake as talking, but snakes can’t talk.

    That’s an over-simplification. You could just as easily say the story of Jesus portrays a man as walking on water, but men can’t walk on water. Just because something does not naturally occur does not mean it cannot supernaturally occur.

    Genesis 3 does not speak of a “snake”, but a ‘nachash’, and for all we know, this particular nachash could speak. If we let the book of Revelation inform our reading of the book of Genesis, the nachash in question, the ancient serpent, is Satan, not just some “snake”, and it seems reasonable that Satan can speak in a way perceptible to mankind.

    The point of the story is that God kept him alive during his wanderings, not that ravens actually brought him food.

    The point may very well be that God kept Elijah alive, and that point is demonstrated by the natural and supernatural means by which God did it: an angel with cakes of bread one day, ravens the next. If the author of that part of Scripture had wanted to express God’s providence for Elijah, he could have done so without inventing stories. He could have written down exactly how God kept him alive. It is as if the person is arguing that God kept Elijah alive during that time: how, we don’t know, but definitely not by ravens!

    God did not cause Jericho’s walls to fall down, because an evil act in which innocent people are killed is incompatible with His nature.

    This might sound unpastoral, but who was “innocent” in Jericho? Who were the immaculately conceived there? And WHY is there the seemingly universal interpretation that whenever a person in the Old Testament is killed by God, that person’s ETERNAL judgment is necessarily just as negative? In other words, why do we assume that every person whom God smites is burning in Hell?

  53. Hi Tim and Jeffrey,

    Thanks for your helpful thoughts on this subject.

    Jonathan

  54. “If limited inerrancy were true, it would have a disastrous implication: that God inspired all of Scripture but only kept part of it free from error, that part which pertains to salvation. This would require an (infallible) arbiter who could determine which parts of Scripture pertain to salvation and which parts do not. Logically, any part of the Bible determined to contain an error could not pertain to salvation, so if some “experts” determined that the Apostles did not actually see the risen Christ with a resurrected, glorified body….”

    You seem not to have faith that the church guided by the Holy Spirit will help us focus on what we need for salvation.

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting