Tag Archives: Bible

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part I

Source Criticism is one of the three major “higher-critical” methods of reading scripture. The so-called “historical-critical” method is often used to refer to this or the other two major “higher-critical” methods, namely, redaction criticism and form criticism.

Here, we consider source criticism. The treatment is brief, while the tomes about the subject are immense and legion. But the treatment is also meant to go the heart of the matter in a suggestive, provocative way. It is the beginning of a question, an incisive interrogation.

Source criticism inquires whether the final product – say, the Gospel of Luke, or the Book of Genesis – was indeed always a single literary unit or rather a plurality of literary units put together. Source critics usually think in terms of written sources, although it is not alien to the method to think in terms of oral sources. If the final product is a construct of several, then these “sources” are primordial, anterior to the final product that we see.

There are numerous examinations one can undertake to ascertain answers to these questions. One of the most noteworthy examinations involves the question: Are there contradictions in the final account? In fact, this question analogically runs through every examination. Stated so baldly, it stands on its own. However, other interrogations presuppose this primary question. Such other interrogations include: Are there diverse names for God? Diverse conceptions of God? Diverse conceptions of man’s relation to God? Of the monarchy? Etc. Diversity presupposes the contradiction “this is not that.” Hence, the note of contradiction is primary.

Example. In reading Genesis, one can ask whether there are contradictory accounts of the flood. At first studied glance, it seems so. One set of texts reads “a pair” of animals while another set reads “seven pairs”. Since one is not seven, there seems to be a contradiction. But the same man cannot reasonably affirm a contradiction. We take it the man who wrote was reasonable. Ergo, there must have been more than one author.

more to come.

Henotheism in the Old Testament? A Red Herring

It is sometimes said that the Old Testament, at least in its earlier texts, teaches not monotheism but henotheism.

The terms:

Monotheism = belief in one Omnipotent God, Creator of all things, himself uncreated.

Henotheism = belief in one particular god, provident over one’s nation or region, while accepting the existence of other gods or rivals. the one god and the others are called gods univocally (with the same meaning). Hence, there is no one omnipotent God.

By necessity, henotheism and monotheism are contradictory. For if there is an omnipotent God, the henotheists are wrong. If the henotheists are right, there is no omnipotent God.

Now, we believe the Old Testament to be the Word of God, inspired and inerrant. We also believe that monotheism is the truth. Hence, henotheism is false. Therefore, the bible cannot teach henotheism. This one knows before even reading. (Before anyone read anything? No. But because one is raised in the True Faith and allows this proper, inspired revelation to inform one’s reading.)

So, what does the text mean when it refers to “other gods”? Very simply, it uses the term “god” analogically. There are other powerful spirits, those in rebellion against God and which answer to human incantations (not out of subservience, but out of a desire to deceive, kill and destroy).

Now, can we hold that God gradually awakens his people to the full truth? Yes; in fact, we do. But this does not mean that he reveals falsities along the way, accommodating his truth to our deceptions. When he called Abraham, did he not ask Abraham to number all the stars? Hence, did he not imply his sovereignty? Does not his whole comportment towards Israel display sovereignty? Indeed, the gods of the heathen are as naught.

Hence, the so-called “henotheism” of the Old Testament is a red herring. If the bible teaches one God, whose sovereignty cannot be rivaled, who has no defect, then it teaches monotheism and rejects henotheism.

Exegesis: On Not Imputing Error to Scripture

If Scripture is the Word of God, and every affirmation of the human author, the secondary and instrumental author, is affirmed by the primary author, God, who neither is deceived nor deceives and who knows all things, then there is not one error in Scripture. In short, as the First Vatican Council teaches, scripture is inspired in all its parts.

This teaching must be taken into account by every Catholic exegete, none of whom therefore may impute to Scripture error. But this does not mean there are no difficulties. Difficulties there are.

Case in point. In Mt 23:35 Jesus mentions the first and last recorded murders in the Hebrew Bible: Abel’s and Zechariah’s. Most Gk texts read “Zechariah, the son of Barachias.”

Now, if we inspect the OT, we see two contenders for the reference. At 2 Chron 24:21f, there is a murdered Zechariah, in fact, the last recorded murder of a righteous man. But the Zechariah called “son of Barachias” is the minor prophet, who is not described as murdered. Did Jesus make a mistake? Did Matthew make a mistake?

What are we to do with this text? Impute error to Jesus and/or Matthew? Not if we follow Catholic exegetical principles. Rather, we are to search for some reasonable explanation. If we find it, we suggest it. If we don’t, we at least withhold ourselves from impiously imputing error to Scripture. Such an impiety is an offense against Almighty God and a crime against the Church and a scandal to poor believers. We are to feed them with bread, not to stone them with impudent and errant academic arrogance.

Now, Aquinas has this wise injunction: Never bring up a difficulty to another’s mind without having ready to hand the tools whereby its resolution may be pursued. Thus, I would not have thrown down this peculiar difficulty without offering some possible resolutions.

I run to two major sources to resolve difficulties. First, I run to Cornelius a Lapide, the greatest Scriptural commentator – without question – in the past 400 years. He commented on nearly every book of the bible, at the Pope’s wise orders. He is a wealth of knowledge. He knows the manuscripts and the fathers and medieval doctors. He knows the languages. He has a systematic mind and not only a historical-textual mind. He cannot be outdone.

What does he say? He reports two opinions, judging one the more probable. The more probable opinion is that indeed the reference is to the murdered Zechariah in 2 Chron 24. Why is he called “son of Barachias”? Well, the term “Barachias” means “blessed of the Lord,” and that Zechariah’s father, Jehoiada, was a holy and kind man, indeed worthy to be called “blessed of the Lord.” So, Jerome suggests that perhaps this is the connection. Why do I slide into the opinion of Jerome? Because a Lapide learns from him! Jerome also notes that the Gospel of Matthew used by the Nazarenes does not have the phrase “son of Barachias” in it. Perhaps, then, some early scribe added this, and mistakenly. For although Scripture itself is inerrant, no manuscript is guaranteed to bear this property. Luke does not have the phrase either.

Thus it is that we offer a few ways of resolving the difficulty, none of which imputes error to Scripture, which towers above us and judges us, not we it.

Another place I run is to “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” ed. Dom. Bernard Orchard et alia, of the year 1953 (Thomas Nelson & Sons). There was a later edition (called A New Catholic Commentary) that am not recommending, as I have not read it and as I have also heard mixed things about it. I recommend precisely the one noted here with all these bibliographical marks. I linked a used copy at Amazon above.

Why do I recommend this? Well, it is more recent than a Lapide and engages discussion of more recent issues. Yet, it remains firmly grounded – for the most part – in authentic Catholic outlook that does not impute error to Scripture. Further, the authors are well trained in systematic theology, though they are full-time biblical theologians. I do not recommend the NJBC because it departs in many ways from these important anchors. Thus, learning from texts such as this (NJBC) requires theological skill and erudition, by which one avoids drinking poison with learning. I say the same about the International Biblical Commentary, some of whose entries are excellent and some downright poisonous. The Ignatius Bible Commentary – perhaps still in progress – is also worthwhile.

Biblical Exegesis and Heresy

A reader had a set of incisive questions and comments on this post, so worthwhile, I thought, I wanted to re-post. I’ll get back to this issue of exegesis soon, I hope.

It is the common thesis of biblical scholars that (#1) Moses did not teach creatio ex nihilo. They gather their conclusion chiefly from study of the Biblical Text, related texts of the time, the Hebrew mindset, knowledge of history and literary forms, etc.

We could investigate this thesis further, asking the following questions. (a) What did the Fathers teach about this text? (b) What does the Magisterium teach about this text? (c) How do other Biblical texts read this text? (d) What do the theologians across the ages say about this text? We could pursue these questions, but we will do so on another occasion. I wish to pursue another line of inquiry here.

To the above thesis quite often will be added the following: (#2) Moses taught creation from pre-existing matter.

Now, #1 and #2 are not identical, and their distinction is crucial. Unless we pursue questions (a) – (d), we cannot (it seems to me) immediately contend that #1 is false. It might be true. I tend to think it is true, but I have not pursued questions (a) – (d) yet. And no Catholic scholar should think his reading remotely conclusive unless he has asked all those questions first. Why? Just for example: Vatican I teaches that no one is permitted to hold anything contrary to what the unanimous consensus of the fathers holds concerning a text. Again, Vatican I and II both teach that the Magisterium is the only authoritative interpreter, and no one may hold anything contrary to the definitive reading of texts proposed by the Magisterium. In short, the biblical scholar must know his faith before concluding. Indeed, as Pius XII taught, such faith must inform his reading.

But #2 is heresy. Well, see the comments for more nuance. Why? Because it is solemn universal doctrine that everything proposed by the human author is proposed by the divine author. And it is solemn dogma that the divine author does not lie and is not deceived, all things being laid open to his eyes: God knows all and is all truthful. Ergo, whatever God states is true and inerrant. So, whatever Moses proposes is true and inerrant. But #2 states that Moses proposes creation from something. But this is heresy. Ergo, to propose Moses proposed this is implicit heresy.

Let this examination of this one little – but crucial – text stand for a host of applications. Every conclusion of any biblical scholar contrary to faith is false. This requires no strikethrough.