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.