I know no translation is inspired. So the translation is imperfect. However, is the original language words used as good as can be? Or could it have been done differently,even better in some cases. Just wondering if inspiration means not only free from error but also the best choice of words used to explain the concepts.
For example, at the Last Supper Jesus identifies Judas as the one who will betray him. And then Jesus tells Judas to go do what he is going to do quickly. Now why would Jesus want Judas to betray him quickly? It seems there is more to the story that is not being told. We can only guess as to why Jesus said for him to go quickly. It makes it sound like Jesus is orchestrating his own betrayal. There is a lot of information left out of Scripture that could have been added in to help better explain things.
Not really. God chose who he wanted to inspire to write the Scriptures, and even while they wrote, guided them so as to write exactly and only what He wanted written. Hence, the words of Scripture are the very words of God Himself. So, it’s like asking whether God could have done a better job in writing Scripture. If by better, you mean, one with less difficulties, or something like that, than yes. But the Scriptures are the way they are because God wanted them that way, so in this way, no. And since the latter outranks the former in terms of judging the goodness of the work, it follows that the Scriptures could not really be any better in the way are written.
Invest in a good commentary.
I don’t think there could ever be a version that is ‘the best’ because the people who read it are interested in different things, have different cultures and use language differently.
I think that no matter what level of detail was included there would always be interesting questions with no readable answer.
Perhaps one of the strengths of Scripture is that these ‘blind spots’ help the reader to meditate on certain issues and allow a wider relevance because it’s ambiguity throws up many different possible scenarios that then lead to different interpretations and insights.
Do you have any suggestions?
I think it could use a really good edit!
My understanding of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is that it wasn’t a dictation. That is what the Muslims believe about their Koran, that it was a dictation that Muhammad wrote down. Instead, the authors of Scriptures had free will to write down what they wanted and in their own style and language. That is why you have different styles according to different human authors. If the Bible was a dictation it would read as from only one author. But, that is not how the Bible reads.
So given that it wasn’t a dictation and the authors had free will to write what they wanted and in their own language and style how could it be considered inspired? My understanding is that the authors were inspired on the different subjects and themes that they were writing about. They were in a sense infused with the knowledge of these things by the Holy Spirit. Then they wrote about them in freedom of thought and in their own style.
Parts of Scripture certainly are dictation. Jesus Christ told St. John to write down what he saw in the first chapter of Revelation. St Jerome sometimes speaks of the Scriptures being dictated by God. But, you’re correct, they had free will. The exact nature of Sacred Scripture’s inspiration is a mystery, but one must hold that there is, in a sense, one principal author, the Holy Spirit. Every word of Sacred Scripture is the very Word of God.
This is a tempting error people make today. It’s not only the content of Sacred Scripture that is inspired; the words themselves, are inspired.
I’ll quote here from Pope Benedict XV’s 1920 encyclical, Spiritus Paraclitus, on this matter:
You will not find a page in his writings which does not show clearly that he, in common with the whole Catholic Church, firmly and consistently held that the Sacred Books - written as they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church. Thus he asserts that the Books of the Bible were composed at the inspiration, or suggestion, or even at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; even that they were written and edited by Him. Yet he never questions but that the individual authors of these Books worked in full freedom under the Divine afflatus, each of them in accordance with his individual nature and character. Thus he is not merely content to affirm as a general principle - what indeed pertains to all the sacred writers - that they followed the Spirit of God as they wrote, in such sort that God is the principal cause of all that Scripture means and says; but he also accurately describes what pertains to each individual writer. In each case Jerome shows us how, in composition, in language, in style and mode of expression, each of them uses his own gifts and powers; hence he is able to portray and describe for us their individual character, almost their very features; this is especially so in his treatment of the Prophets and of St. Paul. This partnership of God and man in the production of a work in common Jerome illustrates by the case of a workman who uses instruments for the production of his work; for he says that whatsoever the sacred authors say “Is the word of God, and not their own; and what the Lord says by their mouths He says, as it were, by means of an instrument.”
-Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, ch. 8, 1920
I hope this was helpful,
Clarity as to what means what, clarity as to what is literal or metaphorical, and clarity as to seeming contradictions would have been a great help.
This comic strip sums up my feelings best:
Perhaps, I am just realizing in a new way the limitations of Scripture. And, thus the need for other things like Tradition and the Church. Don’t get me wrong. I am really enjoying reading the gospel of John lately. But, I find that the gospels are quite concise. They really didn’t embellish much on the life of Jesus. We only hear what they wanted us to hear, the best stories, the best teachings, etc. We don’t know for instance what Jesus’ favorite food was, what he did for fun, or many other things. We don’t know his disciples that well either. If this were a novel I would be wanting more character development.
And, maybe that is the point. Perhaps, the gospels weren’t meant to be taken in that way or written as merely a biography or another story. But, they could have been written as concise reminders of what Jesus said and did for the spiritual edification of the early church, as both inspiring and warning. As well, as a defense against the Jews who opposed them, showing how Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy.
Well, in this sense, you do have to remember, that nothing does not concern our salvation is put into Scripture. So whatever is in the Sacred Books is there for a reason. This is why we don’t hear of the Lord’s favorite foods, colors and the like; it’s not important.
Do be careful, Scripture is not a novel; it’s the Word of God written to man for his instruction in Divine truths, and to record the history of how God has intervened in human affairs.
Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium are critical, not doubt. But Scripture itself is very lofty, and it has very great weight in theology, and pretty much anything to do with Christinianity (although, of course, you’re correct: to interpret the Bible correctly, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterial Authority of the Church are needed many times).
I do have several commentaries. Only one commentary actually addresses it. This commentary said:
Now, our Lord, in an audible tone, addresses Judas, “that which thou dost, do it quickly.” This is permissive, not mandatory, as if He said in the language of stern, indignant reproach: I know your wicked designs; I fear not your worst; I am prepared for the consequences of your base treason. “What you do,” you are prepared and determined to do, you may as well do at once.
Also the Jerome Commentary
Here’s a link to all kinds of helpful reading
For what it’s worth, Biblical Studies and some original language learning have shown me that the Bible is an absolute literary masterpiece.
That may make it harder to get doctrine out of it, but there is more to religion than formulae, and certainly much more truth can be gleaned from a masterpiece of literature, than a list of statements of faith. In fact, that’s how we get most of our statements of faith.
One may not see the multi-layered philosophically rich and literarily complex material going on in John (Greek puns - of which John was a big fan - and chiasms - of which he was a bigger fan - are tough to get in an English translation organized into our modern chapter and verse instead of its original periciopes), but a good commentary is a good place to start to see more than what you might see without training.
And Jesus, knowing Judas would do it, asking him to do that which he must do quickly, that makes immediate sense to me. I don’t see that as bad writing. “Get it over with” is a totally understandable thing to say there.
I suppose we may also read it as, “Do your worst” as your commentary suggests, but those two realities are not really opposed are they?
I guess my question should have been could the Bible have been written any differently but still be considered inspired? In one sense we already kind of subscribe to that by allowing translations. Since different words are used in each translation. If the authors truly had freedom to write what they wanted then they could have said the same thing but in a different way, using their own style of writing.
I have been reading the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia on Inspiration of Scripture. There seems to be some difference of opinion on this issue of verbal inspiration. I will quote the relevant portion here.
Theologians discuss the question, whether inspiration controlled the choice of the words used or operated only in what concerned the sense of the assertions made in the Bible. In the sixteenth century verbal inspiration was the current teaching. The Jesuits of Louvain were the first to react against this opinion. They held “that it is not necessary in order that a text be Holy Scripture, for the Holy Ghost to have inspired the very material words used.” The protests against this new opinion were so violent that Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez thought it their duty to tone down the formula by declaring “that all the words of the text have been dictated by the Holy Ghost in what concerns the substance, but differently according to the diverse conditions of the instruments.” This opinion went on gaining in precision, and little by little it disentangled itself from the terminology which it had borrowed from the adverse opinion, notably from the word “dictation.” Its progress was so rapid that at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was more commonly taught than the theory of verbal inspiration. Cardinal Franzelin seems to have given it its definite form. During the last quarter of a century verbal inspiration has again found partisans, and they become more numerous every day. However, the theologians of today, whilst retaining the terminology of the older school, have profoundly modified the theory itself. They no longer speak of a material dictation of words to the ear of the writer, nor of an interior revelation of the term to be employed, but of a Divine motion extending to every faculty and even to the powers of execution to the writer, and in consequence influencing the whole work, even its editing. Thus the sacred text is wholly the work of God and wholly the work of man, of the latter, by way of instrument, of the former by way of principal cause. Under this rejuvenated form the theory of verbal inspiration shows a marked advance towards reconciliation with the rival opinion. From an exegetical and apologetical point of view it is indifferent which of these two opinions we adopt. All agree that the characteristics of style as well as the imperfections affecting the subject matter itself, belong to the inspired writer. As for the inerrancy of the inspired text it is to the Inspirer that it must be finally attributed, and it matters little if God has insured the truth of His Scripture by the grace of inspiration itself, as the adherents of verbal inspiration teach, rather than by a providential assistance.
Here is another citation from the encyclopedia. Pay particularl attention to the part I have emboldened. Just what do they mean by the imperfections?
(b) To induce a person to write is not to take on oneself the responsibility of that writing, more especially it is not to become the author of that writing. If God can claim the Scripture as His own work, it is because He has brought even the intellect of the inspired writer under His command. However, we must not represent the Inspirer as putting a ready-made book in the mind of the inspired person. Nor has He necessarily to reveal the contents of the work to be produced. No matter where the knowledge of the writer on this point comes from, whether it be acquired naturally or due to Divine revelation, inspiration has not essentially for its object to teach something new to the sacred writer, but to render him capable of writing with Divine authority. Thus the author of the Acts of the Apostles narrates events in which he himself took part, or which were related to him. It is highly probable that most of the sayings of the Book of Proverbs were familiar to the sages of the East, before being set down in an inspired writing. God, inasmuch as he is the principal cause, when he inspires a writer, subordinates all that writer’s cognitive faculties so as to make him accomplish the different actions which would be naturally gone through by a man who, first of all, has the design of composing a book, then gets together his materials, subjects them to a critical examination, arranges them, makes them enter into his plan, and finally brands them with the mark of his personality — i.e. his own peculiar style. The grace of inspiration does not exempt the writer from personal effort, nor does it insure the perfection of his work from an artistic point of view. The author of the Second Book of Machabees and St. Luke tell the reader of the pains they took to document their work (2 Maccabees 2:24-33; Luke 1:1-4). The imperfections of the work are to be attributed to the instrument. God can, of course, prepare this instrument beforehand, but, at the time of using it, He does not ordinarily make any change in its conditions. When the Creator applies His power to the faculties of a creature outside of the ordinary way, he does so in a manner in keeping with the natural activity of these faculties. Now, in all languages recourse is had to the comparison of light to explain the nature of the human intelligence. That is why St. Thomas (II-II:171:2 and II-II:174:2 ad 3um) gives the name of light or illumination to the intellectual motion communicated by God to the sacred writer. After him, then, we may say that this motion is a peculiar supernatural participation of the Divine light, in virtue of which the writer conceives exactly the work that the Holy Ghost wants him to write. Thanks to this help given to his intellect, the inspired writer judges, with a certitude of Divine order, not only of the opportuneness of the book to be written, but also of the truth of the details and of the whole. However, all theologians do not analyse exactly in the same manner the influence of this light of inspiration.
I don’t know what they are referring to with imperfections, possibly given the passages they cite, they are referring to historical ambiguities or things unclear or misleading for someone who wanted a discursive treatment of the history of the time - but I think that the Bible has been considered one of the great works for a reason, and really, denegrating its artistic achievement is like dismissing Shakespeare or Dante as kids learning them for the first time often do. Or as we did with Dickens or Beowulf until they were rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century.
It’s like saying Sgt. pepper’s was an imperfect album, or that Citizen Kaine had some flaws. I’m just like, “Who are you?”