Divine Inspiration and revisions of Old Testament books


This may be a premature question, in view of the fact that I’ve only started my first semester, but it is bugging me nonetheless. I’m studying Theology at a Jesuit-run seminary, and a few days ago we had a class on Introduction to Sacred Scripture. That class’s topic was the Twelve Prophets in the Old Testament.

In the lecture, our docent repeatedly stressed that many Prophets’ books, i.e. Micha, Zepheniah, Nahum, Habbakuk and others, were continuously revised and edited by committees even long after they were written, to add lines or re-interpret Jewish history. Some were even said to have included “prophecy” of events that already happened.

That immediately prompted the following question in my mind: How, then, can we consider the Old Testament, as we know it today, inspired, and parts of it to be prophecy?

Any thoughts? :shrug:


Sounds like your “docent” is a devotee of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation. Learn what you can from the class, but take comments like this with a grain of salt–or perhaps the whole shaker. Better to read the Church Fathers’ interpretations of the Prophets than rely on modernist revisionism, the main goal of which is to destroy our faith in biblical prophecy. I’m not saying that is your instructor’s personal goal, but at the least he is being used by those who do have that goal. The historical-critical method ought to be confined to theological scholarship and kept out of the classroom because it is merely a theory, an unproved one at that. And while it may have some use for understanding some passages, to apply it to all is dangerous at the least and deceptive at the worst, IMHO.


As Benedict XVI says in his series of books on Jesus of Nazareth, the church needs the historical critical method (HCM) tool. What it does not need is the underlying assumption of it, that there is no God, there is nothing supernatural, and events that seem to hard to believe really cannot be believed.

More detail on this subject of HCM can be found here


The most concise reaction to HCM is what I found in a Jewish commentary on Genesis (Jewish Publication Society) and it says, in deference both to the documentary hypothesis and to historical criticism, that the Book of Genesis is accepted as it is, as the inspired word of God. At the same time, the scholar should remain open to the findings of science.


The early church decided which books to accept and include in the “canon” of writings that could be used for liturgy. That is our assurance.


Of the New Testament, yes. But the Church did not decide anything about the OT until Trent.

The Early Church regarded the OT as a Jewish book. Each Church simply adopted whatever was in use in the Synagogue down the street. The Jewish Church did not have (and still does not have) an “official” canon, so this is why various Catholic Churches have slightly different OT canons.

The Church seems to not give much thought to the Canon of the OT. I have never heard of any debates (such as those which accompanied the NT).


This is actually something I spend a lot of my time thinking about. For various reasons I don’t want to give you a full account of my opinions here, but I’ll give you a few thoughts which might help.

(1) Christians believe in a God who acts in history. Divine providence orders the entire world, and creation is sustained as it is, by God’s will, every second of every single day. We already know that God has revealed himself through the centuries, and not all at once. With this in mind, is it so unbelievable that God might have inspired authors of Sacred Scripture over a longer period than we’re used to thinking? If God deals with mankind through history, is it a great leap to think that he might have inspired the authors of Scripture diachronically? If later redactors added elements to books of Scripture which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has now accepted in their finished state as Scripture, can we not say that those redactors were de facto inspired by the same Spirit?

(2) Prophecy in particular is far more than predicting the future. It’s about revelation, apokalypsis, removing the veil. Sometimes this might involve the hidden things of the future. But equally, prophecy is so often about revealing the hidden things of the past or the present! Look at the Blessed Virgin; filled with the Holy Spirit, she sings of what God has done for her, for Israel, for mankind, and for the poor and meek. Surely we recognise hers as prophetic speech, revealing that God’s power is hidden in the promise to Abraham, in the lower classes of society, and, above all, yet even more hidden than all of those things, in her own womb. Prophecy after the event is certainly not identical to the prediction of the future, but if the Spirit is speaking through the prophet, it’s certainly still prophecy!


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