How do we treat new Biblical scholarship?


#1

I believe that as Catholics dedicated to honesty in our faith, we need to be honest with ourselves and others about science and study of all types. In recent decades, there have been a relatively large number of new finds in Biblical archaeology, textual analysis, and other historical methods, including biology. Some of these findings confirm some of our long-held positions about the Bible, while others seem to simply add more information to our picture of the ancient world, and some cast "doubt" on them (not the Bible books or verses in question, but the way we view them).

Examples of scholarship that seem to confirm our traditional interpretations of the Bible include:
[LIST]
*]The discovery of a large stone structure that some scholars believe to be King David's Palace in Jerusalem.

*]The discovery of names inscribed on a synagogue in Aphrodisias that confirm the Book of Acts' description of Gentile "God fearers" or "God worshipers" at Jewish synagogues throughout the Mediterranean.

*]The discovery of first-century and second-century papyrus fragments of some Biblical books (e.g., Mark from the first-century) that confirm that no new readings of scripture can be made compared to older translations, despite scribal errors over time.
[/LIST]
There are other new finds that improve our understanding of the world in which Jesus and the first Christians lived. For example:
[LIST]
*]The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, which tell us of the radical anti-Temple separatist sect, the Essenes, who went to war against Rome and disappeared forever.

*]The discovery of the first-century Galilean city of Sepphoris about 3 miles outside Jerusalem. It was a cosmopolitan city, in which many scholars now think Jesus may have worked as a carpenter before his ministry.

*]The discovery at Nag Hammadi of a large cache of Gnostic literature, which sheds light on the heretical movements against which many early Christians, including St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, struggled.
[/LIST]

Lastly, there are new discoveries that seem to cast doubt on some of what we have traditionally believed about the Bible. For example:
[LIST]
*]Most scholars now believe that Paul did not write the Bible's "Pastoral Letters" (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). Instead, most scholars view them as "pseudoepigrapha," works falsely attributed to Paul. (This is documented in footnotes and introductory material to the USCCB's New American Bible). These conclusions have been based on close reading and text-critical methods.

*]According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Pentateuch is unlikely to have been the first written books of the Old Testament, instead dating to a time around the Babylonian exile.

*]Genomic statistics reveal that there is too much variation within the human genome worldwide for the genealogy in the Luke's Gospel (e.g., from Adam to Jesus) to be literally true.
[/LIST]

So given this range of support for our traditional beliefs, from upholding to undermining, how should we incorporate this kind of information into our understanding of the Faith? My list isn't intended to say that "the book is closed" on these questions -- science is always moving forward.

Personally, I believe that two truths cannot contradict one another. I also think that if we're going to be open to reason, we need to be open to the totality of what science and historical analysis have to say. Scientific information and spiritual truth are complementary, not contradictory. I believe that science can help purge incorrect beliefs from the faith (for example, geocentrism has proven to be an unnecessary component of Christian faith and a form of idolatry built on reactionary conservatism). I think this way of thinking is consonant with Lumen Gentium's statement that "many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its [the Catholic Church's] visible structure" and Dei Verbum's statement:
"This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her."


#2

You should check out what the Magisterium has had to say about Biblical scholarship and interpretation over the last century or so.

First, Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus deals with some of the errors and excesses of his time, around the end of the 19th century.

Then, Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu continues the work of his predecessors, especially as regards addressing certain problems of scholarship.

The decree Sancta Mater Ecclesia of the Pontifical Biblical Commission concerns the historical truth of the Gospels.

The II Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum provides an excellent summary of Catholic teaching on Sacred Scripture, including what to make of some modern problems.

If you read no other document about the interpretation of Scripture, read this one, On the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church from the Pontifical Biblical Commission. It continues to address problems on both fronts--both secularist tendencies in scholarship and fundamentalism.

Finally, our current Holy Father's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini addresses these issues continually into the 21st century in his usual clear, pastoral manner.

Hope this helps!

-ACEGC


#3

I think it is prudent to take a few things into consideration. One, Biblical schalorship and historical fact(opinion) always changes. So, how much stock can you really put in it? Two most scholars and historians are anti- bible. They go out of thier way to try to disprove the bible. And refuse to use the bible itself as a historical document even though it passes every historical test.
The heart of the matter is the last category so I will respond to those points.

  • It is pretty well established that not all the writings in the new testament atributed to Paul were written by Paul personally. Some were written by people who studied in his line and he was given credit because it reflected his teaching. To this I say So what?

-Look at all the " Scholarly opinion" of when what book of the bible was written when over the past 20 years and it is all over the place. We are talking about writtings over 5000 years. Just because we dont have those copies means squat. They have now way to really tell that the pentatuech wasn't written first.

-Biblical writers did not find it necessary to give exact geneologies citing each father to son. That is why the same geneology will differ in different books. They may cite one man and then say he begot his great great grandson.

-


#4

At adoration just a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that some "scholars" and historical critics may be overly arrogant or prideful, since the further they are away from evens, the more they believe they know about them.


#5

[quote="po18guy, post:4, topic:309571"]
At adoration just a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that some "scholars" and historical critics may be overly arrogant or prideful, since the further they are away from evens, the more they believe they know about them.

[/quote]

And we shouldn't really presume on the actions or dispositions of the scholars themselves, but rather read their works with an open mind and take what is good from their work. This tends to be the position the Church takes on most things.

-ACEGC


#6

Your comments about science are strange. Science cannot study God, the soul or the supernatural, like miracles. The best it can do with miracles is conclude that what happened is impossible as of our current understanding. Archaeology has been helpful to a degree.

The New American Bible has been aptly referred to as "iffy" on Catholic Radio.

Whatever science uncovers is subject to the Teaching Authority of the Church. As Pope Pius XII tells us in Humani Generis (1950):

"10. If philosophers and theologians strive only to derive such profit from the careful examination of these doctrines, there would be no reason for any intervention by the Teaching Authority of the Church. However, although We know that Catholic teachers generally avoid these errors, it is apparent, however, that some today, as in apostolic times, desirous of novelty, and fearing to be considered ignorant of recent scientific findings, try to withdraw themselves from the sacred Teaching Authority and are accordingly in danger of gradually departing from revealed truth and of drawing others along with them into error."

"...provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11]"

This is already old news regarding Biblical scholarship. The Bible is true in all its parts. We can't pick and choose. There may be clarifications. But science has nothing to say that is complementary in all cases. God created everything from nothing. Jesus Christ was true man and true God. That Original Sin Exists within all of us. That we will all be judged by the Living God. These are not just matters of faith but actual realities.

However, there are often posts made here that have nothing to do with science although most writers think there is a direct connection. They have no peer reviewed documents or studies to back up what must be regarded as fantasies. Fantasies that science itself cannot prove in any way because they often include subject matter, like the soul, which science cannot study.

Peace,
Ed


#7

[quote="edward_george, post:5, topic:309571"]
And we shouldn't really presume on the actions or dispositions of the scholars themselves, but rather read their works with an open mind and take what is good from their work. This tends to be the position the Church takes on most things.

-ACEGC

[/quote]

It's not really up to us. Only the Teaching Authority of the Church has the final say. And yes, Biblical scholarship has taken some turns into the "it never happened" category. My least favorite recent example is a statement made by a Rabbi regarding the Exodus. He said there is no evidence it actually happened. One Jewish writer made the obvious observation that after thousands of years, tents abandoned in the desert would disappear without a trace. The Rabbi in question has not changed his 'new' idea to my knowledge. That is hardly scholarship or even evidence of anything.

So, one cannot say this is the position the Church takes on most things. There are fixed points.

Peace,
Ed


#8

[quote="edwest2, post:7, topic:309571"]
It's not really up to us. Only the Teaching Authority of the Church has the final say. And yes, Biblical scholarship has taken some turns into the "it never happened" category. My least favorite recent example is a statement made by a Rabbi regarding the Exodus. He said there is no evidence it actually happened. One Jewish writer made the obvious observation that after thousands of years, tents abandoned in the desert would disappear without a trace. The Rabbi in question has not changed his 'new' idea to my knowledge. That is hardly scholarship or even evidence of anything.

So, one cannot say this is the position the Church takes on most things. There are fixed points.

Peace,
Ed

[/quote]

Among them:

"Test everything. Hold on to what is good." -1 Thessalonians 5, 21.

Hence we see the Magisterium of the past century and a half trying to find the middle ground, trying to take what is good from both sides of the aisle so to speak--a totally spiritual interpretation of Scripture is rejected, as is a totally secular one devoid of a spiritual sense. I highly doubt that the historical-critical method would have been called "indispensable" by the PBC, and that such methods would have been praised by the Popes, were they all bad. Sure, some silly things come out of them, hence we are urged to interpret Scripture in accord with the mind of the Church--that is our benchmark when we test everything, of course. I'm not proposing free-wheeling intellectual relativism here, and I hope that you don't think that I am. What I'm saying is that if modern methods give us silly things, toss the silly things. And if they give us good things, hang on to that.

-ACEGC


#9

[quote="edwest2, post:6, topic:309571"]
Your comments about science are strange. Science cannot study God, the soul or the supernatural, like miracles. The best it can do with miracles is conclude that what happened is impossible as of our current understanding. Archaeology has been helpful to a degree.

[/quote]

You're right -- science can't study the supernatural. Miracles are by definition, non-causal within the rules of cause-and-effect within our universe. However, science studies things like the structure and age of the universe (e.g., geocentric vs. heliocentric vs., astronomical). Science uncovers biochemical processes that allow life to exist. It describes the parts of the nervous system that are associated with functions like letter recognition. Based on such descriptions, we can recognize what is "supernatural" vs. subject to scientific inquiry.

The New American Bible has been aptly referred to as "iffy" on Catholic Radio.

The NAB is published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including their web page. "Catholic Radio" isn't the authority here. If you don't like USCCB, go to other scholarly Bibles. They're almost all based on 3 Greek language bibles, 2 of which are from Alexandria, Egypt scribes. Pick whatever Bible you want. How about the new scholarly Bible in Greek: Nestle-Aland 28. The King James is full of holes, and even evangelist Christian experts say that.

Whatever science uncovers is subject to the Teaching Authority of the Church.

In terms of faith and morals, yes. But as I and ACEGC quoted above, Dei Verbum *says that "*there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers... and through Episcopal succession..."

As Pope Pius XII tells us in Humani Generis (1950):

"10. ...] as in apostolic times, desirous of novelty, and fearing to be considered ignorant of recent scientific findings, try to withdraw themselves from the sacred Teaching Authority and are accordingly in danger of gradually departing from revealed truth and of drawing others along with them into error."

"...provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11]"

Pretty much the same thing as Dei Verbum later said. We consider new information in light of the Apostolic teaching authority of the Church. This doesn't say that the Magesterium can ignore science, it says that scientists shouldn't ignore the Magesterium. There is a very big difference between the two.

This is already old news regarding Biblical scholarship. The Bible is true in all its parts. We can't pick and choose. There may be clarifications. But science has nothing to say that is complementary in all cases.

OK, but does something need to be literal to be true? Did Christ's parables need to be literally true to have meaning? What about the Book of Job? There are some things that are literally true, such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There are some things that are figurative, such as the parables, but that teach us about the Kingdom of God.

God created everything from nothing. Jesus Christ was true man and true God. That Original Sin Exists within all of us. That we will all be judged by the Living God. These are not just matters of faith but actual realities.

Science has nothing to say about any of these things. These are all matters of faith and morals, and none of them can be tested scientifically. The earth is 4.8 billion years old and all life on earth evolved from single-celled organisms. The matter and energy distributed throughout the universe are best explained by a primordial explosion commonly referred to as "the Big Bang." All this is absolutely consistent with everything you said.

However, there are often posts made here that have nothing to do with science although most writers think there is a direct connection. They have no peer reviewed documents or studies to back up what must be regarded as fantasies. Fantasies that science itself cannot prove in any way because they often include subject matter, like the soul, which science cannot study.

I'm one of those posters on the soul, I think. As I said before, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the soul perceives through the sense organs. It moves through the body. And, extending Aquinas with cognitive neuroscience, that the soul thinks and feels through the human nervous system. That's not to say that the soul doesn't have other faculties, but the soul is a spiritual thing, and not subject to scientific testing. To say that after death, the soul has the exact same perception, cognition, and feeling that we have before we die is neither Biblical nor required by any teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. St. Paul writes in the end of 1 Corinthians that the Resurrection is within our glorified physical bodies, as Christ's was within his glorified physical bodies. No Catholic in the first century had the notion that the soul was a ride-along "ghost in the machine," that was a concept that the Gnostics held that our modern era has reintroduced with Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Matrix Trilogy. It seems to me that the vast majority of Christians seem to think that the soul is "our true self," which is a dangerous concept. Is it any wonder that the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary have such appeal? Fighting that is how I think science is useful.

Peace,
-Chad


#10

All your scientific claims don't matter much. You're just restating the same secular dogma that manages to find any small openings here to repeat the (almost) infinitely repeated.

"This doesn't say that the Magesterium can ignore science, it says that scientists shouldn't ignore the Magesterium."

Take embryonic stem cell research. Scientists were pretty up in arms when the Church stepped out of what some people think is their outside boundary line - "How dare you say anything against us? You are hindering scientific research!" Seen any priests or nuns blocking access to research labs or carrying assault rifles?

From various and numerous posters here, "If I need to understand physics, I don't get that from the Church." Your statement is a non-sequiter. Numerous Catholics contributed to science.

The Church has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences and makes pronouncements on scientific matters.

Example: "The earth is 4.8 billion years old and all life on earth evolved from single-celled organisms. The matter and energy distributed throughout the universe are best explained by a primordial explosion commonly referred to as "the Big Bang."

I'm unconvinced the earth is that old, and no one was there for the origin of all life or the Big Bang. We don't know how much matter and energy is out there. And where are we in relation to the center of the Universe? To the left, right, to the south? Didn't scientists invent dark matter less than a year ago?

As far as I can tell, the cosmic background radiation doesn't mean anything except the mean energy level of the universe which does not necessarily mean it's connected to the Big Bang. Until relatively recently, there were parts of the universe we couldn't detect, and whenever I see a Hubble really deep space image, what's in the background? More faint galaxies. We have no idea how big the universe is.

Peace,
Ed


#11

[quote="edwest2, post:10, topic:309571"]
All your scientific claims don't matter much.

[/quote]

Actually, I disagree wholeheartedly. On the point about neuroscience, I would suggest that we're absolutely swimming in gnostic belief, which includes most Catholics. To say that we are incomplete without our bodies is to reiterate Catholic dogma. Most every person who's responded to my earlier posts on the soul throws gnosticism at me, the belief that our true selves are just waiting to be liberated from the corrupt shells of our bodies. That's exactly the same heresy against which St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, and the authors of the Pastoral Letters fought. And Catholics are spreading it far and wide with the rest of our culture. The way I see it, science is helping to reconnect us with the Faith of 1900 years ago, along with good exegesis.

You're just restating the same secular dogma that manages to find any small openings here to repeat the (almost) infinitely repeated.

What secular dogma is that? Can you please explicitly tell me what you think I'm really getting at?

Take embryonic stem cell research. Scientists were pretty up in arms when the Church stepped out of what some people think is their outside boundary line - "How dare you say anything against us? You are hindering scientific research!" Seen any priests or nuns blocking access to research labs or carrying assault rifles?

Actually, this points out how a lack of reliance on science is making us lose this fight. We can't stop stem cell research by arguing its morality to people who don't hold that moral position. What we can talk about is the commodification of human life, the reduction of humanity to a tissue bank. Talking about the economics of stem cells and how demand for further embryos creates incentive for harvesting for profit. Talk about how IVF is based on the false notion that a child must be genetically related to you to be truly loved. I don't support stem cell research, but it's not because of science. It's because of ethics, which is not subject to scientific inquiry!

The Church has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences and makes pronouncements on scientific matters.

And that's vitally important. Not to make logical inferences or verify theories, but to frame scientific research (both methods and findings) in the ethical and spiritual frame of the Catholic Church. But as Dei Verbum points out, it's all of us, considering our experiences prayerfully in our hearts, that makes tradition grow, in concert with the episcopacy. We are the Church too, not just "them."


#12

[quote="edward_george, post:5, topic:309571"]
And we shouldn't really presume on the actions or dispositions of the scholars themselves, but rather read their works with an open mind and take what is good from their work. This tends to be the position the Church takes on most things.

-ACEGC

[/quote]

That is certainly true. My jaundiced eye may be on account of some of the worst examples that have surfaced in recent decades. I certainly cannot paint them all with a broad brush, and I am very thankful that we have an authoritative Church to test the spirits, so to speak.


#13

New Biblical scholarship as opposed to what? Old biblical scholarship? Modern as opposed to ancient? What are we exactly talking about here?


#14

As for the authorship and the so-called doubts about Paul and others not being the original authors, those are not facts that shed light, those are only theories based on a school of thought that thinks only within its own little box. The traditional school of thought relies on a more reliable body of sources that is from oral tradition and written tradition handed down from generations that go back to Apostolic times, not what university professors with a non-traditional philosophical approach think they see between the texts. The traditional approach has been around for thousands of years while the historical critical method is extremely new. I have major problems with a philosophy that makes the case that Sacred Scripture is full or deceptive forgeries, I cannot accept that.


#15

[quote="juliamajor, post:13, topic:309571"]
New Biblical scholarship as opposed to what? Old biblical scholarship? Modern as opposed to ancient? What are we exactly talking about here?

[/quote]

Julia,

I cited some of the material. ACEGC does a wonderful job of reviewing recent Vatican documents and publications. The 1994 document on new methods of Biblical analysis is extremely useful. Thanks ACEGC for posting!


#16

[quote="COPLAND_3, post:14, topic:309571"]
As for the authorship and the so-called doubts about Paul and others not being the original authors, those are not facts that shed light, those are only theories based on a school of thought that thinks only within its own little box.

[/quote]

Have you actually read the whole corpus of Paul's work? Scholars universally agree on 7 epistles that Paul definitely wrote: 1 Thess, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, and Romans. Read those. Then read 1&2 Timothy and Titus. Even in English, they read nothing like the 7 "for sure" letters. They're addressed to Timothy and Titus, while the 7 are all addressed to congregations. Paul's 7 "for sure" letters are corroborated by cross-reference with Acts. Paul's major opponents in the 7 are the Judaizers who tried to get Gentiles to adopt Jewish kosher law, while 1&2 Tim and Titus make references to gnostic heretical thinking. Gnosticism isn't believed to have been a major contest for Christianity until later than the mid-60s when scholars think Paul died, with attestation of the death of James in Jerusalem by Flavius Josephus around the same time.

The traditional school of thought relies on a more reliable body of sources that is from oral tradition and written tradition handed down from generations that go back to Apostolic times, not what university professors with a non-traditional philosophical approach think they see between the texts.

But Tradition isn't blind to scholarship. And opposition to new understanding based on science and scholarship can look like idolizing one's own ideas of the Church and the Bible. The Bible itself is not a unified book of texts. It's a collection of texts with radically different descriptions of the life of Jesus and Christian teaching. It's Tradition and the Magesterium that integrates it all.

The traditional approach has been around for thousands of years while the historical critical method is extremely new.

Actually, Origen published a parallel text comparison in his time. Fathers of the third century described John's gospel as the "spiritual gospel" since it has so many discrepancies from the other three in its account of the life and ministry of Jesus. The early church fathers definitely used critical methods of analyzing the Bible. As just one case in point, there are numerous versions of the Bible canon from as late as the 5th or 6th centuries that leave out Revelation or 2 Peter. This is because scholars were casting a critical eye even then.

I have major problems with a philosophy that makes the case that Sacred Scripture is full or deceptive forgeries, I cannot accept that.

No one is saying the Bible is full of forgeries. But it's worthwhile to look at the formation of the Biblical canon as an extended process. For example, it's now widely believed that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of multiple letters of Paul and that all the Pauline epistles were compiled together by the mid-late 2nd century. Subsequent scribal copies of individual letters appear to link back to the compilation.


#17

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