Free From All Error: The Holy Scriptures by Rev. William G. Most Part 2
Chapter 11: Genre of Genesis
We feel great need of the genre approach when we read Genesis, chapters 1-3. We already saw that Pius XII deplored excessive looseness in the application of genres to Genesis. He insisted that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, “even though they do not fully match the pattern of historical composition used by the great Greek and Latin writers of history, or by modern historians, yet in a certain sense-which needs further investigation by scholars-they do pertain to the genre of history.” So let us try to carry out the desire of Pius XII. Those chapters of Genesis pertain to history in that they do relate events that really happened. They present the facts within the special framework of a story, however. We might even call it a stage setting. Hence Genesis 1-11 is historical in that it tells what really happened, chiefly these: God made all things; in some special way, He made the first human pair; He gave them some command (we do not know what the command was-the garden and the fruit are part of the stage setting); they violated the command and fell from favor.
GOD MADE MAN IN SOME SPECIAL WAY. St. Augustine, in his commentary on Genesis (De Genesi ad litterams 6.12.20), rejected a simplistic interpretation of these Scriptures: “That God made man with bodily hands from the clay,” wrote Augustine, “is an excessively childish thought .... we should rather believe the one who wrote it used a metaphorical term, instead of supposing God is bounded by such lines of limbs as we see in our bodies.”
In this same vein, Pius XII wrote: “The Magisterium of the Church does not forbid that the theory of evolution about the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existing and living matter be investigated and discussed by experts in both fields, so far as the present state of human sciences and sacred theology permits-for Catholic faith requires us to hold that the human soul is immediately created by God. This is to be done in such a way that the reasons on both sides for and against, be weighed and judged with due gravity, moderation and temperance, provided all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church....
They go too far in rash daring who act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existent and living matter were already fully proved by evidence discovered up to now and by reasoning on that evidence, as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation calling for very great moderation and caution” Humani Generis, DS 3896).
In summary, then, we are permitted to study evolution scientifically and with theological care, but we must not say that the evidence is such that the theory is fully proved at present.
That caution was written in 1950. Has scientific evidence developed to the point that evolution has now been proved? The “Research News” section in Science magazine for November 21, 1980, gives a long report on what Science calls “a historic conference in Chicago [that] challenges the four-decade-long dominance of the Modern Synthesis.” The Modern Synthesis is the belief that “Evolution ... moves at a stately pace, with small changes accumulating over periods of many millions of years.” The report tells us that “a wide spectrum of researchers-ranging from geologists and paleontologists, through ecologists and population geneticists to embryologists and molecular biologists-gathered in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History” to consider evolution.
The Modern Synthesis came under heavy challenge, for: “The problem is that according to most paleontologists the principle [sic] feature of individual species within the fossil record is stasis, not change.... For the most part, the fossils do not document a smooth transition from old morphologies to new ones. ‘For millions of years species remain unchanged in the fossil record,’ said Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, ‘and they then abruptly disappear, to be replaced by something that is substantially different but clearly related.’”
The result is a shift. The evidence that was supposed to support evolution-gradual changes in the fossil record, of one species into another-has been found almost entirely lacking. So, do the scientists drop the theory of evolution once they find that the evidence is not sufficient to prove it? No, they make an adjustment in the theory instead: “The emerging picture of evolutionary change ... is one of periods during which individual species remain virtually unchanged, punctuated by abrupt events at which a descendant species arises from the original stock.” In other words, there has been a whole series of flukes, sudden leaps from lower to higher. What is the proof of this? If there was anyone at the conference who knew, that person failed to speak up.
Newsweek (November 3, 1980, pp. 95-96) summed up the same meeting this way: “In the fossil record, missing links are the rule.... Evidence from fossils now points overwhelmingly away from the classical Darwinism which ... [says] that new species evolve out of existing ones by the gradual accumulation of small changes.... Increasingly, scientists now believe that species change little for millions of years, and then evolve quickly, in a kind of quantum leap-not necessarily in a direction that represents an obvious improvement in fitness. The majority of 160 of the world’s top paleontologists, anatomists, evolutionary geneticists and developmental biologists supported some form of this theory of ‘punctuated equilibria.’”
Pius XII is still right: there is no proof. But we may discuss evolution as long as we admit this fact, and as long as we do not make the theory atheistic. Sadly, there seems to be a tendency of this kind in many scientists. Thus, according to the article in Science, at one point Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, found himself “countering accusations of monotheism.” Really, to suppose that beings can lift themselves by their bootstraps, adding higher perfections that they receive from nowhere, is untenable on the grounds of reason alone, even without the help of religion.
Closely related is the question of polygenism, the theory that our race descended not from one pair but from several. The task of proving this scientifically is awesome, probably impossible. One would have to find the oldest human remains and be sure they were human. Where there is evidence of ritual burial, especially with artifacts, one may be sure that the remains are clearly human.
Otherwise it is often impossible to know. Scientists still differ over the recent fossil skeleton of “Lucy.” But to prove polygenism, one would have to be certain that the remains are human and, further, that they are so close to the origin of the race that, considering geographic distribution, they could not have come from one pair.
We are still countless miles from having such proof. In fact, Science News (August 13, 1983, p. 101) reports that Allan Wilson of the University of California at Berkley now holds that “we all go back to one mother, living 350,000 years ago.... Wilson found 110 variations in the mitochondrial DNA of 112 individuals in a worldwide survey.” (Mitochrondria are the power-producing structures of cells. They contain 35 genes that are passed directly from mother to child, hence Wilson did not speak of a father.)
From the viewpoint of Scripture, Pius XII said, in Humani Generis: “Christians cannot embrace that opinion ... since it is by no means apparent how this view could be reconciled with things which the sources of revelations and the acta of the Magisterium of the Church teach about original sin, which comes from a sin really committed by one Adam, and which, being transmitted by generation, is in each one as his own.” Of the scholars who sincerely wish to follow the Church, some think that this
statement completely rules out polygenism; others, who also seek to be loyal, think that its careful wording leaves a door open by saying that polygenism cannot be accepted because it is not clear how to fit it with Scripture and official teaching. They think that if a way could be found to make it fit, the objection brought by Pius XII would be dropped.
A special problem with these chapters of Genesis is the account of how Eve was made from a rib of Adam. Pope John Paul II explained excellently in his audience of November 7, 1979,1 that Genesis 1-3 is “myth.” Scripture scholars often describe the genre of Genesis 1-3 in that way, but they do not mean what most people think of on hearing the word myth. As the Pope explained, “the term myth does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content.”2
Within this framework, the Pope then explained the rib scene: “The man (Adam) falls into the ‘sleep’ in order to wake up ‘male’ end ‘female’.... Perhaps... the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness as a specific return to non-being (sleep contains an element of annihilation of man’s conscious existence), that is, to the moment preceding the creation, in order that, through God’s creative initiative, solitary ‘man’ may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female.... It is a question here of homogeneity of the whole being of both.”3 The Pope adds: “It is interesting to note that for the ancient Sumerians the cuneiform sign to indicate the noun rib coincided with the one used to indicate the word life.”4 St. John Chrysostom, centuries ago, in his Homily on Genesis (2:21), moved in the same direction as the Pope, without being able to work it out fully. He called the rib episode a case of synkatabasis, divine adaptation to our needs. “See the condescendence of divine Scripture,” says Chrysostom, “what words it uses because of our weakness. ‘And He took,’ it says, ‘one of his ribs.’ Do not take what is said in a human way, but understand that the crassness of the words fits human weakness.”
If we work within this same framework of genre, we can find other remarkable insights into the content. Let us retell the episode in our own words so as to bring out these points.
Eve is in the garden one day. Along comes the tempter and says: “This is a fine garden! Do they let you eat the fruit of all these trees?” Eve replies: “Yes ... oh, pardon me, not the one over there. God said if we eat from that one, we will die.”
The evil one responds: “He said that? Can’t you see He is selfish, holding out on you? Why, if you eat that fruit, you will become like gods. He does not want anyone else to get what He has.” So Eve looks at the fruit and says, “I can just see that it is good.”
Eve’s words imply: God may know what is good in some things, but here I can see for myself This is good, even if He says it is not.
Here the ancient theologian of Genesis was telling us that every sin is, at bottom, pride. God may know some things, but I know better here and now. My senses tell me for certain what is good.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God calls: “Adam, where are you?” Adam says, “I hid myself because I was naked.” Then God asks Adam, “How did you find out you were naked if you did not eat the forbidden fruit?”
Adam and Eve were naked both before and after the first sin. But before sinning, that fact did not disturb them. Afterwards, feeling ashamed, they hurriedly improvised some covering from leaves. What seems to be implied is this: Man, if God had given him only the essentials of humanity, no added gifts, would have had to work to control his drives. Man has many drives in his body, each legitimate in itself, each working towards its own satisfaction. Each operates automatically, blindly, taking no thought for the well-being of the whole man. So, there would be need for mortification to learn to tame them. The sex drive, especially, is unruly. It can start up without a man wanting it to start.
But, clearly, before the Fall, Adam had no such problem. His sex drive was not rebellious. It could operate, but only when he told it to, not before. But after the Fall, that drive began to take over, to operate without his willing it. Hence the feeling of need for cover.
Before the Fall, Adam had had what we might call a coordinating gift, a power that made it easy to keep all his drives harmonious and in subjection to his reason and will. After the Fall, he lost that coordinating gift. And, inasmuch as feelings, especially strong ones, can pull on one’s judgment, the result of sin was that the mind was darkened and the will weakened. We, descendants of Adam, did not inherit the special gift. Adam and Eve had thrown it away by sin; they no longer had it to give.
Having lost God’s favor, His grace, their descendants could not inherit it. To be born without grace in the soul is to be in a state of sin. In the infant, that state is not the child’s own fault; in the adult sinner, that person is culpable. To lose God’s favor means that what is said in John 14:23 cannot come true: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” In theological language, this means that the soul will lack the divine presence it had in sanctifying grace. Adam and Eve lost this favor, and so this grace. Their descendants were born without it. They begin their earthly lives without the divine presence within their souls that is the uncreated aspect of sanctifying grace. That is what is meant by original sin.
St. Paul, under inspiration, in Romans 5:12, saw this in Genesis, and the Council of Trent authoritatively interpreted it thus (DS 1514). (Of course this does not preclude the fact that Adam, Eve, and their descendants could, after the unfortunate start, regain that favor and grace.)
1 [Footnotes for this chapter missing. Probable reconstructions follow:] See Pope John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman, Catechesis on the Book of Genesis (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981), the audience of November 7, 1979.
Chapter 12: Genre of Infancy Gospels
What is the genre of the Infancy Gospels (chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew and Luke)? Many scholars in recent times have been inclined-to say that it is midrash, a rather loose Hebrew genre which investigates hidden meanings and attempts to apply them to new situations. If the Infancy Gospels are midrash, many things in the narratives-the star, the Magi-may not really be historical.1 R. E. Brown (The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 1977) seems to think that no one has fully identified the genre of the Infancy Gospels. He speaks of these chapters as theological introductions built on few facts. Luke, Brown thinks, built up a few scant bits of information by making his account parallel to Old Testament incidents (pp. 37-38, 557-562).
Brown sees evidence of unhistorical character in several things. In the Gospel of St. Matthew (2:11), unlike that of Luke, Brown notes that “Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem of Judea, and have their home there” (p. 124). “Matthew,” writes Brown, “does not tell us precisely where in Bethlehem Jesus was born, but verse 11 [of chapter 2 of Matthew] suggests the birthplace was the house where Mary (and Joseph) lived. The Lucan version ... wherein Mary and Joseph were visitors to Bethlehem without a place to stay... led to the subsequent Christian tradition that Jesus was born in a cave” (p. 166).
Brown also thinks that the census mentioned by St. Luke could not be historical (pp. 547-555). He says that “a journey to Egypt is quite irreconcilable with Luke’s account of an orderly and uneventful return from Bethlehem to Nazareth shortly after the birth of the child” (p. 225). Brown also notes that “the angel speaks to Joseph in Matthew. while he speaks to Mary in Luke” (p. 35).
Brown’s objections are very easily answered. In Matthew 2:11, we find the wise men “going into the house [where] they saw the child with Mary his mother.” Mary and Joseph did come to Bethlehem for the registration. Not finding a suitable place for the birth of the child, they took refuge in a cave. But the Magi need not have arrived at once. The fact that Herod ordered a slaughter of children two years of age and under suggests there was some lapse of time. In that interval came the Presentation in the Temple and a return to Bethlehem.
Although they did not intend to settle there permanently, Joseph would obviously have found a house there instead of going back to the cave. It was in that house that the Magi found them.
The Greek apographe is broader than the English census. It could mean a different kind of enrollment. A new study The Birth of Christ Recalculated, E. L. Martin (2nd ed. FBR Publications, Pasadena, 1980), concludes that it really was a registration to profess allegiance to Augustus, in preparation for his receiving the great title Pater Patriae (“Father of His Country”) in 2 BC A restudy of astronomical data and of an old inscription, the Lapis Tiburtinus, leads to the conclusion that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem in September of 3 BC, probably on September 11. Martin’s work, which has received good reviews, readily solves the problems of the census. It, incidentally, also solves a number of previously unsolvable problems of the secular history of the time. (The ancient historian Josephus, in his Antiquities, places the death of Herod just after a lunar eclipse. But there had been several in the years we are concerned with.) The journey to Egypt presents no problem either. Luke 2:39 is just a summary account with no indication at all of time. Scholars in other places (for example, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary 11, p. 229, on the problem of the relation of the Council of Jerusalem to statements by St. Paul) are quite willing to consider the possibility that Luke had telescoped two council meetings into one account.
Finally, Brown’s worry over the fact that, in Matthew, the angel speaks to Joseph, while in Luke, he speaks to Mary is surprisingly inane. In Luke, the angel first brought the message to Mary, asking her consent. She, in humility, told no one, not even Joseph. So an angel had to be sent later to inform him.
On the contrary, there are strong reasons for believing in the factual character of the Infancy Gospels. St. Luke in his opening verses tells us that “many others have undertaken to draw up accounts” about Jesus. It is clear that Luke has consulted these other accounts and intends to be very careful. Would Luke, right after such a declaration of intent, immediately turn to so highly fanciful a genre as Brown thinks he does? John L. McKenzie, in general a friend of Brown’s, in his review of The Birth of the Messiah, said: “One wonders how a gentile convert (or a gentile proselyte) could have acquired so quickly the mastery of the Greek Old Testament shown in the use of the Old Testament in Luke’s infancy narratives. If Luke the physician had been able to study medicine with such success, he would have discovered a cure for cancer.... Luke must have had a source for his Old Testament texts and allusions; and as it is hard to think of such a collection of texts without a narrative for them to illustrate, a pre-Lucan infancy narrative is suggested, I beg to submit.”2
Further evidence of Luke’s great care for accuracy appears in an article, “Did St. Luke imitate the Septuagint?”3 Luke’s Greek shows more Semitic influence (Hebrew or Aramaic) than does the Greek of those New Testament writers who really were Semites. The strongest instance is in his use of apodotic kai, that is, inserting and to start the main clause. For example, Luke 5:1 says, “And it happened when the crowd pressed on Him to hear the word of God, and He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret.” (Emphasis added. My translation-standard versions avoid reproducing Semitisms.) The word and is out of place in English.
It was also out of place in normal Greek, and even in normal Aramaic. But Hebrew in the Old Testament commonly used it in certain situations (apodotic wau = and). Now the usual view has been that Luke resorted to such Semitisms to give his writing biblical flavor by imitating the Greek of the Septuagint (the old Greek version of the Old Testament). It would be much as if we were to inject thee, thou, etc., to lend our own writing a biblical flavor. But a statistical study shows Luke was not imitating the Septuagint, for an actual count of examples of apodotic kai in Luke shows that he used it only twenty to twenty-five percent of the times where he would have if he had been imitating the Septuagint, which almost always reproduces it when the Hebrew has the apodotic wau. Imagine the absurdity of someone today trying to give his work a biblical flavor by using thee and thou but using such expressions only about a quarter of the time! So Luke had a different reason. If we believe his claim to have used sources, he could have found documents in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Since Aramaic does not normally have the apodotic wau, the source of Luke’s structure must be that he used Hebrew documents and translated them with extreme, really excessive care.
The same phenomenon appears in some old Latin versions of Scripture made from Greek. These translations import Greek structures into Latin’ and we know that this was done out of concern for complete accuracy. So Luke did use documents, used them with extreme care.
Vatican II, in its Constitution on Divine Revelation, taught: “Holy Mother the Church firmly and most constantly has held and does hold that the four Gospels we mentioned, whose historicity it unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand down what Jesus the Son of God, living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation.... The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting certain things out of many things handed down orally or in writing, making a synthesis of certain things, or explaining them with attention to the state of the churches, and retaining the form of proclamation, in such a way always that they communicated true and sincere things about Jesus to us” (par. 19). This statement of Vatican II makes no exception for the Infancy Gospels, thus they too are to be considered historical.4 Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, following up on this statement, treats the chief events of the Infancy Gospels as fully factual: “This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is evident from the time of the virginal conception of Christ even to His death. In the first place, it is evident when Mary, arising in haste to visit Elizabeth, is greeted by her as blessed because of her faith
... [it is evident] at His birth, when the Mother of God joyfully showed her first-born Son-who did not diminish, but consecrated her virginal integrity-to the shepherds and the Magi” (par. 57). Note how unqualifiedly Vatican II speaks of even the shepherds and the Magi, though shortly before in paragraph 55, it had very carefully hedged its language by writing, “cf. Gen. 3:15 and cf. Is. 7:14,” to avoid saying flatly that the human authors understood the words as Messianic, even though the Church “in the light of later and full revelation” sees more (par. 55).
In paragraph 56, Vatican II goes into much detail, and with great care, on the Annunciation: “The Father of mercies willed that the acceptance by the planned-for Mother should precede the Incarnation, so that thus, just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life. Being adorned with the splendors of altogether singular holiness from the first instant of her conception, the Virgin of Nazareth, by command of God, is hailed by the angel of the Annunciation as ‘full of grace’ (cf. Lk. 1:28), and she responds to the heavenly messenger: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word’ (Lk. 1:38). And so Mary, the daughter of Adam, by consenting to the divine word, became the Mother of Jesus, and embracing the salvific will of God with full heart, held back by no sin, totally dedicated herself as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son.” The special precision employed by the Council appears again in the fact that it used cf. with Luke 1:28 but not with 1:38. In the former, the Council did, as we just saw, use the words “full of grace” for Luke 1:28, as it is in the Vulgate translation. The cr. seems to mean the Council did not wish to guarantee that translation-which is defensible yet debatable-while definitely making its own the thought that she was full of grace, whether that conclusion be derived from Luke I :28 or from other sources. In contrast, there is no cf. with Luke 1:38, which the Council accepts as fully true. Plainly, the Council treats the scene as fully historical, even in detail.
Pope Paul VI spoke strongly on the historicity of the Infancy Gospels (allocution of December 28, 1966, Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, IV, pp. 678-679, Vatican Press, 1966). He complained that some “try to diminish the historical value of the Gospels themselves, especially those that refer to the birth of Jesus and His infancy. We mention this devaluation briefly so that you may know how to defend with study and faith the consoling certainty that these pages are not inventions of people’s fancy, but that they speak the truth. ‘The Apostles,’ writes one who understands these things, Cardinal Bea, ‘had a true historical interest. We do not mean a historical interest in the sense of Greek and Roman historiography, that is, of a logically and chronologically arranged account that is an end in itself, but of a concern with past events as such and an intention to report and faithfully hand down things done and said in the past.’ A confirmation of this is the very concept of ‘witness,’ ‘testimony,’ ‘testify,’ which in varied forms appears more than 150 times in the New Testament. The authority of the Council has not pronounced differently on this: ‘The Sacred Authors wrote ... always in such a way that they reported on Jesus with sincerity and truth’ (Constitution on Divine Revelation, par. 19).”
Nor is there any problem of accepting the account of Matthew 2:4-6 that King Herod could ask the Jewish scholars where Christ was to be born and get the correct answer. Micah 5:1-3 is entirely clear on that point. Further, there are Targums, ancient Jewish Aramaic translations plus commentary on the Old Testament. The date of these is debated. A reasonable conjecture in general would place them within a century before or after Christ. Regardless of the date, they are ancient and do show what the Jews could understand of the prophecies without the benefit of the hindsight of seeing them fulfilled in Christ, whom they did not accept. Samson H. Levey has gathered numerous texts recognized by the Jews as Messianic (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974). Among others is Genesis 49: 10: “The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the mace from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs” (Jerusalem Bible). The Targum Neofiti is clearer: “Kings shall not be lacking from the house of Judah ... until the time at which King Messiah will come.” Yes, there were Babylonian and Persian overlords earlier, but there was at least some kind of ruler from Judah up to Herod, in whose time Jesus was born. The Virgin Mary, who of course would know these too, understood more fully, being full of grace. The words of the angel that her Son would “rule over the house of Jacob forever” would tell any Jew that the Son was the Messiah, for the Messiah was expected to live forever. When we add that He would be conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit-language reminiscent of the words used to describe the Divine Presence filling the ancient tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 40:34-35)-and that “for this reason” (Greek dio, in Luke 1:35) He would be called “Son of God,” it was not hard to see that the Son was not called that in the way any Jew could be so called, but in a strictly unique sense: the son produced by the Divine Presence.
Finally, we need not labor to reconcile the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. We know today that genealogies were a special genre in ancient times, and did not necessarily give actual physical descent. They could stand for other things.5 Artificiality is evident in the genealogy in Matthew. Verse 1:17 tells us we have sets of fourteen generations each in his list. The reason: the Hebrews used the alphabetic characters for numbers also. The word David could be read as fourteen.
1 A. Wright, The Literary Genre Midrash (Staten Island: Alba House, 1967).
2 National Catholic Reporter (December 2, 1977), p. 10.
3 W. Most, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 15 (July 1982), pp. 30-41.
4 The full force of these words appears from the history of the debates at the Council on the passage cited. See Beda Rigaux, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: The New Testament,” Vorgrimler, op. cit. pp. 252-261, especially 256-261.
5 Cf. Robert R. Wilson, “Between ‘Azel’ and ‘Azel’: Interpreting the Biblical Genealogies,” Biblical Archaeologist 42.1 (Winter 1979), pp. 11-22.
Chapter 13: The Apocalyptic Books
Did ancient astronauts from another planet visit the Hebrews in Old Testament times? Arriving in “chariots of the gods,” did they enjoy deluding the earthlings into thinking that they were gods? Is this the origin of the marvels in the Old Testament? Some today are foolish enough to believe such things.
In Daniel, we read this description of what he saw: “As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened” (7:9-10). “See,” say some misguided moderns, “there you have a description of a spaceship. The stream of fire was the rocket exhaust.” Yet, the answer is very simple. We must investigate the literary genre of such scriptural passages. In Daniel there are two genres. One, the edifying narrative, was discussed in chapter 9. All Scripture scholars agree that the visions, such as the one just quoted, are examples of a very bizarre genre called apocalyptic. The Apocalyptic genre is special to the ancient Jews. Its fully developed form first appears in the second century BC and had a run of about four centuries. The chief characteristics of the genre are these: (1) authorship is anonymous, or the author is given a fictitious name: (2) the genre tells of dreams and visions; (3) it includes prophecies, often made after the event; (4) it employs colorful, even extremely bizarre imagery; (5) it professes to contain esoteric things, secrets not known by most people. Apocalyptic genre was first developed for the purpose of consolation in time of great stress. The Book of Daniel was intended as a consolation to console the Jews during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria (reigned 175-164 BC). Antiochus tried to get the Jews to abandon their religion. The persecution was part of his program of Hellenization, the purpose of which was to unify his sprawling empire. Many Jews gave in; others became martyrs; still others, the Maccabees, took to military resistance. Just as modern readers of a historical novel know better than to think the fictional fill-ins are history, the ancient Jews also knew well how to interpret the genres of their culture. They knew they must discount the extremely colorful imagery to get the sober content. Even today, any attentive reader should be able to see that there is no spaceship in the Book of Daniel. Reread the quotation, and ask whether, if taken to the letter, it really describes a spaceship. The “chariots of the gods” people focus on one point and overlook the others.
Go back and read the earlier part of chapter 7 of Daniel, which tells of four great beasts that came out of the sea. One was like a lion with eagle’s wings. Daniel saw its wings torn off: “it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand upon two feet like a man; and the mind of a man was given to it.” Clearly we are not dealing with a spaceship here!
“And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear,” says Daniel 7:5. “It was raised up on one side; it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth.... I looked and lo, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back; and the beast had four heads.” Then he saw a fourth beast with great iron teeth, and it had ten horns. Daniel saw “among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots; and behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
Right after this comes the throne scene, after which Daniel is given the interpretation of the strange beasts. They are four kings. The ten horns are kings of the Seleucid dynasty. Antiochus gets power by getting rid of several claimants, other horns. He is the horn that speaks boastfully.
All of these images are miles away from being a spaceship! Chapter 8 of Daniel also presents visions of strange beasts, and an explanation. Still more bizarre images and visions come in chapters 9-12. Notes in the Jerusalem Bible and the American Bible explain many of the symbols. In chapter 12, we seem to have a case of multiple fulfillment (see our chapter 5).
In chapter 5 we also mentioned briefly some scriptural passages earlier than Daniel in which there is extreme imagery. Let us look at them more fully now to see how vivid were the imaginations of some of these Jewish writers.
In chapter 1 of Ezekiel the prophet, probably written in Babylonia during the exile, not long after 597 BC, we get a very bizarre description of the throne of God. Ezekiel saw four animals of human form, and “each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight and the soles of their feet were like the soles of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.” Here Ezekiel probably borrowed some of the strange imagery from Assyrian cherubs he had seen in Babylon.
Ezekiel adds, beginning with 1 :15, “Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.... When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. The four wheels had rims ... and their rims were full of eyes round about.... Over the head of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament.... And under the firmament their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each creature had two wings covering its body.... And above the firmament ... there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upwards from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze ... and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was a brightness round about him, like the appearance of a bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain...” This was the throne of God.
Now let anyone who wishes try to take all this at face value as a description of a spaceship. It simply does not work. It is a forerunner of Daniel’s imagery.
Still other extremely colorful imagery is found in Ezekiel 32:7-8, telling of the coming divine judgment against Pharaoh: “When I blot you out. I will cover the heavens’ and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over
you, and put darkness in your land.” (Compare Matthew 24:29-31.)
Still earlier imagery of the same kind occurs in Isaiah 13:10, foretelling the destruction of Babylon: “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.” More of the same appears in God’s judgment on Edom, in Isaiah 34:4:”AII the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll.” Still earlier roots of such highly imaginative word paintings appear in Psalm 18:6-15, which seems to picture David giving thanks for his rescue from Saul, in very much overdone language: “In my distress I called upon the Lord.... From his temple he heard my voice.... Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled.... He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew.... The Lord also thundered in the heavens.... He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.... The Lord also thundered in the heavens.... And he sent out his arrows. and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare, at thy rebuke, O Lord.”
The more sober picture can be seen in I and 2 Samuel, telling of David’s dangers and rescue. In 2 Samuel 22, David sings almost the identical thanksgiving. (God riding on the cherubim is pictured also in Psalm 80:1 and 99:1. Ezekiel 10:20 explicitly identifies the animals of chapter I as cherubs.)
By now one can see most clearly what folly it is to take these descriptions as spaceships. Those who think that way should look at all the images involved. And, of course, we have absolute evidence, independent of the Old Testament, for our God, which was summarized in chapter 2 of this book.
The last book of the New Testament is called, in Greek Apocalypsis, which means “Revelation.” There is no doubt that it is a strong example of the apocalyptic genre. Modern commentators, however, show two quite different tendencies in treating it. Some so stress the apocalyptic genre, insisting that it is a book of consolation for all times, as to almost, if not entirely, ignore the prophetic character of some parts, that is, it contains predictions of the future. Others strongly stress the predictive aspect, some in a fundamentalistic way. The Church has said very little on the content of this book. However, there are two points on which we do have some guidance.
First, there was a millenarian or chiliastic theory, in the first centuries, which was held even by some of the Fathers of the Church, but not by enough of them to give us a proof that the theory was divinely revealed.
More precisely, there were three chief forms of this chiliasm. All started from a misunderstanding of chapter 20 of Revelation, which speaks of two resurrections: first of the just; then, of the wicked. The just were to reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years before the second resurrection.
The gross, or extreme, theory held that the just would enjoy immoderate sensory pleasures in this interval. Eusebius, in Church History 3:28, tells us the heretic Cerinthus, late first century, held this.
The moderate form of the theory held that the just would have sensory pleasure, but in a moderate form. Eusebius 3:39 tells us an example of this theory found in Papias, who influenced later writers.
The mild form of the theory held that the just would enjoy spiritual pleasures. St. Justin the Martyr, in Dialogue with Trypho, 80, seems to hold this view; so does St. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, 5.32.1. St. Augustine, in City of God, 20:7, says that he once held this (see his Sermon 259).
St. Augustine himself, City of God, 20:7-9, gives an interpretation of this part of Revelation that is widely accepted by scholars today. He says the thousand years stand for all the time from the departure of Christ at His Ascension to His return at the end, except for the brief period of the Antichrist just before the end. The just will reign during this period in that they have mastery over their own sensory desires. Otherwise, instead of reigning, they would be slaves.
In modern times a mitigated form of millenarianism was rejected by the Holy Office in a decision of July 21, 1944: “What is to be thought of the system of mitigated millenarianism which holds that Christ the Lord would come to reign visibly on this earth with or without a previous resurrection of many just persons?
Reply: The system of mitigated millenarianism cannot be safely taught.” The Church has had somewhat more to say about the marvelous vision at the start of Revelation 12: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth. in anguish for delivery.”
A huge red dragon then appears with seven heads and ten horns. Its tail drags a third of the stars out of the sky, then it stands before the woman ready to devour her child when it would be born. Revelation continues: “she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days.”
Some features fit the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The male child who rules with the iron scepter refers to Psalm 2:9, which speaks of Christ. The child is taken up to the throne of God. Other features fit the Church, and not Mary: the pain in childbirth. St. Pius X (Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904: Acta Sanctae Sedis 36:458-459) wrote: “No one is ignorant of the fact that that woman signifies the Virgin Mary who, remaining a virgin, brought forth our Head.... So John saw the most Holy Mother of God already enjoying eternal happiness, and yet laboring from some hidden birth. With what birth? Surely ours, we who, being yet detained in exile, are still to be brought forth to the perfect love of God and eternal happiness.”
Paul VI, in Signum Magnum (May 13, 1967), wrote: “The great sign that the Apostle John saw in heaven, ‘a woman clothed with the sun,’ is interpreted by the sacred liturgy, not without foundation, as referring to the most blessed Mary, the mother of all men by the grace of Christ, the Redeemer.”
Bernard J. Le Frois, S.V.D., in a remarkable study, The Woman Clothed with the Sun (Orbis Catholicus, Roma, 1954), suggests that we really have an established Semitic pattern in this passage, in which an individual stands for, and even embodies, a collectivity. Thus the woman would be Mary individually. She would stand for the Church. Le Frois further suggests that this could be a prophecy, that near the end the Church would take on a specially Marian character, resulting in a sort of age of Mary.
Chapter 14: Wisdom Literature
A powerful form of snob appeal was tempting many Christians, by the late second century, to join a bizarre group called the Gnostics. Some today are representing the Gnostics as just one of several ways of understanding Christianity, a way that happened to lose out because of superior political ability on the part of the bishops. There is almost a parallel to the Gnostic situation to be seen in some of these modern defenders of Gnosticism. One has only to look into the actual tenets of the Gnostics to see how vain is the claim that, but for politics, we might all be Gnostics today. There were many varieties of Gnosticism. All had some things in common however. First, they had a most exalted idea of God- something missing today in many Catholics. But, sadly and secondly, they thought that matter is evil, not made by God. From God there “emanate”-they do not make clear what they mean by that word-pairs of aeons, male and female. The first pair produces the second, the second a third, and so on. As the chain stretches out, the aeons become less and less perfect. It is easy to see that sooner or later a pair would be evil. The evil ones were cast out of “the pleroma” (the full assembly of aeons). An evil aeon, the Demiurge, created man and the material world. This evil creator is the God of the Old Testament. High-sounding names abound as the Gnostics describe things: a pair is a syzigie .” For example, the syzigie Proarche and Ennoea produced Nous. who is Monogenes, and Aletheia. Then Logos and Zoe, etc.. etc.
We can read the details of Gnostic thought today in works, found in 1946-1947 at Nag Ha’amadi (Chenoboskion), in Egypt. We also have the descriptions by St. Irenaeus, in his great work Against Heresies. which was entirely aimed at Gnosticism. Clement of Alexandria, head of the catechetical school at Alexandria in the late second century, decided to set up a counterattraction. He would offer courses giving a deeper understanding of Christian doctrine.
Unfortunately, in his scriptural work, Clement relied heavily on allegorical interpretation instead of trying to find out the literal sense (what the inspired writer really meant to convey-considering the genre chosen. the peculiarities of his language, culture, and so on). Allegory had deep roots at Alexandria. Jews, such as Aristobulus and Philo. had used allegory to defend the dietary laws of the Old Testament. Christian thinkers in some cases thought the literal sense unworthy of God, and so they turned to allegory. Later, St. Ambrose’s use of allegory solved St. Augustine’s worries about incidents in the Old Testament.
In books II and III of his Paidagogos, Clement tried especially to get a deeper knowledge of the rules of morality. He gave highly specific rules for how a Christian should do everything: eat, drink, sleep, dress, use sex, and so forth. He supports his injunctions with quotations from Scripture. In Paidagogos 2.7.58, Clement says: “I believe that one should limit his speech [at a banquet]. The limit should be just to reply to questions, even when we can speak. In a woman, silence is a virtue, and adornment free of danger in the young. Only for honored old age is speech good: ‘Speak, old man, at a banquet, for it is proper for you.... Speak, [young man], if there is need of you, scarcely, when asked twice.”’
Clement is quoting Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 32:3 and 7. Clearly he does not understand the matter of genre in Scripture. Clement seems to think the words of Ecclesiasticus are divinely revealed commands or advice on what one should do at a banquet. But Ecclesiasticus did not mean his words to be taken that way. He was writing in a genre we call wisdom literature, which aims most basically at giving wordly-wise maxims on how to get ahead in the world. He was not giving a religious injunction at all, at that point, though there are connections to religion
at certain points in Israelite wisdom literature. So we need to distinguish religious injunctions from mere worldly advice in the wisdom books of Scripture. Clement failed to do that. We can see this more clearly with a bit of history of the development of wisdom literature.
Many nations wrote that kind of literature. The Egyptians were specially famed for it, as we can gather from I Kings 4:30: “Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.”
The starting point of Egyptian wisdom was wordly-wise advice given by a father to a son, especially, though not exclusively, to train a successful courtier.
However, there was also a connection to the religious concept of ma’at in Egypt.
No one English word carries the full meaning of ma’at. John A. Wilson, in The Culture of Ancient Egypt (University of Chicago, 1956), writes that the word is “variously translated as ‘truth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘order,’ and so on.... Ma’at then, was a created and inherited rightness, which tradition built up into a concept of orderly stability ...” (p. 48). The concept seems to be that what furthers good order and good morals is also beneficial to humanity.
St. Augustine has a similar thought in Confessions 1:12 when, speaking to God, he says, “For you have ordered it, and it is so, that every disordered soul is its own punishment.” Similarly, St. Paul answered the licentious in Corinth who abused his teaching that they were free from the law: “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
As a result of this type of thinking, later wisdom works in the Old Testament identified wisdom and the law. So in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 24:22-25, we read:
“Whoever obeys me [wisdom] will not be put to shame, and those who work with my help will not sin. All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law which Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob. It fills men with wisdom, like the Pishon, and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruits.” Similarly, Proverbs 1:7 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction!. We could add a psychological reflection. The sane man is he who sees reality as it is, and reacts appropriately. The insane man is he who sees reality as it is not. He thinks himself Napoleon, or imagines everyone is after him, and then, of course, reacts inappropriately. He who understands the advantage of serving God and acts accordingly is the most fully sane man, the wise man. Yet as we saw, not every bit of advice in the wisdom books is a matter of divine law. Wordly wisdom suggests additional things, including some that Clement did not understand well. There are many striking parallels between the Old Testament wisdom literature and the Egyptian wisdom of Amenomopet. For example. Proverbs 15:16-17 reads: “Better is a little with fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinnger of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.” Amenemopet says: “Better is poverty in the hand of the god than riches in a storehouse. Better is bread, when the heart is happy than riches with sorrow.”
Proverbs 22:17 to 24:22 is especially close to Amenemopet. For example, Proverbs 22:17-18 says, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge; for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips.” Amenemopet says: “Give thy ears. Hear what is said, give thy heart to understand them. To put them in thy heart is worth while, but it is damaging to him who neglects them”1
The Book of Proverbs consists mostly of short, pithy sayings and has little continuity. The sayings represent much of the worldly-wise wisdom aspect of wisdom literature, though 1:7 makes the tie to religion: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The book opens by claiming to be “the proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” This does not mean that the whole book must be attributed to Solomon. The Israelites, as was said before, often used pen names, frequently preferring the name of a famous man. Solomon’s renown for wisdom led to such attributions. It is quite possible that parts of this book may really stem from Solomon. Chapters 10-29 are probably from before the Exile. On the other hand, the long prologue is apt to come from the fifth century BC
Israel made use of wisdom found in other nations. Thus chapter 30 of Proverbs is entitled “The words of Agur son of Jakeh of Massa.” Massa is the name of an Ishmaelite tribe in north Arabia that was thought to have the wisdom of the East.
Chapter 31 opens: “The words of Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him.” (It is not certain that Massa was meant as a proper name. The word might mean an oracle or prophecy.)
Proverbs ends with a beautiful alphabetic poem on the ideal wife. We do not know when or by whom it was composed. Recall that in the ancient Near East, rights of authorship were not insisted on; later hands might make additions. Thus several inspired authors may have contributed to this work. When they use wisdom from outside Israel, they do so because the judge it good, either in the worldly-wise sense, or in the religious sense.
Ecclesiasticus/Sirach is in many ways similar to Proverbs in that it includes many pithy sayings. Yet there is in Sirach some grouping by ideas, even though one could hardly make a logical outline of the book as a whole. Yet the book was probably written centuries later than Proverbs. Probably composed in the second century BC, it, too, includes a strong religious aspect.
There are some lines in the Book of Proverbs that raise questions about the afterlife (see our discussion in chapter 7). Clearly, though the writer did not know the answers we know, he nonetheless did not teach any error. Those answers finally appear in the Book of Wisdom. For example in 3:1-3 we read: “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”
The Book of Job earlier had wrestled mightily with the problem of the just man meeting great affliction. It seems in a way to have given the answer in the last lines (42:10-17). Job was rewarded richly before his death. Yet the more substantial answer of the book seems to be to bow down trustingly before the inscrutable majesty of God. The author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, Qoholeth, too, had struggled mightily. Seeing the emptiness of all earthly things, he added not a few lines that seem to point ahead, though not clearly, to future retribution.
But by the time the Book of Wisdom was written, probably in the first century BC, Israel’s thought had been divinely guided into an agonizing reappraisal. The Israelites knew that God acted justly, but their eyes told them that not always do things work out rightly in this life. Yet their realization of future retribution was dim at best. So, they without being able to see, were called on to hold to God in heroic faith. The agonizing reappraisal was probably sparked by the dreadful deaths of the martyrs under Antiochus Epiphanes. One could not say that they were repaid before their deaths! The reappraisal of their thinking was aided, perhaps, by contact with Greek thought, in which the twofold nature of man, body and soul, showed better how to find room for future retribution.
We saw above that wisdom came to be equated with the law. In a further stage, wisdom is personified. Wisdom 9:9-18 says: “With thee is wisdom, who knows thy works and was present when thou didst make the world, and who understands what is pleasing in thy sight.... Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory send her, that she may be with me and toil, and that I may learn what is pleasing to thee. For she knows and understands all things.... For the reasoning of mortals is worthless ... for a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. We can hardly guess at what is on earth ... but who has traced out what is in the heavens? Who has learned thy counsel, unless thou has given wisdom and sent thy Holy Spirit from on high? And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and men were taught what pleases thee, and were saved by wisdom.” (In the Old Testament, “Holy Spirit” means a power that comes forth from God, not the Third Divine Person, for the Holy Trinity had not yet been revealed.)
1 The texts of Amenemopet cited can be found in J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1955), pp. 421-424, or in Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past, 2nd ed. (New York: Princeton, 1974), pp. 124-125. Finegan gives texts of Proverbs and Amenemopet in parallel columns.
Chapter 15: Variant Traditions
How did David come to meet King Saul? There is a fascinating problem in the First Book of Samuel, in chapters 16 and 17.
In 16:14 and following, we find Saul tormented by an evil spirit. Much distressed, Saul asks his servants to find a man skilled at playing the harp to soothe him. They find David (16:18), “a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech....” So David enters his service. “And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse saying, ‘Let David remain in my service.”’ But in chapter 17 of First Samuel, David seems not to be in the service of Saul; he is feeding his father’s sheep. One day when his father sends him to bring food to his brothers who are in the army, David hears of Goliath the giant and of the great reward the king offers to the one who will conquer Goliath. So David goes to Saul and, boasting of having killed lions and bears, offers to fight Goliath. Saul gives David armor, but David is not used to wearing it and discards it. He goes instead against Goliath with a sling and some stones from the brook. Yet in 16:18, quoted above, David was a mighty fighter, a gibbor. Also in 17:55, one may read: “When Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is this youth?’ And Abner said, ‘As your soul lives, O king, I cannot tell.”’ But chapter 16 has just said that David had been in Saul’s service as his armor-bearer. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to reconcile the two accounts. The oldest Greek translation of the Book of Samuel simply omitted the second account.
How can we defend the correctness of Scripture at a point like this? We already know the answer. The key to the problem is to ask, What did the inspired writer mean to assert? Yes, the Books of Samuel are basically in the genre of history, it seems. Yet let us try to visualize the situation. The inspired writer is sitting down at his desk and working on the First Book of Samuel. He has before him several sources. We saw already, in chapter 3, that there are likely to be such sources in the Pentateuch.
But the inspired writer runs into a problem. He has two sources on hand for this incident that do not fit together. He undoubtedly tries to find out which is correct, but he can’t. What would he be likely to do in this situation? He might well decide to give us both versions. This solution fits with his purpose of showing how God favors the Israelites when they are faithful, punishes them when they are unfaithful. If the inspired writer does give us both versions—as he has— what does he assert? Clearly both versions cannot be correct. In giving the two versions, the inspired writer is, in effect, telling us: “I found these two versions. I do not know which is correct. But here they are.” So there is no error at all.
Another example of the same sort of thing is found in the accounts of the crossing of the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus. Most of us have seen the dramatic movie The Ten Commandments in which can be seen a high wall of water on both sides of the Israelites as they cross on the dry sea bottom. At the appropriate moment, the waters return to drown the Egyptian army.
Chapter 14 of Exodus seems to be a weaving together of two different versions. Exodus 14:21-25 says: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right and on their left.” A wind drying up the sea at night would not yield a wall of water on both right and left, the scene in the well-known movie.
The passage continues: “The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea.... And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily; and the Egyptians said ‘Let us flee from before Israel; for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”’
Here the description seems to hark back to the idea of a dried up sea bottom that could clog the chariot wheels. But, then, Exodus 14:26-29 says: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians’.... The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained.”
The answer, of course, is the same as in the case of David’s meeting Saul. The inspired writer had on hand two versions, did not know which was the correct one, and gave us both.
This time the inspired writer not only gave both but intertwined them closely together. One reason he may have decided to do this was the genre of the Book of Exodus. It is quite probable that the genre was intended to be at least something like epic.
Epic genre was well known in the ancient Near East and among many other peoples too. In it there is an account in which the historically accurate core is embellished with poetic exaggerations. Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), spoke of this fact: “No one who has the right idea of biblical inspiration will be surprised that in Sacred Scripture, just as in other ancient works, there are found certain ways of expression and narration, certain definite idiomatic things, proper especially to the Semitic languages: so-called approximations, and certain hyperbolic ways of speaking, at times even paradoxes, by which the matter is more firmly imprinted in the mind.” The Pope adds a further explanation: “For just as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things ‘without sin’ [Hebrews 4:15], so also the words of God expressed in human tongues, are made like human speech in all things except error. St. John Chrysostom highly praised this synkatabasis, that is, condescension [adaptation to human ways] and over and over again said it was found in Sacred Books.” It is quite probable that the Book of Joshua is also in something like epic genre. We can see this particularly when we compare the general picture of Joshua with that given in Judges.
In the Book of Joshua we have a brilliant picture: all of Israel is united under one leader, Joshua. There are many miracles. Their armies go from one victory to another, until practically all of the land has been subdued: the people of Canaan have been virtually eliminated, their cities burned. And the land has been divided among the tribes and the covenant renewed. After all of this Joshua dies at a ripe old age.
Incidentally, God willed the wipe-out of the Canaanites for two reasons: (1) to guard against the danger that the Israelites might fall into idolatry under their influence—a thing that really happened, for the victory was not nearly so complete; (2) to punish the Canaanites for their sins. Recall to mind Genesis 15:16, in which God promised to give the whole land to Abraham and his descendants but said that it would not happen at once: “And they shall come back here in the fourth generations; for the iniquity of the Amorites [west Semites] is not yet complete.” God of course is the master of all land and of all lives. He did not need to wait for their sins to reach the maximum before taking away their land. Yet His Holiness willed to do it that way, so that they might most fully deserve their fate. Some today are shocked at God’s reported orders of extermination. They forget that He is the giver of life and has no obligation to continue to give it beyond any point He fixes. And when immense sins intervene, He has an added reason for terminating lives. But to return to the Book of Joshua, the picture is epic idealization. Contrast this with the picture in the Book of Judges, which is not idealized. We soon see in it that the conquest had been far from complete. Yet there is no error. Again our study of the differences in genres makes clear what the inspired writers meant to assert.
There are other examples of variant traditions in the Old Testament that can be explained in the same way. A probable example is the narrative of Saul’s rejection by God as king of the Hebrews so that his dynasty would go no further. One of these examples, in I Samuel 13: 1-14, tells how Saul did not wait for Samuel but offered sacrifice himself before battle. The other, in 15:1-31, tells how Saul in fighting against Agag, king of Amalek, doomed only the worthless. Samuel told him, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (15:22). It is just possible that the events in these two passages could both have happened.
Incidentally, someone may wonder why God refused to forgive Saul when, in 15:24, he begged for forgiveness, whereas God did forgive King David later when he asked forgiveness for murder and adultery (2 Samuel 11: 1-12: 15). The answer is found in a distinction between two orders, the internal order of eternal salvation and the external order, which deals with the position a man may have. God always forgives the repentant sinner in order to grant salvation, but He may or may not remit a penalty in the external order.
We have now seen, in several chapters, many applications of the approach through literary genres. We have seen that it enables us to reject claims of error or contradiction in Scripture, many of which problems would otherwise be unsolvable.
The fact raises an interesting problem: it is only in our century that this approach in terms of literary genres became known. It was only in 1943 that Pope Pius XII, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, positively encouraged the Church to use it. We saw, in chapter 9, there was a very qualified acceptance of the genre approach by the Biblical Commission in 1905. But the Church had been interpreting Scripture for many centuries without knowing about literary genres the way we do. So we must ask: Did not the Church make many mistakes in her teaching through lack of this knowledge of genres?
No, the Church made no mistake in her teaching for lack of this knowledge; but yes, this approach has given us further light, especially since it enables us to answer many objections against Scripture, charges of error or contradiction, which could not be answered before. But there has been no mistake in teaching.
How can this inerrancy be explained? There are two answers. First, the Church enjoys the promised protection of the Holy Spirit. Even if the Church did not know many things, the Spirit always does, and He guides the Church.
The second answer is that the Church has something even more basic than Scripture. What that is and how it works, we will begin to explore in chapter 20.
Chapter 16: Demise of Historical-Critical Method?
Strange indeed is the view that meets our eyes today as we survey the landscape of Scripture studies. The historical-critical method, which for centuries has reigned as queen, is now being cast out bodily—note by all, but by many of the most prominent scholars. These scholars are turning instead to structuralism, psychoanalytic readings of the Gospels, sociological interpretation, and other things. More on these points later. For now, let us look at the historical-critical method itself.
As its name indicates, the historical-critical method is an approach to Scripture within the framework of history. It is demanding, takes nothing for granted, and seemingly requires solid proof for its findings. The use of literary genres is a major part of the historical-critical method. Its other chief components are: textual criticism, source criticism, form and redaction criticism. A brief survey of the early stages of the historical-critical method will be useful at this point.
Although the method in general belongs to recent centuries, there were some forerunners. St. Augustine, for instance, knew that we must not suppose God made an actual image of clay for the first man. since God does not have bodily hands (De Genesi ad litteram 6.12.20). St. John Chrysostom, in On Genesis, warned against taking the rib-to-Eve episode crudely. Theodore of Mopsuestia was considered rationalistic because he understood that the Canticle of Canticles is romance lyric. Hugh of St. Victor denied that Solomon wrote the Book of Wisdom. Rabbi Ibn Ezra of Toledo, in the twelfth century, raised historical problems in Genesis.
Turning to the Old Testament specifically, we find that a priest, Richard Simon (1638-1712), thought that a group of “public secretaries” gradually added to the first five books of the Bible up to the time of Ezra (fifth century BC). A Protestant, H. B. Witter, in 1711, was the first to suggest that different names for God (Elohim Yahweh Elohim) could point to different documents. A Catholic, J. Astruc, in 1753, was the first to divide Genesis into various documents, partly on the basis of the difference in divine names. Karl Ilgen, in 1798, asserted that the Elohist source was really two sources: E1 and E2. Today these are usually called E and P (for Priestly Code).
Others, such as Alexander Geddes (1792), Johann Vater (1771-1826), and William de Wette (1780-1849), were unconvinced of the documentary theory.
Instead they proposed that many fragments had been put together by an editor in the time of Solomon, or even Hezekiah. H. Ewald (1805-1875) said there was one basic document—he called it (Grundschrift (“basic writing”)—which was E, and that gaps were filled in from a J (source using Yahweh) in the times of Saul, Solomon, and Ezekiel. Still later, Ewald redivided E (Elohist document). When E. Riehm, in 1854, solidly established D (Deuteronomist) as a separate document, there was a rebirth of the documentary theory in its basically modern form, which supposes four documents: J, E, P, and D. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), working especially in the study of law, refined these theories. He thought the Pentateuch (first five books) and Joshua reached their present form after the Exile, at the time of Ezra, around 450 BC
But we need to notice especially two currents that had been present for some time in Old Testament studies: a tendency to deny the supernatural, and a tendency to fit everything into a mold suggested by the German philosopher Hegel. Let us look at each of these.
H. Reimaurus (1694-1768) asserted that the Old Testament is myth and that the New Testament contains deliberate falsification by disciples of Jesus. J. G. Eichhorn (1752-1827) disagreed but nonetheless held that there was nothing supernatural in the Old Testament. Primitive peoples, unable to recognize secondary causes, he reasoned, attributed everything to God directly.
G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) held that man progresses through recurring cycles of conflict and resolution: someone takes a position; a counterposition arises; out of their interaction comes a third position (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). In line with this tendency, W. Vatke (1806-1881) thought that religion became revealed slowly through stages of simile, allegory, myth, Christianity. The Bible, he held, is more a history of man’s consciousness than a record of past events. A fully objective biblical theology, he said, can never exist. This position led, of course, to a devaluation of the Old Testament, which tendency was furthered by F. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who made religion a matter of sentiment rather than knowledge. Julius Wellhausen, mentioned above, was successful not so much for radically new views as for a logical and cogent presentation of the ideas of his predecessors. He, too, followed Hegel, through the influence of Vatke, and rejected all supernatural elements in the religion of Israel.
Even this sketchy survey of some of the principal writers about the Old Testament easily shows us the immense amount of prejudice (rejection of all supernatural things without proof), the subjectivism, the insufficiently proved theories that run so strongly in the works on the Pentateuch. Studies of other parts of the Old Testament, especially the prophets, are also characterized by these kinds of defects.
New Testament criticism in some ways is even more dismal. Here, too, we see early the baneful influence of what people in their conceit called “the Enlightenment” in the eighteenth century. These “enlightened” thinkers denied the supernatural, denied anything beyond human reason, said that mysteries of faith could be explained away by reason. Then, of course, divine revelation would neither be needed nor given. God was adequately manifested in nature. Miracles are impossible, since physical laws are the expression of the unchangeable will of God.
The same H. W. Reimaurus, in The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples (1778), distinguished the historical Jesus from the Christ of the Gospels—what He really was, from what His disciples told about Him. The real Jesus was a revolutionary who tried to start an earthly messianic kingdom but failed. The disciples stole the body, invented the Resurrection and the expectation of His return (the parousia).
Then they changed the idea of messiahship to a spiritual one.
Johann Michaelis (1717-1791), not knowing how to solve the problem of which books are inspired, said that only those inspired by the Apostles were inspired. Mark and Luke, thus, are not inspired; but the fanciful apocryphal Gospels (under the names of James, Philip, Thomas, etc.) are inspired.
H. E. G. Paulus (1761-1851) reacted against the claims of gross fraud. He said the disciples were not dishonest, just too simple. Miracles could all be explained in terms of natural causes. People mistook natural events for miracles. David F. Strauss (1808-1874) really shook the world with his two-volume Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835-1836). He said the Gospels were written in the middle of the second century, to give time for myth to develop. He said that the records were based on Old Testament episodes, later applied to the Messiah (compare R. E. Brown’s Birth of the Messiah).
F. C. Baur (1792-1860) exerted great influence. Using Hegel again, Baur supposed a confrontation between a Petrine Jewish faction and a Pauline faction.
The outcome was “Early Catholicism.” We could date New Testament writings, Baur thought, by noticing which tendency—the Pauline or the Petrine—is represented in a given book.
The real founder of liberal Protestantism was A. Ritschl (1822-1889), who held that religious judgments are value judgments based only on feelings of approval or disapproval. Whether or not they have any objective reality is not important, nor can we know. Here, again, we have a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.
W. Wrede, whose work is still very influential, in The Messianic Secret (1901), said that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah; later the Church was embarrassed by His silence and so covered by faking scenes in the Gospels in which He would tell people to keep quiet about the fact that He was the Messiah.
Most of these unfortunate interpretations of Scripture came out of Germany.
England produced “the Cambridge Three,” who countered the “liberal” views. J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), studied early writings, especially the Epistle of Pope Clement I and the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Lightfoot showed that they were, respectively, works of the late first and early second centuries. This pushed back Gospel dating from the middle of the second century, since these writings do quote the Gospels. And they showed there was no drawn out conflict of Petrine and Pauline factions as Baur had supposed. The other two of the Cambridge Three, Westcott and Hort, also wrote commentaries, but their great production was a critical text of the Greek New Testament, replacing the inadequate old textus receptus, which was based on poor manuscript evidence.
Reginald H. Fuller, one of the leading Protestant form critics, in his review of The Birth of the Messiah, by Raymond Brown, chided Brown: “It is ironic that just at the time when the limitations of the historical-critical method are being discovered in Protestantism, Roman Catholic scholars should be bent on pursuing that method so relentlessly” (CBQ 40, 1978, p. 120). That was written in 1978. By 1981 the same R. Brown tells us that R. Fuller “states that the bankruptcy of the historical-critical method should be overcome by -feedback received from the believing community” (Critical Meaning of the Bible, Paulist, 1981, p. 25).
The historical-critical method is by nature limited, since the kind of evidence it can work with is almost always internal, not external. A scholar tries, for example, to find indications within the text telling where the Gospel of Matthew was written.
Meier argues that it wad written at Antioch (Antioch and Rome, Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier, Paulist, 1983, pp. 12-72). He thinks that the confrontation between Peter and Paul (Galatians 2:11-14) was so heated that, as a result, Paul seldom went back to Antioch thereafter: “So strong was Peter’s influence that even Barnabas sided with him against Paul. Paul soon found it expedient to leave Antioch on mission to Asia Minor—without Barnabas” (p. 24). But there is no proof that Peter held to his unwillingness to follow the decision of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7 95), in which Peter himself had taken the lead in agreeing with Paul that gentile converts need not observe the Mosaic law.
As to Barnabas, Acts 15:3640 says that Paul did suggest to Barnabas that he come on a second missionary expedition. Though he was willing, “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (15:37-38). Rather naturally, Paul did not favor one who had deserted. for whatever reason. Because Barnabas insisted on taking Mark, Paul and Barnabas went separately.
There is no proof at all that Peter continued in his attitude. It is much more likely that Peter had just become weak again, as he did more than once in the Gospels.
Weakness would hardly make him hold on firmly to rejecting the decision of the Council of Jerusalem, in which he had taken the lead. Really, Meier seems to be resurrecting the old notion of a prolonged conflict between Peter and Paul. So we can begin to see what R. H. Fuller meant by the “limitations” of the historical-critical method: it seldom strictly proves anything. But for a long time scholars did not see the limitations. Instead they would build one inconclusive thing on another and, in their cockiness, even claim for their researches the assured results of science. Now they are waking up to see what they should have seen long ago. Instead of correcting their defective judgment and using the method for what it is worth—which is considerable—they are now showing still another effect of bad judgment. At first it led them to excess confidence, now it leads to excess diffidence, to throwing out the baby with the bath water. (Examples of the method are given in chapters 17 and 18.)
Chapter 17: Vatican II on the Historical-Critical Method
St. Augustine, when he was 19, fell into the bizarre errors of Manichaeism. He soon found that Manichaean explanations of the sun and moon did not square with the astronomy of his day. So he did a prudent thing. He consulted the local Manichaean authorities. They could not solve his problems, but they said that a great bishop, Faustus, would be coming in time, and that he would explain everything.
For nine years Augustine waited. But when Faustus came, he could not answer Augustine’s difficulties either. Then Augustine paid Faustus a fine compliment: “He knew that he did not know those things.... He was not altogether ignorant of his ignorance” (Confessions 5.7). If Faustus, or anyone, could always know that he did not know when he did not know, he would have an infallibility greater than that of the Pope: he would never make a false statement.
As we saw, modern practitioners of the historical-critical method have all too often not resembled Faustus. They have been too cocky, claiming scientific certitude in matters of opinion.
Vatican II, in its Constitution on Divine Revelation, if taken seriously, has two statements that could prevent errors of many kinds. “The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God,” it says, “whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ” (par. 10).
Many scholars scream that the Church should listen to them. Otherwise, they claim, the Church is undemocratic and interferes with academic freedom. Now, of course, Church authorities should and do check to see what scholars uncover in the field of Scripture. The final judgment, however, depends, not on scholarship, but on the providentially protected magisterium. We trust the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, because of the promises of Christ (see chapter 2).
A specially glaring case of the opposite way of working appears in Consensus in Theology? (ed. Leonard Swidler, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1980). Most of the nineteen contributors to this work, many of them Catholic, are in substantial agreement with the featured writer, Hans Kueng, who says that there are two poles, or sources, of Christian theology. “The first ... is God’s revelational address on the history of Israel and the history of Jesus” (p. 5). This means, of course, the Old and New Testaments. “The second,” says Kueng, “is our own human world of experience” (p. 11).
The teaching of the Church is simply omitted, not mentioned at all as a source of Christian Theology. Instead, we should use the Bible, plus human experience, as the two sources. As to the Bible, Kueng says: “The criterion determining all other criteria of Christian theology can never again be some ecclesiastical or theological tradition or institution but only the Gospel, the original Christian message itself ... analyzed by historical-critical analysis” (p. 14). Many Protestant critics today are saying that the historical-critical method is “bankrupt,” as we saw in chapter 16.
Since the method is bankrupt, they argue, it is to be supplemented, as R. H. Fuller puts it, by “feedback received from the believing community.” That is, of course, the same as Kueng’s “human world of experience.”
The Vatican has quite rightly declared that Kueng is not a Catholic theologian at all. Kueng, as we just saw, rejects the idea that God’s providence protects the teaching Church from error. He prefers private judgment, which is a purely Protestant approach to Scripture. Numerous Catholic scholars do much the same. R. E. Brown, in Critical Meaning of the Bible (Paulist, 1981), leaves much to be desired. “It is crucial,” he says, “that we be aware that the church [sic] interpretation of a passage and the literal sense of that passage may be quite different” (p. 35). Similarly: “Various stages of church interpretation ... are not always harmonious among themselves” (p. 34, n. 19). And also: “Limited too is the ability of church authorities to determine the literal sense of a passage of Scripture” (p. 39). Since Brown insists that Scripture contains even religious errors, these statements are not too surprising.
Yet scholars do not merely repeat the magisterium, nor must they always wait for a statement. Vatican II said that “Catholic exegetes and others who cultivate Sacred Theology ... should work so that, under the vigilance [emphasis added] of the Sacred Magisterium, they may, with apt helps, so investigate and present the divine letters that as many ministers of the divine word as possible may be able to effectively provide the nourishment of the Scriptures for the people of God” (par. 23).
An earlier version, finally rejected by the Council, had lead instead of vigilance. But the Council did not want to close off originality to scholars. Yet scholars must remember that their work is merely “preparatory” (par. 12) to the judgment of the Church, which is the final criterion.
Vatican II adds a further important provision, in On Revelation (par. 12): “But since Sacred Scripture is also to be read and interpreted by the same Spirit by which it was written, to rightly extract the sense of the sacred texts, we must look not less diligently at the content and unity of all Scripture, taking into account the living tradition of the whole Church and analogy of faith.”
If, as we have established, the principal author of all parts of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, there can be no contradiction of one part by another. There can, however, be differences—short of real I contradiction—between one Gospel and another, in outlook, scope, intention. Hence we cannot approve of Raymond Brown’s claim that Mark “did not think that Mary and the brothers [of Jesus] were disciples of Jesus during his ministry” (Critical Meaning of the Bible, p. 80; see also p. 42), while Luke makes Mary the first believer.
Raymond Brown thinks that he sees more clashes within Scripture. For example, in his book The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist, 1984), he says that he can detect, even in Scripture, clashes between beliefs of different local churches. “In Ephesians ...,” he writes on page 21, “the wall of hostility has been broken down [between Jew and Gentile]: those who were once far off have come near: Jew and Gentile are reconciled in one body to God through the cross (Eph. 2:11-22). For the author of Acts (28:25-29), however, the very last words of Paul ... indicate the Jews will never see. nor hear. nor understand: they are permanently closed off from the gospel [sic]. Salvation. according to the Paul of Acts, is for the Gentiles who will listen and understand.... Both attitudes are at a distance from that of the historical Paul in Romans, who argues that the Gentiles were converted to make the Jews jealous, that ultimately the Jews themselves will be converted, and that the Gentiles are but a wild olive branch grafted onto the tree of Israel (Rom. 11:11-16).”
The alleged triple clash is really a triple lack of perception. The complete and true picture is this. In Romans 11:11-26, Paul pictures a tame olive tree (the original People of God), and a wild olive tree (the Gentiles). Many of the branches of the tame tree were broken off, that is, they rejected Christ and, thus, were unfaithful.
In those places, the Gentiles were engrafted to form one People of God—the people envisioned in Ephesians 2: 11-22. This people is formed of two groups:
Gentiles plus a remnant of converted Jews who accepted Christ. But the majority of Jews are broken-off branches, that is, they have rejected Christ and, therefore, lost their places among the People of God. The Jews who dismayed Paul in Rome were the Jews who rejected Christ, though a few Jews in Rome accepted. Him.
In brief, there are three groups: (1) unfaithful Jews who rejected Christ and are outside the People of God as a result, (2) a smaller group, a remnant of Jews who did accept Christ and form part of the one People of God, and (3) the converted Gentiles. So there is no clash at all.
In the quote above from Vatican II, we saw that in interpreting Scripture we must take into account “the living tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith.” This means that a proposed interpretation that would clash with anything In the teachings of the Church is to be rejected, even if the Church has not yet spoken directly and explicitly on the passage under consideration. In this connection, some have misunderstood Pius XII, who said, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, that there are few texts “whose meaning has been declared by the authority of the Church, nor are there more on which there is a unanimous view of the Holy Fathers” of the early centuries. This is, of course, true. But even if the Church has not spoken directly and explicitly on many texts, and even if the Fathers have not been unanimous on many, yet indirectly we find much guidance by comparing proposed interpretations with all the truths taught by the Church.
Hence Pius XII points out that we must check with the analogy of faith, as Leo XIII also told us in Providentissimus Deus. Commenting on texts not yet directly interpreted by the Church or by the Fathers in unanimity, Pope Leo said that “the analogy of faith must be followed.... Hence it is clear that an interpretation is to be rejected as inept and false which either makes the inspired authors, as it were, fight among themselves, or is opposed to a teaching of the Church.” By following this guide, practitioners of the historical-critical method can obtain better results and avoid countless errors. Further, when we say that we must reject any interpretation that would clash with any teaching of the Church, we must not confine ourselves to solemn definitions. For Vatican II (Constitution on the Church, par. 25) tells us that there are three levels of Church teaching, all of them mandatory. In addition, paragraph 12 speaks of the “passive infallibility” of the believing Church.
The first of the three levels is that of the solemn definition by the Holy Father. “His definitions of themselves, and not from consent of the Church,” says Vatican II, “are rightly called unchangeable, for they are given under the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised him in blessed Peter; and so they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment.” Even with collegiality (of which the Council spoke in par. 23) the pope can act entirely alone when he so wills, even in defining.
The second level of Church teaching is this: “Even though individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can still proclaim the doctrine of Christ infallibly, even when scattered throughout the world, if, keeping the bond of union among themselves and with the Successor of Peter, in teaching authoritatively on faith and morals they agree on one view as the one to be held definitively.” This means that the ordinary magisterium of the Church, giving the day-to-day teaching of the Church definitively throughout the world, is infallible.
On the third level, the Council wrote, “Religious submission of will and of mind is to be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not defining.”
The Council also said, “The entire body of the faithful anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief” (par. 12). This means that if the whole Church, people as well as authorities, has—even for one period of history—accepted a teaching as revealed, that belief of the Church cannot be in error.
A rather obvious instance of such a universal belief would be the existence of angels. It has become fashionable today to deny them because in some Old Testament passages (for example, Judges 6) we find practically an alternation of expressions. Sometimes it is said that the Lord spoke; other times, that the angel of the Lord spoke. Hence a question: Was the expression “angel of the Lord” just a literary device meaning simply God? There are three answers.
First, it is a basic principle of Scripture study that we must get into the thought world of the original readers. But the original readers of the Old Testament, at least in the later period, and those of the New Testament as well, clearly did understand that there are separate beings called angels. Second, even though the Church has not defined the existence of angels, yet it has taught their existence on the second level mentioned by Vatican II. Third, the believing Church for centuries has taken it as revealed that there are angels.
So the Church gives as a rich abundance of guidance in our use of the historical-critical method. If we follow the rules of Vatican II, we can safely study Scripture by means of this method.
Chapter 18: Two Saint Pauls?
Of major importance are the claims, common today, that there are two conflicting images of St. Paul in Scripture: one in his Epistles, the other in Acts of the Apostles. These claims lead, in turn, to proposing a late date for the Acts of the Apostles, and to saying that Luke, or the author of Acts, could not have been a follower of St. Paul. Hence, the two Pauls claim leads to a devaluation of the reliability of Luke’s Gospel.
In chapter 16 we mentioned that scholars who use the historical-critical method are prone to reject external evidence. External evidence is found in such things as testimonies by other ancient writers, who tell us that Luke was a companion of St. Paul and that he wrote Acts. (It is generally agreed, even by radical critics, that the same person wrote both Luke and Acts). For example, the AntiMarcionite Prologues to the Gospels, which date from between 160 and 180 AD, tell us: “Luke of Antioch in Syria, a physician, having become a disciple of the Apostles, and later followed Paul until his martyrdom ... after the Gospels had been written-by Matthew in Judea, by Mark in Italy-moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Gospel in Achaia ... with great care, for Gentile believers.”
St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who died probably as a martyr about 200 AD and who had heard St. Polycarp in Smyrna tell what he himself had heard from the Apostle St. John, tells us that “Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him [ Paul]” ( .4 Against Heresies 3. 1. 1).
But the critics brush aside these testimonies, preferring instead to rely exclusively upon evidence found within Scripture itself. Because of the special importance of the claim that there are two Pauls, it is important to consider the question of internal evidence in some detail. A. J. Mattill has provided a convenient summary of the arguments of the critics in his article “The Value of Acts as a Source for the Study of Paul.” (In Perspectives on Luke-Acts, Charles H. Talbert. ed., Danville, Va., 1978, pp. 76-98, esp. 87-95.)
“The school of Creative Edification,” writes Mattill, “finds anti-Pauline traditions in Acts. For example..., 9:20-22 is directed against Galatians (‘straightway’ of 9:20 is aimed at Gal. 1:16; ‘destroyed’ of 9:21 is influenced by Gal. 1:23).”
We read in Acts 9:20-22: “And in the synagogues immediately [or: straightaway-right after his conversion in Damascus] he proclaimed Jesus saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed, and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name?
And he has come here for this purpose’ to bring them bound before the chief priests.’ But Saul increased all the more in strength....” This is supposed to clash with Galatians 1:16, which says (we quote from 15 and 16): “But when he who had set me apart before I was born ... was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood....” In saying he did not “confer with flesh and blood,” Paul merely means that he had no need to learn Christ from the Apostles or others. He had learned the truth directly from the vision on the road. So there is no problem.
The second item, “destroyed,” in RSV reads “made havoc.” It means Paul had greatly persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. That says the same as Galatians I :23: “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
Again, no clash.
Also on page 92 of Perspectives on Luke-Acts, we read that “Luke does not think of Paul as a witness of the resurrection but places in his mouth words which Paul himself would have repudiated (13-31).” Acts 13:31 says that “for many days he [Christ] appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” But Paul agreed in I Corinthians 15:5-8. Paul enumerated several appearances of the risen Jesus.
They were witnesses to the Resurrection, not in seeing the tomb opened, but in seeing Jesus afterwards. Paul, according to Acts, had also seen Jesus afterwards, in the Damascus road vision, of which Paul also speaks in 1 Corinthians 15:8. Again on page 92, Mattill says that “Acts 15:1-35 represents an understanding of Paul’s relationship to the Jerusalem apostolate which Paul himself corrects in Gal. 2:1-10.” Acts 15 tells of the Council in Jerusalem, which was called because Paul had made many Gentile converts.
So the question is: Do the Gentiles have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses? At the Council, Peter, who spoke first, said they need not; he cited his own experience with the Gentile Cornelius, who received the Spirit without keeping the law. Peter said of the Gentiles that God “cleansed their hearts by faith,” not by law. (This is precisely St. Paul’s own great theme. For example, see Galatians 3:2.)
Then Paul and Barnabas told how they had converted Gentiles, who received the Spirit without keeping the law. (They knew that they had received the Spirit because of the miraculous gifts they were given. Hence Paul’s appeal, in Galatians 3:2, to that fact as a proof.) After that James spoke, in agreement with Peter and Paul. Finally, the Council wrote to the churches of Syria and Cilicia-not to the whole world-that they need not keep the law but, as a sop to the feelings of Jews, asked them (Acts 15:29) to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”
Paul, in Galatians 2:1-10, telling of the same meeting, says that he compared notes with the Apostles and that they “added nothing to me.” Paul means that they agreed on basic Christian doctrine. There was no need to mention the four concessions to Jewish feelings (one of which, avoiding unchastity, was merely general moral law) to the Galatians. The letter of the Council was addressed just to Syria and Cilicia, which did not include Galatia. The basic doctrinal principle, no obligation of the law for Gentiles, Paul taught everywhere with much insistence. Paul did mention the four points where they applied (see Acts 16:4). Acts also shows Paul preaching salvation by faith (see 13:39; 16:30; 20-21).
Mattill also reports on page 92 this charge: “In Acts, Paul preaches the childlike milk of a non-sacramental Jewish Christianity calling men to repent, to be baptized, to believe Jesus has risen and to await His return, whereas the genuine Paul put a curse upon anyone who should preach such a Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).”
What Paul curses in Galatians 1:6-9 is the preaching of a Gospel that is different from what they have received. What is the basic teaching of Galatians and of Paul everywhere? Salvation by faith. But in Acts, Paul preaches that too (see 13:39;
16:30; and 20:21)-not to mention Acts 15, in which, as we saw, Paul takes part in the Council of Jerusalem giving such a teaching.
In both Acts and the Epistles, Paul does baptize (see 1 Corinthians 1:14-17). He also makes baptism basic in Romans 6:4, Ephesians 4:5, and Colossians 2:12.
And if Paul preaches the Resurrection in Acts, so does he in the Epistles. First Corinthians 15, for example, is almost entirely on that subject. Again Romans 6:3-8 gives the basic principle that we die with Christ, are buried with Him (in baptism), and rise with Him. As to awaiting the return of Jesus, the same objectors like to claim that Paul expected the return of Jesus in his own lifetime. They base their argument chiefly on the words “we who are alive” in Thessalonians 4:15 and 17. Really Paul is speaking there the way teachers often speak when they say “I” or “we” to make a matter more concrete. (On awaiting the return of Jesus, see also 1 Corinthians 15:23 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23.)
The same objection is based on the assumption that it is only in Acts that Paul teaches the need of repentance. The objectors have not noticed passages such as Romans 2:4, “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, in which Paul says he rejoices, “not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.... For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation....” And in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, Paul even hands over a sinner to Satan to bring him to repentance. (Something similar happens in 1 Timothy 1:20.)
On page 94, Mattill gives a long quote from Juelicher, saying that Paul’s going through the Nazarite ceremony in Jerusalem at the suggestion of James (Acts 21 :20-26) is incredible, is hypocrisy, and so, “all trust in an intelligent transmission of actual history in the Primitive Church sinks to nothing.” But, really, for Paul to do that was not hypocrisy. Paul was following his own principle of I Corinthians 9:20-22, in which Paul gives as his standing policy that he becomes all things to all men. “To the Jews,” says Paul, “I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law, I became as one under the law....”
There was nothing wrong with the rite in itself. It would have been wrong if Paul meant to earn salvation in this way. His frequent claims that we are free from the law mean only that we cannot earn salvation, though we can earn punishment (see Romans 6:23). Hence, though we are free from law, yet if we violate it, we are lost and will not “inherit” the kingdom. The word inherit implies that we do not earn salvation: Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5. See also Romans 2:6, 13:25. A student speaking of salvation according to Paul put it aptly, “You can’t earn it, but you can blow it.” Compare also the fact that Paul carried out a vow at Cenchrae (Acts 18: 18).
Mattill, also on page 94, cites this objection: “Since miracles are impossible and incredible, the accounts in Acts are either legendary or free compositions (inventions ...). The religious dialectician of the Epistles who battles only with words, who accomplishes his work through sufferings and temptations, and who boasts only in his weakness, is supplanted in Acts by the miracle worker and magician who blinds his opponents and heals at a distance through handkerchiefs which had been in contact with his body: Paul in Acts no longer lives in the sphere of the cross but of glory.”
Note first, the utterly silly prejudice that there are no miracles. Recall, however, the numerous miracles at Lourdes, all checked to the hilt by scientists. Consider the cure of Madam Bire, who had atrophy of the papilla but was made to see while the nerve was still withered. Or take the eighth-century Host of Lanciano, which turned in part to human heart muscle, while the wine turned to clots of blood-all of which were verified by a medical and biological team in 1970.1
Further, Paul in the Epistles does not act like a dialectician skilled with words. In 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, he says, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Paul means charismatic-type miracles, which gifts were routine in his day (compare 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
In Galatians 3:2, as was noted, Paul appeals to these miracles: “Let me ask you
only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The way they knew that they had received the Spirit was that they received those miraculous gifts. Paul wants their faith to rest on the showing of the power of God in this way, not on his mere word. Yes, Paul in the Epistles does speak of his sufferings (for example in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). But in Acts he goes through the sufferings mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11-many persecutions from Jews (14:2; 17 1-10), stoning at Lystra (14:19), scourging at Philippi (16:22-23), and other trials.
A further objection (Mattill, page 94): “In Acts, where Paul preaches first to the Jews, he is primarily Apostle of the Jews, only secondarily Apostle of the Gentiles.... According to Paul, his commission from his conversion on was only to Gentiles.” We reply that his mission was to cultivate primarily the territories of the Gentiles, in contrast to Palestine. In going to such lands, he could not and should not have ignored his brethren there. Similarly Peter, who had a mission to the Jews in Galatians 2:9, also preached in Antioch and Rome. Really, Peter’s commission in Matthew 28:19 was to “all nations,” an assignment given him by Christ. This did not conflict with the commission spoken of in Galatians 2:9.
Still another objection (page 94) says that “without violating his principles, Paul could not have approved nor executed the Decree nor remained silent about it if it had ever existed.” The Decree is, of course, that of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15. But that Decree agreed with Paul’s great emphasis that Gentiles did not have to observe the law. Paul preached this central doctrinal point everywhere.
As to the four special points of avoiding food sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled animals, and unchastity (Acts 15:29), as we said above, the last one, avoiding unchastity, was basic moral law preached by Paul everywhere. The others were disciplinary, not doctrinal. They were sops to the Jews in Cilicia and Syria. If the Vatican sends a decision to some national episcopal conference, it applies only in that territory, not everywhere. So, too, this Decree did not bind in regard to the three points outside Syria and Cilicia- though of course the doctrinal decision that the law was not necessary would, by its nature, bind everywhere. Paul did preach the three points in those regions as we see in Acts 16:4.
A major objection on page 95 asserts that “the Paul of Acts is pre-Pauline in his Christology and post-Pauline in his natural theology, concept of the Law, and eschatology. From Acts, specifically Pauline ideas are missing, as justification and the atoning power of Jesus’ death. Hence, we cannot cite any of Paul’s words in Acts as if they were Paul’s own.”
About Christology, Paul, at Damascus right after his conversion, taught about Jesus: “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). A concordance (under the word Lord) reveals numerous cases where Paul speaks of Jesus as “Lord,” which would mean divinity to his Gentile hearers as well as to Jews (for whom the Greek kyrios, “Lord,” was the normal Septuagint translation for the Hebrew Yahweh). Further, we must distinguish between what Paul would say on first contact with people from what he would add later. At first, Paul would gradually build up faith. Thus to Gentiles he was apt to speak of Jesus as “a man whom He [God] has appointed” to judge the world (Acts 17 31). This is similar to what we do in apologetics, first showing that Jesus was a messenger sent from God (see chapter 2 above). To the Jews, he tried to show Jesus was the one long promised to Israel (compare Acts 13 16-41).
On justification, Paul teaches that it is given by faith. Acts 15 teaches that, even on the lips of Peter, who says in verse 9 that God “cleansed their hearts by faith.” In 16 30, the jailer at Philippi asks Paul what to do. Paul replies, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” In this instance, Paul could speak at once of Jesus as Lord. The jailer was quite convinced by the miracle that freed Paul.
Similarly at Miletus (Acts 20:21), Paul says he had been “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now if one is saved by belief in Jesus, it is implied that Jesus does save. In Acts 17:3, Paul explains and proves “that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” Thus did Jesus atone. As to the law, we have already shown above that Paul taught that keeping it neither merited nor earned salvation, yet violating it could earn punishment.
Finally, in regard to eschatology, it cannot be proved that Paul ever held or taught that the end was near. As we said above, his words about “we who are alive,” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 and 17, need not at all imply that he expected to see the end himself.
One final objection (Mattill, page 95): “The Paul whose speech was ‘contemptible’ (2 Cor. 10:10) has been transformed by Luke into an eloquent orator.”
It should be noted that the charge of contemptible speech is quoted by Paul from his enemies. We need not believe them. Paul at times could be highly literary, as in the beautiful passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Luke, being an educated Greek, would follow Greek ways in writing history. The classic Greek historians insisted on trying to get at the facts and on adding interpretations.2 In their speeches, pagan Greeks would always try to get the content right, but they would clothe it in their own words. Now Luke, being a companion of Paul, as can be seen from the ancient testimonies cited early in this chapter, would have ample opportunity to get the content right. Further, Paul, like most traveling speakers, would often reuse the same matter in different places. So Luke could quite easily write up speeches fully with Paul’s content-adding perhaps a bit of Lukan eloquence, according to normal Greek historiographical patterns.
This long review of objections is worthwhile because it shows us how the historical critics operate, letting us see that the arguments they use are almost always inconclusive and surely not, in this case, such as to overrule the testimony of external evidence that the author of Acts was Luke, a companion of St. Paul.
Paul himself, in Philemon 24, adds greetings from “Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” In Colossians 4:14, one may read, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” And 2 Timothy 4:11 says, “Luke alone is with me.” We know that it was common in ancient times to use a famous name as a pen name, but Luke was not a famous name. All research requires, first, the gathering of all possible relevant data and, second, the use of good judgment in interpreting it. Many do well in gathering data but show poor judgment in interpreting that information. The historical critics, as was said in chapter 16, are specially prone to such bad judgment, thinking inconclusive internal evidence is conclusive. Then they build one inconclusive case on another. Today many of them, finally realizing the nature of their evidence, are showing bad judgment a second time by completely discarding the method, which is quite good if used with awareness of its limitations.
If the critics had learned from Vatican II that Scripture does not contradict Scripture, they could have saved themselves-and us-a lot of work.
1 Sammaciccia-Burakowski, The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano (Fort Worth, TX: Stella Maris, 1976).
2 For details, see W. Most, The Consciousness of Christ (Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1980), pp. 15-17.