For almost as far back as I can remember I have been interested in scripture and theology. It began when I received a large black hardcover St. Joseph Edition New American Bible as a First Communion gift from my godfather. The Bible has been a big part of my life (bigger at some times than at others) ever since. It puzzled me that no one in my family or among my friends seemed to show any personal interest in what seemed to me to be the most important thing ever put on paper – the Message to us from our Maker, the Creator of the whole world, of all the worlds. Everyone seemed content to get their weekly doses of it from Mass attendance, but beyond that nothing that I could see. It occurred to me that perhaps it was too hard for them to grapple with personally, but that didn’t deter me. If anything, I felt challenged.
This was around the time that Hal Lindsey first published his monster bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth and Evangelical Christian eschatology was growing in popularity. The word “rapture” was bandied about once in a while, and I did not understand it, but I knew it had something to do with the end of the world. I wanted to know what was coming. It eventually came to my ears that the last book of the Bible was all about the end of the world, so I tried to read it. I made many attempts at it, but frustration with the book’s unintelligibility always stopped me. I tried starting at the beginning, too, but I could never finish the Book of Genesis in one sitting. It was too long.
It became a goal, which I achieved as a sophomore in high school, to pick a version of the Bible I was comfortable with and read the whole thing cover to cover. I chose the New King James Version. Just enough traditional flavor and majesty of language so tragically missing from the NAB and other more recent translations without having trip over a lot of thous thees thys wherefores and peradventures that were in the old KJV. Right after I read it all the way through the first time, I started right back up with Genesis 1:1 and did it again.
Over the years I had encountered the approach to scripture that I have called the liberal view. I have puzzled over it countless times through the years. It did not seem to me that there was a coherent view of scripture there, so it was a mystery to me how it became so prevalent that it all but replaced the more traditional view. That it existed at all was not so strange. I could understand a likely motivation for some to turn to it as a temptation. The Bible has some very hard standards and teaches certain unpopular values without compromise. It was easy to see that someone who identifies as a follower of Christ would not wish to openly rebel against the very Word of God. Between simple acceptance of God’s Word and public rejection of it, there was the middle road – choose to understand it in a nontraditional way, and then you can eat your cake and still have it. You could accept some non-threatening things and re-interpret the hard, uncomfortable things that you did not want to believe until they are softer and easier to accept.
If one could discount predictive prophecy, if we could pretend that all but the clearest instances of it were too vague to be indisputably prophetic and if the most obvious and undeniable examples could be re-cast as works of pious fraud written after that fact, then we could have as much disregard as we wished of the divine content and authority of scripture, which we could apply as selectively as we wished.
But this view of scripture did not seem have its own positive identity. It was recognizable not by what it affirmed, but by what it denied. It distinguished itself by what it refused to accept, not by what it offered in the place of what it re-interpreted away. For that view to have become the dominant view of scripture, even among people who had dedicated their whole lives to the service of God, something strange was happening that I could not understand, but it certainly dovetailed with a then-growing conviction that these were the end times.
My wife Teresa, who writes much more of this blog than I do, has achieved an insight that we decided to share in this Together Post. I now turn this post over to her. Until further notice, what follows is her words.
Even though the Church has asserted that scripture is not merely human word “but as what it really is, the word of God” and in Dei Verbum Vatican II affirmed that the words of Scripture were written with “God as their author” some people do not have a coherent exegesis of scripture, and either reject the inerrancy of certain troubling passages of scripture or they treat them similarly to fables. Since these individuals pick and choose which passages from scripture are inerrant and those that aren’t we will call their exegesis of scripture cafeteria inerrancy.
Some persons are even trying to attribute genocide to the scripture passage in 1st Samuel 15 and thus rejecting that scripture’s inerrancy claiming that this scripture cannot be accurate since God would never commit genocide.
Genocide is mass murder and murder is wrongful killing. It is impossible for God to commit murder of any kind because He is the author of life and it is his prerogative when He gives life and when He takes away life. He never loses his absolute rights over all life. Therefore no matter who dies at His hand or for what reason, it cannot be considered murder. Therefore also, no matter how many die by His will or what the circumstances, it cannot be considered genocide, because you cannot have mass murder unless you have murder.
Those who deny the inerrancy of scripture passage in 1st Samuel 15 are in effect denying the salvific value of what results from what is recorded there. It is my contention that with the removal of the Amalekites as a nation, God was preserving Israel and thus continuing to pave the way for the Incarnation of His Son.
In addition to this particular passage there are other examples of what we, with limited human reason, would consider less than desirable, including Moses and the Red Sea, where the soldiers are all drowned, the last of the Ten Plagues of Exodus, the slaying of the Firstborn, the immediate killing of Uzzah as punishment for touching the Ark of the Covenant (preventing it from falling off the back of the stumbling ox), and, of course, the Great Flood, which wiped out all of life on earth with the exception of Noah, his family, and the animals on the Ark.
Are we supposed to believe that all these accounts in scripture are historically inaccurate? Are they simply stories? Are we supposed to reject God’s Word in these instances? Or are we to reject the literal meaning in favor of some higher figurative meaning? I don’t see how any person could attribute a figurative meaning to these passages if they are not literally true as well. What is the moral message of God telling a story about wiping out nearly all life if it is just a story? What is the figurative message of God wanting to tell us about a time that God ordered the annihilation of an entire people or the striking dead of a person as a punishment for his seeking to preserve divine dignity or killing people because they were born first to their mothers, if in fact He did not do those things? What is He trying to tell us about His character if He is above doing those things but not above saying He did *figuratively*?
If we are to believe that in these passages God would never do or say what He is literally depicted to do or say, why should we believe the Gospel, which, in its own way is darker and more troubling than any of the passages I just mentioned? Why isn’t that merely figurative as well? Why should we believe that God would send His Son Jesus Christ to become a man and to endure, as an innocent man, torture, crucifixion and death? How could God allow His Son to experience such brutality? Moreover, scripture says that it pleased God to have His Son endure this torment. (Isaiah 53:10) God the Father was not merely a helpless spectator – it was God’s will that Jesus die for our sins in this terrible violent manner.
It was for our salvation that God sent His Son to be crucified. And that is why everything else that is in scripture is there, including the troubling passages – it is there for our salvation. But that doesn’t mean it is not true. It IS true, and that is also for our salvation.
Now I turn the post back over to Kevin.
I am in my 40s now, so it has been many years, but my puzzlement with the liberal modernist reading of scripture has stayed with me. It has been informed by numerous contentious arguments and discussions back and forth. I now think I can trace the logic of how to come to grips with the liberal Catholic view of the authority of scripture, which in this article my wife and I are calling Cafeteria Inerrancy. I will present this logic by distinguishing it from the traditional view, which I will lay out briefly now.
The traditional view is that scripture contains no errors. Whatever its human author meant by what he wrote, that is, what he intended to assert or affirm, is true, because he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That is the literal sense of scripture – what the human author intended to assert. God is the primary author of scripture, so it can and often does have more meanings than what the human author intended to convey, and of course, when it does, all those meanings are true as well. God is neither ignorant nor a liar. What He meant to say, over and above the authorial knowledge and intention of the human author He inspired, is true. This is the basis of the other senses of scripture: the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense. However, there is no erroneous sense. There is no layer of error in what was intended to be asserted or affirmed. Error is incompatible with divine inspiration. The traditional view is the one that was held by virtually all the Fathers of the Church, it conforms with what the Bible says of itself, and it is consistent with all the Conciliar documents and relevant infallibly declared statements of the popes. From this viewpoint, the oldest and most well established traditional positions on the meaning of a given scripture are given the most weight.
In contrast to this approach, the liberal view regards traditional interpretations with more suspicion than more recent speculative theories. The older and more established the interpretation, the more suspicion with which it is met. The consensus of contemporary scholarship is given enough weight to overturn millenia of established tradition. Affirmations of biblical inerrancy in ecclesiastical documents all have to be “read in the light of Vatican II”. All of Catholic tradition has to be read in the light of Vatican II. Not the other way around! Vatican II is not interpreted by older tradition, but older tradition is recast by Vatican II. When it comes to scriptural inerrancy, that means the weak affirmation of inerrancy in Dei Verbum replaces all the stronger declarations of that doctrine from the past, so instead of Dei Verbum’s weak statement being understood as a continuation of the older strong inerrancy tradition, the older, firmly established tradition is read as colorfully hyperbolical poetic exaggerations that really only meant what is understood by liberals to be affirmed in Dei Verbum. And how do liberals interpret Dei Verbum? By reading the pre-voting debates and picking the side they prefer: that of Cardinal Koenig, who unabashedly affirmed that scripture is chock full of errors, some of which he listed.
So if you want to know what 2000 years of Catholic tradition REALLY mean, consult Cardinal Koenig. He is the judge of all of Catholic tradition. Tradition does not judge him. He is the hermeneutic key to all of scripture. And his method is very simple: if it can be read uncharitably as an error, then it should be. One should never try to rescue scripture from the appearance of error. The errors are there. Period.
So after that, what is left of inerrancy? Only Cafeteria Inerrancy. What liberals want to emphasize and twist to their agenda is true, and moreover, inerrant. And what they wish to marginalize, well, that’s where errors are in inerrant scripture. Don’t expect logic from liberals.