The document called 'The Gift of Scripture
' (GS) describes itself as “A teaching document of the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales
, and of Scotland
.” It was approved for publication by those Conferences and is dated July 6 of 2005. Scripture quotations within that document are generally from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The Foreword is signed by Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and by Keith Cardinal O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
Since this teaching document is issued by a group of local Bishops, not by the Pope, and not by the body of Bishops led by the Pope, it can only have the teaching authority of the fallible Ordinary Magisterium, not of the infallible Sacred Magisterium. The document does contain some true teaching about the Bible, along with a few grievous errors against the faith. For its fallibility is not found in subtlety. Unlike the vast majority of other documents in the Church, which also fall under the Ordinary Magisterium, this document contains clear contradictions of established Catholic doctrine. In addition, there is a particular type of rhetoric in this document that is frequently used by those who detract from the authority and infallibility of the Bible.
Truth versus Error
Again, there are true statements about the Bible in this document. However, the astute reader will probably notice that some of the truths of the document actually contradict its own errors. For example, it quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church
(CCC) in order to make the excellent point that all of Scripture is One Word: “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.” (CCC, n. 102, quoted on page 13 of GS). Yet later, in several places, the document claims that parts of Scripture are true and other parts are false. If the Bible is one Utterance of God, then how can it be divided against itself, such that some parts are true and others false?
Again, the document states this truth: “The Scriptures themselves proclaim that they are inspired by God, that God is their author, and that they were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” (GS, p. 17). Yet a few sentences later it makes the contradictory assertion that there can be errors in the Scriptures in any matter not pertaining to salvation. Yet if the Scriptures have God as their author, being written under divine inspiration, then how can they contain any kind of error at all?
To support its claim, the document misquotes the Second Vatican Council's document, Dei Verbum
, as follows: “The books thus declared canonical and inspired by the Spirit of God contain 'the truth which God wished to be set down in the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.' ” (GS, p. 18, quoting Dei Verbum
, n. 11). The conclusion is then drawn that only the truths written for the sake of our salvation are infallible. However, if one reads the whole passage from Dei Verbum
, it becomes clear that no such limitation was envisioned by the Council.
The following passage is n. 11 from Dei Verbum
in its entirety (quoted from the Vatican web site):
11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore 'all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind' (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).
Notice that the expression “divinely revealed realities” is clearly much broader than merely the truths pertaining to salvation. This emphasis on the inspiration of all of Scripture continues with the words “in their entirety, with all their parts....” Since all parts of Scripture are inspired and canonical, in their entirety, there can be no errors in any part.
The Council then asserts that the human authors “consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.” There is no room in that expression for any errors, unless one would claim that God Himself erred, or that He wanted falsehoods in Scripture (neither of which is even possible for God who is Truth). Scripture contains all those things and only those things that God wills, and God is Truth. Therefore, Scripture is entirely free from error, just as the will of God is entirely free from error. To make this point even more clear, the Council then states that “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit.” This statement does not limit the inspired assertions to those pertaining to salvation. There is no doubt that the Council did not intend to limit the inspiration or the truth of assertions in the Bible to only those pertaining to salvation.
The numbers in parentheses, in the quote above, are footnotes. Footnote 4, from n. 11 of Dei Verbum
, cites Providentissimus Deus
, the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII. That document goes into some length specifically refuting the idea that only the truths pertaining to salvation are inspired and infallible. This erroneous idea has been around for many years. Pope Leo XIII, in the year 1893, corrected this error in the Papal Encyclical called Providentissimus Deus
But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican.
(Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, n. 20).
If a teaching is “the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church” and has been “solemnly defined” in various Ecumenical Councils, and if the opposite teaching is declared to be “absolutely wrong and forbidden,” then that opposite teaching must necessarily be a heresy. Therefore, it is a heresy against the Catholic Christian faith to believe or to teach that “divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond,” or, in other words, to claim that the truths of Sacred Scripture are limited to what was written for the sake of our salvation.
It is a bitter irony that a document called 'The Gift of Scripture' at the same time quotes from sources that hold correct doctrine about Scripture, and yet still contradicts those same sources, to the detriment of true teachings about Scripture. And it is absolutely wrong and forbidden for two Bishops' Conferences, led by two Cardinal Archbishops, to assert, as if it were a true teaching, that which has been condemned by Pope Leo XIII as a heresy, and which contradicts the teaching of the Councils of Florence, Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II.
Further Condemnations of This Heresy
The First Vatican Council reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent that the “books of the Old and New Testaments are to be received as sacred and canonical in their integrity, with all their parts....” and that “they contain revelation, with no admixture of error.” (First Vatican Council, chapter II, Of Revelation
Pope Leo XIII is not the only Pope who has condemned this heretical idea. Pope Pius XII did so also.
22. To return, however, to the new opinions mentioned above, a number of things are proposed or suggested by some even against the divine authorship of Sacred Scripture. For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council's definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters.
(Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, n. 22).
In addition, Pope Pius X published a Syllabus of Errors, including a condemnation of the idea that “Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.” (Lamentabili Sane
, n. 11). The condemnation of this idea is definitive: “...the following propositions to be condemned and proscribed. In fact, by this general decree, they are condemned and proscribed.”
Pope Benedict XV condemned this heresy also, as follows.
21. Moreover, our predecessor, sweeping aside all such distinctions between what these critics are pleased to call primary and secondary elements, says in no ambiguous fashion that “those who fancy that when it is a question of the truth of certain expressions we have not got to consider so much what God said as why He said it,” are very far indeed from the truth. He also teaches that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: “It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.”
(Pope Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, quoting Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus).
The Authority of Prior Papal Pronouncements
Some scholars would trivialize the prior teachings of various Popes (quoted above), which clearly and emphatically declare the infallibility of the Sacred Bible, claiming that such Papal teachings are fallible. Yet the words of Pope Pius XII leaves no room for such dissension.
20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: “He who heareth you, heareth me”; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.
(Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, n. 20)
The document GS ignores prior definitive declarations by several Popes. These declarations, though perhaps not infallible, have never been contradicted or overturned by any equal or higher authority. And GS also incorrectly cites the Second Vatican Council's Dei Verbum
, as if it permitted the view that Scripture is only infallible in matters pertaining to salvation. In fact, the Second Vatican Council does not suggest such a view, nor did it overturn prior Papal pronouncements on the subject of infallibility in Scripture.
Accuracy and Inerrancy
If a statement is inaccurate, is it true or false? If I say that it is 3 p.m., when it is actually 3:01 p.m., is that statement true or false? Certainly, we should not expect an unreasonable degree of accuracy or precision from the Sacred Texts. The Holy Spirit is Truth, but truth is not the same as unreasonable precision. When Scripture asserts that Judas Maccabeus went into battle with three thousand chosen men, one cannot claim that the text is in error merely because that number is an approximation. On the other hand, there are those who would claim that Judas Maccabeus never existed at all, or that he existed but did not fight these battles as described in First and Second Maccabees. Such claims falsely accuse the Bible of error.
GS declares the following. “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters. We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision.” (GS, p. 18).
Now suppose that you are listening to a singer with a friend. After the song, the friend says, “She's not the best singer in the world.” While it may be true that this particular singer is not the absolute best singer in the world, such a statement is commonly used and understood to indicate that the singer is far less than the best. In the same way, the statements by GS that the Bible does not contain 'total accuracy' or 'full scientific accuracy' or 'complete historical precision' are clearly intended to indicate that some parts of the Bible are not even close to 'total accuracy' or 'full scientific accuracy' or 'complete historical precision' in matters not pertaining to salvation. To the contrary, as long as the expected degree of accuracy and precision is not unreasonable or exaggerated, but is in accord with the meaning of the text, as intended by the human authors, and as intended by God, then one can expect full accuracy and precision from all verses of the Bible.
As was usual in ancient times, quotes in the Bible are often (but not always) a way of explaining what happened, or what someone meant, yet not a word for word transcription. However, many people, in comparing the words of Jesus from one Gospel to another, find difficulty or even claim to find errors, due to a difference in the wording of the quotes. This difficulty is neither an error, nor an inaccuracy of Sacred Scripture, but merely a misunderstanding as to the meaning intended by God and by the human author.
A difference in the order of events is often cited as an error in the Bible. However, as every storyteller knows, the best way to tell a story is not always in the same order as the events occurred. Unless the text asserts that events occurred in a particular order, such an assumption, if it turns out to be incorrect, is not the fault of the text, but of the reader.
Some passages of the Bible are intended by the human author and by God to be understood figuratively. It is a manifestly unjust accusation against the holiness and truthfulness of the Scriptures to pretend that such texts are merely literal and that they are, therefore, examples of errors.
Adam and Eve and Accuracy
The story of Adam and Eve is a good example of a text from the Bible that is true and accurate and historical, but which nevertheless presents its truths using figurative elements. The story of Adam and Eve is 'a dramatic portrayal of an historical event.' Adam and Eve did exist and did, in fact, fall from grace (as Pope Pius XII asserts in Humani Generis
, n. 37). This important event in human history is presented with dramatic and figurative elements, such as a talking snake and fruit picked from a tree. These elements have always been understood, even among the Jews in ancient times, to be symbolic, as is clear even from the name of the tree: 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.'
However, those who claim that there is no historical truth, or only traces of historical truth, in the story of Adam and Eve, commit a serious error. Those who pretend that such symbolic elements are to be understood literally, so as to claim that the Bible contains falsehoods, are presenting a false and disingenuous argument. Some persons misrepresent clearly symbolic or figurative language in the Bible as if it were intended to be taken literally; whereas, in the light of a true and genuine interpretation of such passages, doubts and apparent contradictions and seeming impossibilities are quickly dispersed.
Tradition and Scripture
The Second Vatican Council defines Tradition as “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation.” (Dei Verbum
, n. 2). The One Divine Revelation is therefore divided into the deeds (Tradition) and the words (Scripture) of God: “This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.” (Dei Verbum
, n. 2). This document, 'The Gift of Scripture,' correctly states this truth about Tradition and Scripture, citing (but not quoting) Dei Verbum
n. 2: “This revelation of God takes place in the actions and words of God in history.” (GS, p. 14).
This document (GS), in contradiction to some of the more liberal theories of Biblical interpretation, correctly asserts two related truths. First, it asserts that “in order to understand the word of God in Scripture we should seek to know the intention of the human author.” (GS, p. 19). The document then discusses briefly the historical-critical method, as well as mentioning that there are “other methods and approaches” to be used. Now, whereas some scholars would limit proper interpretation of the Bible to such methods, this document counters that error by asserting the truth that: “Later understandings go beyond the intention of the original human authors.” (GS, p. 21). The document then goes on to cite the Fathers of the Church who “often see, for example, hidden christological meanings even in the details of Scripture.” (GS, p. 21).
Some students of the Bible have an overly-simplistic understanding of the process involved in the writing of each book of the Bible. However, 'The Gift of Scripture' has a more insightful understanding of that process.
Each book has its own history of composition, and much of the material will have existed in oral form before ever being written down, at which point it was ordered and edited in various ways. Modern study has made us more aware of the complexity of the processes of composition involved. We believe that all these processes were safeguarded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Although modern Biblical scholarship has its sins and failings, the above insight is one of the benefits from such scholarship.
The Book of Genesis
The Book of Genesis is described by GS in a way that undermines its historical credibility. “Though they may contain some historical traces, the primary purpose was to provide religious teaching.” (GS, p. 25). Now it is certainly true that the primary purpose of the Bible, in any of its books, is to provide religious teaching. But the claim that Genesis, which includes the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, and Joseph, has only a possibility ('may contain') of presenting mere traces of historical truth, is actually a clear denial that historical truths are found in Genesis.
To the contrary, Tradition is “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation,” and Scripture proceeds from Tradition. If the deeds of God in Tradition never occurred, then Scripture would lose its authority. This denial of the historical accuracy of the Bible is not original to the document GS, but has been a blight upon Biblical scholarship for many years. Against this and other errors, Pope Leo XIII wrote the following.
The principles here laid down will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to History. It is a lamentable fact that there are many who with great labour carry out and publish investigations on the monuments of antiquity, the manners and institutions of nations and other illustrative subjects, and whose chief purpose in all this is too often to find mistakes in the sacred writings and so to shake and weaken their authority. Some of these writers display not only extreme hostility, but the greatest unfairness; in their eyes a profane book or ancient document is accepted without hesitation, whilst the Scripture, if they only find in it a suspicion of error, is set down with the slightest possible discussion as quite untrustworthy.
(Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, n. 20).
The Book of Job
This document, 'The Gift of Scripture,' uses a certain type of rhetoric, whereby the Scriptures are given empty praise, then treated as if they did not contain clear and absolute truths. For example, the Book of Job is praised as “a fine and precious book, a masterpiece of Hebrew poetry and a major landmark in religious thought.” (GS, p. 31). The problem with this quote is that it in no way acknowledges that the Book of Job is the inspired and infallible Word of God. In fact, subsequent statements about this and other books indicate a view of Scripture as teaching conditional, revocable ideas, reflecting the society in which they were written, without also necessarily reflecting absolute truth. “While earlier books had simply explained all suffering, whether personal or collective, as brought about by sin, Job stands firm in refuting such easy answers.” (GS, p. 31).
Thus, the prior teachings of the Bible on sin and suffering are presented as in fundamental conflict with the teachings of the Book of Job. If Scripture is the infallible inspired Word of God, then how can the Book of Job 'refute' the answers given by all the prior books of the Bible? The document continues this line of thought by saying: “The Book of Job is a fine example of how the Scriptures may reflect a process of learning and a development of understanding among people.” (GS, p. 31). Again, these words portray the Scriptures as if they were not teaching truth, but merely reflecting a search for truth among certain persons. Such an approach to the Bible is in fundamental conflict with the definitive teaching of the Church that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
The Promised Land
This document's relativistic approach to the truths of Scripture continues with its claim that the narratives about the entry into the promised land “raise serious theological questions. God is presented as commanding the Israelites to annihilate their enemies....” (GS, p. 27). The phrasing 'is presented as' gives the reader the distinct impression that the authors of this document do not believe the words of Scripture that God did command the Israelites to annihilate their enemies. Instead of viewing this command as an order of an Almighty God: “Such commands arise from a theology in which anyone who is not a believer is considered to bring religious contamination to believers.”
(GS, p. 28, citing, but not quoting, The Jewish People
Upon looking up and reading the citation to The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
, n. 56, one finds that the citation does not support the passage in GS making that citation. Repeatedly, upon looking up other citations within GS to documents of the Magisterium, one finds that the citations used by GS as a reference actually contradict the text of GS, or that the text of GS presents a blatant distortion of the material that it cites.
In the truth of Sacred Scripture, God Himself did command the Israelites to take such an action (the ban). Almighty God holds all lives in His hands. Since it was God who decided to end the lives of those who were placed under the 'ban' in the time of ancient Israel, it was not sin or evil-doing, for all lives belong to God. And, although the document GS repeatedly cites the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) document, The Jewish People
, the assertions of GS are contradictory to the assertions of the PBC. The relevant text from The Jewish People
, n. 56, follows.
Therefore, to appreciate the ban, three factors must be taken into account in interpretation; theological, moral, and one mainly sociological: the recognition of the land as the inalienable domain of the lord; the necessity of guarding the people from all temptation which would compromise their fidelity to God; finally, the all too human temptation of mingling with religion the worst forms of resorting to violence.
(The Jewish People, n. 56).
GS presents the ban as if it were merely human in origin, as if it resulted from a faulty theology that incorrectly views all dissent as religious contamination. GS describes the ban as originating merely from human beings gone astray from truth, and not as originating from God. Yet the PBC did not reject the idea that God commanded the Israelites to put the former inhabitants of the Promised Land under the ban. Rather, the PBC gave the above three reasons why God commanded the ban.
The document GS goes on to use this command of God, called the 'ban,' to treat the words of Scripture as if they were imperfect and time-conditioned, subject to later revision, and not an expression of inspired infallible truth. To support its presentation of the Old Testament as an expression of “primitive ideas about God's demands,” rather than as the Word of God, GS cites Dei Verbum
, n. 15. Yet that citation in no way supports the text of GS. The following is the entire text of section 15 from Dei Verbum
, taken from the Vatican website.
15. The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12). Now the books of the Old Testament, in accordance with the state of mankind before the time of salvation established by Christ, reveal to all men the knowledge of God and of man and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with men. These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. (1) These same books, then, give expression to a lively sense of God, contain a store of sublime teachings about God, sound wisdom about human life, and a wonderful treasury of prayers, and in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way. Christians should receive them with reverence.
clearly views the Old Testament as “revealing to all men the knowledge of God.” While GS claims that “Israel will gradually understand that no people is to be treated in this way....” (GS, p. 28). Furthermore, GS claims that the Old Testament contains “imperfect and time-conditioned elements,” and it attributes this phrase to Dei Verbum
. Yet the words 'imperfect' and 'time-conditioned' are not found anywhere in that document on the Vatican web site, which instead uses the phrase “incomplete and temporary.”
Not only does the document GS undermine and even openly oppose the idea that the Bible is the infallible inspired Word of God, but it supports this claim with citations to documents which do not support, or which even plainly contradict, what the text using the citation is saying.
The Term 'Old Testament'
The document 'The Gift of Scripture' spurns the term 'Old Testament,' preferring instead the terms 'the First Testament' or 'the Jewish Scriptures.'
The title 'Old Testament' originates from the writings of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 3:14). This title has sometimes been considered somewhat negative and has been replaced by terms such as 'the First Testament' and 'the Jewish Scriptures' in order to avoid any possible offence. (GS, p. 24).
As a basis for this change from 'Old Testament' to 'First Testament,' GS again cites but does not quote the Pontifical Biblical Commission document, The Jewish People
. The citation is also incorrect; it says “19 note 33,” but 19 refers to note 37. Upon reading section 19 and footnote 37, it is clear that the PBC made a very different assertion.
By “Old Testament” the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed.(37)
(37) For the origin of this title, see above no. 2. Today in certain circles there is a tendency to use “First Testament” to avoid any negative connotation attached to “Old Testament”. But “Old Testament” is a biblical and traditional expression which of itself does not have a negative connotation: the Church fully recognizes the importance of the Old Testament.
And section no. 2 above, in the same document of the PBC, reads as follows.
The title “Old Testament” given to this collection of writings is an expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to Moses (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). Its scope has been extended, since the end of the second century, to include other Jewish writings in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
This Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) document, The Jewish People
, clearly rejects the idea of those who would eschew the term 'Old Testament' as if it were offensive. Yet the document GS contradicts the PBC document, while still citing it as a source.
As the PBC points out, the title 'Old Testament' originates from Sacred Scripture. Therefore, it cannot be rejected on any basis whatsoever, especially not on the weak grounds that some consider it to be somewhat negative, or that it might possibly offend. Modern secular society teaches us to reject any ideas or words that might offend anyone. But Tradition and Scripture teach us to cling to and express the truth, “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2).
Again, GS praises a book of the Bible, only to subsequently represent it as faulty and merely human, rather than as Divine and Infallible. When praising the Psalms, GS quotes from Dei Verbum
and The Jewish People
. Then the document goes on to say that “these wonderful hymns emerge from so many human emotions and situations.” (GS, p. 31). According to this document:
“Some psalms even contain the language of hatred and violence, and, while these 'cursing psalms' are not often used in our liturgy, their presence in the Bible teaches us that even strong emotions can be expressed to the God who knows our hearts. Deep emotions can be admitted before God, for it is the acting out of such hatred which cannot be condoned.” (GS, p. 31-32).
There are so many errors in this quote from GS, it is hard to know where to begin. First, the Psalms of Sacred Scripture do not express hatred, nor do they contain the language of hatred. Second, no Psalm should be referred to as a 'cursing psalm.' Third, no Psalm should be necessarily omitted from the Holy Mass. Fourth, although the Psalms do contain expressions of emotion, they are primarily divinely-inspired expressions of truth. Reducing the Psalms to mere expressions of human emotion denies their Divine inspiration and infallibility. Fifth, although acting upon hatred is a sin, even an interior hatred that is not acted upon is immoral.
The document GS also disparages the book of Proverbs: “Some proverbs are profound and weighty, while others are somewhat trivial.” (GS, p. 30).
Knowledge of the Future
The Bible was written by God, that is, by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God knows the whole future with absolute certainty. Therefore, the Bible can and does contain predictions and knowledge of future events. However, it is a common error among modern Biblical scholars to deny or to minimize the Divine aspects of the Bible, and to over-emphasize and exaggerate its human aspects. As a result, such scholars ignore or even openly deny that the Bible contains any true predictions of future events.
GS states that Book of Daniel contains “enigmatic visions,” as if these cannot be understood by the reader. And the same document subtly suggests that the Book of Daniel does not truly predict future events, but was written merely to reassure an oppressed and persecuted people (GS, p. 32). And, when GS later refers to the Book of Revelation, it again, more openly, asserts that the future is not found within this text. If there are no true predictions of future events in Daniel or in Revelation, then one would have to conclude that there were no true predictions of future events in the Bible as a whole.
There is a common erroneous idea among Biblical scholars that events predicted in the Gospels, and subsequently fulfilled, such as Jesus Christ's prediction of the destruction of the Temple, are merely proof that the text must have been written after the predicted event. GS does not openly commit this error, but clearly leans in that direction by displaying an utter lack of faith that the Bible can contain knowledge of future events.
Rhetoric about the New Testament
The Sacred Bible contains objective truth, but many Biblical scholars treat the text in an entirely subjective manner, as if the text were merely the expression of the understanding of human persons at the time that it was written. The document GS has a tendency toward this error, which is particularly seen in the rhetoric of its descriptions of various sections and books of the Bible, including the Gospels. Thus, one of the main problems with GS is that, while some sections of the document proclaim the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, other sections are written so as to ignore, undermine, or openly contradict the fact of Divine inspiration. When particular books are described, the language refers to the human aspects of Scripture, but not to its Divine aspects.
In truth, Sacred Scripture is analogous to Christ Incarnate. Christ has both a human nature and a Divine nature, united in one Person. Similarly, Scripture has both a human aspect, which comes from the human qualities and experiences of its human authors, but it also has a Divine aspect, which comes from its Divine and infallible inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Many modern Biblical scholars write reams of commentary about the Bible, focusing solely on its human aspects, with little or no acknowledgement of the Divine aspects of Scripture. Yet, just as in the one Person of Jesus Christ, the human and the Divine aspects of the Bible are thoroughly and inextricably joined. In fact, it is a common error of Christology in modern times, to focus excessively on the human aspects of Christ, minimizing His Divinity. In the same way, GS, in many passages, focuses excessively on the human aspects of Scripture, ignoring the Divine aspects. This error of omission is one of the main problems with GS.
The Historical Accuracy and Apostolic Origins of the Gospels
Again, GS quotes a source with the proper understanding of a particular point, and again the document goes on to water-down or contradict its own source. GS quotes part of Pope John Paul II's Novo Millennio Ineunte
, n. 17. The entire text of n. 17 reads as follows.
17. The contemplation of Christ's face cannot fail to be inspired by all that we are told about him in Sacred Scripture, which from beginning to end is permeated by his mystery, prefigured in a veiled way in the Old Testament and revealed fully in the New, so that Saint Jerome can vigorously affirm: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. Remaining firmly anchored in Scripture, we open ourselves to the action of the Spirit (cf. Jn 15:26) from whom the sacred texts derive their origin, as well as to the witness of the Apostles (cf. Jn 15:27), who had a first-hand experience of Christ, the Word of life: they saw him with their eyes, heard him with their ears, touched him with their hands (cf. 1 Jn 1:1).
What we receive from them is a vision of faith based on precise historical testimony: a true testimony which the Gospels, despite their complex redaction and primarily catechetical purpose, pass on to us in an entirely trustworthy way.
(Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 17)
Here Pope John Paul II clearly expresses Church teaching on the “precise historical testimony” of the Gospels. His description focuses on the Spirit, the inspiration and Divine mystery in Scripture, and Christ himself. This quote is an excellent expression of Church teaching on Scripture.
But GS then goes on to water-down this view, using rhetoric that praises, and at the same time undermines, the Holy Gospels.
In the case of the gospels it is most necessary to respect the nature of the writing and the unique literary genre employed by the evangelists. Differences between the four canonical gospels have been acknowledged from the early centuries and have sometimes been used to challenge the Christian faith. We need to be aware that the gospels are a wonderful weaving together of history and theology, as they report the events of Christ's life intertwined with later understandings of Christ from communities of the first century. (GS, p. 35).
Here GS claims that the Gospels combine reports about Christ's life, with other later material, not originating from Christ and His Apostles. The expression “a wonderful weaving together” implies that not all of the material in the Gospels originated with Christ and His Apostles. The basic idea behind the rhetoric is that the Gospels were written at a late date, that later communities added their own understanding to the Gospels, and that such material is not “precise historical testimony.” Also, this description again ignores the Divine inspiration and infallibility of the Sacred Gospels.
In describing the Gospel of Mar, GS presents material obviously taken from modern Biblical scholars. This document supports the claim that the Gospel of Mark was written first. This idea, called Markan priority, is still a matter of dispute among Biblical scholars. It is by no means a point of universal agreement among scholars, nor is it, in any sense, a teaching or doctrine of the Magisterium. In fact, GS completely ignores the testimony of Saint Jerome, a Doctor of the Church, and of Bishop Eusebius, an historian of the early Church. Jerome and Eusebius both state unequivocally that Matthew's Gospel was written first, then Mark, then Luke, then John.
GS notes that the idea that Mark was written first has only been around among scholars for somewhat more than one century. And it then incorrectly claims, about Markan priority, that: “The Catholic Church has no difficulty with this contention, which seems to have been amply demonstrated by scholars for more than a century.” (GS, p. 36). This quoted statement is just not true. First, the Magisterium has taken no such position, fallibly or infallibly, supporting the claim that Mark was written first. Second, if, out of nearly 2000 years, Biblical scholars believed one idea for about 1900 years, and the other idea for about 100 years, what would be the basis for abandoning the idea held for 1900 years and supported by Saint Jerome? Third, Biblical scholars, even liberal ones, do not consider Markan priority to have been amply demonstrated, not for more than a century, nor for any length of time; it is still a matter of disagreement among Biblical scholars. It is true that the idea of Markan priority originated over a century ago, but the date of origin of an idea is not equivalent to the date of its general acceptance and ample demonstration.
Having made the claim that Markan priority has been 'amply demonstrated,' GS goes on to assume Markan priority, as if it were fact, without a discussion of any other possibility, when describing the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
GS claims that the Gospel of Matthew, in addition to Christ's message of salvation, expresses the antagonistic attitudes between 'Jewish Christians' and Jews that was a part of Matthew's community.
“Matthew also reflects the distance between Christians and Jews which was part of the experience of his community. The antagonism between the Jewish Christians and Jews who did not accept Jesus has profoundly influenced the gospel. Jesus' opposition to the scribes and Pharisees is dramatically stressed (Matthew 23). Such antagonistic words must never be used as a pretext to treat members of the Jewish people with contempt. The words of the crowd 'His blood be on us and on our children!' (Matthew 27:25) are an example of dramatic exaggeration, and must never be used, as they have in past centuries with tragic consequences, to encourage hatred and persecution of the Jewish people. The attitudes and language of first century quarrels between Jews and Jewish Christians should never again be emulated in relations between Jews and Christians (The Jewish People 70-71).” (GS, p. 39).
Now certainly it is true that Christians ought not to blame or hate or persecute Jews. But this paragraph from GS combines such true statements, which reject sinful acts against Jews, with the idea that Matthew's Gospel was profoundly influenced in a way that can only be taken as contrary to Divine inspiration. Since it is true that such attitudes of blame, hatred, and persecution are contrary to the Gospel of Christ, how is it that GS claims that Matthew's Gospel contains such things? The strong implication of this paragraph is that Matthew's Gospel contains immorality, namely sinful attitudes toward Jews, that must be rejected as being contrary to the will of God. GS also implies that the words of the crowd, 'His blood be on us and on our children!' are not an accurate representation of historical fact, but rather 'dramatic exaggeration.'
To the contrary, the Gospel of Matthew contains no such sinful attitudes toward Jews. The Gospel could not possibly have been influenced, profoundly or otherwise, by sin or hatred. Rather, Jesus' strong condemnation of certain scribes and Pharisees, (who were in the majority and so the general term 'scribes and Pharisees' is properly used,) was an accurate and fair condemnation of severely unjust words and actions by those persons. Matthew chapter 23 is not a reflection of antagonism between later groups of Jews and Christians. It is an accurate historical record of a condemnation by Jesus against evil acts, which would still be condemned if they were performed by Christians. In fact, a common interpretation of Matthew 23 is to apply these words to the scribes and Pharisees in the Church today.
As for the citation to The Jewish People
, n. 70-71, that document certainly admits that “...between Jewish and Christian communities a conflict situation arose that clearly left its mark on the redaction of the Gospels and Acts.” The term redaction refers to the editing of the Gospels. But while the PBC document refers to a mild influence of the early Christian situation on the editing of the Gospels, GS implies that the influence was so profound as to have placed in the Sacred Gospel of Matthew antagonism, exaggeration, and the attitude and language of a early Christian quarrels that should never again be emulated because they are sinful. Again, GS cites a source, but its text does not accurately represent what that source says. The PBC correctly cites the influence of the early Church on the Sacred Texts, but GS exaggerates the PBC position to the point of heresy, as if the true Gospel of Jesus Christ could ever contain hatred, or sinful attitudes, or exaggerations, or any real basis for actions of persecution and hatred. GS is also in effect claiming that the material in Matthew is not “precise historical testimony,” but an expression of the social and cultural situation of a later time period.
The opening passages of the Gospel of Luke are described by the document 'The Gift of Scripture' as if they were not historically accurate. These stories are called “rich and beautiful meditations,” but nothing in the entire section on the first chapters of Luke gives any indication at all that the authors of GS believe these events to be historical facts. The phrasing of this section of GS is subtle, but the reader is nevertheless left with the unmistakable impression that the details of the events surrounding Zechariah and Elizabeth, the conception and birth of John the Baptist, and even the details of the Annunciation to Mary, are not historical truths, but merely pious meditations. Later, GS presents the events after the Resurrection as if the details of events were not historical and accurate. “Luke's stories of the appearances of the risen Jesus are elaborate.” (GS, p. 42). Again, there is no indication whatsoever that the authors of GS actually believe that these events, in all their details, actually occurred, and there is every indication to the contrary.
The errors made in describing Matthew's Gospel continue in the GS description of John's Gospel. Again the claim is made that the animosities between early Christians and Jews influenced the writing of the Gospel in a way and to an extent that is incompatible with infallible inspiration. Again, no statements about John's Gospel express any kind of belief in the infallibility or historical accuracy or Divine inspiration of the Gospels.
Men and Women in Christ
This document, called 'The Gift of Scripture,' emphasizes mentions of women in the New Testament when these accord with the view of modern society that equality between men and women implies that they should have the same roles. Yet GS also undermines and explains away every mention of an order among men and women, which gives different roles to each gender despite their equal dignity.
Paul, on the one hand, encourages the ministry of women (Romans 16:1, Philippians 4:2-3) and speaks of the role of both women and men in Christian liturgical gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). Elsewhere in the first letter to the Corinthians we find an instruction that women should be silent at meetings (1 Corinthians 12:34-35). In the first letter to Timothy, sometimes considered to be the work of a disciple of Paul, scriptural justification if given for a lesser role for women (1 Timothy 2:12-15). Other texts deal with the relationship of husband and wife and seem to sanction a subordinate role for wives (Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:4-5). It needs to be carefully explained, particularly when this material is used in the liturgy, that such texts come from particular social and religious settings and must be read in the context of the whole of Scripture, and particularly in the light of the testimony of the gospels to Jesus' own inclusive attitudes and behavior. The pauline texts should never be used to undermine the dignity of women. In the Letter to the Ephesians we find an inspiring presentation of the mutual relationship of self-giving love of husband and wife, which is modelled on the love of Christ for the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33). (GS, p. 47).
Again, there are so many things wrong with this quote, it is hard to know where to begin.
First, it is patently unjust and dishonest to take two different passages from Scripture and exalt one to the detriment of the other. One passage is called “an inspiring presentation,” while another is treated as if it were dangerous to read. Those passages which encourage women to take on certain roles are welcomed unreservedly. But if any passages teach either a limitation on roles for women, or an order whereby men and women have different roles, they are treated with disdain. They are said to need careful explanation. They are said to 'seem to sanction....' And it is implied that such passages have no place in the liturgy, or that they would be detrimental if added to the liturgy. (In fact, most of these passages teaching different roles for men and women have been excluded from the liturgical readings.)
Second, GS claims that such texts “come from particular social and religious settings,” in such a way as to suggest that these text should therefore be disregarded. But isn't it true that all of the Old and New Testament texts come from particular social and religious settings? Is the “religious setting” of the early Church something to be rejected or despised? And why are certain passages singled out for a type of scrutiny that is plainly aimed at making these passages appear null and void? Again, a continuing lack of faith in the Divine inspiration and infallibility of the Bible is manifest. If some passages are to be ignored or explained away, then how can they be considered to be just as Divinely inspired as other passages?
Third, the influence of certain disorders within secular society is clearly seen in this example quote from GS. The reason that some passages are quickly accepted, while others are carefully explained away, is that the former are in accord with the teaching of modern culture that men and women should have the same roles in society, the family, and the Church. Certainly there are many ways in which men and women are equal. But that premise does not justify the conclusion that men and women should always have the same roles. Things that are equal are not necessarily identical.
Fourth, this quote is yet another example of a citation by GS that does not support what the citing text says. The passage cited from the Letter to the Ephesians clearly teaches different roles for men and women in the family, including a subordinate or submissive role for the wife. The following is the NRSV quote of the cited passage (the NRSV is the version chosen for use in GS).
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)
Notice that this quote from Sacred Scripture clearly puts wives in a role that is subject to their husbands. And the justification for this difference in role is the comparison between Christ's leadership role over the Church. Christ and the Church have different roles, so therefore men and women have different roles. Yet GS cites this passage to claim a “mutual relationship of self-giving love of husband and wife, which is modelled on the love of Christ for the Church.” (GS, p. 47). The implication is not only that men and women, husbands and wives, have the same roles, but that Christ and His Church have the same roles. The theological errors found in GS are appalling.
Fifth, yet again GS uses a citation which actually contradicts the citing text. The citation of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4-5), which GS uses to support the idea of men and women having the same roles, is actually the passage that tells women to wear a headcovering when praying, as a symbol of the differing roles of men and women in the Church, the family, and society. How could anyone read a passage telling women to wear a headcovering at prayer because “the head of every man is Christ, but the head of a woman is her husband,” (1 Cor 3), and then go on to cite that same text, as if it rejected a subordinate role for wives?
Not only is the theology presented in the disingenuously-titled document 'The Gift of Scripture' poor theology and, at times, outright heresy, but it also uses citations that contradict its own points. If an heretical college student turned in this document as a paper to an heretical college professor, he would nevertheless be given a failing grade, because, even as heresy, it is poorly written, poorly argued, and poorly documented.
The Book of Revelation
GS offers a series of empty praises for this last book of the New Testament, again ignoring the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. The document claims that the Beast in the Book of Revelation is merely the Roman Empire, which was used because it was “considered to be the great evil of the day.” (GS, p. 48). This interpretation portrays the book as merely a reflection of the social and political situation in which it was written, as if this book was not a book of 'Revelation,' revealing the future. GS then states: “We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.” (GS, p. 48-49). Certainly, the Bible does not reveal how many will be saved, nor the exact day and hour of the Return of Christ. However, it is clear that GS does not regard the Book of Revelation as revealing anything whatsoever about the future of the Church and the world.
To the contrary, the Saints and the faithful have always regarded the Book of Revelation, and Christ's eschatological discourse (Matthew 24), and the Book of Daniel, and many other passages from the Old and New Testaments, as containing true and sure knowledge of future events, as only God can know and reveal. The reason that the faithful have always regarded the Bible as containing knowledge of future events is that the faithful have always regarded the Bible as inspired by God, full of infallible truth, and entirely without error. The reason that the document called 'The Gift of Scripture' does not regard the Bible as containing any truths about the future is that said document, despite some quotes and lip-service to the contrary, plainly does not regard the Bible as being completely inspired by God in every verse, nor as being full of infallible truth, nor as being entirely without error.
In summary, it is a heresy (and not a new one), which has been repeatedly condemned by successive Roman Pontiffs, to claim that the Bible is only infallible in matters pertaining to salvation, or only to faith and morals. Yet this document, called 'The Gift of Scripture,' not only displays a clear belief in this heresy, but also presumes to teach the same heresy, along with various other errors, as if such was the teaching of Christ.
Furthermore, most of the text of GS treats the Bible as if it were merely a set of human books, containing errors, contradictions, and imperfect, time-conditioned human ideas. Despite some paragraphs that proclaim the Divine inspiration of Scripture, most of the document speaks as if it were merely a human book.
None of the ideas in this document, called 'The Gift of Scripture,' are new insights. Almost all of the true statements made in GS are merely quotes or rephrasings of material that is more thoroughly and more clearly taught elsewhere. GS then adds to these true teachings, numerous false teachings drawn from heresies and errors common in modern Biblical scholarship. Not only does GS teach heresy and error, but it contains no insights, teachings, or assertions (even among its false assertions) not found elsewhere.
Finally, I must ask: How did it happen that two Bishops' Conferences and two Cardinal Archbishops together wrote and published a so-called 'teaching document' which promotes outright heresy, is poorly written, is poorly documented, offers no new insights into Sacred Scripture, and does not criticize or rebuke any of the errors of modern Biblical scholarship?
Yet still I believe that God will safeguard the infallible Sacred Magisterium from the errors in this poorly-written, poorly researched, heretical document. And I know that the faithful will continue to believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Sacred Bible, despite the errors of some Bishops and the erroneous teachings of the document called 'The Gift of Scripture.'
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
November 14, 2005