Monday, October 13, 2008

Regarding Inerrancy

Given the question below and some emails I've gotten, it seemed like I should follow up all this inerrancy talk with a few bits on what inerrancy means. In a nutshell, it means that the Biblical text is free from errors. And you say, "Thanks, Throwback. Now if you're done being an a-hole, maybe you could really answer the question."

The problem is that it's tough to go at from there. There are no errors. The Church has admitted that theoretically you could have some problems due to, say, copyist/translator problems over the centuries. After all, we don't have the original hagiographs in hand. This is one good benefit in not being sola scriptura-ists. Many of us have heard the saying (whether in seriousness or in jest), "If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me." The differing translations these days illustrate that we have to be careful where we go for our Scripture.

On a side note, while we don't have the original hagiographs, the Church has declared that, for example, St. Jerome's Vulgate translation, is free from any erroroneous teaching.

Anyways, with regards to Scripture, davfaltond brings up the point that how do we explain away all the alleged contradictions in the Bible if we say there are no errors. This is actually something that the Church has been dealing with for its entire history. One of the first major heretics, a jerk named Marcion, basically built his whole theology around what he felt were the inconsistencies between the Old and New Testaments. Keep in mind that, through all this, the same Fathers and Doctors of the Church were reading the same Scriptures as us and having no problem declaring them to be without error.

So how to reconcile these alleged contradictions/errors? If you google the subject, you'll come up with several lists by folks who do exactly that. I'm going to link this one from Phil Porvaznik's site since I know that he's Catholic. It's clear then that it's possible to explain these items. Much of this is by not thinking, for example, that the Scriptures are written for chronology, rather than to prove a point (ie- Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple towards the end of the Synoptics but at the beginning of John). Another point is to recall that there are different senses in which Scripture can be read.

Consider the words of the Catechism:

According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".


The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

What gets lost in all this is that last bit in the portion on the literal sense. All other senses are based on the literal sense. The quote there, by the way, is from Aquinas. You can read his main treatment of the topic here. What people are starting to tend towards is a reading of Scripture that is almost completely allegorical or whatever to the utter exclusion of the literal sense and the idea that (gasp!) this stuff may have actually happened. This is usually from folks entirely devoted to the historical-critical method and is tackled in a major way by Pope Benedict in his Jesus of Nazareth book.

For example, if you asked enough Catholics about the homily they heard about the feeding of the 5000, you will inevitably come across someone who was unfortunate enough to be told that there wasn't anything supernatural going on. What "really" happened was that a bunch of people had brought food with them and Christ's "miracle" was in convincing them to share that food with others. Why must this be the meaning? Because nobody is silly enough to think that Jesus really could perform supernatural miracles. This same bankrupt reasoning is also used to deny everything from the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection.

On the flip side, take a look at the Canticle of Canticles. Are we bound by faith to think that Solomon was sitting around taking dictation from a real man and woman in writing this? Of course not. Are we bound to believe in a literal seven days Creation? No. Frankly, we should thank God that He was willing to describe the event of Creation in terms that we can understand, given that it would be impossible for us to comprehend the formation of reality ex nihilo.

Start with the literal sense, then work your way up. Recall what St. Pius X described as the attitude of the Modernist heretics:

To hear them (the Modernists) descant of their works on the Sacred Books, in which they have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would imagine that before them nobody ever even turned over the pages of Scripture. The truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, far superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the Sacred Books in every way, and so far from finding in them anything blameworthy have thanked God more and more heartily the more deeply they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. Unfortunately, these great Doctors did not enjoy the same aids to study that are possessed by the Modernists for they did not have for their rule and guide a philosophy borrowed from the negation of God, and a criterion which consists of themselves.

Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Domenici Gregis

Comments here are wide open, folks, so feel free to fire away.

1 comment:

davfaltond said...

Thanks for this post, Throwback. I've been very busy at work this week, but I'm going to check out your links and come back with any additional questions. You've already cleared up many things.