Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Catholic church on the Bible

In a surprising development, the British leaders of the Catholic church there have released a document called The Gift of Scripture, which says they no longer believe the Bible is totally true.

Say the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland:
We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision.
Seemingly, this document has been approved by the Pope, and will be disseminated throughout the world.
The bishops' document was recently presented in Rome at the Congress to celebrate the forty years of Dei Verbum, and to Pope Benedict. The delegates to that Congress, gathered from every continent, will ensure widespread distribution of The Gift of Scripture. The document deserves the same wide distribution in our own countries.
This truly is a peculiar document. The bishops state that The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, but say that,
We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.
That's a little confusing to me. So basically they're saying that they have the special ability to determine now almost 2,000 years after most of the New Testament was written exactly what is right and what is wrong in the Bible? That does not seem logical or plausible. Shouldn't it either be true or untrue in totality? How can it be God's word if it's not?

This position, of course, is exactly opposite that of fundamentalist Christians who believe the Bible is inerrant. The bishops, however, go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach. "Such an approach is dangerous," they say, as it may cause some people to feel they have a mandate.

Stunningly, in the foreward, the authors say,
People today are searching for what is worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted and what is really true.
I ask, is this really helping people find the truth?


pepperdeaf said...

interesting. i was hoping to read the document, but couldn't find it.

>>they no longer believe the Bible is totally true.<<

>>We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision.<<

>>Shouldn't it either be true or untrue in totality?<<

do you believe that the bible makes scientific claims? i tend to think that the bible (genesis, etc.) often gives us the who, but not the how. that is why humans are always trying to figure out the how. . . we weren't given most of the details.

also, the literary form of individual books/authors must be considered. for instance, the use of a metaphor while not literally true cannot be considered false. Jesus' example of a camel going through the eye of a needle is a good example. if we fail to interpret this literally (that it is impossible for a rich man to go to heaven) some would say that we are saying it is untrue. . . but clearly it is a metaphor and true for its intended meaning, not for its literal image.

similar reasoning could be used for the genesis creation story. the author clearly used some poetic literary devices. for instance, the hebrew word for the proper name adam is the same word used for mankind or humankind. there is definitely an interesting wordplay occuring there. i do not think that someone is necessarily saying that the bible is untrue if they do not believe that the creation story occurred exactly (literally) as told in genesis. in fact i think that a great deal of the author's intentions are missed if we only focus on the literal text (apples, trees, snakes, etc.) and not on what the author was really trying to say (the inspired word of God).

sorry this was so long, but i find these issues fascinating. not sure what these catholic bishops were getting at. they clearly have more wiggle room than i because they see the bible and tradition as authority, while i only see the bible as authority.

Westy said...

Interesting thoughts, Pepperdeaf. I am sure you are more versed in the Catholic church than I, but it seems they've gone further than even your allowance for metaphor would offer.

(By the way, I have heard it explained that the word translated as needle was a type of gate used in the walls of Jerusalem. This particular gate was small and if men wanted their camels to go through, they'd have to get on their knees and kind of crawl through. This was obviously tricky for the camels to do, but they did sometimes have to do it. That gives the analogy a whole new meaning, I think.)

>>similar reasoning could be used for the genesis creation story.<<
Yeah, I see what you're saying, but I have to think that God would be being straight up with us with his Word. I kind of agree with what Hugh Ross says about science and scripture: "Properly understood, God's Word (Scripture) and God's world (nature), as two revelations (one verbal, one physical) from the same God, will never contradict each other." I personally think that while there may also be some symbolism in the names and setting, the story of the fall is quite literal.

pepperdeaf said...

>>I have heard it explained. . .<<

yeah i have heard that too. actually both of my new testament professors brought it up.

there is really very little if any evidence for such a gate. the theory is actually really late too, probably 14th century at the earliest. i do not think most scholars would give the gate theory much consideration.

Westy said...

So what do you think this means for the Catholic church?
Are they headed down a similar road to several of the Protestant denominations?

pepperdeaf said...

>>a similar road<<

i am not sure. there are quite a few things that the catholic church has been unwilling to budge on. i.e. single pastors, transubstantiation, papal authority, male dominance, marian theology, indulgences, etc.

i have not seen much evidence of catholic theology contradicting the bible. their problems seem to arise in extra-biblical matters. they use their tradition to give divine authority to non-biblical concepts like those mentioned above.

i am not sure if that answered your question. i was a little unclear on what you meant by "similar road."