The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics
"Appendix 2: Errors in Scripture?"
1) Did Vatican II allow us to say Scripture contains errors?
The Church has always insisted there is no error at all in Scripture. Thus Pius XII wrote (Divino afflante Spiritu), "In our age, the Vatican Council [I], to reject false teachings about inspiration, declared that these same books [of Scripture] must be considered 'as sacred and canonical' by the Church, 'not only because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church.' But then, when certain Catholic authors, contrary to this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine ... dared to restrict the truth of Holy Scripture to matters of faith and morals.... our Predecessor of Immortal memory, Leo XIII, in an Encyclical, Providentissimus Deus ... rightly and properly refuted those errors."260
The statement is forceful. It is not enough to say the books of Scripture are sacred because the Church later approved works made merely by human labor; nor is it enough to say they contain revelation free of error. No, the basic reason is that "they have God as their author" and of course contain no error. Further, Pius XII called this teaching of Vatican I a "solemn definition." Then he complained that in spite of that definition, some Catholic writers "dared to restrict the truth of Holy Scripture to matters of faith and morals," and to consider scientific or historical matters, or "obiter dicta" (things said incidentally and in passing) as not guaranteed. This claim, said Pius XII, is wrong. We may not say there are errors in scientific or historical matters, or in things said incidentally and in passing. Such a claim goes against a solemn definition.
We need, then, to consider the implications of two things (1) God is the author of Scripture, and (2) We cannot dismiss things on the claim that they are not part of the faith, but are just said in passing.
What does it mean to say God is the author? It means there are two authors of Scripture, God and the human author. God, since He is transcendent (above and beyond all our categories) can employ the human author as a free instrument, and do it in such a way that the human remains free, but yet the human writer will write down what God wants him to write, and write it without error of any kind. Does this mean that God will give the human author new information by revelation which he did not have otherwise? God can do that, and at times does, but inspiration as such is something different from revelation. It may or may not include the added data that God can reveal.
What of the literary style, or even grammatical habits a human has? Does God change them? He could, but inspiration is aimed at truth, not at style or even grammar. And so it happens that some lines in St. Paul, for example, are written in beautiful style, such as the chapter on love in 1 Cor. 13, while other lines can be a bit clumsy in expression, as Phil. 2:1-2. But as we said, inspiration protects truth, not literary quality.
Pius XII complained that some scholars were trying to limit this freedom from error to religious matters, so that they admitted error in matters of science or history. Today, many not only claim errors of science and history, but even errors of religion, ruling out only things needed for salvation. They even say that Vatican II reversed previous teaching which includes, according to Pius XII, a "solemn definition" and lets us think there are religious errors in Scripture! Here is the text of Vatican II to which some appeal: "Since all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers assert should be regarded as asserted by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to be confided to sacred Scripture."261
Some say the above italicized words are ambiguous.262 That is, the clause could be either restrictive or descriptive. If restrictive, it would mean that only things needed for salvation would be free of error. If descriptive, it simply describes the Scriptures as for our salvation.
We admit that the words are ambiguous, provided that we ignore the context-which is something no scholar should ever do with any document.
1) If Vatican II had really wanted to make that clause clearly restrictive, there is an unambiguous Latin construction that would have made it clear called qui quidem with the subjunctive.263 The Council did not use that structure.
2) Vatican II added a note to the sentence in italics, which refers us to the statements of Vatican I, Leo XIII, and Pius XII, all of whom insisted that there is no error, not even scientific or historical error, in Scripture.264
3) Pius XII, as we saw, said the statement of Vatican I that there is no error at all in Scripture was a "solemn definition."
So can we suppose the Church reversed a solemn definition in language that is ambiguous if we ignore the context, but clearly meaning the same as the past if we consider the context? And that it added a note referring us back to the very statements it would supposedly contradict? If there ever was a case of strained pleading, the objectors are giving it here. Of course, they think they can prove errors in Scripture, and mention some alleged errors, chiefly Job 14:13ff. We will examine those later in this Appendix (in 1.c.).
Before going ahead we had better deal with a possible objection: How can the Church declare Scripture inerrant, when the Church needs Scripture as a basis for its own claims? Is there a vicious circle?
The reply is basically the same as that which we saw early in this book. The claims of the Church to teach with providential protection are established, before we look on Scripture as inspired, and so, before we depend on the Church to declare Scripture inerrant. Only the six simple facts were needed to prove the teaching mission of the Church; these we established without appealing to the help of the Church at all. They were such easy things to show. There was a man called Jesus, who claimed to be a messenger from God, who proved it by miracles done in special frameworks. He had an inner circle of followers to whom He spoke more, whom He told to continue His teaching; and He promised that God would protect that teaching. We established these by showing that the writers of the Gospels lived early enough to have the facts, that they had ample chance to get them, that their concern for their own eternity would make them tell things honestly. We saw special new evidence of even meticulous care on the part of St. Luke.
So there is no vicious circle. Now we can go ahead to check claims of error in three areas: science, history, and religion.
a) Claims of errors in science
The basic answer, which is sufficient in itself, is very simple for one who understands the approach by way of genres (Chapter 8 and Appendix I.6). Scripture does not assert scientific data. Nor do people today, for that matter, assert that the sun rises in the east. They know it does not really rise; rather, that the earth is revolving on its axis and going around the sun. We are just using popular speech in saying the sun rises in the east. Even if we did not know the scientific facts, we still would be just using normal expressions of the day. Similarly pope Leo XIII wrote, "There is no error when the sacred writer, speaking of physical things, 'follows what appears to the senses' as St. Thomas says."265
b) Claims of errors in history
These too are easily answered. Many of them need only an application of the approach via literary genres. For example, some say that in Daniel 1:1 we read that King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the third year of King Jehoiakim, which seems to be 607 B.C. But, from the Chronicle of King Nebuchadnezzar, we know that the siege must have been three years later.
Before having recourse to genres, we must notice that the chronology of the kings of Judah presents problems. Some would suggest that Jehoiakim became king in 608 B.C. according to Palestinian reckoning, but the Babylonian system, used by Daniel who resided there, would make 605 the third year of Jehoiakim.266
Further, we must notice with Leo XIII that scholars seem strangely confident that all secular chronicles are accurate, and would rather doubt the Biblical records.267
Also, some things about ancient kings that seemed insoluble in the past have been resolved with new discoveries. Thus the book of Daniel calls Belshazzar the last king of Babylon, while the Babylonian records say it was Nabunaid. However a recently found tablet tells us that Nabunaid gave his son royal power, went to Arabia, and never really reassumed the throne.268 So a future discovery may unravel this question about Daniel 1:1. However, we do not really need any of the above at all. We ask in what genre the book of Daniel is written. All admit that there are two genres. One of them is apocalyptic, evidenced in the strange visions. The other is still being discussed. It is known that at least by the fifth century B.C. a genre of edifying narrative, with a didactic purpose, became popular, as seen in the Ahikar story. This genre somewhat resembles a romance or historical novel. It is an edifying story in which there is some fact, especially in the setting, but is a free fictional handling of many things, especially those not needed for the purpose of the work. In such a setting, the dates and names are unimportant. Yes, the writer may have put down what he happened to think about dates, but he did not mean to assert these were accurate, for accuracy was not needed for his purpose.
Another example of an historical problem. For example, in Mark 2:26 we seed that David entered the house of God, "under Abiathar the high priest" and ate the bread of the presence. But 1 Sam 21:1 says it was not under Abiathar, but under his father Abimelech.
The solution is very easy. The Greek has: epi Abiathar archiereos. Now Greek epi with the genitive of the person easily takes a generic meaning, i.e., "in the days of...."269 So the phrase really means, "in the times of Abiathar." Both were alive at the time. The reason for using Abiathar's name rather than Abimelech is that he was much more prominent and better known to readers of the Old Testament than his father, in view of his close association with David, under whom he became chief priest along with Zadok.
One further example: In Matthew 27:9 we read that a prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled in the fate of Judas. Yet some say the quote is from Zech. 11:12 ff. We reply that the note in the non-conservative New American Bible explains well, "Matthew's free citation of Jer. 18:2 f; 19:1 f; 32:6-15 and Zech. 11:13 shows that he regards Judas' death as a divine judgment." So we gather that Matthew really put together passages from both Jeremiah and Zechariah. The rabbis used to do such things, and when they did, they put the name of the best-known author on the combination.270
We already saw, in Chapter 10, the answer to still another historical problem, the agreement of Paul and Acts on the Council of Jerusalem. There are more problems, all easily solved. At the end of Appendix II, we will explain the most prominently raised difficulties.271
c) Claims of religious errors in Scripture
Many today are claiming that there are numerous errors in Scripture, even religious errors. For example, Thomas A. Hoffman, in Inspiration, Normativeness, Canonicity and the Unique Sacred Character of the Bible dismisses the term inerrancy: "The term inerrancy is dropped in this paper as having no positive theological contribution to make."272 He adds that to try to refute all charges of error is "basically patching holes on a sinking ship." Bruce Vawter even says the terms "infallible" and "inerrant" are even "anti-biblical."273 Because these claims are so very important, before taking up some specific examples, it will be worthwhile to examine the underpinning, as it were, of the claims.
Confusion is injected at once, by the common assertion that the Word of God is "human and time-conditioned."274 This statement is true but potentially misleading. The Bible is human in that there is a human as well as a divine Author, the Holy Spirit.275 The Holy Spirit uses the human author in such a way that the human author retains his own literary style, but yet he writes without any error what the Holy Spirit wills that he write. It can be called time-conditioned in that the kinds of expressions used by the human author will be affected by the culture of his own time.
There is a certain parallel in the case of official documents of the Church. On the one hand, Paul VI, in Mysterium fidei insisted, "The rule of speaking, which the Church with long labor over the centuries, not without the protection of the Holy Spirit, has arrived at and has confirmed by the authority of Councils ... must be preserved as holy, nor should anyone at his own wish or on pretext of new knowledge presume to change it."276 Yet it is to be admitted that there is a sort of time conditioning, such as we just described, and so language may be capable of improvement. Hence the Doctrinal Congregation, by order of Paul VI, on June 24, 1973, told us, "With regard to this historical condition.... it sometimes happens that some dogmatic truth is first expressed incompletely (but not falsely), and at a later date ... receives a fuller and more perfect expression." Yet, "it must be stated that the dogmatic formulas of the Church's Magisterium were from the very beginning suitable for communicating revealed truth, and that as they are, they remain forever suitable ... to those who interpret them correctly...."277 In the same spirit, Vatican II, in its Decree on Ecumenism, wrote, "If the influence of events or times has brought deficiencies in conduct, in ecclesiastical discipline, or even in the expression of doctrine-which is to be carefully distinguished from the deposit itself of faith-these things ought to be suitably rectified at the proper time."278
Today some try to distinguish three stages in the meaning of Scripture: the sense originally intended by the inspired author, the changed sense it may acquire when a book of Scripture is put into the canon, and the various senses the Church may give the same text.
As to the second stage, the meaning given by insertion into the canon, we turn to what is called canonical criticism. This method goes back to James Sanders, in Torah and Canon, in 1972.279 According to T. J. Keegan, "Canonical critics agree ... that it is the reader who produces the meaning of the text, but insist as one of their fundamental presuppositions, that it is only the believing community that is capable of reading and interpreting the Bible."280 But this does not simply mean that the Church can authentically interpret the Bible, and give us its true meaning in a final statement. No, canonical critics think every work of literature has many meanings.281 So the Church-as in stage three mentioned above-is said to give many different interpretations, which need not necessarily agree with each other.
This is the same as saying that the Church does not tell us the real meaning of Scripture, and that various Church statements may contradict each other. Of course this is not the case. The Church, under divine protection promised to Her by the Divine Messenger we saw in the first part of this book, can and does interpret Scripture correctly. Vatican II, in its Constitution on Divine Revelation, declared, "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition] has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."282 Note the word exclusively-Scripture scholars have no authority at all. Their work is described thus: "It is the task of Scripture scholars to work according to these rules for the deeper understanding and presentation of the sense of Sacred Scripture, so that by as it were preparatory study, the judgment of the Church may mature."283 The sentence just before our quotation explained "these rules": "Since Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted according to the same Spirit by whom it was written, no less attention must be devoted to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture, taking into account the Tradition of the entire Church and the analogy of faith."284 Scholars today often ignore this teaching of Vatican II. They note that each Evangelist has his own special scope and intention which is true-but they go on to assert that one Evangelist can even contradict another (we will see below a strong instance of a claim that Mark and Luke contradict each other). Of course this cannot be true, since, as Vatican II insists, it is one and the same Holy Spirit who is the author of all parts of Scripture. The Council adds that the scholars must look to "the analogy of faith," that is they must never interpret a text in such a way that the meaning would clash, even by implication, with any official teaching of the Church.
We admit that Church statements at times may use what is called an "accommodated sense" of Scripture. That is, a text is applied to something, in a fitting way, even though the sense proposed was not the one intended by the inspired author. St. Paul himself, in view of his rabbinic training, often enough does this sort of thing. But the Church does not always do this. By careful study we can find out whether or not the Church is giving us an accommodated sense of Scripture. For example, the Council of Trent wrote: "If anyone says that by the words, 'Do this in memory of me' Christ did not make the Apostles priests, or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His body and blood, let him be anathema."285 The context, of opposing Lutheran errors, makes clear that in this instance Trent was defining the sense of Luke 22:19 and 1 Cor. 11:24.
A methodology closely related to canonical criticism is reader-response criticism. Both concepts maintain "that it is the reader who produces the meaning of the text."286 But reader-response criticism does not insist on the role of the community in interpreting, and supposes that the text can have "an infinite variety of meanings."287 So we see total subjectivity far from the truth as explained by Vatican II.
A word about the deep roots of this subjectivity is useful. The ideas of Paul Ricoeur have been very influential.288 He holds that once a manuscript leaves its author's hands, it takes on a life of its own, and can take on a large number of different meanings. This of course reminds us of Historicism, which we dealt with in Chapter 6, and of Existentialism, which maintains that every person and event is unique.289 Hence, endless subjectivism. Hence also the unfortunate ideas of Bultmann, who made the Gospels mean the same as the German Existentialist Heidegger's interpretation of them.290
2) Claims of a denial of afterlife in the Old Testament
Many today think that Job 14:13-22 denies an afterlife.291 Further, "It is generally held by scholars that no hope of individual survival after death is expressed in the Old Testament before some of its latest passages."292 Of course, it is one thing not to express it, another thing to deny it. But Vatican II, as we also saw above, taught, "Since Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted according to the same Spirit by whom it was written, no less attention must be devoted to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture."293
So, if the Holy Spirit is author of all of Scripture, He obviously will not say one thing in one place and contradict it in another. Therefore we know with absolute certainty that Job could not contradict later Scripture, which affirms the afterlife; and we can show that this is true even though some think the very attempt to prove the Holy Spirit did not contradict Himself here is an "unmitigated disaster."
To begin, we must notice that they have forgotten a very important point. Namely, conditions in the afterlife were very different during Old Testament times before the Redemption, than they are now. That is, the just who died before the death of Christ were not admitted to the vision of God, they were detained in the Limbo of the Fathers, and entered Heaven only after Christ had actually died. The Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique calls this teaching "the common view of the Fathers,"294 and rightly, for we find it in-to name just the chief examples: Shepherd of Hermas, Parable 9:16.5; St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 72; St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:20.4; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6:6; St. Athanasius, Ad Epictetum 6; Origen, On Romans 5:1; St. Hilary, On Psalm 118:11; St. John Damascene, De fide orthodoxa 3:29; and St. Bede the Venerable, On 1 Peter 3:19. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches the same in Summa, Supplement 69:7.c, and an unknown author of an ancient homily, which we read in the Roman Breviary for Holy Saturday, beautifully dramatizes the meeting of Christ and Adam in this Limbo.
Further, it is unlikely, even before investigating, that the Hebrews would have no knowledge of the afterlife. Job is probably to be dated between 7th and 5th centuries B.C., but before that, in the 8th century, Isaiah 14:9-11 represents the shades in Sheol taunting the fallen rulers of Babylon, and Isaiah 26:19 says, "Your dead shall live, and my body shall rise again; awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust. Your dew is the dew of light; and the land of the shades shall fall." Even the Jerome Biblical Commentary says on Isaiah 26:19, ". . . there is an explicit hope in the resurrection of individuals."295 The Protestant Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible in an article on immortality says, "The idea of a possible return to life gained wider and wider acceptance. The Israelites could not remain unaffected by the Canaanite belief in the death and resurrection of a divinity who symbolized the life of nature. The faithful linked themselves with the idea of death and resurrection within the cult."296 M. Dahood, in Psalms, Anchor Bible, notes that the late Bronze Age Canaanites (c. 1500-1200 B.C.), among whom the Hebrews lived, knew of immortality.297 Dahood also argues from many psalm texts, as seen in the light of new discoveries in Ugaritic.298 Further, the Hebrews had lived in Egypt for several centuries, where a vivid belief in an afterlife was general. So it is really hard to believe that the Hebrews would never have picked up the idea from those neighbors of centuries, Egyptians and Canaanites.
Further, should we take their words about Sheol as meaning annihilation? Jesus Himself silenced the Sadducees, who denied a resurrection, by reasoning that God said to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You therefore do greatly err." (Mk. 12:26)
So it is not hard at all to believe that Job could believe in an afterlife. In fact, it is possible to see such a hope explicitly present in Job 19:25-27. RSV reads, "For I know that My Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God." NAB has, "I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust; whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another's, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God."
The Douay-Rheims reads, "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom."
Could these lines mean someone will come to rescue him in this life and restore him? Hardly, for in Job 7:6-7 he says, "My days have passed more swiftly than the web is cut by the weaver, and are consumed without any hope."
However, even without the help of those debated lines, we can show that it is quite possible to take Job 14:13-22 in a sense that does not deny an afterlife.
Chapter 14, verse 13 says, "Who will grant that you hide me in Sheol [and] hide me until your wrath turns aside, and appoint for me a set time and remember me?" In verses 10
12 just before this, lob had said that in contrast to a tree which may die and shoot up again, man does not return. In other words, he does not return to this life. No one has ever come out of the grave and rejoined family and friends.
But then, since Job is deeply afflicted in a trial from God, in verse 13 he indulges in a fanciful wish, saying he would like to hide, without dying in Sheol, the underworld, until God's wrath has passed. Now this is, as we said, fanciful. Job knows no one goes to Sheol and returns to rejoin his own in a continuation of the present life.
But, we must not forget the genre of Job. It is poetry, very high poetry. Now poets in any culture are noted for indulging in fanciful things. So Job does this. Marvin Pope, in the Anchor Bible commentary on this passage, takes this attitude: "If only God would grant him asylum in the netherworld, safe from the wrath that now besets him, and then appoint a time for a new and sympathetic hearing, he would be willing to wait or even to endure the present evil."299 Then Pope points out that we have a parallel to this fanciful thought elsewhere: "Isa. XXVI 20 calls ironically on the people of Judah to hide in their chambers till Yahweh's wrath be past, and Amos IX 2ff. pictures the wicked as trying vainly to hide in Sheol, Heaven, Mount Carmel, [or] the bottom of the sea."
Let us examine verses 14-17. These are best taken as a continuation of the fancy of verse 13: "If a man dies, will he live [again]? All the days of my service I would wait until my change would come. You would call, and would answer you [and] you would want the work of your hands. Then you would number my steps, you would not keep watch over my sin. My transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would sew up my iniquity." The first question, taken alone, goes back to the idea of verses 10-12, that is, no one rejoins the present life. But then he resumes the fancy of verse 13, of hiding until God would give him a new hearing and cover his iniquity.
Verses 18-22 say, "But a mountain falling loses its strength, and the rock is moved from its place. The waters wear away the stones, the torrents wash away the soil of the earth [and] you destroy the hope of man. You overpower him forever and he passes; you change his countenance and send him away. His sons come to honor and he knows it not. They become despised, and he perceives it not. His flesh on him has pain, and his soul mourns over him."
After indulging in the fancy of hiding, Job in effect says, "No, I cannot hide. God always wins. Not even mountains or hardest rocks can stand against God. Man dies, and returns not to this present life." But Job does not say anything against a future life, especially a glorious future life in the vision of God, of which he does not know-unless we take Chapter 19:25-27, which we saw above, as meaning strictly that he "will see God" in that vision.
But rather, Job talks of the future life as he knew it, and as Jews thought of it. Job and his people thought of life as a drab survival-which is what it really was before the death of Christ. It was a dim limbo of the fathers, in which they had no means of knowing what transpired on earth, whether their children prospered or suffered. By way of the beatific vision of God a person can know what goes on on earth. But without that vision he cannot. And that vision was not to be had in the days of Job, not until Jesus had died. So, Job says that the dead man feels only his own pain. The fact that he feels pain shows his continued existence. So there is an afterlife.
So we ask now: Is this interpretation of Job hopelessly strained? Not at all, it is one that takes into account (1) the genre of Job and (2) the actual conditions of afterlife in the days of Job which many should know about, but seem to ignore. Pope, in Anchor Bible, saw the truth about the fancy Job thinks of, without seeming to know of the different conditions of afterlife. So we do have excellent support. For certain, no one can claim he is forced to charge contradiction in Scripture, because at very least, we have shown a plausible alternative.
Further, as we said, since the one Spirit wrote all parts of Scripture, we know He cannot and does not contradict Himself. In fact, the Holy Spirit may be teaching afterlife and even beatific vision in Job 19:25-27, as we saw above.
So no one can call our work an "unmitigated disaster."
Some also claim some texts in Sirach/Ecclesiasticus deny an afterlife. Let us explore this. Sirach 14:16-17 says, "Give and take and enjoy yourself, for it is not possible in Sheol to seek luxury. All flesh grows old as a garment. For the decree of ages is: You must surely die." The answer to this curious verse is very easy. Ecclesiasticus was probably written around 200-175 B.C., certainly long before Christ. But as we saw, the just who died in that period were not admitted to the vision of God until the death of Christ. So the abode of the dead was the dull Limbo of the fathers, where "it is not possible to seek luxury."
Again, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 17:27-28 (vs. 22-23 in NAB) says, "who will praise the most high in Sheol? ... For from the dead as from those who are not, praise perishes. One who is alive and well will praise the Lord."
M. Dahood, in his Anchor Bible, comments on Ps. 6:6, which has a similar thought: "The psalmist suffers not because of the inability to remember Yahweh in Sheol [Hell], but from being unable to share in the praise of Yahweh which characterizes Israel's worship."300 He has in mind the grand liturgical praise of God. But there was no such thing in the dull limbo of the fathers. We can add that Isaiah 38:18 also has similar language: "For Sheol will not thank you [nor] death praise you." The verb for praise, hallel, in Hebrew is precisely the same verb used in 1 Chron. 16:4 and 2 Chron. 5:13 and 31:2 for the liturgical praise of God. That of course would not take place in Hell.
Finally, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 38:21 reads: "Do not forget, for there is no return road, and you will not help this one [the deceased] and you will harm yourself." This means there is no use trying to bring the dead one back to this life, to rejoin us. And it says nothing about his survival in the future life, nor does it speak of a glorious resurrection at the end of time.
For added emphasis, let us add some texts from Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes on the same question of survival. These can be solved by using the points we made above, but additional things are desirable here too. So we will first explain the added considerations.
We saw in Chapters 19-20 of this book that in divine matters, we can meet with two contrary revealed truths, or two seemingly conflicting sets of statements. We know each is true, but we may not know how to reconcile them. Sound method is essential here, for we must faithfully hold to both truths, once we are sure they are both revealed (checking our work carefully in these cases is essential). We must avoid forcing the interpretation of one to meet the demand of the other. Instead, we wait, in faith, for the true solution to appear in the future.
Now Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes was in such a situation: (1) He knew that the good and wicked often fare the same way in this life; (2) He also knew that God judges justly. We can easily reconcile these things by the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. He seems not to have known of this clearly. But he faithfully made both kinds of statements.
The problem was further complicated for him by the general, and true, belief that the afterlife was a drab thing, not much more than survival. We saw above that this belief was correct for that age.
So if we carefully study all statements of Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes in the light of the points just given, we will find that all comes out well. Here are the chief samples of both kinds of statements.
So marked is the contrast of the two sets that, chiefly in the past, some scholars have thought there must be two authors for Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth].
Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth] 2:14: "The eyes of a wise man are in his head: the fool walks in darkness. I myself perceived: the same thing comes to all of them." In other words, all die and return to dust.
Ecc. 3:19: "For what happens to man is the same as happens to beasts. As one dies, the other dies."
3:20: "All are from dust and will return to dust." Of course, both man and beast die and return to the same thing, to dust. In this sense, their fate is the same.
3:21: "Who knows whether the spirit of the sons of man goes up and the spirit of the beasts goes down?"
This is a heavily debated line. NAB renders it "life-breath" instead of spirit. Is there any concept of a soul expressed here? Ecclesiastes makes a distinction of man's breath or spirit going up, that of the beast down. For certain, this 3:21 does not positively deny survival. It merely brings out the fact that men and beasts both return to dust.
9:5-6: "The dead know nothing. They have no more reward ... their love and their hate and their envy have perished. Nor do they have any more forever a portion in all that is done under the sun." He says the dead do not know what goes on on earth. Of course not, in the limbo of the fathers there was no way of knowing. Nor do they have a share in the present life, "in the work that is done under the sun."
3:17: "I said in my heart: God shall judge both the just and the wicked." But Ecclesiastes knew it often does not seem to work out fairly in this life. So, he implies there must be a judgment beyond this life.
8:12: "If a sinner does evil a hundred times, and prolongs his life, yet I know surely that it will be well with those who fear God."
This verse seems to imply retribution after death, for in Ecc. 8:14, he adds, "There are just men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked; and there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the just."
The author could not see these injustices rectified in this life, so objectively, there is an implication that there must be a retribution beyond this life.
9:10: "For there is no work, or reason, or knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol to which you are going."
12:14: "For God will bring every deed into judgement, every hidden thing, whether good or evil."
Again, a clear implication of retribution after death, for the author knows justice is not always done in this life.
We conclude: Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes faithfully reported both ideas, from the two sets of statements Yet as we saw in detail, the two sets can fit together readily. He did not know clearly how to reconcile both sets of ideas, but we do. Objectively, all he said was true.
3) Clash of Luke and Mark over the image of Mary?
Many today think that Luke's picture of Mary is contradicted by Mark. Thus Wilfred Harrington says flatly, "For Mark it [3:31-35] is a continuation of vv. 20-21 ... his own did not receive him."301 And he seems to include Mary. Harrington even says that the passage "may be seen to distinguish those who stood outside the sphere of salvation, and those who are within it."302 Outside of salvation stands His Mother!
Behind this charge lies Mark 3:21 and 31. In 3:21 we find, "And when his friends had heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him. For they said: He is beside himself." Jesus was so occupied on speaking to the crowds that He didn't take the time to eat. His friends thought He was mad and went out to get Him.
Who are Jesus' friends? Harrington and others think they are those mentioned nine verses later. Mark 3.31 says, "And his mother and his brethren came; and standing without, sent unto him, calling him."
There are two ways to answer this charge, each sufficient in itself. One way is by the teachings of the Church, and the other by Scriptural analysis.
a) Refutation by teachings of the Church
There are at least four teachings of the Church that prevent such a view from being true:
1) Vatican II taught, as we saw above, "Since Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted according to the same Spirit by whom it was written, no less attention must be devoted to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture."303 So, though there can be different perspectives in the Gospels, there can be no contradiction. To say Mark contradicted Luke is to say the Holy Spirit contradicted Himself.
2) Vatican II also taught Mary's total dedication to Jesus from the very start: "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 ... 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, by the grace of Almighty God, serving the mystery of the Redemption with Him and under Him. Rightly then do the Holy Fathers judge that Mary was not merely passively employed by God, but was cooperating in free faith and obedience in human salvation."304
These words refer to the time of the Annunciation when the Incarnation took place. God then asked her to consent and she embraced the saving will, and she totally dedicated herself to the person and work of her Son. Nor was this just a passive use of her, since she joined freely. Clearly then, she was already dedicated to Jesus from the start. Hence it is utterly false to suppose she did not believe in Him.
3) The Church has taught over and over again, and Vatican II has repeated, that Jesus was conceived virginally, without a human father.305 Of course Mary could not help knowing that. Could she help believing in so marvelous a Son?
4) Vatican II also taught, "At the beginning [of His public life] when moved by pity at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, she by her intercession obtained the beginning of the miracles of Jesus the Messiah."306 Clearly then, she believed in Him more than others at the start of His public life.
b) Refutation by Scriptural exegesis
Here we will focus on two passages: Mark 3:21 and 31; and the Annunciation scene.
The Douay-Rheims version of the bible says Jesus' friends went out to lay hold on Him. RSV translates Mark 3:21 by saying that "his friends" went out to seize Him. NAB makes it "his family." The Greek is hoi par' autou, which is vague. It means those around Him- friends, relatives, household, so we are not fully sure who they were. Next RSV says they came to "seize" Him. NAB says, "take charge of" Him. Again, the Greek is not precise, for it can mean anything from "to persuade Him to take it easy" to "to take Him by force."
After that vague verse 21, we have nine verses telling how scribes charged that He was casting out devils by the devil. Jesus said that was the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. After that long interlude we find that, "His mother and his brothers came" and wanted to speak to Him.
Are the two groups, those in verse 21, and those in verse 31, the same? They could be, though it is not fully certain. But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that they were the same. Would it follow that His Mother did not believe in Him if some other relatives did not believe? Hardly-she could have gone along with them precisely to try to restrain them. Further, many seem to forget that even a very ordinary mother is apt to stick up for her son even when everyone else is against him and thinks him guilty. So, would she turn against him even when most people were for him? Of course not. We have already seen, with the help of Vatican II, that she was totally dedicated to Him from the day of the Annunciation.
c) The Annunciation scene
Next we turn to the scene of the Annunciation. Before studying it, we must note that many think Luke really had little information from which to comprise his first two chapters, so he built up a few scant bits of data by making his account parallel to Old Testament incidents.307
They are wrong in this assumption. Even John L. McKenzie, hardly a conservative scholar, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter, "...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 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."308
Again, R. H. Fuller, one of the chief form critics, wrote in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, "It is ironic that just at a 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."309 That was in 1978. By 1980, the same R. H. Fuller considered the method they followed so relentlessly to be "bankrupt."310
Still further, when Luke announced in his opening lines that he would write with care and precision, using earlier sources, he meant it. We saw new evidence in Chapter 9 that he did just that. So could he, right after such an announcement, relate a largely fanciful picture of the birth and infancy?
But, far more importantly, Vatican II speaks of the infancy narratives as fully factual, even though, shortly before (§55) it showed extreme reserve on Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14. After the full analysis of the implications of the Annunciation which we cited above, the Council continues in the next section: "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 firstborn Son who did not diminish, but consecrated her virginal integrity-to the shepherds and the Magi."311 We notice that the Council accepts even such details as shepherds and Magi from the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke.
We notice too, in passing, that the Council reaffirms the virginal conception,312 which is quite a problem for some who think that if Jesus had no human father, Mary really would not have been able not to believe in Him, and would have told Him of His own nature, so that he could not have been ignorant of His divinity, as so many assert.
So, with the assurance of Vatican II that the Annunciation was real and that in it she did conceive virginally and did dedicate herself totally to her Son, we will examine Luke's narrative.313
First, as we saw in Chapter 22, the Targums take the prophecy of Jacob in Genesis 49:10 as Messianic, as foretelling that the Jews would have their own rulers until the Messiah would come. But not long before the day of the Annunciation, Jews failed to have their own rulers at all, with the advent of Herod, of Idumean and Arabian descent. There were Messianic expectations at the time; and when the Magi came to Herod, his theologians readily reported that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4-6, referring to Micah 5:2).
In Luke 1:32, the angel says that her Son will be called "Son of the most High." A devout Jew could be called a son of God, but the angel added, "... the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end." This clearly means the Messiah, for as Levey writes, most Jews believed the Messiah would live forever.314 So the promise of the everlasting reign means the son will be the Messiah.
Then Luke 1:35 continues, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the most High shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy one which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." Now "overshadow" was the term used for the Divine Presence filling the tabernacle in the desert (Ex. 40:34-35. Cf. the cloud filling the temple in Jerusalem when just consecrated 1 Kgs. 8:10). So, precisely because the Divine Presence would fill her, "therefore" for that reason He would be called Son of God. But that would be unique; no one else was called Son of God for that reason. Hence, Mary would know even His divinity, besides His Messiahship.
Three papal statements come to mind. Pope St. Leo the Great, in the middle of the 5th century, said in a homily on the nativity, "The royal virgin of the line of David is chosen who, since she was to be made pregnant with the Sacred offspring, first conceived the divine and human Child in her mind, before doing so in her body. And so that she would not be struck with unusual emotions, in ignorance of the heavenly plan, she learned what was to be done in her by the Holy Spirit from the conversation with the angel."315 Pope Leo XIII, in his Parta humano generi wrote, "O how sweet, then, how pleasing did the greeting of the angel come to the Blessed Virgin, who then, when Gabriel greeted her, sensed that she had conceived the Word of God of the Holy Spirit."316
Finally, Pope Paul VI, in his Christmas allocution of Dec. 28, 1966, complained of studies which "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 [a noted Scripture scholar], '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 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,' and '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.'" [citing Vatican II, On Divine Revelation § 19].317