Sunday, October 31, 2010

Contradictions In Scripture?

Many people who like to deny the truthfulness of Sacred Scripture point to Genesis 2:7-9 as being a screaming contradiction of Scripture. For it says:

“then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”

The denier would exclaim, “See! Scripture has to be false. In Gen. 2:7, it says that man is created. THEN after that in Gen. 2:9, God causes vegetation to grow. BUT THIS CAN’T BE TRUE, for Genesis 1 says that land and vegetation was created on the THIRD day and man was created on the SIXTH day! Therefore, Scripture is false.”
On the surface, it seems that the denier is correct. Scripture contradicts itself. How are we who hold that Scripture is inspired by God, and therefore inerrant (for God is not the author of error), to answer?
By following St. Augustine, of course!
St. Augustine, following Tyconius’ sixth rule of recapitulation (from his Book of Rules), provides the solution in Book III, Chapter 36 of his De doctrina Christiana (On Christian Doctrine):

The sixth rule Tichonius calls the recapitulation, which, with sufficient watchfulness, is discovered in difficult parts of Scripture. For certain occurrences are so related, that the narrative appears to be following the order of time, or the continuity of events, when it really goes back without mentioning it to previous occurrences, which had been passed over in their proper place. And we make mistakes if we do not understand this, from applying the rule here spoken of. For example, in the book of Genesis we read, "And the Lord God planted a garden eastwards in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food." Now here it seems to be indicated that the events last mentioned took place after God had formed man and put him in the garden; whereas the fact is, that the two events having been briefly mentioned, viz., that God planted a garden, and there put the man whom He had formed, the narrative goes back, by way of recapitulation, to tell what had before been omitted, the way in which the garden was planted: that out of the ground God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. Here there follows "The tree of life also was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." Next the river is mentioned which watered the garden, and which was parted into four heads, the sources of four streams; and all this has reference to the arrangements of the garden. And when this is finished, there is a repetition of the fact which had been already told, but which in the strict order of events came after all this: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden." For it was after all these other things were done that man was put in the garden, as now appears from the order of the narrative itself: it was not after man was put there that the other things were done, as the previous statement might be thought to imply, did we not accurately mark and understand the recapitulation by which the narrative reverts to what had previously been passed over.

Now, the question that arises is, “Why would God make Scripture to be written in such a way as this?” The answer is so that you won’t rush through Sacred Scripture, but rather read it diligently and with extreme care, savoring every word the Sacred Author has written. Also, in order for you to dig deeper into Scripture and probe the depths of “the riches of the glory of this mystery” communicated by the Holy Spirit. Then you will “have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Text In Its Final Form

“Contrary to what I have heard said, it is perfectly possible to understand a text without knowing whether it is E or whatever. If I insist on a documentary setting, or an historical setting in which the text was composed, I am often, even usually, tied to pure hypothesis: the connection with a source is dubious, the existence of the source (E) is in question. In any case the historical setting of the passage’s composition is largely a guess. And still the text itself in its most important setting, its actual place in scripture, lies before me to study as a grammatical and literary structure that I can analyze with some confidence without beginning with a chancy guess about origins.”
-D.J. McCarthy, “Exodus 3:14: History, Philology and Theology,” CBQ 40 (1978).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Difference Between Formal And Material Heresy

“The Church expressly distinguishes between ‘formal’ and ‘material’ heretics. A ‘formal’ heretic rejects the Church and its teaching absolutely and with full deliberation; a ‘material’ heretic rejects the Church from lack of knowledge, being influenced by false prejudice or by an anti-Catholic upbringing. St. Augustine forbids us to blame a man for being a heretic because he was born of heretical parents, provided that he does not with obstinate self-assurance shut out all better knowledge, but seeks the truth simply and loyally. Whenever the Church has such honest enquirers before her, she remembers that our Lord condemned Pharisaism but not the individual Pharisee, that He held deep and loving intercourse with Nicodemus, and allowed Himself to be invited by Simon. The spirit of the Church in her dealings with souls may be stated in St. Augustine’s words:  ‘Love men, slay error!’”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Moral Duty Of Dogmatic Intolerance

“When ideas are in conflict, when truth is fighting against error, and revelation against human ingenuity, then there can be no compromise and no indulgence. If our Lord had exercised such indulgence, He would not have been crucified. When He called the Pharisees whited sepulchers and a brood of vipers, and Herod a fox, He was not inspired by any sort of hatred against individuals, but by the tremendous earnestness of truth. It was His defiant and vivid conviction of responsibility for eternal truth that caused Him to use such strong words towards error and its representatives. And if we do not fight thus for the truth, then we lose all moral and spiritual power, we become characterless, we disown God. Dogmatic intolerance is therefore a moral duty, a duty to the infinite truth and to truthfulness.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book Review: Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period

Length: 528 pages
6 x 9 inches
Binding: paperback
IVP Academic (July 2002)
ISBN: 0-8308-2678-5
IVP Order Code: 2678

The Second Temple Period, spanning from 586 B.C.- A.D. 135, was a fascinating time of joy (due to the return from exile in Babylon) and hope (of a future return of the ten northern tribes who had been scattered by Assyria). Mixed with the joy and hope are themes of tribulation, restoration, nationalistic identification, liturgical purification, and eschatological and messianic expectation which all help to further our understanding of the New Testament. With Larry Helyer’s Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students, he takes on an ambitious task...and succeeds. In 528 pages he surveys over 35 documents from the Second Temple Period, from the Babylonian Exile to the rise of Rabbinical Judaism and the Apostolic Fathers.
For each document, Helyer provides an introduction (discussing authorship, dating, purpose, and structure), outline, and analysis. Concluding each analysis is a section pointing out each Second Temple document’s significance for the New Testament. What really makes this book worth its weight in gold for students of the New Testament, however, is the discussion questions, the recommended readings for further study, and the advice concerning which texts to use for each document. These resources make the book perfect for independent study with Helyer as the guide. With the Second Temple documents in one hand and Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period in another, the student is well equipped to dive into these sources and bear much fruit for understanding the New Testament.
While I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to all, I do so with a few caveats for Catholic readers. Being a Protestant, there are issues with Helyer’s understanding of the Old Testament Canon. Although his rejection of the seven books of the Old Testament that the Church has always held as canonical do not prevent the book from being profitable (for more on the Old Testament Canon, see my review of Walter Kaiser’s The Old Testament Documents). What is more of a concern is Helyer’s Calvinistic presuppositions that influence his understanding of the texts. For example, he seems to suggest that the Qumranites are proto-Calvinits:
“The doctrine of the two spirits actually attributes the evil impulse to God. Though accountable for their sin, the wicked, by virtue of God’s eternal plan, have no recourse but to succumb to the evil angel and the resultant misdeeds.” (256)
Did the Qumran community really believe in double predestination? That is highly debatable, which is why it is startling to see him state immediately after, “This theological problem is never raised or discussed in the Qumran literature; it is simply assumed as a fact.” If the problem is never raised or discussed, who is assuming it as a fact? The Qumranites or Helyer? His search for a proto-Calvin doesn’t end with the Qumranites, however. A couple of pages later in discussing how the Qumran literature is significant for the New Testament, Helyer states that Paul believes in the predestination of the elect. I have no problem with that. But, then he goes on to say, “Paul does not, however, explicitly state the contrary, namely, that the wicked are predestined to damnation” (259). The problem is that Paul nowhere, even implicitly, argues for double predestination! Yet, Helyer seems to think that Paul comes close in the following quote from Romans:
‘What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?’ (Romans 9:22-23)
Is Paul saying that God has predestined some here for damnation? By no means! God is patient with the all. If the evil doer fails to repent of his ways, it is he himself who is responsible for his damnation, not God. St. John Chrysostom explains:
“Why are some people vessels of wrath and others vessels of mercy? It is by their own free choice. God, being very good, shows the same kindness to both. For it was not only to those who were saved that God showed kindness but to Pharaoh also, as far as he deserved. For both Pharaoh and God’s people had the advantage of God’s patience. And if Pharaoh was not saved it was because of his own will, since God had done as much for him as he had done for those who were saved.” (Homilies on Romans 16)
Elsewhere in the context of the churches established by Paul, he suggests that they “appear to have been autonomous” (224). To his credit, however, he adds in a footnote, “This statement, of course, will not go unchallenged by many who are convinced that the NT displays more of a hierarchical structure than I have allowed. I own up to my Baptistic presupposition on this point!”
Aside from the above mentioned issues, I think Helyer does a fantastic job surveying such a wide breadth of literature in one book and should be commended for his effort. Anyone who wishes to do a serious study of both Second Temple Literature and the New Testament should get this book!
Many thanks once again to Adrianna Wright and the good folks at InterVarsity Press who have provided me with a review copy of Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Modern Exgesis

The other day I posted about the Church Fathers' exegesis of the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10. A friend of mine sent me a note on how this passage would be interpreted using modern exegetical methods:

"Wisdom from [a liberal college soaked in modern scriptural interpretation] concerning this passage: Obviously what we have here is an author mired in the 'pre-Enlightenment' mindset, otherwise he would have known that there's no such thing as the devil. From the reference to the Levite and priest can see that this is an early Christian polemic against the Jews written to strengthen the sectarian mindset of the Early Church. It's a good thing we have 'evolved' since then and can now focus exclusively on the most important and central concerns of theology: social justice and tolerance. In fact it's a good thing that everything evolves, especially our moral law!"

For a good article on "tolerance," click here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Patristic Interpretation Of The Good Samaritan

“Many Fathers of the Church and early Christian writers have identified Christ himself as the Good Samaritan. The man who falls into the hands of thieves is a symbol of humanity wounded by original sin and personal sin. St. Augustine has commented: ‘These offenses robbed mankind of immortality. They covered him with wounds and made him susceptible to sin.’ St. Bede has written that sins are called wounds because they destroy the integrity of human nature. The thieves represent the devil, unrestrained human passions, scandal… The Levite and the priest symbolize the Old Covenant, which cannot cure these wounds. The inn is a symbol of the Church. ‘What would have happened to this poor Jew if the Samaritan had stayed at home? What would have happened to our souls if the Son of God had not undertaken his journey?’ (R.A. Knox) Jesus is moved with compassion for man and heals his wounds, making them his own. St. John wrote to the early Christians: ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’”

-Fr. Francis Fernandez