Catholics on Scripture and Inerrancy


Oh, the Bible. It’s the lifeblood of the Church. It’s our backbone. But there’s so much we don’t get, and the culture both within and without the Protestant Church hasn’t helped. In its response to the Enlightenment, Evangelicals adopted the ground rules and assumptions that undergird modernism, namely, that Truth must be something that has a one-to-one correlation to things in created reality (as opposed to Ultimate Reality–God Himself), therefore making science and history the only vehicles for this Truth. This has caused so many problems with the rest of the world when talking about a little doctrine: Inerrancy which means, at its simplest level, that the Bible contains no “errors”. What does that mean?

Catholics can help us answer this. I fear that Evangelicalism is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the current discussion on nearly every front because of these improper assumptions about Scripture.   Catholics, though, were having these discussions in the Middle Ages! They have largely already dealt with the things that we Protestant are only now encountering issues with. This gave them a foundation that let them maintain intellectual and biblical credibility in light of the Enlightenment and now modernism. Here’s what they say about Scripture in the Catholic Catechism:

In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”

And on the idea of Inspiration and Inerrancy, the Catechism says this (emphasis mine):

“To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”

“[We] acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.

In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”

This has given the Catholic Church the freedom to fully embrace the findings of science, psychology, and other fields that Protestants have notoriously removed themselves from. Far too often American Evangelicalism, on the other hand, is far more satisfied with keeping its distance by staying in its safe suburbs, participating in single-party political radicalization, throwing money at the people that are actually “called” to do “that kind of work”, and insisting that people should just “have the freedom to fail and then pull themselves back up” (thank heavens God didn’t treat us that way!).

This also gives them a fuller idea of how God is made manifest in the mundane, leading them to be able to manifest God through the mundanity of their own lives in service of others: loving the poor, caring for the sick, and helping orphans. If your view of the Bible is as an object far from God in which he just deposited knowledge, then that’s how you will engage the world–as a far object that just lobs spiritual “truths” at people. But, if you believe that God actually came, inhabited, and incarnated Himself into the messiness of this world in both Word and Deed such that He might communicate Himself to people and bring redemption, then, perhaps, you might find the freedom, joy, and satisfaction that comes from pouring your life out in love for others.

Catholics can help us. We would do well to listen. They have been modeling it to us for hundreds of years. We can debate their various interpretations of texts and doctrines, of which I disagree with many, but I don’t think it would benefit us to ignore their basic views toward Scripture, in fact, doing that has already hurt us greatly. I’ll leave with this last quote from the Catechism that summarizes all of this so beautifully:

Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living”. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Holy Spirit, open our minds to view Your Word rightly.

[This post is part of my on-going series “Catholics Aren’t Crazy”]

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8 thoughts on “Catholics on Scripture and Inerrancy

  1. You’re really talking about the subset of protestantism that still clings to modernism. There are a few denominations I could name that suffer from this, but largely I believe protestantism does not fit under the guise you painted it these days. Another way of describing it would be the difference between a traditional or emergent church; a church that holds to foundationalism or postfoundationalism.

    I think you are wrong on the reasons the RCC dealt with that in the middle ages as well. If those statements are from Vatican II, then they are in the realm of postfoundationalism and drawing from the same source the emergent church is drawing from. If they are from earlier, than the reason they sound better probably is due to the influence of tradition.

    I don’t see that tradition in a good way either. It (I think) lessens the value of Scripture to the point where they can make those statements rather than reflecting on the epistemology they practiced.

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  2. Replied in Buzz but figured I would here as well.

    Good article, I would add that Protestants have a healthy suspicion towards much of the philosophical framework underneath much of modern sciences and psychology. The way we look back upon the Presocratics is likely how our great grand children will look back upon much of our modern/postmodern theory of science and psychology.

    Quibble note. Don’t forget the adjective Roman before Catholic. Some of us Reformed believe we are Catholic too. Some would even argue we are the Catholic referred to in the Creeds.

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  3. Pingback: Some Protestant Leftovers on Scripture & Inerrancy « the long way home

  4. @v02468 hey man, like i said in my more recent post on the protestant side of things, i really do see this framework in most of the protestant church in america. really- it’s in the OPC, it’s somewhat in the PCA, it’s in most Baptist and Pentecostal denominations, it’s in small Bible Churches and some “non-denom”s. i know it’s still firmly entrenched in the South and at the various Baptist seminaries in the country. even Trueman thinks that it is a defense of the Bible on THESE terms that will be the defining fight of the next decade.

    As for the Middle Ages, wouldn’t you say that how they (Aquinas, mainly) dealt with these things THEN set the stage for then to be able to respond to the Enlightenment more healthily? Sure, it led to bad things as well, but even the Evangelical anti-intellectualism and abandonment of the academy had some good points. So yes, those medieval treatments of the Bible have ALSO given rise to some wrong teaching (I feel), but it think it still safeguarded them from what Evangelicalism was not guarded from.

    Lastly, could it be your Reformed tradition telling you that tradition is dangerous? Is your Reformed tradition informing how you think Scripture approaches tradition? We can’t escape tradition, nor can we escape our blindness to it. this is Piper’s problem on justification. He is more dedicated to Reformation ideas and interpretations than more ancient ideas and interpretations and he thinks he’s simply “being faithful to Scripture”. no, he’s trying to be faithful to the Reformers.

    Our God is a God of progressive redemption and growth. just as the individual becomes increasingly sanctified throughout their lives, i believe the Church Herself gets increasingly sanctified as History goes on. And all Tradition is, i feel, is the history of how God has brought his people to where they are now. I don’t like one bit how the RCC puts it on the same level of authority as Scripture, but i think it still has very real authority and a solid place int he Church. We would do well to become increasingly aware and informed of our theological and ecclesiological traditions. they are good things, i think.

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  5. @Will Adair

    1-i don’t know about our “suspicions” of science. i think we should be just as “suspicious” of science as we are democracy, capitalism, art, patriotism, or any other thing that man uses to understand the world and maintain expression and order. i just don’t think “suspicion” is the right word nor posture. should we be “suspicious” of this whole “gravity” thing whenever we take a step just because it’s not talked about in the Bible, and was a discovery of science? and if we are supposed to be “suspicious” of science, does that include “Christian” flavors of science like “intelligent design” of “Creation science”? Where is the “suspicion” of that “science” in the Church?

    I’m currently reading through Bertrand Rusell’s “History of Western Thought”. Most people consider the presocratics as absolutely brilliant, considering what they were working with. i think darwin will be considered a genius millennia from now, no matter whether or not we move at all from his theory. i think our great great grandchildren will see us as essential in the process that will bring science to where it is when they are around. thoughts?

    2- dang it. you’re so right about the “Roman” Catholic thing. i absolutely consider myself a “protesting catholic”. i also believe i’m there in the creeds as much as the pope is. heck, we even recite it each week at church. so, you’re right. i think i’ll start referring it as such in these articles, though for the sake of simplicity i’ll still keep the titles as “catholics on…”. long titles are annoying. would that be acceptable?

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  6. Pingback: On Darwinism vs. Design (a response to the Richmond Center for Christian Study) {pt.2} | the long way home

  7. Pingback: What is the Proclamation of the Word? | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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