Where Is Modern Catholic Scholarship Heading?
WELL has it been said, ‘There is no standing still. Either things move forward or they move backward. Either they get better or they get worse.’ And so the question fittingly can be asked, Where is Roman Catholic Biblical scholarship today heading—forward or backward?
That modern Catholic scholarship is changing is apparent to all who have been observant. In fact, its changes have caused a crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. On the one hand, there are those who strenuously oppose these changes, and, on the other hand, there are those who are impatient because the changes are not greater and are not being made more quickly. In view of this situation it is no wonder that the Jesuit publication America (May 9, 1970a) felt it necessary to observe: “The Catholic[s] who grew up in yesterday’s Church now breathe and pray and flounder in a religious situation characterized by uncertainty, dissension and upheaval.”
In particular is there a trend in Roman Catholic scholarship away from faith in the inspiration and authenticity of the Scriptures. And this, it might be added, is the most serious aspect of the modern change and should cause concern to all practicing Catholics who still hold to the inspiration of the Bible.
Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?
By the term “Pentateuch” is meant the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Who wrote these books? Not only does the Pentateuch itself, and Jewish tradition for ever so many centuries, ascribe these books to Moses, but so do other books of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as Jesus and his apostles. Thus at Exodus 17:14, Numbers 33:2 and Deuteronomy 31:9 are to be found statements telling of Moses writing or being commanded to write. Among other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures crediting Moses with transmitting the law contained in the Pentateuch are Joshua 1:7, 8; Judges 3:4 and 1 Kings 2:3. That Jesus Christ believed that Moses wrote these books of the Bible is apparent from his remarks to his Jewish opposers: “If you believed Moses you would believe me, for that one wrote about me.” (John 5:46) And we find that the early Christian governing body, which met in Jerusalem to consider such questions as circumcision, likewise gave the credit to Moses, for it stated: “From ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.”—Acts 15:21.
There was a time when Catholic scholarship agreed with the foregoing. Thus the New Catholic Dictionary (1929) stated: “The first five books of the Bible” were “written c. [about] 1400 B.C. . . . A constant tradition, both Jewish and Christian has always asserted the Mosaic authorship of those five Books . . . But it is perfectly lawful to admit that Moses made use of the previously existing documents which he inserted in his work.” Another who credited the Pentateuch to Moses was the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, Old Testament, which goes on to say: “The Pentateuch text . . . has in its transmission been preserved from errors in matters of faith and morals by divine providence.”
But not so, says modern Catholic scholarship. The Jerusalem Bible (1966), The Jerome Bible Commentary (1968) and the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) all betray that they have been influenced by Wellhausen, a German scholar of languages who did not believe in the inspiration of the Bible and whose theories are more and more being shown to be unsound. But how can anyone produce a sound theory when he starts out on a prejudiced premise? That is what Wellhausen does, claiming that all religion is of human origin.
So, modern Roman Catholic scholarship has glaringly moved backward in its position on these five books as the inspired writings of Moses. (Further evidence for the Pentateuch’s being inspired is found in the publication Aid to Bible Understanding, pages 1283, 1284.)
What About the Book of Jonah?
No question about it, the book of Jonah tells of some extraordinary events. But it contains nothing that enlightened faith could not accept. Arguing for its authenticity and historicity are the following factors:
(1) The ancient Hebrews accepted the book as inspired and historical.
(2) The book of Jonah, employing a style similar to that of four others of the ‘minor’ prophets, opens with the expression: ‘The word of Jehovah began to occur to . . . .’—Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zeph. 1:1.
(3) The strongest testimony, however, is that of Jesus Christ. He repeatedly referred to the account of Jonah, as seen from Matthew 12:39-41, where he makes two references to it, and Matthew 16:4. He said: “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” And far from doubting that Jonah was able to induce the people of Nineveh to repent, Jesus went on to say: “Men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it; because they repented at what Jonah preached, but, look! something more than Jonah is here.”
Catholic scholars of more than a half century ago were of the same mind, for The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910), Vol. 8, p. 498, stated: “Catholics have always looked upon the Book of Jonas as a fact-narrative. . . . Reasons for the traditional acceptance of the historicity of Jonas: I. Jewish Tradition. . . . II. The Authority of Our Lord.—This reason is deemed by Catholics to remove all doubt as to the fact of the story of Jonas. . . . Christ makes no distinction between the story of the Queen of Sheba and that of Jonas (see Matt., xii, Mt 12:42). He sets the very same historical value upon the book of Jonas as upon the [First] Book of Kings. Such is the very strongest argument that Catholics offer for the firm stand they take upon the ground of the fact-narrative of the story of Jonas. III. The Authority of the Fathers.—Not a single Father has ever been cited in favour of the opinion that Jonas is a fancy-tale and no fact-narrative at all.”
But modern skepticism has won over modern Catholic scholars in regard to the book of Jonah. Now they say that the book of Jonah is a “fancy-tale,” and not authentic history. They belittle the book, as does The Jerusalem Bible by calling it a “droll adventure” about “a succession of practical jokes played by God on his prophet . . . the whole story is told with undisguised irony” and “is intended to amuse and instruct.” But Jesus did not consider it a joke; he was serious about what it had to say! So one asks, Have these modern critics any proof for their opinion? None at all! They have only invented theories to support their refusal to admit that God would perform miracles! Clearly modern Catholic scholarship is heading backward, not forward, in going contrary to the explicit statements of Jesus Christ in favor of the historical merit of the book of Jonah.
What About the Song of Solomon?
This Bible book in its opening verse states Ca 1:1: “The superlative song, which is Solomon’s.” In support of this statement the Introduction to this book in the Soncino Hebrew Bible notes the following points: King Solomon was indeed a writer of many songs. (1 Ki. 4:32) The book itself contains a number of references to the king. While some claim that language peculiarities denote a late date, the facts are that “such a view . . . has no solid foundation. The shortened form of the relative pronoun [she or sha instead of ’asherʹ], e.g. which occurs often in this Book . . . is also found in the earliest Biblical Books,” such as in Genesis and Judges. And further objections to Solomon’s being the writer of the book are “equally groundless.”
Catholic scholars of more than sixty years ago pointed to further evidence of Solomon’s being the writer of this book. Thus The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 305, commented: “The Song evidences the love of Solomon for nature [1 Ki. 4:33] (it contains twenty-one names of plants and fifteen of animals), for beauty and art, and for regal splendour.” And the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia notes that the many different place-names in the book show it must have been written before the division of the kingdom in the time of Solomon’s son Rehoboam.
Yet here again, modern Catholic scholarship chooses to ignore all this evidence and accepts the theories of modern skeptics and critics who question Solomon’s having written this book. Again it has chosen to take its stand with the wisdom of this world—‘which is foolishness in the eyes of God’—instead of with faith in the Bible’s inspiration and divine preservation.—1 Cor. 3:19.
More than One Writer of Isaiah?
One more example of how modern Catholic scholarship is heading away from faith in the inspiration, authenticity and divine preservation of the various books of the Bible is seen in its going along with modern faithless higher critics who hold that there were three or more “Isaiahs.” According to these critics, one “Isaiah” wrote chapters 1 through 39, another wrote chapters 40 through 55, and one more wrote chapters 56 through 66.
But such a view cannot be harmonized with the Bible. It itself shows that the book in its entirety was written by one writer whose name was Isaiah. For example, Matthew 3:3 attributes Isaiah 40:3 to “Isaiah the prophet,” even as Matthew 4:14-16 credits the words at Isaiah 9:1, 2 to the same Isaiah. Similarly both Isaiah 6:1, 10 and Isa 53:1 are accredited to “Isaiah the prophet” at John 12:38-41. The apostle Paul at Romans 10:16 likewise credits the prophet Isaiah with writing the words found at Isaiah 53:1. And at Luke 4:17 we read that “the scroll of the prophet Isaiah” was handed to Jesus and he read the words found at Isaiah 61:1, 2 and applied them to himself. More examples could be given showing that Bible writers credited the supposed three divisions of Isaiah to just the one prophet Isaiah.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah “A” bears witness to the same effect. Its copyist knew nothing of a supposed division between Isaiah chapters 39 and 40, for in it what is now known as chapter 40 begins on the last line of the column that contains Isa chapter 39. It is also worthy of note that the closing verses of Isa chapter 39 vss 6-8, by telling of a coming captivity to Babylon, provide a logical transition to what follows. Isa Chapter 40 points to the time when that captivity would end.
Here again, early in this century the Pontifical Biblical Commission, on June 28, 1908, refuted the arguments of those who held that the prophecy of Isaiah had multiple writership, and concluded by saying: “There are no solid arguments to the fore, even taken cumulatively, to prove that the book of Isaias is to be attributed not to Isaias himself alone, but to two or rather to many authors.” And the Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, Old Testament, rightly noted: “The anonymity of the so-called Deutero- [Second] and Trito- [Third] Isaias remains an insurmountable obstacle for the critical school. They are unable to explain how one of the most important books remained of unknown authorship, while at the same time the smartest prophetical writings,” namely, Obadiah and Haggai, “have retained the names of their authors?”
It may well be asked, Why has modern Catholic scholarship chosen to ignore all such evidence as to the unity of the book of Isaiah? Why? Because of losing faith in the power and wisdom of the Bible’s Author. Those who adopt the theory of multiple writership of Isaiah do so primarily because they refuse to believe that a prophet of Jehovah could accurately foretell the details Isaiah did as to the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and like events. But in doing so they run counter to one of the very themes of Isaiah, namely, that the true God can foretell events and that false gods cannot. Thus we read: “Remember the first things of a long time ago, that I am the Divine One and there is no other God, nor anyone like me; the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done; the One saying, ‘My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do’ . . . I have even spoken it; I shall also bring it in.” And again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth . . . will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”—Isa. 46:9-11; 55:11.
Yes, this true God who can foretell the future challenges the worshipers of would-be gods: “Let the nations all be collected together at one place, and let national groups be gathered together. Who is there among them that can tell this? Or can they cause us to hear even the first things? Let them furnish their witnesses, that they may be declared righteous, or let them hear and say, ‘It is the truth!’”—Isa. 43:9.
The fact that modern Catholic scholarship is heading more and more away from faith in the Bible as the inspired, infallible Word of the Creator, the God of the heavens whose name is Jehovah, should be of serious concern to all Catholics who still have faith that Divine Providence directed the writing and preservation of the Bible as God’s Word.
a Inside back cover.