Catholic Scholarship—Is It Loyal to God’s Word?
MODERN Catholic scholars have been very active and productive. But have they manifested loyalty to God’s Word, the Bible?
These scholars have produced some fine translations of the Bible, particularly in English, French and Spanish.* Moreover, by and large, recent Catholic translators have subscribed to the sentiments expressed in the Preface of The Jerusalem Bible: “The translator of the Bible into a vernacular . . . [must not] impose his own style on the originals: this would be to suppress the individuality of the several writers who responded, each in his own way, to the movement of the Spirit. . . . The first duty of the translator is to convey as clearly as he can what the original author wrote. . . . It would certainly be dangerous to give the form of the translation precedence over the meaning.”
The Jerusalem Bible is particularly noteworthy for recognizing that the Hebrew tetragrammaton standing for God’s unique name should not be translated as a common noun—which is what most modern translators do—but should be transliterated. It does this by using “Yahweh,” a form of the divine name Jehovah. Regarding the reasons for doing so, it states: “Those who may care to use this translation of the Psalms can substitute the traditional ‘the Lord’. On the other hand, this would be to lose much of the flavour and meaning of the originals. For example, to say, ‘The Lord is God’ is surely a tautology [a meaningless repetition], as to say ‘Yahweh is God’ is not.” All of this is very well expressed.
At times, however, one can detect religious bias in the work of Catholic scholars. To illustrate: The Catholic Confraternity Version has Jesus Christ say to his mother at the wedding feast in Cana: “What wouldst thou have me do, woman?” That might lead a reader to think that Jesus was seeking guidance from his mother. But the Catholic Jerusalem Bible reads: “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.” (John 2:4) It is obvious from this more accurate translation that the Confraternity translators had been influenced by what their church teaches about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The need for discernment is further emphasized when we observe that reliable information is sometimes mixed with comments that downgrade the Bible. For example, in a footnote on Genesis 2:17, The Jerusalem Bible makes this perceptive comment on the significance of partaking of the forbidden fruit: “It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognise his status as a created being. The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty, a sin of pride.”
These comments show keen discernment. But the very next sentence reveals that the translators did not believe Adam and Eve actually existed and literally ate the forbidden fruit, for it reads: “This rebellion is described in concrete terms as the transgression of an express command of God for which the text uses the image of a forbidden fruit.” (Italics ours.) According to what the New Catholic Encyclopedia says, the Genesis account is merely an allegory, not historical.
Note how the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) expresses such a sentiment, saying: “It is evident that the narratives of Genesis about the creation of the world and of man, about Eden and the Fall, etc., are not really history in the ordinary sense of the word.” This reference work goes on to say: “The Bible, as a literary work, has a tradition that includes myth as a literary genre and does not reject mythical patterns from other civilizations.”*
Is this being loyal to God’s Word? Jesus Christ referred to the creation account as actual history, stating: “Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”—Matthew 19:4-6, JB; Genesis 1:27; 2:24.
The apostle Paul also treated this Genesis account as historical. Thus he warned Christians against being deceived, as was Eve by the serpent’s cunning. (2 Corinthians 11:3) That warning would be pointless if Eve had not actually existed and been seduced. Furthermore, in urging Christian women to be in subjection, Paul said that Adam was created first and that Eve, not Adam, was deceived. (1 Timothy 2:11-14) Again, the apostle’s argument would carry no force if the Genesis account was not historical.
The Flood of Noah’s Day
According to The Jerusalem Bible, such accounts as that of the Noachian flood are based on traditions regarding which “it would be unreasonable to expect the minute precision of a modern historian.” In much the same vein the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is generally agreed now that the episode of Noe and the ark is not a piece of historical reporting but an imaginative literary creation of another form entirely . . . To read it as history upon the presumption that the author’s intention was the detailed description of an ancient happening leads only to confusion, to intellectual difficulties, and thence to difficulties of faith.”
But Jesus Christ treated the Flood as an actual happening, for he foretold that as it actually was in the days of Noah it would be in the days of His presence. (Matthew 24:37-39) The apostle Paul points to Noah as an example of faith. (Hebrews 11:7) And in both of his divinely inspired letters, the apostle Peter makes reference to Noah and the Deluge.—1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5.
What About Jonah?
Now, please consider the book of Jonah. The Jerusalem Bible calls it a “droll adventure” and says: “Though God is indeed master of nature, the successive prodigies here narrated read like a succession of practical jokes played by God on his prophet: the sudden storm, the choice of Jonah by lot, the great fish, the plant growing in a night and withering in an hour; while the whole story is told with undisguised irony quite alien to the writing of history. The book is intended to amuse and instruct.”
Jesus Christ, though, considered Jonah to be a historical figure. For instance, Jesus said: “No sign will be given [this generation] except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was a sign for the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be a sign for the present age. . . . At the judgment, the citizens of Nineveh will rise along with the present generation, and they will condemn it. For at the preaching of Jonah they reformed, but you have a greater than Jonah here.” Jesus also stated: “Just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth.” (Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 12:40, The New American Bible) Unless Jonah actually lived and had these experiences, Jesus’ words would have no force. Are these Catholic scholars loyal to God’s Word when they, unlike Jesus Christ, stamp the book of Jonah as fiction?
The Song of Solomon
Let us consider another example, the Song of Solomon. According to The Jerusalem Bible, this book could not have been written earlier than the second half of the fifth century before our Common Era, long after King Solomon’s day. Interestingly, however, The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908 supports Jewish tradition that it was indeed written by Solomon by observing: “Tradition, in harmony with the superscription, attributes the song to Solomon. Even in modern times quite a number of exegetes have held this opinion . . . De Wette says: ‘The entire series of pictures and relationships and the freshness of the life connect these songs with the age of Solomon.’ The song evidences the love of Solomon for nature (it contains twenty-one names of plants and fifteen of animals), for beauty and art, and for regal splendour . . . There is also evident a strain of the most tender feeling and a love of peace which are well in keeping with the reputation of Solomon.”
The Gospel Accounts
And how do Catholic scholars view the Scriptural accounts about Jesus Christ? Regarding Jesus’ being raised from the dead, the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Any attempt to demonstrate the fact of Christ’s Resurrection from the Gospel accounts . . . must begin with the realization that these accounts are not biographies of Jesus and still less scientific history.” But if they are not “scientific history,” what are they? Fiction? Myths?
This stated Catholic position regarding the Gospels flies directly in the face of Jesus’ words assuring his apostles that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, . . . will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” (John 14:26, JB) Moreover, the testimony of the apostle Paul regarding Christ’s resurrection is in perfect agreement with that of the Gospel accounts.—1 Corinthians 15:1-8.
Will You Be Loyal to God’s Word?
The Roman Catholic Church has gone on record as encouraging the laity to read the Bible. Yet, as we have seen, its scholars say much that actually betrays disloyalty to the Bible.
However, what about you? Do you view the Bible as God’s inspired Word? If you do, then be loyal to it. Read and study the Scriptures regularly. Of course, the Bible is written in such a way that human instruments are needed to help make its message clear. But should not all truth lovers be careful that those to whom they go for help to understand God’s Word are indeed loyal to it?
For example, see The New American Bible; La Bible de Jérusalem; Nácar-Colunga.
“Myth” here is used in the sense of its being an allegory.