Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Holy Bible: Divinely Inspired or Human Construct?

The following is one of the papers that I wrote for my first religion class. Quotes from the Pope and some other sources appear throughout since I had to use some Roman Catholic sources as required by my instructor. I actually got an "A" on this paper... I only thought I would maybe get a "C."

In recent years it seems to have become increasingly more popular by so-called Biblical scholars to question the divine inspiration of the Bible. Many denominations and branches of Christianity still hold the view that the scriptures were divinely inspired, but - as the previously mentioned scholars gain more followers – many Christians are starting to question the Holy Spirit's role in the writing of the Bible. However the modern world may perceive the scriptures, the Church and the Apostles believed the Bible to be divinely inspired whilst maintaining their human authorship (Pope Paul VI). 

The third chapter of Dei Verbum states, “For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself,” (Pope Paul VI). Though the document of Dei Verbum did not come about until 1965 the Church has always held to the belief of divinely inspired scripture, the Roman Church was only reaffirming this belief. That the Bible is inspired is evident by St. Paul's words in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (Holy Bible).

Even if one were to discount St. Paul's writings they could still take a look at the book of Revelation where the first chapter starts with the Apostle, St. John, having a vision of Heaven and Jesus (Holy Bible). Also, looking at the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah has a continuous vision of Heaven and the angels (Holy Bible). Again, in the Old Testament, the book of Daniel shows the reader various visions of coming judgment (Holy Bible).

Because the Bible is divinely inspired it is then tantamount that the Holy Spirit be involved in the process of interpreting scripture. Even more, “The Spirit guides the Church in interpreting scriptural texts and tradition in terms of the need of the People of God at any particular time to live in accord with the Apostolic faith” (Tkacik and McGonigle 3). One simply can not disregard the whole of Christian history when interpreting the scriptures but must take into account the Tradition of the Early Church, “The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith” (Pope Paul VI). One must also recognize that interpretation is not left up to the individual, but to the, “judgment of the Church” (Pope Paul VI), which with an equal base of Tradition sets the stage for theology as can be seen in the sixth chapter of Dei Verbum,

Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. (3) By the same word of Scripture the ministry of the word also, that is, pastoral preaching, catechetics all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place, is nourished in a healthy way and flourishes in a holy way. (Pope Paul VI)

Although the scriptures are divinely inspired the human authors often times relied on their own point of view to tell their story. Dei Verbum in its fifth chapter states,
For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who 'themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word' we might know 'the truth' concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4). (Pope Paul VI)

The human authorship of the scriptures in no way detracts from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which were, “composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by which, according to the wise plan of God, those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed” (Pope Paul VI). Human authorship of the scriptures can be deduced by noting the differences of the same stories being told.

Looking first at the four Gospels the differences are immediately noticeable; Matthew and Luke seem to borrow heavily from Mark and other sources, and John seems to be a source unto itself, though there may be some slight borrowing of other sources (Mueller 87; Evans 18). While the first three (Synoptic) Gospels do tend to agree with each other they also disagree in some areas (Mueller 85). This in no way cancels out divine inspiration, but emphasizes the human authorship the differences, “give us accounts of what things the evangelists as authors and as theologians wish to emphasize” (Evans 17). To discern proper meaning one must ask, “Who wrote it?... To whom did they write?... What person, practices, or beliefs does the author oppose?... What lead the author(s) to write this letter...?” (Mueller 88); understanding these dynamics helps with overall understanding of scripture.

Looking next at the book of Acts and some of St. Paul's epistles we see more evidence of human authorship. In Galatians, “Paul identifies his opponents as rival Christian leaders” (Mueller 90), but in Acts we see that the author says that St. Paul's opponents are not Church leaders, but, “Non-Christian Jews” (Mueller 91). Despite these differences these letters,
helped make Christianity quite different from the other religions scattered throughout the empire, in that the various Christian communities, unified by this common literature that was being shared back and forth (cf. Col. 4:16), were adhering to instructions found in written documents or "books." (Erhman 23)

Looking last at the book of Genesis there is evidence for human authorship by noting the two accounts of creation. In the first creation story, “the transcendent God 'speaks' the world into existence . It is as though the author wanted to provide people with a creation creed or a confession that could be used in worship or in teaching” (Mueller 60). In the second creation story the author, “sees God the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) as very down to earth. In fact, the man ('adam) is formed from earth” (Mueller 60).

That the Bible has many different authors should in no way dissuade any Christian from believing and accepting the divine inspiration of scriptures. In the fourth chapter of Die Verbum it is stated, “These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy” (Pope Paul VI). Taking this into account Christians should stop and wonder the amazing power of God to be able to use so many people to write many different books, that, when put together, compose a story of a God that loves us and – through our error – made a way for us to be with Him in eternity. Christians should also keep in mind that,
God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. (2) For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, (3) acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it. (Pope Paul VI)

In closing, it should be restated that the Church has always proclaimed both the human authorship and the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures; works such as – the often quoted – Dei Verbum, though written at a relatively recent date, do not just now proclaim this truth, but rather reiterate this truth for all Christians everywhere. The Bible itself speaks of both human authorship and divine inspiration in 2 Timothy, where in the first chapter St. Paul states that he is writing, and later states that all scripture is given by God (Holy Bible). This has been believed from the earliest Christians to the modern day. Lastly, Dei Verbum shows Christians quite beautifully how to come to terms with inspiration from the Holy Spirit and human influence in the scriptures,
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. (Pope Paul VI)

Works Cited

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. 1st ed. San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. Print.

Evans, Craig A. The Bible Knowledge Background commentary Matthew-Luke. 1st ed. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2003. Print.

Mueller, J.J. . Theological Foundations Concepts and Methods for Understanding Christian Faith. Revised and Expanded. Minnesota: Anselm Academic, 2011. Print.

Pope Paul VI, . "Dei Verbum." N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2013.

The Holy Bible Old and New Testaments in the King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1976. Print.

Tkacik, Michael, and Thomas McGonigle. Pneumatic Correctives. New York: University Press of America, 2007. Print.
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