Sunday, January 27, 2013

Man's role in writing Sacred Scripture

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus.
In the opening lines of his Gospel, St. Luke gives us a clear indication of the active human role in the writing of Sacred Scripture. Though the Bible is truly the word of God and not merely the words of men, yet it is also correct to say that it is really and truly the words of men and not solely the word of God.
The books of Scripture are occasional writings – i.e. they were written at the will of the human author who desired to address a particular situation in a particular moment of time and place. St. Luke states very clearly that he has decided to write account of the Gospel, and he does not fail to mention his own labors in compiling an orderly narrative by means of carefully investigating everything anew.
This book is most certainly the work of St. Luke, and yet St. Peter teaches us that Prophecy [of Scripture] came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). How can the Bible be both the word and works of men, and also truly and indeed the very word of God?

I too have decided – The words of man only?
There are two extreme positions which, it seems to be, must be avoided. One is simply wrong (and perhaps hinting of heterodoxy), while the other is wholly heretical.
The first, which is probably more common in modern(ist) Western Christianity, is to claim more or less explicitly that the books of the Bible are wholly or mostly of human origin. Such a position would interpret the words I too have decided or it seemed good to me also (Luke 1:3) as being solely of St. Luke. In other words, the “I” or the “me” of this sentence is referred not at all to the Holy Spirit but solely to St. Luke – as though it were only he who had decided to write and it were only to him that writing seemed good.
Under this theory, the Gospel according to St. Luke is no longer truly an inspired text, but is the product solely of the human author. Although many persons will not go so far as to state this claim explicitly, their mode of interpretation certainly implies this claim. There are so many “scholars” who write biblical commentaries but refuse to allow for any interpretation beyond that which (according to their personal judgment) can be ascribed to the explicit intention of the human author.
Even if they do allow for some other interpretation beyond that which is limited to the mind of St. Luke, they will claim that this can only be considered a spiritual interpretation and must not be admitted as the literal sense of the passage – thereby excluding it from all theological study (since theology must make its arguments from the literal sense of the Scriptures).
This is clearly heresy, and is directly contrary to the teaching of Vatican II which titled it’s Constitution on the Bible not Hominum Verbum (The word of men), but Dei Verbum (The word of God).
I too have decided – The words of the Holy Spirit alone?
On the other hand, there is another extreme position which is also mistaken. Some persons (especially fundamentalist protetstants) refuse to admit of any true human participation in the writing of Scripture. The men who wrote the Bible are not seen as true authors, but merely as passive instruments which God used to transcribe the words of Scripture.
This theory is seen in its more extreme form under the theory of “verbal dictation” according to which the Holy Spirit would have whispered (even perhaps audibly) every word of Scripture to the human “author” who then wrote exactly and only that which had been told him. Generally, this is envisioned as occurring while the man is in a quasi-trance. He adds nothing of himself to the text – though the Spirit may inspire a certain likeness to the man, this is from God alone and not from the man himself.
While it is true that a certain form of the “verbal dictation” theory has been put forward by some of the greatest Catholic theologians of our venerable tradition, we must insist that they never understood this in the more radical (and modern) form of negating the active and positive participation of the human authors in the writing of Scripture.
While the idea of a trance-like “verbal dictation” does not seem (at least to me) to be explicitly heretical, it certainly tends toward heresy and seems to be contrary to the teaching of the Church which is summarized well by the Second Council of the Vatican:
“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.” (Dei Verbum 11)
Causality and biblical inspiration
But the Church teaches that God is the true author of the Bible and that the men are also true authors of the Bible. God is the primary and principle author, but the individual inspired men are likewise true authors in whom God acted without negating their true role as causes.
Now, if we turn to our question: Who said I too have decided to write this account of the Gospel? Was it St. Luke or the Holy Spirit? We must answer that these word are properly ascribed both to St. Luke and to God. Not half to St. Luke and half to God, but wholly to St. Luke and wholly to God.
The Holy Spirit truly decided to write the Gospel according to St. Luke. And, likewise, St. Luke truly decided to write this book. The Holy Spirit chose what to include and the ordering of the narrative, and St. Luke also decided what to include and the ordering of the narrative.
And it is most important to affirm that the whole book is wholly of the Holy Spirit, and that the whole book is wholly of St. Luke – so that there is not a single word or even a part of a word which is not wholly the production of both St. Luke and the Holy Spirit.
God is the primary author, but St. Luke is the secondary author. God is the primary cause, but St. Luke is the secondary cause. Thus, God is truly the author and the cause, while St. Luke is also truly the author and the cause.
Thus, because every word is truly the word of God, the books of Scripture must be wholly without error – and it is a grave error to claim that only those things which pertain to salvation are without error while there is error in the rest, since God did not inspire only those parts of the Bible which speak directly to salvation but rather he is the author of the whole of Scripture. This is why the Second Vatican Council teaches that
The human authors “consigned to writing whatever [God] wanted written, and no more.” (Dei Verbum 11)
Every word and only those words which the Holy Spirit desired to be recorded were written by St. Luke and the others. Not a single word or thought has been added to Scripture which was not inspired and authored by the Holy Spirit. And, since God can neither deceive nor be deceived, every word of the Bible must be wholly true – so long as we are careful to interpret Scripture according to the proper intention of the author (that is, the intention both of God and of the human authors).
For a more extended treatment of primary and secondary causality, especially as this relates to human free will, see our earlier article [here].
The Gospel according to St. Luke, as Luke’s work
To show just how right it is to assert that the human authors are true authors who add to the text their own unique “flavor” (according always to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), consider the following points:
1) Because St. Luke was more skilled in Greek than the other New Testament writers, and because he wrote his Gospel for persons who knew the Greek language well, his writings contain far and away the best and most eloquent Greek of all the New Testament books.
2) Because St. Luke had been a physician, he was particularly interested in showing the mercy of Christ as the divine Physician of souls. Hence, he alone records a number of events which highlight our Savior’s mercy:
The conversion of St. Mary Magdalene, of Zacchaeus, and of the thief on the Cross, and the appearance to the two Disciples at Emmaus; as well as the parables of the Pharisee and the publican, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, Lazarus and the rich man; et cetera.
3) Because St. Luke had himself been a convert to Judaism and wished to show that all salvation comes from the Jewish people through Christ, he both starts and ends his Gospel in the Jewish Temple.
4) Because St. Luke had been a close companion of St. Paul, the Holy Spirit chose him to write the Acts of the Apostles.
Thus, the Church teaches:
“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.” (Dei Verbum 12)
A helpful analogy: Christ and the Scriptures
Affirming both the divine authority and also the human cooperation in the writing of Scripture, the Second Vatican Council states:
“In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous ‘condescension’ of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, ‘that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our week human nature.’ (St. John Chrysostom)
“For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.” (Dei Verbum 13)

The Church makes this helpful analogy between Scripture and Jesus our Savior: The Lord is truly God and truly man, fully God and fully man; and Scripture is truly the word of God and truly the word of men, fully the word of God and fully the words of men.
Let us consider this analogy more carefully. While Jesus was upon the earth, everything we saw him do was down by one who is truly God and truly man.
God was born of the Virgin. And man who was adored by the angels, shepherd, and wise men.
God was hungry and tired. Man astonished the doctors of the Law in the temple.
God was baptized in the Jordan. Man worked miracles and raise the dead.
God died upon the Cross. Man rose and ascended to heaven.
God now intercedes in our behalf. Man now reigns at the right of the Father and will come again.
Now, those things our Savior did by virtue of his divinity, he yet did while being fully man. And those things accomplished by virtue of his humanity, he did while remaining fully God.
Hence, we can say that Mary is the Mother not merely of the Christ but even of God, and we affirm that it was not merely man who died upon the Cross but God the Son, the Author of life (cf. Acts 3:15).
By comparison, the Scriptures are always both the word of God and of man.
The word of man is without error. The word of God is in human languages. The word of man gives life to the soul and to the Church. The word of God is accommodated to the occasions of time and place.
Let us take the comparison yet further: Jesus is like unto us in all things but sin. In Scripture, the word of God is like unto human words in all things but error. And, precisely as our Savior could not have erred in any point (even as man) since he is Truth himself, neither can Scripture contain any error in any point whatever.
And, just as every act of Jesus in his humanity must be ascribed to the single person of God the Son (so that it is truly God who acts in and through his human nature), so too we affirm that “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit.” (Dei Verbum 11).
Still, as the human acts of Jesus were done in a particular time and place, so too the words of Scripture must be interpreted both according to the intention of God (manifest in the words) and to the intention of the human authors.

St. Luke, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

As always, thank you, Father.

HV Observer said...

How do we know that St. Luke was a convert to Judaism? He didn't directly come to Christ from paganism?

Maureen said...

It's a chalk thing!

Clinton R. said...


Your article also leads to the logical conclusion the Catholic Church is the true Church because how else besides the guidance of the Holy Spirit would anyone know which books were canonical and which were not?

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
thanks for your article on Biblical inspiration. But now, I can pose you a question that tortures me since at least a couple of years.
I was fascinated with the contents of a couple of Biblical historical books: Tobit and Judith. I found them very interesting but it seems to me that all (or almost all) Catholic scholars reject their historical core. They claim them to be midrash, yet we find them enlisted as historical books in our Scriptures. As a priest, you must obviously be aware of the difficultes of these books. I've tried to solve them as far as I could, of course maintaining as a given the fact that the original texts were inerrant, but I find it difficult to solve the contradictions in the Book of Judith, since those in the Book of Tobit are indeed very easy to overcome by comparation with other ancient translations of the same book. Now, am I authorized to believe Judith to be a midrash or a roman-à-clef inspired by the Maccabean uprise against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, yet fictionally set (on purpose) by the inspired author in the distant past, or should I try even more to look for some other traditional solution, such as Vigouroux's interpretation, identifying Nabuchodonosor with Ashurbanipal, which nevertheless admits some form of error or corruption in the names adopted by the author? And what about the literal meaning of Genesis 1-11, since the Magisterium itself in the Catechism argues for a large use of symbolical elements in those narratives which don't correspond to an historical/factual event? Does the choice of literary genre suffice to dismiss them as theological fables? I really can't accept such a position and I believe that historicity still plays a role even in the most symbolical accounts among the historical books.
Please, help me!

Marko Ivančičević said...

Maureen - a self-concious chalk. :)

Can verbal dictation, without a trance, but real audible dictation from God be thought as a form of inspiration at least for some parts of the Sacred Scripture? For example - the prophecies(and the Lord's word came to me, and the Lord said to me etc.)?

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