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The Honest Truth Of The Sacred Scriptures

August 18, 2021 Featured Today No Comments

By JAMES MONTI

We live in a strange age — a very strange age, one getting stranger by the minute, so it seems. At the heart of this strangeness is an alienation from truth, an alienation from morality, an alienation even from what it means to be human, an alienation from God beyond anything previously witnessed since the time of Christ. One could wish this alienated culture had left the halls of Catholic higher education untainted, but we know all too well it is quite the opposite. So acute is the latter situation that Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Benjamin Wiker are able to say of the field of Scripture studies:
“It’s no exaggeration to say that (setting aside a few outlier colleges and universities like Franciscan University of Steubenville) the last place one should go to study the Bible as the inspired Word of God is a Biblical Studies department at a university. Indeed, that’s the first place to go to have one’s Christian faith destroyed” (The Decline and Fall of Sacred Scripture: How the Bible Became a Secular Book, Steubenville, OH, Emmaus Road, 2021, p. 4).
The implicit premise in so much of what calls itself “modern biblical scholarship” is that the Bible is more or less a book of Christian mythology — that just as other religions like Hinduism or the religions of ancient Egypt and Rome have had their myths, so too, Christianity has invented its own set of fantastic “stories” about its founder Jesus Christ, combining these with the old “myths” of Judaism.
Fortunately, there is a new generation of Catholic biblical scholars like Dr. Hahn who are very ably challenging and refuting the absurdities of radical “higher biblical criticism” and restoring a study of the Bible firmly rooted in the Church’s foundational profession of faith in the inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures as the inspired Word of God. What I would like to add to this is simply a reflection upon how even on a natural level of understanding, on the level of common sense, the Sacred Scriptures strike the reader in a particularly manifest manner as totally unscripted reality.
There are so many incidental details and unexpected turns of events in the Bible that just don’t fit the mold of tales of mythic heroes. This can be seen even in the Genesis narrative of the fall of man that so many skeptics are quick to label as quasi-fictional or worse. Gen. 3:8 records that when following their lethal sin of eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve heard the Lord walking in the garden, it was at a particular moment of the day with a characteristic feel to it, translated variously as “the cool of the day,” “the afternoon air,” or “the breezy part of the day.”
It’s a detail that most of us can identify with as something we ourselves have experienced — an enchanting moment toward the end of a warm, sunny summer day when a gentle, balmy, refreshing breeze sets in, softly rustling the trees. This is a detail that at first glance seems totally pointless to the purpose of the narrative. Yet it is far from pointless if in fact what we are reading is the narrative of a real event.
The unfathomable catastrophe that would fatally alter the subsequent fate of man has just taken place, and Adam and Eve know it. The raw guilt and shame they feel at this moment stand in stark and painful contrast to the pure and unsullied beauty of that time of day, a time of day that undoubtedly before their fall they would have cherished. When over the years that followed Adam and Eve would have recounted to their children and their children’s children their downfall in Eden, they would have told with melancholy how the Lord confronted them at that beautiful time of day they used to love.
That poignant little detail would have been handed down along with the rest of the Genesis narrative, from generation to generation, from father to son, until at last it was set down in writing by the inspired author of the Book of Genesis.
“Human interest” details abound across the Old Testament. In chapter twenty-one of the Book of Genesis, we are told that after Abraham sent away the servant woman Hagar and his illegitimate son borne by her, Ismael, when at length Hagar had run out of water, she placed her thirsting son at the base of a bush and then sat herself down across from him, but in such a way so as not to see him, as she could not bear to watch him die. We are then told that the little boy began to cry. This is all so vivid and true to life — a mother who can’t bear to watch her child suffer, the agonizing sound of a child whimpering — and it is in response to the latter, the pathetic crying of a child, that God intervenes, saving Hagar and her son with a well of water (Gen. 21:15-19).
The inspired authors of the Old Testament do not shy away from recording incidents that appear difficult to understand, as seemingly out of step with God’s numerous interventions on behalf of Israel. What particularly comes to mind is the catastrophic defeat of Israel by the Philistines near Ebenezer and Aphek (1 Samuel 4:3-11). Before the battle, we are told, the Israelites had welcomed with joy and faith the arrival in their midst of the Ark of the Covenant. Placing their trust in the thought that God would march with their army and lead them to victory over their enemy, they carried the Ark into battle with them. It seemed to be precisely the sort of pious act of faith and trust in the Lord that God wanted of them. Yet the inspired author goes on to tell that in this battle Israel suffered one of its very worst defeats ever, with the loss of thirty thousand men and of the Ark of the Covenant itself.
One would think that in the interest of preserving Israel’s faith in the Lord this shocking incident would have ended up on the cutting-room floor. Indeed, it is a common propaganda tactic during times of warfare to downplay military defeats in order to keep up morale. The only explanation yet again is that the inspired author is simply telling the truth of what actually happened with brutal honesty. For in point of fact, neither the people of Israel then nor the Church now has anything to fear from the truth.
The inspired narrators of the history of the children of Israel certainly do not paint a very flattering picture of themselves. The story of Israel’s Exodus from the land of Egypt doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending. Time and again the Israelites are depicted as griping against God and against Moses, hardly what one would expect if this story of a nation described as the “chosen people” of God were the work of a skilled composer of grand fictional epics. Rather, what we are encountering is an unflinching narrative of how real people with all their foibles and weakness acted and reacted to things they did not like or understand.
Then we come upon Israel’s ultimate military hero, King David. Is he presented as a flawless champion of justice? Far from it — instead, we are told in no uncertain terms and in excruciating detail how he committed both adultery and murder in a disgusting act of betrayal committed against one of his military officers as he himself was relaxing in the comfort of his own palace (2 Samuel 11:1-27).

The Honest Truth

The Gospels, two of which were written by the apostles themselves and the other two by close disciples of the apostles, most certainly cast the apostles in a very embarrassing light. What could be the motivation for doing this other than simply wanting to tell and record the honest truth about what our Lord said, did, and taught? There are moments when the apostles come across as brainless, childish, cowardly, and weak in faith. The four evangelists openly admit to all of this in the very course of striving to persuade the world that these apostles are nonetheless credible witnesses to the Resurrection of our Lord and to His public ministry.
In a manner reminiscent of the “cool of the day” detail in the Genesis narrative of the fall of Adam cited earlier, St. John in his Gospel is very specific about the moment when the Lord invited Him to come and follow Him: “. . . it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:39). Those who have experienced a powerful moment of conversion or the sudden discovery of a vocation in their lives can readily identify with John’s enshrinement of such a detail in his memories.
There are other poignant little details that John carefully records, as when he tells of our Lord “lifting up his eyes” to the sight of a vast multitude approaching Him, for whom He would subsequently multiply the five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:5). John must have been gazing upon the face of our Lord to have noticed this moment when Christ first caught sight of those coming to Him, a moment and an image that John must have engraved in his own heart and thought important enough to share in His narrative of the miracle. It is John’s way of reassuring us that what he relates in His Gospel he saw and witnessed with his own eyes.
Over the centuries, the Church from the time of the apostles onward has never put the Bible through a “radical makeover” to eliminate difficult-to-grasp or seemingly contradictory passages. Ironically it was the self-proclaimed “sola Scriptura” demagogues of the Protestant Reformation who in fact resorted to a cut-and-paste approach to the Scriptures, cutting whole books out of the Bible and contorting or ignoring the meaning of Bible passages that did not fit into their newly minted version of Christianity.
This outright honesty of the Bible is why over the last century and a half, those unwilling to accept its undiluted message have had to resort to undermining and even denying its veracity wholesale through the endless machinations of the “higher critical method” of Bible studies, leaving virtually nothing safe or certain.
The point of all we have said here is that skepticism toward the veracity of the Bible not only defies what we as baptized, professing Catholics believe to be certain as a matter of faith; it even defies common sense — something that so much of what passes for “contemporary biblical scholarship” sorely lacks.

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