My introductory Scripture classes this past year were fascinating and formative; they especially renewed my desire to understand how God continues to speak through Scripture. Dei Verbum §24 affirms, “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 [Scripture]. … so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology.”
It is certainly a testament to my professors, as well, that I often left class edified both in mind and spirit. We analyzed the texts, considered their origins and some general theories of redaction criticism and historicity … and we listened to the Word of God speaking to our hearts in the present.
Engaging in this beautiful balance of academia and the life of the faithful naturally prompted some classic questions regarding Scripture, particularly those about divine authorship and literary genres. How is Scripture the inspired Word of God if it is written by human hands and often bears clear traces of change over time? Once we admit it to be “teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (DV §11), how do we grapple with discrepancies both within the Bible (two different creation accounts, Gen 1-2) and between the Biblical portrayal and lived reality (see the same chapters from Genesis, and note that a Catholic priest developed the Big Bang theory)?
Pope Benedict XVI provides some insight in his foreword to Jesus of Nazareth, explaining that “the word gradually unfolds its inner potentialities already somehow present like seeds” as God directs, seeing as “any human utterance of a certain weight contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time” (xix). God’s hand is at work in the original written word, the various edits and the context of the canon.
The final form of Scripture is His Word. Dr. Nathan Eubank explained that the Gospel of Matthew in isolation is not Scripture, but the Gospel of Matthew set with the total 46 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the New is. Divine authorship can be tricky to accept, but it’s part and parcel of the Catholic faith. What kind of omnipotent God cannot preside over the development of Scripture?
To the detail of genre, St. Augustine writes, “there is nothing more pernicious than to take whatever is there literally, and nothing more wholesome than to let the truth be revealed by the spirit” (The Usefulness of Belief 9; cf. 2 Cor 3:6, 14). Dr. Anthony Pagliarini noted that in ancient studies, Genesis was one of the last texts taught because it is so complex. It is complex because its genre is not straightforward, literal history, though some historical fact is surely interspersed.
It’s difficult to parse out items you can place on a timeline from embellishments meant to communicate underlying truths about reality. The Old Testament is meant to “reveal to all men the knowledge of God and of man and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with men,” concurrently acknowledging that “truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic,” etc., and “in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way” (DV §12, 15). We must be attentive to this hiddenness and tune our ears to God’s subtle frequency.
God chose to reveal himself to us through Scripture, and the Church is our special guide – yet another gift to an undeserving people. Let us open wide our ears and hearts.