Skip to comments.Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier Lesson 11: Divine Revelation (Part 1)
Posted on 04/26/2006 10:13:52 AM PDT by MILESJESU
Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier
Lesson 11: Divine Revelation (Part 1)
[The class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Our Father.]
In this lesson, we are going to cover the topic of divine revelation, which is critically important. Naturally, when we think of divine revelation, we think of Sacred Scripture. So the first question we ask is: Who do the Scriptures reveal? If we are talking about revelation, the question is: Who or what is being revealed by this revelation? Of course, what we have in Sacred Scripture is the revelation of God Himself. In revealing God, as we saw in the first lesson, there is also a revelation to us of who we are, so we find out what Gods intention for humanity is as well. All of Scripture either leads up to Christ, is about Christ, or is a reflection on Christ. It is all about Jesus.
It is, of course, Jesus Himself Who revealed God to us.
He is the truth God is truth therefore, Jesus revealed the fullness of truth and promised the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We have everything at our disposal through Gods revelation to be able to know the truth.
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Lesson 11: Divine Revelation (Part 1)
[The class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Our Father.]
In this lesson, we are going to cover the topic of divine revelation, which is critically important. Naturally, when we think of divine revelation, we think of Sacred Scripture. So the first question we ask is: Who do the Scriptures reveal? If we are talking about revelation, the question is: Who or what is being revealed by this revelation? Of course, what we have in Sacred Scripture is the revelation of God Himself. In revealing God, as we saw in the first lesson, there is also a revelation to us of who we are, so we find out what Gods intention for humanity is as well. All of Scripture either leads up to Christ, is about Christ, or is a reflection on Christ. It is all about Jesus. It is, of course, Jesus Himself Who revealed God to us. He is the truth God is truth therefore, Jesus revealed the fullness of truth and promised the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We have everything at our disposal through Gods revelation to be able to know the truth.
In order to be able to understand this, we ask ourselves: How did Jesus reveal truth? If we are going to say that He revealed truth, how did He do it? By the way He lived and by what He taught. It is very simple: by words and by example. He taught us revelation in a particular, historical, and cultural context. If we are going to truly understand what the New Testament is about, it means we have to understand something about Jewish culture at the time. We also have to understand things about Jewish theology and the way the Jewish people would understand God. And in order to understand the Old Testament, not only do we need to have the theological grasp of things, but we also have to understand some of the cultural things that were going on at that time. Reading Scripture is not a simple task; there is an awful lot that goes into it.
We saw in the last lesson that the Church is the Mystical Person of Christ, and as such She never ceases to reflect upon what is in the Sacred Scriptures. The Church is constantly looking at this truth, meditating upon this truth, and revealing it anew to each generation in Her own words. That is what is known as Sacred Tradition. It is the Churchs continuing effort to reflect upon Scripture and state it anew for each generation. It is constantly presenting the same truth, but with deeper understanding, with new insights. It is not a new truth, but rather it is a more profound insight into the same truth. That happens constantly in our own lives. Those of you who have been married for many years can look at that. It does not matter how many years you have been married, every once in a while the light bulb goes on and you realize something about your spouse that you never realized before. It is not anything new; it is just a new insight for you. And you can love that person even more deeply and more profoundly because you know the person even better now with the new insight. That is the same thing here. We are able to love God even more because of the insights that come.
When we talk about tradition, we have to understand that the content of the tradition never changes because the content of tradition is the Word of God. However, the way that it is presented changes with the age and the culture. Again, it is the same truth; it is just a different presentation of it. For instance, think back to the first lesson when we talked about the Trinity and I pulled out those little blue plastic ice cube trays with the silicone ice cubes. I could not have done that fifty years ago because we did not have blue plastic ice cube trays and silicone. It is something that can be taught in our generation. It is the same truth; it is just a different way of presenting it. That is what tradition is really all about.
Each new statement of the Gospel then becomes a part of this tradition and it is used by the Church in Her reflection, but this is not done arbitrarily. It is not just grabbing at any kind of reflection on Scripture, because, as we all know, there are all kinds of unfortunate ideas that people have about what is in Scripture, so it has to be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guided the Church in writing the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church in proclaiming this revelation of God. The Holy Spirit also allows the Church to study revelation in order to develop the understanding of the truth that is presented within the Scriptures. The Scriptures are an endless gold mine, if you will. They just keep going deeper. Every time you read them, there is more because they are the Word of God. The first time you read the Scriptures, you are blown away by them, although certain areas of it like the Book of Leviticus with all the laws and so on you might find to be boring. After you have read through the Scriptures about five or six times, even the Book of Leviticus becomes exciting because now you have a context in which to read it. You have a deeper understanding of what is going on and why those laws are there. You can start seeing the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. All of these things start to come to life, and each time you read it there are new insights. There is more and more every single time. That is what the Church has been doing for two thousand years. The saints have been reflecting upon the Scriptures, they have been taking them to prayer, and they come up with new insights. Those new insights then are taken up by the saints of the next generation, and they take them to prayer and come up with further insights. It keeps going deeper and deeper.
We said that Our Lord revealed truth, that God is truth, and, of course, that Jesus is the revelation of the Father. In a technical sense, to reveal something is to make known what was previously hidden. Our English word revelation comes from the Latin word revelatio, and that is a translation of the Greek word apokalupsis. What that literally means is to unveil. Revelation and apocalypse are the exact same word. Sometimes the last book of the Bible will be called the Book of Revelation, and sometimes it will be called the Apocalypse, one is Latin and one is Greek. But it literally means to unveil, so it is like there is a veil over something and you are lifting the veil to reveal what is hidden underneath it.
When Christ taught us truth, He taught us things that are beyond the capacity of the human mind to know. For instance, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and grace are absolute truths, things that we will never be able to grasp fully, things that we could not have come to know on our own. But once God reveals them, then we can grasp them to some degree with our human reason, but we will never grasp them fully even in the next life. In revealing these absolute mysteries, the Lord also revealed other truths which can be known by human reason, for instance, the truth that God exists or the truth that the human soul is immortal. As we saw, Aristotle was able to prove the immortality of the human soul a couple of years before Our Lord even came to earth. So it is something that can be known and grasped by the human mind.
However, you do not have to be able to understand it all. My grandma certainly believed in the immortality of the human soul. She was not going to be able to argue about it philosophically and be able to demonstrate the immortality of the soul through philosophical reasoning, but she believed it. It is there in Scripture. And so you can deal with some of these things either way. What is in Scripture is truth, so you can reason to those things which are able to be reasoned to. Other things you are not going to be able to reason to; we simply have to accept them on faith. But even the things we can reason to, the effects of original sin make it very difficult for us to know these truths easily. Remember that sin darkens the mind and weakens the will. It makes it hard for us to be able to grasp the truth. This revelation, then, is necessary for us if we are going to know who we are created to be, because in revealing Himself, God tells us who we are since we are made in His image and likeness. Before we can truly know who we are created to be, we have to know Him Who created us, Who He is, and who He then created us to be in His image.
Revelation can be either public or private. Public revelation is everything that God intends for us to know for the sake of salvation, everything we need to know in order to get to heaven. These are the truths that are contained in Sacred Scripture and in sacred tradition. Private revelation, on the other hand, deals with those things that are revealed to private individuals in visions or locutions or something like that. Those can be of Jesus or Mary or one of the saints or an angel. Private revelation could also be a new insight you have into a particular passage of Scripture. You are reading Scripture, the light bulb goes on, and you say, Now I get it! I never noticed that before. That too is a private revelation. Jesus did not speak to you. You did not see anyone or hear anything, but there is a new insight there to be able to understand even more.
Private revelations are not necessary in order to be saved. There are authentic private revelations, but they are not necessary for salvation. Authentic private revelation is always from God, and it cannot contradict public revelation. That is one of the things the Church is always going to look at when investigating a proclaimed private revelation: Does it square with the teaching of the Church? If there is something that is not in line with the teaching of the Church, it is immediately thrown out. Obviously, since God is the Author of public revelation, He cannot contradict Himself, even in a private revelation. The one thing God cannot do is to make a logical contradiction, so there is no way He is going to contradict Himself. It is for the Church, as the Mystical Person of Christ, to determine the authenticity of a private revelation. It is not for us individually to determine what is right and what is wrong, which apparitions or locutions we can accept and which ones we do not. That is for the Church to determine ultimately. It is done slowly and it is done carefully out of respect for public revelation and Gods freedom to reveal Himself privately if He should so desire.
Now we live in a day and age where whether or not you are having visions or locutions has become a sort of litmus test. If you are not, you must be a nobody because everybody and their brother is having visions and locutions. Well, it is a bunch of nonsense. Every place you go now, they are claiming something. Jesus is appearing there; Our Lady is appearing over here; somebody else is appearing somewhere else. It is not Jesus and Mary. Some of them may be, but most of them are not. I can guarantee that. My suspicion is that over 90% of all the claimed apparitions and locutions are false. Part of it could just be one of these psychological things that if you want to see something badly enough you can conjure it up.
But the other side of it is the devil. If you want to have a vision, there is somebody who will be more than happy to provide one for you. You want all kinds of extraordinary phenomenon? He will take care of that. Why would you want that? We have everything right there in Scripture and in the teaching of the Church; we do not need all kinds of other stuff. Now things do happen. Our Lady has been appearing with far greater frequency in the last 150 years than ever before. Why? Because the streetlights are on and her kids are not home, so she is out looking for them. She is coming to call us back, just like a mom going out to call her kids home. That is what she is trying to do. But the devil is very shrewd and he knows that if he can get us running all over the place with all kinds of false apparitions that we are going to miss the real one. That is why he does this. So you have these things all over the place now, and you have people who are trying to read every apparition and locution that everybody claims to be having. If you started now, until the day you die you would not be able to read them all. But that is what the devil wants. He wants you to get whipped up into all these things.
I am not at all opposed to private revelation, but one thing that I always have to wonder is why somebody is willing to get on an airplane and fly to a place where the Mother of God appeared. Well, she appeared there; it is a good thing. I am not opposed to going there on a pilgrimage. But she is not there now. We will go and stand in the place where Mary was, but you know what? Jesus Who is God is in the Blessed Sacrament, and we pay Him little or no attention. We will get on an airplane and fly halfway across the world because some 150 years ago Our Lady came to this spot. Thanks be to God she did, but she is not God. God is present among us in the Blessed Sacrament, and where are we? You do not even have to get on an airplane to find Him. He is usually within a couple of miles of your house. All you need to do is find the nearest Catholic Church and the Lord is right there. It does not cost you a penny to go and be with Him. There are adoration chapels all over the place now, so you can go and be with Our Lord any time of the day or night absolutely free. That is something we want to think about. Again, if you want to go on a pilgrimage, I am all for it; but do not ignore Our Lord Who is truly present with us in the Eucharist in order to go to a place where He or His mother or an angel appeared, or these days with all of these apparitions that are not approved, where they might have appeared.
You have to be so careful with these things. The devil is not stupid enough to make it sound like it is completely fallacious. He is going to try to make it sound good. Remember that the best lie is nine parts truth and one part lie. That is what he does. He just tries to confuse people. Some of them are pretty obvious, but people are awfully gullible too. One of my favorites is Jesus of the Tortilla Shell. There was a woman down by the Mexican border making tortillas. You know how they get those little burn marks on them? Well, the burn marks looked like the face of Jesus on the back, so they wrapped it up in saran wrap and it went on tour in the southern United States! People lined up to see it. How stupid. Somebody actually bought a grilled cheese sandwich with a bite taken out of it on e-bay last year for I dont remember how many thousands of dollars because the toasted part looked like Our Lady! And someone was stupid enough to buy it. The woman who made the sandwich did not realize it looked like Our Lady on the back until after she had taken a bite out of it, so you could buy this stale, ten-year-old grilled cheese sandwich with burn marks that look like Our Lady on the back for thousands of dollars off of e-bay! How asinine. There was another woman who was selling something on e-bay out in San Diego, California. It was at Christmas time. She claimed that she was having problems with Christmas, complaining in the store about how she did not like the idea of Christmas and having to go shopping, etc. Then she got home and, by golly, there was Our Lady. She appeared in her apartment in the kitty litter box. Whatever the cat did in the box, all the stuff stuck together and it looked like Our Lady! So she was selling it on e-bay. I am dead serious. I cannot imagine that Our Lady would humiliate herself that way. She was the most humble person on the face of the earth, but kitty litter??? That is pretty ridiculous. Then there was the one down in New Mexico or Arizona (I cannot remember which). There was an alleged daily apparition of Our Lord that was appearing on a tree in this mans backyard. It was happening about the same time everyday. Soon people were trooping through this poor guys house, ripping up his backyard and trashing his house. After several weeks of this, he realized that the time of the apparition was changing slightly. It had to do with the reflection of the sun. He had a junk pile in his backyard with some chrome in it that was reflecting off the sun and up onto the tree, and it appeared like the face of Jesus on the tree. As soon as he moved the junk pile, Jesus did not show up anymore and neither did the people. I am sure he was grateful for that. This is the kind of goofiness that people are gullible enough to buy into.
We need to be very, very careful and we need to wait for the Church to make a determination about private revelation. Again, private revelation is not necessary for salvation. Even the private revelations that the Church has approved, you do not have to believe. You have to believe public revelation, but you do not have to believe in private revelation. I could personally say that I think it would be rather foolish not to believe in it; those would be things like Lourdes and Fatima and Guadalupe, places like that. But you do not have to believe if you do not want to because it is private revelation. The only person who needs to believe in a private revelation is the person who receives it, the one who saw or heard Our Lord or Our Lady or whomever. That is the only person in the world who has to believe it. When the Church says it is authentic, then She says that you can believe it, that it is worthy of belief. But She does not say that you have to. The only thing you have to believe is public revelation.
That said, let us look at public revelation. Public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, therefore, somewhere right around the beginning of the second century. From Scripture, an apostle seems to be anyone who saw Christ in the flesh and was graced with an appearance of the Risen Christ. Now one might wonder why God does not continue to reveal Himself publicly. The answer is right there in the first verse of the first chapter of Saint Pauls Letter to the Hebrews. It says: In many and various ways, God spoke of old to our fathers through the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God. Once we have seen and heard the fullness, there is not anything left to reveal. All that is left is to be able to understand more, but there is nothing more to reveal. It is just constantly going deeper into Christ.
If a letter written by Saint Paul was to be found at some point next year, and let us say that the archaeologists who unearthed it were able to demonstrate there was actual proof that it was a letter of Saint Paul, would that be considered part of Scripture, would that be part of divine revelation? The answer is no. It would not be divinely inspired because it would clearly not contain anything that was necessary for salvation; otherwise, God would not have allowed it to be lost for 20 centuries. We will also see in the next lesson the criteria the Church used in determining which books would be included in the canon of Scripture. We will see that something found more recently could not be part of Scripture.
Could each one of us acting independently discover the truth simply by examining public revelation? In other words, if we all picked up the Bible and read it, would we all come to the same conclusions? Would we understand and recognize the fullness of truth that is contained therein? No. All we have to do is look at all the divisions in Christianity. Almost all of them except two claim to be based upon the Bible. The Catholics and the Orthodox do not claim that they are based on the Bible; everybody else does and look at all the divisions. There are thousands of them all claiming different ideas of what the truth is. So there is no way that we would all come to know this on our own. The Church is necessary in order to come to know the fullness of truth contained in revelation. Christ is the revelation of God, and, therefore, revelation does not exist without the revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ. It is just that simple. Since the Church is Jesus Christ, the Church embodies revelation and She is necessary for us to come to know revelation.
Without the Church, neither Scripture nor tradition could accurately transmit revelation down to our own day. If the Church did not exist, there would be no guarantee that the truths revealed by Christ in Scripture and tradition would be able to be transmitted accurately. Each verse of Scripture could have hundreds of different meanings. So which interpretation did God intend? Well, the Church has to consider them all. The Church looks at the various possibilities that people put forward, and then as She considers it She determines which ones are appropriate and which are not, and then puts forward Her teaching. As we have seen, that is developed as time goes on.
Remember the old telephone game we played when we were little kids. If we started a secret over there and passed it around from person to person, by the time it got to the back of the room, it did not sound anything like when it started. Well, now think about billions of people over thousands of years. How is Scripture going to be accurately transmitted? How is the meaning of Scripture going to be maintained? There is no way. If that happened, that is, if we lost that meaning, then it would no longer be the revelation of Christ. It would just be personal interpretations of things, and Saint Peter tells us that there is no personal interpretation. It has to be beyond that. The Church is the embodiment of Christ; the Church is the Mystical Person of Christ; therefore, the Church stands as the assurance of the fullness of the revelation of Christ contained in Scripture and tradition. So we see that the Church is absolutely necessary for us to come to know revelation.
Jesus is the One Who is the teacher. He is the One Who is the interpreter of Sacred Scripture. All you have to do is look at Luke 24. There He is on the road to Emmaus, and He interprets for them every single passage of the Old Testament that refers to Him. That must have been quite a conversation to be able to see how all those passages referred to Him, because the whole Old Testament is ultimately about Him in one way or the other. Their hearts burned within them and they still did not get it. Is it not interesting that they did not get it until He broke the bread? They recognized Him in the Eucharist. They did not recognize Him even when He interpreted all the Scriptures for them. He said, How slow you are to believe, and showed them all the things that He fulfilled.
By the way, I think there are 350 specific prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Christ. Archbishop Fulton Sheen is the one who spoke of this and I do not know where he got this from, but the odds of all those prophecies being fulfilled in one person would be the equivalent of the number 1 over the number 84 followed by 126 zeros. Some of them are pretty easy. He had to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Well, there are thousands of men who have done that. But He had to be born of a virgin, and there is only one of those. He had to be born in Bethlehem. Again, there are lots of men who have been born in Bethlehem. He had to be crucified, and there is only one Jew we know of who was crucified, and that is Jesus.
There was a concordat between the Romans and the Jews by which the Romans could not punish a Jew. They had to turn the Jewish person over to the Jewish authorities; they could not do anything. The only Jewish person that we know of to be punished by the Romans was Jesus, which is why they were so brutal. They hated the Jews. The Jews could call them names and spit at them and throw rocks at them and so on, and the Romans could not do anything. They could arrest them, but then they had to turn them over to the Jewish authorities. Then all of a sudden you have this guy who is turned over to the Romans and they can do anything they want to him. They are going to take out all their aggression on him. We are also told in Scripture that the procurator was in town, and there was a whole battalion of soldiers that would travel with him. They took Jesus to the Antonia Fortress, which had a marching ground in the middle and porches on the second story and the first. So you have 2,000 Roman soldiers who hate the Jews and have not seen blood for a long time, and they have one guy that they are going to whip and scourge and beat. Think of the mob psychology that was going on. That is what happened to Our Lord.
Anyway, when Our Lord shows these disciples of His how all of these things that are spoken of in the Old Testament refer to Him, they still did not get it. They were clueless. We need to be able to understand these things. Yet look at us. Two thousand years later and we still do not get it! We need to be able to take what is in Scripture and bring it to prayer. We need to read it. That is why we need to know our Bible well. For some odd reason, Catholics do not think they need to read the Bible. Maybe it is because of all these people who call themselves Bible Christians. You know what? This is our book; this is a Catholic book. The Bible is part of Catholic tradition. It is interesting: All these people want to reject tradition and Scripture is part of tradition. The Bible came out of the Church; the Church did not come out of the Bible. We will see that in the next lesson. Again, we need to be able to know what is in there because the Scriptures reveal the truth. They are divine revelation. Saint Jerome said, Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. If you want to know Jesus, you need to know the Scriptures. They are a gold mine. They are so profound and so deep. You can keep reading them and reading them and you go deeper and deeper into them. You will never even come close to the end because they reveal God Who is infinite. It is all there, everything, to be able to see what has happened and what is going to happen.
The Church not only teaches the truths of revelation, but She also studies them. The fruit of these studies is called development. It is the development of dogma. The Church studies the revealed truths and then teaches them to the faithful. Through teaching and reflection, the Church comes to understand them in a deeper way and in a greater fullness. Then She teaches that greater understanding to the next generation, and continues Her reflection. We have seen that right along. This study is done by what is called the Magisterium of the Church. Magister means teacher in Latin. So the Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. There is not an office in Rome called The Teaching Office, but rather the teaching office is that which is held by the bishops in a particular way. These truths are studied by many throughout the world, and then the Church gleans the fruits of those studies and presents them for fuller understanding. It is also for the Church to decide which conclusions are valid and which are not. The faithful should always study the Faith. We need to study it, we need to know it, but we also need to check our conclusions against the teachings of those who have been entrusted with the prophetic office or the teaching office of Christ so that we do not get carried away.
For anybody who has been Catholic for a few years, think back to the 1970s when all of a sudden we had this movement of people who thought they had the Holy Spirit and became more Catholic than the Church. They had the truth because they had the Holy Spirit, and where are they now? They have all left the Church. The Holy Spirit, as Jesus said, was given to lead us into all truth. And Who is the truth? Jesus. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Holy Spirit is given to lead us into Christ. Yet these people, in order to find Jesus, left Him. So we need to be very careful to make sure we check our conclusions against the teaching of the Church, because it is not my opinion against your opinion against anybody elses opinion. The truth is objective and it is there for everyone, and it has been entrusted to the Church. What is the opinion of the Pope? That is not the question. The question is: What is the objective teaching of the Church? That is not somebodys opinion because the truth is a person. The truth is not a bunch of logical propositions. The truth is a person and it is the Person of Jesus Christ. The Church is the Mystical Person of Christ; therefore, we must always check against that person.
This development of revealed truths explains how the Church can continue to discover and teach revealed truths that had not previously been taught. The problem for many people is that if revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, how can the Church teach something that seems to be new? This comes up with teachings regarding things like the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, or the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, things like that. First of all, remember that these truths are not new. They were always contained in the revelation of Christ; they were just not clearly seen. The Churchs ongoing reflection on revelation led to the discovery of these truths. What we see then is that God did not simply give us everything at once, but rather He gave us a little bit with the promise of more to come. If it was all just there, it would not mean much to us and we would not work at it. Well, we need to.
Why didnt Jesus tell us plainly and in detail what He wanted revealed? The only thing we know that He wrote is when He wrote in the sand when the woman was caught in adultery. Beyond that, we are never told about anything else that He wrote. Nor did He command His apostles to write anything down. He sent them out to preach, but He did not say, Write. That was not what He came to do. He could have. He is God; He could have done whatever He wanted to. He could have sat down and wrote a book and said, Here, step by step, point by point, this is what I want you to know. He respected our dignity as human persons too much to do that. He desires that we make the truths of revelation our own through study and examination. We know how things are as human beings; if they are too easy, we tend to pay little attention to them. But the things that we really have to work at, those are the things that we hold to be very important. We appreciate them the most. And so the Lord is asking us to work hard at this.
Think about it. Let us say that you like chemistry. What if all the knowledge of the Periodic Table was infused into your brain, every possible combination of chemicals and so on that was there. How long do you think you would be interested in chemistry after that? You would not. There would be nothing more to discover. There would be nothing new; you would know it all. It would be boring. God knows that, so He simply gives us a little bit and promises that there is more. We keep going deeper and deeper into this, and God allows us then to be involved in the process of unfolding the truths that He revealed. Therefore, in a sense, He allows us to reveal God to ourselves. That is when it is going to mean the world to us. When the insights come, you are never going to forget them. You can be taught things in catechism class when you are a kid, and they go in one ear and out the other. But as an adult you are reading along and all of a sudden you see some point and the light bulb goes on and you say, Now I see it! You will never forget it for the rest of your life because the insight was your own. It was not somebody droning on at you, teaching you, even though it was the truth they were teaching, but you have made it your own now. There is a certain ownership that is there.
Let us look at Scripture specifically. Scripture is the Word of God, and as such it contains the fullness of the truth as God wanted to reveal it. We will never be able to understand Gods revelation completely because it is the revelation of God and God is infinite, so we are never going to grasp Him completely, which means that just as in heaven, so too even now with Scripture, there is always more. You will never come to the end. I need to give you a warning. If you go to the store and you want to find a book about Scripture, you can find literally thousands of them, and almost all of them are trash. They are not worth the paper they are written on. The difficulty is that you have to read them to find out if they are trash or not. So how do you know? Well, there are some good authors, not very many. You can ask questions. You can check with people who would know. If you are doing academic work, unfortunately you have to read all of that filth and be able to sift through it and decide which things are decent and which are not.
It is a pain to do Scripture work. It has become the study of the minutia, the tiniest little things. People write doctoral dissertations on the tiniest little things in Scripture. When you write a paper in Scripture, it is one of those things that are four lines, double-spaced, and the rest is all footnotes because that is where you do all the arguing: This guys wrong for this reason, and on and on. It is just a pain. The reason is because these people writing all of these books are not interested in presenting the truth of Scripture. What they are interested in is making a name for themselves. They have the new insight. They have the way of being able to understand Scripture. They have found the key to unlock it all. That is all they are interested in. It is not serving the Lord and it is not serving the Word; it is serving themselves and it is wrong. That is not what we are called to do. What we need to learn is what is called exegesis. Exegesis means to read out of. Instead, what happens with many is they practice what is called eisegesis, that is, reading into. They take the passages of Scripture, read into them, and make them say something they do not say. We need to read out of it. What is God trying to say to me? What does this mean in the context of Jesus Christ? That is what we have to understand with regard to Scripture.
I had a professor who was a brilliant man. He was not in good health, so I took him before I was really ready to take him, but I took him at that point because I figured it was the last class he would ever teach and it was. I remember one of the lessons he taught us. I was giving a presentation and said, These scholars say this and he stopped me and said, Dont call them scholars because most of them arent. Call them exegetes. He said that because so much of what is going in Scripture is not scholarship; it is just self-serving fluff. They write lots of words, but they say very little. So we need to look at the words of Scripture, not the words of all these exegetes who are trying to come up with some new theory about it.
If we do run across some difficulties, there are some helps that are available to us through textual analysis. We need to look at several areas. First of all, we need to consider the various literary forms that are used in Scripture. Then we need to talk about the transmission of the books of Scripture down to our own day, and then we need to talk about the problem of translation.
First of all, the literary forms. Each one of us recognizes different literary forms in our daily lives, and we adjust our reading appropriately. For instance, there are things like a newspaper, a business letter, a novel, and a legal brief. These are all different forms of writing. If you are going to read a fiction novel, you can blast through it pretty quickly. If you are going to sit down and read a legal brief, you have to read it very carefully word for word, and you have to go very slowly. In Scripture, we also have a variety of literary forms. The New Testament, for instance, contains Gospels, letters, a historical book (the Acts of the Apostles), and an apocalyptic book. The Old Testament has history books, law books, prophetic works, a prayer book (the Psalms), wisdom literature, all these different things that we are going to find within the Old Testament. The different forms have different purposes; therefore, they are read in a different way. However, all of them are the Word of God and they must be seen as such. No matter what the literary form might be, remember that it is all part of the Word of God.
What about the transmission of the texts? There are various ways of textual transmission. In many cases in both the Old and New Testaments, oral tradition preceded the written text. Even after being written, later authors and editors sometimes added to and edited the text. For instance, one of the theories is that there are four authors of the Pentateuch. I do not buy it myself, but they would look at it and say, There is one person who called God Yahweh, another person called God Elohim, then you have a priestly author, and then you have a separate author who wrote the Book of Deuteronomy. If you think about it, if one is going to call God Yahweh and another is going to call Him Elohim, then if somebody were to listen to what I am saying today, they would have to say, Here he said Lord and here he said, God, so that must be two different people because he is using two different words to describe the same person so clearly; it is two different people talking, as if the same person could not use two different terms to talk about the Lord. Again, you see the goofiness that gets in there. There are, however, three authors of the Book of Isaiah. It is pretty clear that one is pre-exilic, one is during exile, and one is afterward. You go through it and you can see that there are different things going on. Well, the transmission of the inspired texts includes all the work involved in the formation of the original texts, that is, the oral tradition, the written text, and the editing. In our society, we do not have a very good memory for a lot of things. But in the ancient world, the orators were able to remember immense amounts of things. They would go around and recite The Iliad and The Odyssey, for instance, by memory. Those books are a couple of inches thick, but they would repeat them by memory. There are pneumonic devices that are worked right into Scripture to help people to remember them, because they were passed down orally initially and then finally they were written down. All of what goes into the preparation of the original texts is part of what God was doing.
After the books were finished, copyists had a part in the transmission of the texts. That part is not inspired. You may have seen the old commercial where they had the monks in the scriptorium, that is, all the monks with their large tables sitting there writing out the Scriptures. Well, that is what they did. They did not have printing presses until the 16th century, so the monks would do that by hand. Before them, the rabbis would do that. When we are talking about divine inspiration, we are talking about the original text. We do not have the originals of any of the books in the Bible. In fact, we do not even have original copies of them. All we have are copies of copies, and sometimes copies of copies of copies of copies. And copyists make mistakes. Depending on which copy of the text they were using, various things would be incorporated into the text, certain mistakes or editorial comments, glosses, additions that might make it easier to read, syntactical corrections, all kinds of things.
Those of you who are old enough remember what it was like before we had computers. When I was a kid, I would write out a paper and then I would have to make it legible so the teacher would not write back to me. I would sit there with my one sheet on the left and try to write it out legibly on the right. I was copying off what I had written. Inevitably, I would either repeat a line or skip a line or skip a word or double a word, whatever it might be. That is what happens when you are copying these things. When you are doing it, especially in a language that you might not understand (some of them spoke Latin and were copying it into Hebrew and Greek, or they spoke a different language and were putting it into Latin), you are just copying words (or copying letters, if you do not even understand what the words are), so you make lots of mistakes and those things get incorporated when the next copyist picks up your copy and works your mistakes into it.
There were other things that happened. They would leave a little space along the edge in case they forgot a line so they would be able to add it in there. But sometimes these monks would be praying along as they were doing this, and they would come up with a neat idea and write it in there. Then the next one would come along and say, Oh, he skipped a line here, so he wrote along the edge. And then they would put it right in. For instance, you know how in the Protestant form of the Our Father, they get to the end and immediately say, For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever, amen. That was a gloss from an idea that some monk had who wrote it in the margin, praying the Our Father as he was going along. The next copyist came along and said, Oh, I see this; he missed a line here. Then the next copyist came along and it was already in there, so he copied it. If you look in the Bible today, they have removed it. It is not in any Protestant Bible, but that is how they learned on their mothers knee to pray the Our Father. That is the way it was handed down even though it is not there in Scripture. That is why the Church has a separation at Mass between those lines. There is nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it is not part of the Our Father. So you see how these things can work.
When scholars today try to reconstruct the text, they first look for the oldest manuscripts they can get their hands on, because there are fewer copies that preceded them. Then they have to compare the various texts and try to determine which is the most likely original reading. Of course, all of that has to be done in the original language. Scripture, if anybody is interested in studying it, is the most difficult degree you can get. You have to know seven languages in order to get a doctorate in Scripture. It is not easy. Yet it is just beautiful. They say reading a translation of Scripture is like shaking hands with a glove on. If you do not know the original language, you do not really get all of the little nuances that are in there. It is not that the translations are necessarily bad, but there is a lot more to it than what we are going to get because the translation is somebody elses idea of what that might be. You do not have all the possible varieties. If you know what the word is in Greek or Hebrew, you know that it could mean this or that. But you see the one word in English, and that is all we know. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye. We will continue to talk about Bible translations in the next lesson.
[End of Lesson 11]
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