When the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland recently published their study book, The Gift of Scripture, it clarified for their adherents the issue of where they presume authority to reside. Would it be in the Bible, or something else?
This Catholic study book has been issued, along with a wide range of study guides, on the website of the Liturgy Office. Accompanying documents suggest to church deans (and the jurisdictions they administer) how to discuss the Bible; to priests how to preach it; and to laypeople how to use it in prayer.
So the contents of this study book are delivered with the full authority of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain. (In fact, the foreword was written by the two most senior Catholics in the UK-Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of Edinburgh.)
Biblical literalism and creation
This appears strange to those wedded to the concept of sola scriptura (the Bible alone). Even Catholic creationists, such as Fr David Becker, abhor evolution mainly because it constitutes a “departure from the Sacred Tradition of the Church”, rather than its opposition to Scripture. He rightly criticises theologians who imply that “no longer would Original Sin be an historic event, a real breach of holy obedience committed by two real people”, yet he places on the same level as his belief in creation that of “the infallibility of the Church and of the Pope.”1
An article in The Times of London by Ruth Gledhill about this study book 2 is accompanied on the newspaper’s website by a discussion. One posting, by an atheist, is particularly telling. Referring to the Gift of Scripture’s repudiation of biblical literalism and creationism, the atheist says: “Having been obliged at last to make these concessions, I wonder how much longer it will take for the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ and the resurrection also to be conceded as ‘symbolic’.”
Atheists even understand that the issue is one of authority. The issue is that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible and authoritative word of God. It is through the Bible that we should interpret our view of the world, rather than interpreting the Bible by our view of the world.
It is in that light that in this study guide, the Catholic bishops state: “We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision.” Why not? The atheist quoted above understands that a belief in Scripture should lead us to believe in such accuracy. It is precisely for this reason that such atheists delight in pointing out supposed scriptural inaccuracies to us. However, it is when we start from the submission of our worldview to God’s Word that such “inaccuracies” disappear.
For example, Ruth Gledhill reports that “the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be ‘historical’.” Yet this quote contains its own internal refutation. Starting from a belief that Genesis chapters one and two are true (as is the rest of the Bible), we find that the supposed “contradictory” creation accounts of these chapters are actually different angles on the same account, and are not in conflict at all. 3,4
Moreover, it is noteworthy that Jesus quotes from both chapters to make just the one argument (Mark 10:6-9), showing that Jesus believed both Genesis chapters one and two to be true and not in conflict with each other. Perhaps the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland elevate their own authority above that of Jesus.
The Bible and Copernicus?
Ruth Gledhill says that “the document shows how far the Catholic Church has come since the 17th century, when Galileo was condemned as a heretic for flouting a near-universal belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible by advocating the Copernican view of the solar system”. This is historically inaccurate. Another poster to the Times forum rightly states: “It is worth noting that in the countries where the Reformation had taken root, where the Bible was read more broadly by ordinary people, such ideas were embraced much more readily. Galileo didn’t threaten Biblical ideas, but the Platonic world view that the Roman Church was tied to at the time.”
The Gift of Scripture goes on to say that the gospel must be stated in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries.” Were Jude writing to them, he would have to say again: “
I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This gospel message is that all have sinned and that salvation can only be found in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although the authors of The Gift of Scripture state that “the Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation”, they do not understand that this must include a belief that the events recorded in Genesis chapter three are historical. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul strongly compares and contrasts the first Adam (that is, the Adam in Genesis) with the Last Adam (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ). For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul concludes: “
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive”, and in Romans 5, Paul argues his case by referring repeatedly to Adam, contrasting his disobedience with Jesus Christ’s obedience to death on the Cross. The arguments used by Paul in these two letters alone show that the events recorded in Genesis 3 must have been historical, otherwise salvation does not make sense.
Yet the bishops maintain that the whole point of the early chapters of Genesis was to provide religious teaching, rather than true history. They compare the early chapters of Genesis with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East.
In the book, Why I Believe in Creation, we have compared the Babylonian creation myths with the Genesis account of creation and have shown that “there is not a hint of myth in Genesis chapter one-no mythological gods, no mythological beings and no mythological underworlds”. 5 However, if the Genesis account of creation is a myth, then why should we accept moral teaching based on it-based on history which is incorrect? This is totally illogical.
On the Catholic diocese of Clifton’s website, Greg Watts supposes that “the Gift of Scripture will be welcomed by other Christians and will contribute to ecumenical dialogue”. AiG does not welcome a publication that encourages disbelief in the Bible-and hence disbelief in the One who gave us the Bible.