How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian

The Problem of Divine Violence as Considered in Recent Curial Documents

The Seven Trumpets of Jericho, by James Tissot (1896-1902).

Introduction
If God exists, he is not the God of the Christian Bible.

At least this is the conclusion drawn by many prominent authors and cultural commentators in our society today.

The rise of agnosticism and atheism in contemporary culture cannot be traced merely to a single cause, but, certainly, one significant factor lies in a recent increase of interest in the Bible. Mind you, what I am talking about here is, not popular devotion, but, rather, the fashionable trend of calling attention to the deep discord that seems to exist between the God Christians preach and the God casual readers find, when they actually explore the Bible. Pick up Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem, or any number of similar titles, and there you will find the same basic conviction: you cannot read the Bible seriously and still be a Christian.

The recent barrage of attacks on the Bible in the media has elicited a series of responses from the Catholic Church, most recently, in the form of documents from the International Theological Commission (ITC) and Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC). Although I have authored a book-length treatment of this subject, 1 I have not yet had the occasion to comment on these particular texts which were published just last year. Seeing that neither I, nor hardly anyone else, has commented on these texts, I thought it appropriate to offer a survey of their principles. I am happy to say that these documents are fruitfully compatible with Vatican II’s Dei Verbum and Pope Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, and I think they contain a lot that can help pastors and the faithful better engage challenges to the Bible in our world today.

International Theological Commission: The Trinity and the Unity of Humanity
In the course of its 2014 document, the ITC develops three guidelines for reconciling difficult “dark passages” in the Old Testament. In particular, the document recalls the following thorny texts: the Flood (Gn 6); the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19); the death of the firstborn in Egypt, and the annihilation of Egypt’s army (Ex 7-13); the order to exterminate entire armies and cities during the conquest (Nm 21:1-13; Jos 6:21; 8:22-25; 1 Sm 15:3); and human sacrifices (Lv 20:2-5; 2 Kgs 16: 3; 21:6). The common denominator in these passages is that they seem to have God acting against his own nature by slaughtering men, women, and children, and commanding others to do the same. 2

First principle: The ITC calls upon Christians to admit that the Bible does, indeed, paint the picture of a God who performs violent deeds and commands violence. In other words, this troubling evaluation is not just the biased conclusion of agnostics and atheists. The commission recognizes the presence of “tensions, conflicts, even violent excesses” in the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. 3

Second principle: The ITC acknowledges the incompatibility of violence with the nature of God, such as we understand it through reason and revelation. That is to say, given what we know philosophically about God’s goodness, and about God’s love through revelation in Christ, it appears deeply problematic to claim that God would command humans to kill other humans—children, in particular. This accords with the thought of our emeritus pontiff, who famously argued that violence is against the nature of God, and the nature of the soul. 4

Third principle: The ITC wishes to impress upon us the necessity of interpreting the entire Old Testament in light of its gradual progression towards Jesus Christ. The document describes salvation history in the Old Testament in terms of an evolutionary dynamic (dinamica evolutiva). As part of this process, God purified the faith of ancient Israel gradually, over the centuries, through a reconfiguration of memory (riconfigurazione della memoria). As a result, not every sentence of the Old Testament gives us a perfect reflection of God’s own mind on a given matter. Thus, the ITC argues that divine revelation in the Old Testament must always be evaluated retrospectively from the vantage point we are privileged to have in Christ. 5

Pontifical Biblical Commission: The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture
Most significantly for our purposes, last year the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) also issued a document that bears directly upon our topic. The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture admirably executes the exegetical vision outlined in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum and Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, works upon which it amply draws, and which I highly recommend to those who have not had the occasion to read them before.

A sober recognition of the problem: To begin, the PBC unabashedly confronts the problems raised by modern biblical scholarship, and recognizes the threat they pose to Christian belief:

The whole value for the life and mission of the Church depends on their inspiration and truth. … Nevertheless, the truth present in the sacred texts is not always easily recognizable. At times, there are at least apparent contrasts between what is read in the biblical accounts, and the findings of the natural and historical sciences. These sciences appear to contradict what the biblical writings affirm and place their truth in doubt. 6

In saying this, the PBC is quite up front regarding the presence of “contradictions of a geographical, historical, and scientific nature, which are rather frequent in the Bible.” 7 But the commission insists that the only way out of these apparent contradictions is to be found by tackling them head-on: “(W)e cannot eliminate any passage from the narrative; the exegete must strive to find the significance of every phrase in the context of the narrative as a whole.” 8

Importance of ascertaining the author’s intention: In agreement with the ITC, the PBC exhorts interpreters to seek out the author’s intention underlying thorny biblical texts. But, here, the topic of intentionality is discussed in greater detail:

In the Bible, we encounter many and various themes. An attentive reading, however, shows that the primary and dominating theme is God and his salvific plan for human beings. The truth which we find in Sacred Scripture essentially concerns God and his relationship with his creatures. … To respond to the questions that arise in the interpretation of these difficult texts, it is necessary to study them carefully, taking into account the findings of the modern sciences and, simultaneously, the main theme of the texts, namely, God and his plan of salvation. Such an approach shows how the doubts raised against their truth and origin in God can be resolved. 9

In other words, addressing believers’ doubts concerning the truth of Scripture requires us to clarify that the essence or main theme (in other words, the guiding intention) of the Scriptures is to reveal God, and his plan for our salvation. All other, sometimes problematic, material within the canon must be viewed in light of this purpose. Closely echoing the Fathers’ hermeneutic of divine pedagogy, the document goes on to affirm that troublesome passages ultimately make sense only in light of their progression toward Jesus Christ: “The other definitions of God in the biblical writings are oriented toward the Word of God made man in Jesus Christ. This incarnate word becomes the key to their interpretation.” 10

Attention to Scripture’s multiform truth: Another crucial section from the PBC’s document bears the title “Multiform Truth.” Here the commission reminds us that the principle of unity within multiplicity has always been recognized by the Church. 11 Echoing the argument laid out in Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, here the commission observes that not all biblical authors convey the same message for the very reason that they lived in completely different epochs and cultural contexts:

The span of time encompassed by the literature of the Bible is, without doubt, very extensive, since it goes beyond a millennium; it necessarily reveals the legacy of concepts tied to a particular era, of opinions which are the fruit of experience or concerns characteristic of a particular epoch of the People of God. … The duty of the interpreter is to avoid a fundamentalist reading of Scripture so as to situate the various formulations of the sacred text in their historical context, according to the literary genres then in vogue. 12

The upshot of this principle is that certain Old Testament texts will reflect the culture in which they were written as much as they reflect God’s own mind about how we are to go about our moral lives. To be sure, salvation history “does not exist without a historical nucleus,” but that does not amount to requiring a “fundamentalist reading” wherein every deed of a biblical patriarch happened precisely as recorded and ought to be emulated today. 13 This important point is essential to get right, if the Christian is to have any hope of a serious engagement with modern biblical criticism. The reason for this is that historical-critical scholarship is unanimous in recognizing a diversity of voices within Scripture. A serious Bible student, who is also a believer, must find a way to acknowledge this diversity while seeing within it an expression of truth with an underlying unity that reflects the divine wisdom. Ironically, the agnostic and the fundamentalist concur in rejecting the coexistence of this truth with diversity, but the Catholic Church insists that the two belong together.

Application to the Bible’s “dark passages”: Applying these general principles to the issue of divine violence in the Old Testament, the PBC begins by acknowledging that certain features of Old Testament moral legislation were historically conditioned and, therefore, no longer applicable today without important modifications:

The whole literary presentation is especially problematic. … (T)o offer it as a program of nationalistic political conduct, justifying violence against other nations, is, in any case, decidedly blameworthy, because it distorts the meaning of the biblical message. …

In cases such as these, the reader of the Bible must, on the one hand, recognize the historical character of the biblical legislation, outdated by a better understanding of the procedures of justice more respectful of the inalienable rights of the person; on the other hand, the ancient prescriptions can, in any event, serve to point out the gravity of certain crimes which require appropriate measures to avoid the spread of evil. 14

Accordingly, the PBC condemns a rigid modern day application of the Old Testament’s seemingly “unbearably cruel” law codes concerning extermination (Dt 7:1; 20:16-18; Jos 6-12; 1 Sm 15), retaliation (Ex 21:24; Lv 24:20; Dt 19:21), flogging (Dt 25:103), mutilation (Dt 25:11-12), and the death penalty (Lv 20:1-27).

At the same time, the commission does insist that value is to be found in these texts, insofar as they candidly expose the seriousness of certain sins. Thus, even if these texts remain far from the spirit of the New Testament, they are said to have paraenetic (exhortative) value for the generation to which they were addressed. 15 In other words, even if they did not get the punishments right, given what we know in hindsight today, the Old Testament people of God quite rightly understood the gravity of the crimes they were denouncing.

A case in point: thankfully, no orthodox Catholic today would follow Old Testament legislation that stipulated execution as a penalty for sodomy. However, the Catholic Church does continue to maintain the same core conviction underlying this Old Testament legislation, namely, that sodomy constitutes a serious offense against God. In Jesus’ messianic fulfillment of the Old Testament law, certain time bound elements of the tradition were indeed changed (casuistic laws), whereas, the fundamental or core norms (apodictic laws) of the Old Testament were left in place by Christ. This is what the Church takes Jesus to mean when he says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Mt 5:17-18). 16

Approaching the problem from a quite different angle, the PBC next turns to literary genre in the attempt to explain how the Old Testament can attribute extreme violence to God. Concerning the case of Jericho’s destruction (Jos 6:20), the commission writes:

From the outset, it is necessary to recognize that these narratives do not have the characteristics of a historical account; in a real war, in fact, the walls of a city do not come crashing down at the sound of trumpets. 17

Likewise in the case of Deuteronomy:

(T)he norm in Deuteronomy, which prescribes the extermination of the Canaanites, takes written form at a moment in history when these populations were no longer identifiable in the land of Israel. One must, therefore, reconsider carefully the literary genre of these narrative traditions. 18

In other words, careful attention to the literary form and context of these texts reveals that they are not intending to provide us with a video camera account of what happened after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Indeed, the commission thus suggests that the brutal extermination of the Canaanites, so problematic in the eyes of many, is not so problematic after all—because it never actually happened! 19

Now the reader will probably—and quite understandably—object at this point: How can it be less problematic for us to say, that something the Bible describes as having happened, didn’t happen? How can the PBC say that the Bible is not intending to recount history here, when that is the plain sense of the text, and the way we have always read it? To this, the commission responds that this is not the way the Church has always read the text:

As the best interpreters of the patristic tradition had already suggested, the narratives of the conquest narrative should be seen as a sort of parable presenting characters of symbolic value; the law of extermination, for its part, requires a nonliteral interpretation, as in the case of the command of the Lord to cut off one’s hand or pluck out one’s eye. 20

What, then, is the content of the narrative-parable that tells of the conquest of the Promised Land, and the extermination of its inhabitants?

God certainly does not command them to commit an outrage which would be justified on religious grounds; he calls them to obey a duty of justice. … In this case also, therefore, the apparently violent action is to be interpreted as concern to remove evil, and, thus, to safeguard the common good. This literary trend is corrected by others. … For this reason, we must understand the entire event as a sort of symbol, analogous to what we read in certain Gospel parables of judgment. This story, we repeat, must, in any event, be integrated with other biblical passages which announce the compassion and forgiveness of God as the scope and goal of every historical action of the Lord of all the earth, as well as the model for just actions on the part of human beings. 21

According to the PBC, there is an important core message taught in the conquest narrative-parable: the “concern to remove evil, and, thus, to safeguard the common good.” 22 Yet, similar to what we saw above in the case of capital punishment, the particular means to achieve this end described here do not square with the fullness of moral understanding we now have in Christ. According to the commission, that is precisely why no Old Testament passage may be interpreted in isolation from the whole of Scripture, but, rather, must be situated along the path of salvation history that would eventually culminate in the revelation of God’s compassion and forgiveness in Christ.

One final example of the PBC’s appeal to literary genre can be seen in how it deals with the disconcertingly dark Psalm 137, whose author praises Israelites who would crush their enemies’ children against the rock:

The primary way to explain and accept the difficult expressions in the Psalms is that of understanding their literary genre. … The expressions used by the person who prays seem to dictate to God the way to act; but understood correctly, they speak only of the desire that evil may be destroyed, so that the humble may have life. … Progress is made in identifying the enemy when it is discovered that the enemy is, not merely the one who threatens the physical life or dignity of the person praying, but rather the one who threatens the person’s spiritual life. 23

Understood properly, then, the PBC says that the essential meaning of Psalm 137’s violent outburst is none other than the petition given us by Jesus himself: “Deliver us from evil.”

Conclusion
In drawing these reflections to a close, I would like to issue a caveat and then a couple of summary principles.

First, the caveat: As an exegete, I am not as quick as the PBC—or many Church Fathers for that matter—to dismiss the historicity of problematic Old Testament narratives. Though I do think that such a move is warranted in some cases, I am not convinced that all instances of divine violence in the Old Testament “require” a nonliteral interpretation. 24

On the contrary, the ITC and PBC give us important aids to prevent us from having to defend the indefensible, by denying a text’s historicity when there is no reason to suppose that the Bible has not faithfully recorded the substance of what actually happened. One such principle consists in the all-important endeavor of ascertaining the biblical text’s overarching intention, its core teaching, which remains valid today. In discerning this intention, we learn that it is no longer necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater as skeptics are eager to suggest: we need not deny that the Israelites really did some violent things in the past, yet, neither need we reject the Old Testament on that account.

Finally, this last text from the PBC concisely summarizes the most important principle to be followed scrupulously when grappling with the “dark passages” of the Bible:

As the revelation of God, so also the revelation of just human conduct reaches its fullness in Jesus. Just as we cannot find in every single biblical passage the full revelation of God, so too, we cannot find the perfect revelation of morality. Single passages of Scripture, therefore, must not be isolated or absolutized, but must be understood and evaluated in their relationship with the fullness of revelation in the person and work of Jesus, and in the framework of a canonical reading of Sacred Scripture. 25

Jesus Christ is, thus, the criterion by which we are to evaluate everything else in the Bible. It is only in union with him, and the history of divine revelation that led to him, that the Old Testament remains normative for us today. To be sure, this does not denigrate the divine inspiration of the Old Testament, but it does call us to refine our thinking about what this doctrine means. And if we follow the PBC and ITC on this, I think we will be much better positioned to confront the atheist who accuses our God of hate crimes, as well as the struggling believer who comes to us begging for an answer to his question, “How can I believe in the Bible and still be a Christian?” 26

  1. Matthew Ramage, Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013).
  2. International Theological Commission, God the Trinity and the Unity of Humanity, 26.
  3. Ibid., 24. Since there currently exists no official English text of this work, translations cited in this piece are mine.
  4. Benedict XVI, Address at the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006).
  5. ITC, God the Trinity and the Unity of Humanity, 27.
  6. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2014), xiii.
  7. Ibid., 163, 167.
  8. Ibid., 124.
  9. Ibid., xiv (emphasis added).
  10. Ibid. Fascinatingly, at this point the commission weighs in emphatically on the question of restricted or unrestricted biblical inerrancy: “It is obvious that these considerations do not resolve all the difficulties, but it is undeniable that Dei Verbum, with the expression ‘the truth … for the sake of our salvation’ restricts biblical truth to divine revelation which concerns God himself and the salvation of the human race.” Ibid., 125. It is not my purpose here to weigh in on this debate, but it is noteworthy that a document containing this claim received the nihil obstat of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  11. Ibid., 158.
  12. Ibid., 164-65.
  13. Ibid., 124.
  14. Ibid., 145-46. For more on historical conditioning in relation to doctrine, see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae, 5.
  15. Ibid., 125.
  16. For more on this distinction, see Benedict’s discussion in Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 123-25.
  17. PBC, The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture, 146. In attending to literary genre, the PBC is seeking to implement the following teaching from Vatican II: “To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to ‘literary forms.’ For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking, and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.” Dei Verbum, 12.
  18. Ibid.
  19. According to the majority of scholars, these troubling divine commands were written retrospectively in the seventh century, B.C., during a time when extensive military action against non-Israelite peoples within the land of Canaan could not have been seen as a viable option. If this is correct, then these troubling prescriptions were indeed parabolic in nature and never historically in effect—which is precisely what the PBC is suggesting here but in less detail.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid., 147-48.
  22. If the standard scholarly dating of these texts is correct, then within its original context, this vindictive language was crafted to address fears of a cultural and religious swamping of Jewish identity in the wake of the Babylonian exile several centuries after the narratives’ historical setting.
  23. Ibid., 148-50.
  24.  As I said above, I think that, in some cases, this nonliteral interpretation was indeed intended by the ancient biblical text, and is not just an imposition placed upon it by the Christian community, ancient or modern. For a helpful discussion of this, see R.W.L. Moberly, “Election and the Transformation of ḥērem,” in The Call of Abraham: Essays on the Election of Israel in Honor of Jon D. Levenson, eds. Gary A. Anderson and Joel S. Kaminski (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 67-98.
  25. PBC, The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture, 156.
  26. These concluding remarks are not merely my own. Scholars as different as Joseph Ratzinger and John Dominic Crossan have written similarly. See Ratzinger, “Farewell to the Devil?” in Dogma and Preaching (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 200; Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015), 35-36. The title for this piece is drawn from Crossan, who I might note approaches this problem from a different angle than I take here.
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, PhD About Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, PhD

Dr. Matthew Ramage is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He earned his MA from Franciscan University and his PhD from Ave Maria University. He is author of the book Dark Passages of the Bible: Engaging Scripture with Benedict XVI and Thomas Aquinas (2013, CUA Press).

Comments

  1. Feed the Hungry says:

    Dr. Ramage,

    I know you didn’t want to comment here on the PBC’s statement mentioned in footnote 10, but is there anyplace where you or someone else with similar views provides a response to the PBC’s take on inerrancy? And at what level of authority are we to recognize a PBC statement like this, especially with a nihil obstat from the CDF?

    Thank you.

    • Sure thing–thanks for the question. PBC and ITC decrees carry no magisterial authority, so a Catholic may disagree with them on any number of points (unless that point happens to be where they are reiterating already defined doctrine, of course). However, I like to remind folks that these are not just a bunch of random scholars, but those hand-selected by the Vatican to help pastors and the faithful tackle the important theological issues of the day. That said, personally I do not use the term “restricted inerrancy” to describe the phenomenon as the PBC document does. Rather, I follow Benedict XVI’s method whose two main hermeneutical tools are the concept of divine pedagogy and the importance of determining the essence or core of a given biblical text from its contingent or accidental dimension. I have an extensive chapter on this in my book Dark Passages of the Bible, but if you search around the web you’ll find other shorter articles where I address it as well. I also have another book hopefully forthcoming which specifically addresses the PBC decrees in more detail. God bless.

  2. Dr. Ramage,

    Thank you for your paper on this issue – the difficult “dark passages” of Scripture – and your reflections on the ITC and the PBC writings concerning them. Reflecting on my own encounters with “dark passages” and especially the response they cause in young readers, I remembered (many years ago now) my 14-year-old daughter’s troubled response to the divine test of Abraham’s faith: the sacrifice of Isaac.

    “How could God tell him to do that?” She wanted to know; she wanted to understand God – and it had become hard. “If God told you to sacrifice me,” she asked, deeply confused and troubled, “what would you do?”

    This example is a good one to consider, because it clearly transcends any easy academic diversions into different times, cultures, languages, literary forms or styles. The truth of it is not found, either, in a cold and formal theological essay that seems to explain away any internal conflict. The truth of it is plain and simple, and hard. Its resolution is also simple, but still hard, very hard: its answer is found in the darkness of faith. Did I hear Him correctly? Do I trust Him?

    • Thomas: I agree that the resolution really comes only through the obedience of faith. However, I take issue with dismissing a “cold and theological essay that seems to explain away any internal conflict.” Often times Catholics (theologians included) shy away from the “dark” passages of the Bible, but this is certainly not that the PBC, ITC, or Benedict XVI is doing. I’m not sure what the implication of your comment is, because it appears to dismiss the importance of reflecting theologically on these difficult problems and attempting to provide folks with an apologia for the faith. In short, this may not be what you are suggesting, but it is not sufficient to tell someone to just have faith even granted that faith really is paramount.

      • Dr. Ramage,
        Thank you for your response. Please know that I was not referring to your paper, in my negative comments, but to efforts by some to marginalize the supernatural, even in the field of theology! My impatience with over-intellectualizing – which I have seen too much of – among some academics may be showing. I certainly did not mean to disparage theology (not in general, nor yours in particular!) – faith seeking understanding – but what I termed “cold” – “cold theology,” constrained within the bounds of temporal experience and present reason – the science of theology gravely wounded by the “scientism” of this age. Lacking, in other words, in the assurance of faith in what cannot be seen.

        My work in catechesis has been devoted to helping adults, primarily, deepen in their understanding of God and His ways – I certainly have never told anyone to “just have faith”! But I do and will tell them that faith is essential, and foundational. If “understanding” is achieved independent of a foundation of holy faith, then that understanding is a house built on sand.

      • M Ramage says:

        Well stated and agreed, Thomas.

  3. bill bannon says:

    Dr. Ramage,
    Isn’t it true that after 1998’s ” Ad Tuendam Fidem” by St. Pope John Paul II, all members of the
    “International Theological Commission” and of the ” Pontifical Biblical Commission” had to take an oath within the Profession of Faith that they would subject their minds to Papal teaching even when it was not definitive…and that they were to do so simply and not with the several caveats of Lumen Gentium 25. That means that after Verbum Domini in 2010, they all had to agree with Pope Emeritus Benedict that the herem or massacres were not ordered by God. Benedict actually infers in section 42 VD that they were sins of men. But that means that Benedict did think that they happened whereas the ITC is saying they did not happen.
    Both Benedict and the ITC though are left with the worst massacre being predicted by Christ and not happening in the Old Testament at all but rather in 70 AD (1.1 million killed Josephus/ 600,000 killed Tacitus) which Christ sees as punishment not karma and He attributes suchu ishment to Jerusalem not knowing the hour of her visitation. Therefore Christ is seeing the Romans in 70 AD as the rod of God using Isaiah terminology from Isaiah 10:5…” Woe to the Assyrian, he is the rod and staff of my anger…
    (why woe?…because Assyria will not only attack the northern kingdom as ordered by God but will attack Judah et al )…vs.7 But he shall not take it so, and his heart shall not think so: but his heart shall be set to detroy, and to cut off nations not a few.”
    70 AD really happened historically and Christ predicted it….unless the ITC secretly thinks Christ didn’t predict that either. Fr. Raymond Brown was on the PBC under Saint Pope JPII and Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF and Fr. Brown didn’t think Mary said the Magnificat ( Birth of the Messiah,p.?345 or vicinity); didn’t think the slaughter of the innocents ever occurred and didn’t think the Holy Family fled into Egypt…very similar to the ITC not thinking the invasion of Canaan happened though Benedict did think it happened but was human sin. Evangelizing higher IQ people like the Japanese and Chinese and the Ivy League may well be obstructed until we are definite about what did or did not happen both in the OT and the NT and in 70 AD.

    • M Ramage says:

      Hopefully fortune, Bill. I too wish we had more concrete directions on what did and did not happen from the Vatican, but I am not going to hold my breath on that one ( Side of course from things that are in the creed)! I think to bring up 70 A.D. is important, but I do not think it is quite as directly problematic as those times in the Old Testament when God is said to have commanded slaughters, or done them himself. I agree with your reading of VD 42, and Benedict certainly thinks that these things happen (in contrast with the PBC). I have always tended towards Benedict on this matter, though I have run across some good arguments in favor of the PBC position. This book, for example, has a great chapter on it: http://smile.amazon.com/Call-Abraham-Election-Levenson-Christianity/dp/0268020434/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1437084979&sr=8-1&keywords=The+call+of+Abraham+levenson

  4. Martin B. Drew says:

    Dr. Ramage thank you for a beautiful paper on Sacred Scripture . Have you heard of Father Bruce Vawter, CM. who wrote extensive commentaries on all of Scripture . I have all of his works. They are worth reading . Also a perusal of the eight Wisdom books would help an agnostic or atheist to realize that God did not cause the two trials of Job,, but that Job did not become destructive or depressed but continued to worship God and his friends gave speeches that express the goodness of Job. Divine providence is not justified to prevent what happens to man even today ,eg hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, terminal illness, financial loss or gain. chronic illness. Yet adoring God with constant thanksgiving and recognizing Jesus at the breaking of the bread at every mass helps to see the wonderful saga and epic of the Hebrew scriptures as divine . The redactors assisted the inspired authors marvelously.

    • M Ramage says:

      Thanks for the author of recommendation, Martin. I love reading teaching the wisdom literature the reason you mention. It is such a great avenue for addressing those perennial questions. And easy to read book that I like in this regard is Peter kreeft’s three philosophies of life published by the Ignatius press. If you have not read it, I bet you would enjoy it if you enjoy the wisdom literature.

  5. Thanks for enlightenment on a difficult subject. Re: Abraham and Isaac, I was told in the early Sixties that human sacrifice was not uncommon in that culture and that this incident showed that God did not want it.

  6. It would not be irrelevant to add that in general many Protestants get confused about elements of the Law of Moses in the O.T. and apply these to Christians. There is no reason for us to get too tangled up in defending things we find in the O. T. The whole polemic of St. Paul against circumcision was really against the Law of Moses as still being obligatory. In Romans 7:6 (to cite one example), it clearly states: “But now we are released from the Law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter.” For example, in the O. T. worship was on Saturday and graven images were forbidden. Of course, with an invisible God, any graven image could not be an image of God, but as Jesus said, “He who sees me, sees the Father.” Thus, the law of grace also in this area is applicable rather than the Mosaic law. Thus the crucifix may be a violation of the the Law of Moses, but not the law of Christ. Thus, we also see the ancient Church changing the day of worship to Sunday. Now we are under the law of Love and should govern ourselves accordingly. Hence, there is no reason now for us to get too much involved in defending certain things we find in the O.T.

    Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/why-do-catholics82/#ixzz3i6t0uz4O

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