The relationship beween biblical scholarship and Catholic doctrine has frequently been tense in modern times, and often we see this trickled down to the Catholics in the pew. Many catechetical works as well as homilies emphasize the (dubious) findings of modern scholarship rather than the truths of our Faith found in Scripture. Nothing is worse, however, than the footnotes in most Bibles – they are almost exclusively focused on undercutting any traditional interpretation of the Bible and turning the authorship of the Biblical books into an alphabet soup of J, E, D, P and their crazy brother Q.
My own studies have shown that the more a scholarly theory is pushed as “settled,” the less likely it is to have any real basis in true scholarship. Most often theories are advanced that help promote preexisting ideologies, and any academic challenge to those theories is regarded as heresy and must be condemned immediately and loudly (the Two-Source Hypothesis is probably the best example of this).
But how does the average Catholic, who has little formal biblical training, traverse this minefield? How does Joe or Jane Faithful Catholic deal with apparently intelligent men claiming that the infancy narratives are myths, the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses and most of Jesus’ words were later inventions?
It is not always easy to discern how modern scholarship can be reconciled with the official teachings of the Church. It was widely reported a few years ago that most scholars doubt the historical nature of many passages in Scripture: “[M]ost U.S. Catholic scholars now generally view the Infancy narratives—the visit of the magi, the flight into Egypt, the massacre of the innocents-as religious legends created by the evangelists, or their sources, to convey theological truths about Christ”…The average Catholic wants to be well-informed and intelligent, but also to be faithful. From my own studies it is far from clear how the two positions can come together. It almost seems as though some biblical scholars are suffering from doctrinal amnesia…
I remember teaching seventh grade catechism several years ago. One night we were to discuss the Gospel of St. John. The teacher’s manual began, “Be sure to stress to the students that the Apostle John was not the author of the fourth Gospel.” Even if this were true-the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its findings of 1907, stated that St. John must be acknowledged as the author—this is not catechesis. Here is the tragedy: In St. John’s Gospel we have many wonderful teachings, including the most compelling explanation of the Eucharist (Jn. 6), the institution of the Sacrament of Confession (Jn. 20:23), some of the clearest teachings on the divinity of Christ (e.g., Jn.1:1-18; 8:58), and many profound passages found nowhere else. But all of these things were supposed to take a backseat, so that I could stress to the students that St. John did not write the Gospel of St. John. How does this help young people to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ and his Church? Even if it were true, it is relatively trivial.
The confusion seemed unnecessary to me. As a fallen-away Roman Catholic, it was by reading the Protestant Bible that I came to see that the true Bible Church was in fact the Church of the Bible: Roman Catholicism. As a recent “revert,” I quickly began to see that reading the Bible as a Catholic involved many apparent challenges and difficulties. I wanted to be faithful to the Church that I had rediscovered to be the mystical Body of Christ, but the “experts” seemed to be taking the Bible right out of my hands. Thank God for sacred Tradition and the Magisterium! The more I listened to the modern scholars, the more confused and frustrated I became. I decided to go to the source. By studying what the Church had said in her official documents, it became clear that it was her desire for all Catholics to be Bible Christians, and all Bible Christians to be Roman Catholics.
I have come to discover five basic principles which allow us lay people to read the Bible as Roman Catholics and maximize the profit we can gain from the sacred page. I will now share these principles with you, and then look at a couple of ways in which we might be able to begin our own personal study of the Word of God in Scripture, so that this “grand source of Catholic revelation [may] be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ” (Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, no. 2, 1893).
Be sure to read the whole article here.