A Dialogue: The Trustworthiness of Sacred Scripture

The dialogue here is an exchange between myself and Fr. Casey, who is a Catholic personality with a Youtube Channel called “Breaking in the Habit.” As many of the readers here know, as a trained historian, I thought the video was a generalized view on the historicity of the Exodus with dated talking points on the historicity of the Exodus. Many of the writers here know that I’ve studied Exodus in some detail, and quite frankly, we’re learning something new every year and the opinions on it are diverse. If Fr. Casey came to me as a historical consultant and pitched this video to me, I would have said, “No way, what you say could be outdated by tomorrow.”

There were many times I thought about commenting on the video about its historicity, but I took a different approach due to the sharpness of some of the replies that Fr. Casey made to his viewers: Here is an example of an exchange:

Screen Shot 2020-02-18 at 9.30.57 AM

To be fair, the response of the commenter wasn’t that tactful, but I wanted to show a comment that Fr. Casey’s reaction may be justified or not–you decide. However, this is just one of many, so I decided I wanted to defend some of those who expressed a more literal view of how things happened during the actual events of Exodus, because actually from a historical viewpoint, it’s still up in the air because discoveries are few in the region and one small thing unearthed could change the consensus immediately. After all, I would argue that the intention of the authorship of Exodus was to record history, which follows Dei Verbum 11 pronouncement on the matter, but what exactly does that mean–well, that causes the issues here that arise.

My reply:
@Breaking In The Habit I don’t think Pope Leo XIII or Pope St. Pius X would agree with your statement. The idea of limited inerrancy is a new development in Catholicism–its not binding on the faithful, so your detractors here are just as Catholic in understanding as you claim to be–have some humility. The PBC and Ratzinger have had to do mental gymnastics in an attempt to find a crack door from Proivdentissimus Deus and Praestantia Sacra Scripturae mainly by cherry-picking Pope Pius XII.

Fr. Casey reply: 
@Phillip Marshall Maybe they wouldn’t. But not everything they thought is authoritative teaching. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, however, is authoritative, and does agree with what I said.

My reply: 
@Breaking In The Habit I’m sorry, but it only does agree with you because it’s an ambiguous document. A statement “for the sake of salvation” doesn’t actually say anything because that statement was still true with theologians in say the 10th century.

First off, you keep speaking about Dei Verbum in means of authority, are you claiming that Vatican II is a Dogmatic Council? It was not. It didn’t make any Dogmatic pronouncements and it didn’t anathematize anything. So, nothing new expressed, may be expressed in a different way. I think a better argument could be made that Leo XIII’s language carried the weight of Papal authority; or better, yet, Pius XII’s in Humani Generis is filled with Papal authoritative language around paragraph 37. Far more clear and precise than Dei Verbum at any rate.

Second, Dei Verbum 11 is ambiguous like most of those documents of Vatican II with flowery language–it only discusses that people wrote with means afforded to them in the time and culture. Sure, that allows you to make your argument, but it doesn’t dismiss the other views expressed here. Anyone trained as a historian holds to some view of historicism; however, there’s disagreement on what that precisely means between historians. I’m trained, but everyone I know would give you a similar but different definition of what that term actually meant.

Instead of responding with sharp comments to your viewers–because they’re not necessarily wrong, Simply, acknowledge the disagreement and pray. Why do you need to be right on an open question?

I try to remember that Christ says that the greatest will be those that are like children. People here are expressing their faith to you and to the world. And that’s beautiful.

So, let’s take a look at the actual documents. I want to note that many times that Fr. Casey responded with sharp comments to viewers’ concerns he expressed the authority of Dei Verbum’s declaration on Sacred Scripture, but never actually quoted the document to express how his view of Exodus is the correct view and others are wrong.

The Money quote from Dei Verbum 11:

In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

The interesting that I pointed out to Fr. Casey, the most literal view wouldn’t be dismissed by this statement. The most literal view may be wrong; however, the phrase ‘for the sake of salvation’ is crafty to the degree that yes it does allow Fr. Casey to express limited inerrancy but it doesn’t dismiss former positions either. And that’s the supposed authority that grants Fr. Casey the ability to dismiss out of hand those who’ve expressed concern with his conclusion.

So, I mentioned two Popes and two of their documents that were written on the topic of Sacred Scripture and its inerrancy. The interesting aspect is that Fr. Casey dismisses both Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. Pius X as things they “thought.” Nonetheless, that’s not how Papal documents work in Catholic Magisterium and Fr. Casey would know it. For example, we’re being told by the Vatican, at this time, that Pope Francis’ most recent exhortation Querida Amazonia is a part of the Magisterium. The two documents that I mention one is an Encyclical Proivdentissimus Deus and the other is a Motu Propio Praestantia Sacra Scripturae that reiterates the teaching authority of Pope Leo XIII’s papal document Sacred Scripture.

The second thing to note is any Papal or Vatican document is the ‘authoritative’ language that surrounds a phrase. I haven’t studied the documents enough to see if there is any such language, nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind when reading documents that language matters. And if clear teaching language is used then it would need some form of abrogation. I’ll use Pope Pius XII’s Humani Generis as an example, please note the bold:

37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. 

The first document we’ll examine is Pope Leo XIII’s Proivdentissimus DeusThe document is a very stern warning and some of the points to which Fr. Casey is expressing by hiding behind some authority granted by Dei Verbum are found in these passages. I’d like every reader to keep in mind Fr. Casey’s reluctance of speaking about the Plagues or anything rather supernatural happening in the Exodus in the video while reading Pope Leo XIII’s warnings of such theological exegesis :

10. But first it must be clearly understood whom we have to oppose and contend against, and what are their tactics and their arms. In earlier times the contest was chiefly with those who, relying on private judgment and repudiating the divine traditions and teaching office of the Church, held the Scriptures to be the one source of revelation and the final appeal in matters of Faith. Now, we have to meet the Rationalists, true children and inheritors of the older heretics, who, trusting in their turn to their own way of thinking, have rejected even the scraps and remnants of Christian belief which had been handed down to them. They deny that there is any such thing as revelation or inspiration, or Holy Scripture at all; they see, instead, only the forgeries and the falsehoods of men; they set down the Scripture narratives as stupid fables and lying stories: the prophecies and the oracles of God are to them either predictions made up after the event or forecasts formed by the light of nature; the miracles and the wonders of God’s power are not what they are said to be, but the startling effects of natural law, or else mere tricks and myths; and the Apostolic Gospels and writings are not the work of the Apostles at all. These detestable errors, whereby they think they destroy the truth of the divine Books, are obtruded on the world as the peremptory pronouncements of a certain newly-invented “free science;” a science, however, which is so far from final that they are perpetually modifying and supplementing it. And there are some of them who, notwithstanding their impious opinions and utterances about God, and Christ, the Gospels and the rest of Holy Scripture, would faro be considered both theologians and Christians and men of the Gospel, and who attempt to disguise by such honourable names their rashness and their pride. To them we must add not a few professors of other sciences who approve their views and give them assistance, and are urged to attack the Bible by a similar intolerance of revelation. And it is deplorable to see these attacks growing every day more numerous and more severe. It is sometimes men of learning and judgment who are assailed; but these have little difficulty in defending themselves from evil consequences. The efforts and the arts of the enemy are chiefly directed against the more ignorant masses of the people. They diffuse their deadly poison by means of books, pamphlets, and newspapers; they spread it by addresses and by conversation; they are found everywhere; and they are in possession of numerous schools, taken by violence from the Church, in which, by ridicule and scurrilous jesting, they pervert the credulous and unformed minds of the young to the contempt of Holy Scripture.

17…There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the “higher criticism,” which pretends to judge of the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. It is clear, on the other hand, that in historical questions, such as the origin and the handing down of writings, the witness of history is of primary importance, and that historical investigation should be made with the utmost care; and that in this matter internal evidence is seldom of great value, except as confirmation. To look upon it in any other light will be to open the door to many evil consequences. It will make the enemies of religion much more bold and confident in attacking and mangling the Sacred Books; and this vaunted “higher criticism” will resolve itself into the reflection of the bias and the prejudice of the critics. It will not throw on the Scripture the light which is sought, or prove of any advantage to doctrine; it will only give rise to disagreement and dissension, those sure notes of error, which the critics in question so plentifully exhibit in their own persons; and seeing that most of them are tainted with false philosophy and rationalism, it must lead to the elimination from the sacred writings of all prophecy and miracle, and of everything else that is outside the natural order.

So, at this point, I’d ask the reader to review the statements found in Dei Verbum, paragraph 11 especially, and ask what exactly is more clear teaching on the matter of Sacred Scripture? I’d also like to point out that a document such Dei Verbum has to be read in the continuity of the traditional understanding of the teaching of the Catholic Church unless formally abrogated–which Dei Verbum or Vatican II (being a Pastoral council) did not abrogate prior teachings. Pope Pius X’s Motu Propio indicates that Pope Leo XIII’s teaching on Sacred Scripture is viewed as doctrinal (teaching) of the Church.

The next document to examine is Pope St. Pius X’s Motu Propio: Praestantia Sacra Scripturae, which I’ll note on the Vatican website is only translated in Latin and Italian. In the Motu Propio, Pope Pius X actually refers back to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical and this is important because it shows an authority of teaching on the subject within the office of the papacy. So, what we have here is a clear genus of teaching on Sacred Scripture:

Pope St. Pius X writes:

 

…Leo XIII, of immortal memory, after describing the dignity of Sacred Scripture and commending the study of it, set forth the laws which govern the proper study of the Holy Bible; and having proclaimed the divinity of these books against the errors and calumnies of the rationalists, he at the same time defended them against the false teachings of what is known as the higher criticism, which, as the Pontiff most wisely wrote, are clearly nothing but the commentaries of rationalism derived from a misuse of philology and kindred studies…

…let them exclude from sacred orders those young men who give the very faintest reason for doubt that they favor condemned doctrines and pernicious novelties. We exhort them also to take diligent care to put an end to those books and other writings, now growing exceedingly numerous, which contain opinions or tendencies of the kind condemned in the encyclical letters and decree above mentioned; let them see to it that these publications are removed from Catholic publishing houses, and especially from the hands of students and the clergy…

It’s pretty clear that from the above documents that these were not mere thoughts and opinions of these two popes expressed by Fr. Casey; however, were pronouncements on Sacred Scripture of the teaching office of the Pope. At this point, one can only make the argument that PBC has allowed a development of understanding post-Vatican II council as written quite extensively by Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Professor Matthew J. Ramage makes this argument in his book Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels which is a good book and even though Ramage falls on the side of limited inerrancy he understands that there is great tension from those two papal documents and continuity in Catholic teaching. Ramage’s book is intelligent and he knows he cannot simply say, “Dei Verbum, I’m right, I win.”

Timothy Flanders, a Catholic, has written a fairly good book titled Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics: A Beginner’s Guide to Reading the Scriptures for Spiritual Profit that explains the debate between inerrancy in Sacred Scripture and the limited inerrancy as a new development post-Vatican II. Flanders pointing out that Dei Verbum 11 left room for limited inerrancy of Sacred Scripture to keep into Catholic teaching:

“the original draft (Dei Verbum) left no room for question whereas the final draft opened the door to this error.

As a result of this, Limited Inerrancy was permitted to spread among the Catholic scholars.” (p. 224)

The interesting aspect of all of this is that the Pontificates of both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI would see that the interpretations of Dei Verbum and its supposed authority expressed by Fr. Casey had misled the Catholic faithful. Flanders mentions that instead of allowing natural law to guide morality, those ‘theologians’ expressed a desire to find what was underneath the Biblical text for true Christian morality. (p. 231) Flanders writes, “In the next year, the Pontifical Biblical Commission released a very large document in which Ratzinger admitted that the historical-critical method.” (p. 233)

Naturally, what I want to conclude here is that when it comes to Sacred Scripture is to approach the text with faith in our hearts and humility. I’d suggest that much of the errors stem from the radical change of philosophy of the mind being informed by the object rather than the object being manipulated by the desires of the mind. The humility we approach Sacred Scripture should allow the faithful to mold our lives to what has been Divinely Revealed to us by the Lord, our God.

9 thoughts on “A Dialogue: The Trustworthiness of Sacred Scripture

  1. Jock McSporran

    Phillip – ummm – sorry to say so, but after reading half of your post I feel the onset of a migraine.

    Could you give a layman’s summary of the main points? I’m not that interested in youtube (I only ever use it to listen to Arthur Schnabel) and I’m not that interested in the names of the characters involved and since I’m not a Catholic I’m not so interested in what various popes have written and what Vatican II documents say.

    I am dropping a comment below the line because I am interested in the various competing viewpoints of Exodus – which you clearly know something about.

    Clearly there are certain key things about Exodus that have to be true, or else the New Testament doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. For example – the miracle of the loaves and fishes found in all four gospels requires the manna `bread from heaven’ in Exodus to be a real event. The sign miracle being a necessary part of Jesus proving to be exactly who he claimed to be and the allusion to the Old Testament miracle being a necessary part of this.

    How about Exodus 32v10 and 11? Is this one of the points of dispute? If it is, then I’d say that you aren’t dealing with Christians.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice to hear from you Jock. I understanding that you’re not Catholic, and so the point of authority has no bearing in your mind. However, Fr. Casey’s video is a product of the development of a particular school of thought post-Vatican II council via VII document Dei Verbum. The Popes’ views on Sacred Scripture; however, I think most non-Catholic wouldn’t onject to but agree with the reasoning.

      Historically speaking, as you allude to with the manna, the Exodus naturally points toward the desert wanderings and Joshua. I think the story of Exodus has to also be viewed from the ending of Genesis with Joseph in Egypt.

      In Goshen, there has been quite a bit of archaeology that points toward a large Semetic peoples living in Egypt. The area in question Tell ed-Duba and much of the research and work done in the area has been done by an Austiran team led by Manfred Bietak who has spent 30 years digging in the area. Some work will refer to the exact area as Avaris. In Avaris, it was very heavily populated area with people from where you might ask? Palestine and Syria from the Middle Bronze age.

      Now, there’s a debate about the dating in the region altogether. The Consensus of scholarship at this points argue that these are part Hyksos rulers of Egypt that were eventually expelled by the Egyptians.

      Bietek though argues that there is difference of groups of Asiatics in the region. Sort of coming in phases. The first group in their burial customs had developed Egyptians costumes, where as, the later group was primarily Caanite. Bietek acknowledges a tension with these two groups of Asiatics in the region. Egyptologist David Rohl who has worked with Bietek in the area has proposed a new chronology for Egyptology; however, this chronology is minority and maybe only held by Rohl himself. At any rate, Rohl thinks that the first tomb of Biblical Joseph has been disovered in Egypt.

      One strong objection against the historicity of Exodus is the infancy narrative of Moses. Scholars argue that it’s too similar to that of Sargon. However, if properly examined the two narratives actually just have a few similarities. The more I’ve reflected on it, the more I find this objection to be lacking. For example, I can name three 9 year old boys whose mothers died and they end up becoming leaders: Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and John Paul II. Suppose, there’s a meltdown of civilization and the new historiains come across our forgetten time. If they used our logic, they’d dismiss the validity of Hamilton, Lincoln, and JP II only because their stories are too similiar.

      Fr. Casey brings up few Egyptian words; however, there’s a good indication in the text of Exodus of an understanding of Egyptian life. Recognized a basic by many scholars. There’s also a KEY settlement pattern found with all Levites having Egyptian names. It would be akin to in the United States knowing someone’s family came from Ireland by their last name being McDonald.

      Another point and this is where historicism does come in to play. You have to be weary of when numbers are used in all ancient documents. So, whereas, the number 600,000 may be written or 40 years. The author meant a history that was also very theological. Of course, with that being said, just because a text said David ruled for 40 years doesn’t mean he didn’t rule at all.

      What is interesting about the Manna is that Jesus says in John that it’s not heavenly bread. I remember coming across an article that talked about how a fungus grew in the desert that tasted sweet like honey that had an appearance of bread and you couldnt store it. I think something this is both historical and matches well with the words of Jesus in John’s gospel.

      I tried to write things generally over view, it gets a lot more detailed.

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      1. My bishop is a canon lawyer—Church law and a judicial lawyer (lawyer in the secular sense). He also is one who tends to be more orthodox in his Christianity. I don’t know if that’s related or a coincidence.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jock McSporran

    Hello Phillip,

    Thanks for the response – very interesting, with a lot of good content – and, from my point of view, much more interesting than the original post.

    Briefly (because it’s my son’s bath time – and then I’ll have to leave it for this evening). OK – I wasn’t aware of the archaeology and it does provide a missing link. When Bertrand Russell (in his History of Western Philosophy) suggested that the entire Old Testament was cooked up by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he was (of course) writing rubbish, but he was writing rubbish which couldn’t be (historically) refuted, because there really is very little evidence not only of Israel in Egypt, but even of Israel after they crossed the Jordan. This archaeology is new stuff and it does provide an important missing link.

    The Moses birth narrative is theologically important – again, the parallel between the slaughter of infants in Exodus with the slaughter ordered by Herod after the birth of Jesus. The parallels (again) quite clearly intentionally giving another proof that Jesus really was the Messiah.

    Yes – it doesn’t really matter what the Manna actually was, it came down from heaven to feed the people – and this allusion was all part of the proof that Jesus was who he said he was.

    I don’t think you have to bother with Fr Casey and his Dei Verbal Diarrhoeum (or whatever it is). The post and the subject matter is very interesting without that.

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  3. Nicholas

    Some of this authority material reminds me of jurisprudence. In the common law tradition there is an important distinction between a narrow ratio decidendi and a wide ratio decidendi.

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  4. Jock McSporran

    Phillip – one last (important) point before your post moves off the bottom of the page. When we’re considering the `trustworthiness’ of Scripture for historical events, we do have to keep in mind why, and what the important issue is.

    The important issue is (of course) the `once for all’ historical event, where God met human history `in the flesh’ at the lowest point in human history, `crucified under Pontius Pilate’. It is by the crucifixion that we know that our sins have been dealt with and by the resurrection we know that our sins have been forgiven (those of us who are `in Him’).

    So when there is an attack on the historical truth of events related in Scripture, it becomes an issue of vital importance when it attempts to undermine this.

    So when the infancy narrative of Moses is dismissed, you know that the `historians’ who are doing this are launching a blatant attack on the whole gospel; the parallel between the command to kill all the Hebrew children and the command from Herod to do exactly the same thing, described at the beginning of the gospels is all part of the proof that Jesus was who he said he was.

    So this is a vital issue.

    Some of the historical discussion does have a tendency to get bogged down in a lot of irrelevancies, so it’s important to keep the eye on the ball and distinguish the vital from the trivial.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course. And much of my work on the Exodus is stemmed at the denial of the historicity of the figure Moses.

      It’s presumed through too much of Scripture that Exodus is historical, so this is where Fr. Casey’s exegesis is dangerous.

      Jesus spoke of Moses as a historical figure. Moses was at the Mount of Transfiguration. The Passover is the foundation for sacrifice of the cross. The evidence around the historicity of Jesus—and even the Resurrection—is too strong. And I’m not saying that evidence will convince all people, but what I am saying it’s skeptics want to try to take on what they view as low hanging fruit.

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      1. Jock McSporran

        Actually – I may have been looking at this the wrong way round.
        I believe that Moses was a historical figure and I also believe the birth narrative about Moses.

        Why? Well, it is precisely because I believe the New Testament, I believe that Jesus was who he said he was and therefore I believe that Jesus met Moses at the Transfiguration.

        In other words, it is because Jesus fulfills the events that predicted him in the Old Testament narrative that I take these events in the Old Testament narrative as historical fact. Herod’s execution of all the children born at the time of Jesus is foretold in Jeremiah – and then we see the uncanny parallel with the edict against Hebrew children at the time of the birth of Moses.

        It is because of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5 000 that I believe that God really did give manna from heaven to Israel when they were wandering in the desert.

        So I think it works the other way around from what I suggested. Nowadays, we don’t start with the historical truth of Moses and use it to establish the historical truth of Jesus; we start with the Jesus narrative, look at how it was foretold (establishing that Jesus was who he said he was) and then we work back and conclude the historical truth of the pointers (such as the events of Exodus).

        However – I’d say that if Fr Casey (or indeed anybody else) tries suggesting that Exodus is not grounded in fact, they probably also think that the gospel, the crucifixion and resurrection isn’t grounded in historical fact either; if you start with the crucifixion and resurrection, I don’t see how you can fail to conclude that the events of Exodus are also historical fact.

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