For those subscribing by email, click here to see the video.
Often referred to as the “Word of God,” Sacred Scripture is foundation of our faith, offering insight to who we are before God and guidance for the future. The centerpiece of our liturgical worship and the backbone of all of our theology, it is difficult to escape its ever-present nature among us.
And you know what they say: familiarity breeds contempt.
As critical as it is for our faith and as surrounded with it as we are, sometimes we don’t take the time to step back and ask ourselves a simple question: where did the Bible actually come from? It may sound like a juvenile question—obviously it came from God—but I think it is among the most important questions we can ask ourselves, one that can determine a tremendous amount about how we actually read it.
Did the writings come to us all bound and edited, “signed, sealed, delivered” from God in its present form without any input from us?
Or maybe God literally spoke to a prophet who wrote down each text, word-for-word, making sure that everything was as God intended.
Or maybe… just maybe… God chose to work in and through the human experience, inspiring his people with the grace of heaven but entrusting the whole process to them. Maybe the people of God wrote about their experiences in their own words, prayerfully decided amongst themselves what was considered authoritative, and found the authority to interpret such texts within their own worshipping community because that was the only way that it could truly be authentic to our human experience.
As I’m sure you can guess, my thoughts are with the latter answer. The process of producing the Bible that we have today was a complicated and messy ordeal, one that took many centuries, and even today, remains somewhat unresolved. There were many authors, many revisions, many opinions, many disputes, many uses, and many interpretations over the years. Some of what we read is the result of hundreds of years of prayer, shared writing, and ongoing redaction, not as simple as it may seem.
And while some might find this troubling to their faith, beginning to believe that the Bible is nothing more than a really old human creation, I find the long and complicated process of organizing the Bible to be its greatest quality: God did not just give us a list of rules to follow from on high, he inspired us to be a part of every aspect of the process of creation, allowing us to express in our own words, decide for ourselves, and teach from authority about the things that God had revealed through us. The Bible does not find its authority in the fact that “God said so,” but in the worshipping community that experienced God first and so knows what to write down and how to understand it.
This video is a part of the Catholicism in Focus series, a series devoted to taking a deeper look at our faith to uncover the richness beneath. Each Monday I will post a new video on a topic of faith.
Excellent job. Very timely
Very good. I pretty much agree; not that it matters whether I do or not. My first encounter with the human element in scripture was going on 30 years ago when I was reading a book about the early church fathers; people like Polycarp, Origen, Iraneaus(spelled correctly?) and others. The story that blew me away in that book was on Herod’s death. In the book of Acts it is brief; something like ‘he was consumed by fire, eaten by worms and died before there eyes.’ Sounds like a fitting death for someone like him, and one I hate to admit, I’d like to see. It sounds like a scene out of a movie like Poltergeist; quick and frightening. But in reality, Herod got very sick. He had a lingering and high fever that lasted quite a few days; maybe more than a week. I wish I had the book I was reading back in 1988 but I believe he was pretty much just left in bed and maybe checked on once in a while; the party had to go on at his palace. His mind pretty much turned to toast as happens with lingering and high fevers-especially in those days with no real doctors to speak of. He lied in his own filth I imagine. Well bed sores and other types of sores and boils probably broke out all over his body after awhile as well. Keeping flies out was probably next to impossible; no screened windows in Herod’s day. And flies love to lay their eggs/larvae/whatever they are called on open sores so as to have something to feed on. It must have been quite a sight. So, ‘consumed by fire and eaten by worms’ is a VERY condensed summary of what actually happened. Maybe they were trying for an economy of words or were tired of writing. Or they were being ‘sarcastic’ considering who it was that died. But I agree with the human element in God’s plan.
How do we know what God said to Adam,when there was no one else there?
It is a strong indication–among other reasons–that we should not take such stories as literal historical accounts of events. Reading the first 12 chapters of Genesis we see a very distinct style of writing, known as “myth.” This does not mean that it is not true. Quite the contrary. In the religious and literary sense, myth is a story that shares truths about a people and culture, offers an explanation of how something came to be, and sets up a relationship with God. The fact that there are two different creation stories (Gen 1 and Gen 2) tell us that what we are supposed to take from it is not the specific dialogue, but that God loves his people, created out of nothing, intends something for us, etc.
Hope that helps. I will likely do a video on myth at some point in the future.