Biblical Theology Bulletin Volume 42 Number 2 Pages 81-89 © The Author(s), 2012. Reprints and Permissions: http://www. DOI: 10.1177/0146107912441306

Further Reflections on Biblical Inspiration and Truth
Prosper Grech
Abstract The present article is a theological and, in some ways, a philosophical interpretation of neglected aspects of the traditional doctrine on the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. The essay carries forward a discourse on the same subject initiated in some articles of mine in Italian (see P . Grech 1985, 2005, 2010). It is addressed to colleagues in biblical studies who take inspiration seriously for a possible discussion on this topic, which has perplexed the minds of theologians throughout the centuries. Key words: language, revelation, scribes, truth, inspiration, spirit, canon formation.

efore proceeding to pinpoint biblical inspiration as such it is useful to consider it in a broader context and narrow it down within a series of concentric circles to understand its various relationships. This is what W. Dilthey calls Lebensäusserungen. Here and in the following paragraphs I am borrowing some philosophical analogies from the hermeneutical theories of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer, which I find helpful to clarify my thoughts on canon, revelation and inspiration.


The Birth of a Classic
The biblical books of both the Old and the New Testament are Christian classics. Every literate people or country has its own classics. A classic is a work that creates or broadens language, which it injects into the cultural mainstream and serves as a model for subsequent writers. By language it is not only lingua (latin)—tongue (English) that is meant, but all that which externalizes the culture of a certain race, ‘language.’ It can be a sculpture or painting, a symphony, social structure or a book. All these are manifestations of the character or forma mentis of a people; they are produced by specially talented men or women and often by real geniuses. Classics are

not proclaimed by an act of parliament; they are recognized as such by the multitude born into a linguistic mainstream, which provides a pre-understanding for their fuller comprehension. According to H.-G. Gadamer, in his classical work Wahrheit und Methode, the tradition or Wirkungsgeschichte of an ancient writing acts as pre-comprehension within the same stream of language. Classics are “canonized” by public acclamation, and this “canon” is proudly treasured as the patrimony of that country or people. It is difficult to enter into the workings of an artist’s mind; we must reckon with the input from his masters, his environment and his personal experiences, but at a certain moment these elements coalesce to spark off an intuition that has to be expressed and communicated. The artist or writer finds
Prosper Grech, S.T.D. (Gregorian University), S.S.Lic. (Biblical Institute, Rome). is Professor Emeritus at the Patristic Institute and PIB in Rome (e-mail: Co-founder and first President of the Augustinianum, he lectured at the Biblical Institute in Rome for over thirty years. His latest publications are Il messaggio biblico e la sua interpretazione (Bologna: EDB, 2005), An Outline of New Testament Spirituality (Eerdmans, 2011), and Signore insegnaci a pregare (Vatican, 2011).


The “truth” of a writing. oral legislation and of the Gospels themselves crys82 tallizes the tradition. In the case of Christian and Jewish classics. through history. “Further Reflections on Biblical Iinspiration and Truth” traditional language too narrow to express his thoughts. depends on the authenticity of the original intuition. Here however. are born orally and are later written down by others. The classical example is Caiphas’ condemnation of Jesus in John 11:49–50. which was put down in writing by their various schools. It is preferable to limit inspiration to the act of writing. Jeremiah’s letter in Jer 21: 1-14. 10: 4. God manifests himself in many ways: through his creation. to some other analogies that will lead us step by step to a better understanding. but he was inspired to write the tail end of Old Testament salvation history. Writing objectifies. these may comprise the Bible. The Old Testament prophets sometimes wrote. In DV 11 inspiration is confined to the books contained in the Catholic canon. In the wisdom literature we find collections of proverbs common to the Middle East. If we take the word “prophet” in its broadest possible sense. whether sacred or profane. it is subject to acquiring the paternity of the reader and is more atemporal. One cannot speak of “inspiration” apart from the Holy Scriptures. Very ancient writing becomes outdated in vocabulary and style. however. than by an outsider who reads them more critically but aseptically. speaks of divine revelation in the full Christian sense. There is a distinction between revelation and inspiration. but he claims to have a deeper experience of “the Holy” which he either writes down or preaches orally. to be superseded by future creative minds. the prophet too inherits his environmental input. Let us go back. the writing down of sagas. music and other means of communication. whether it corresponds in some way or other to reality (even in a novel). at other times they spoke the living word. then a new work of art is born to enrich the nation’s culture. though not always. metaphors. as did Josephus Flavius. 28. on the preciseness of how it is conceptualized in the author’s mind. makes use of ritual. and through the happenings of our . however. the Word made flesh. An oral delivery is usually more lively. Biblical Revelation These preliminary considerations were deemed necessary so as to place biblical inspiration in a broader context as well as to provide an analogy that can lead us further towards some kind of definition. that is. but he did not write anything. and the intuition is authentic. or “canons” better understood by those who read them within their own tradition.) The entire expression of his experience. and on the adequacy of its communication to its audience. The relationship between orality and writing has been the subject of many studies (see especially Ong). If the new language is successful. Sometimes words themselves speak over and above the intention of the writer. the Quran. it lives on its own. however. it needs broadening if it is to express rightly the original intuition. the Talmud. and world-view. which we consider the word of God. What is revelation? The traditional scholastic concept of revelation as some kind of truth dropping down from heaven is rather narrow. as words are illustrated by facial expression and gestures.Grech. and the writings about Buddha are all religious classics. They may sometimes coincide. The distinction is therefore valid. and is only intelligible through the common stream of human or ethnic experience. Dei Verbum defines it as God’s self-manifestation and the manifestation of his will through which. but selected and reinforced in their authority by inspiration. Many religious classics. as did the seer in the Book of Revelation (cf. and the Church Fathers. The Upanishads. to which it adds some interpretation. it is more impersonal. statues. Clement of Alexandria’s teaching about the Logos illuminating the Greeks as a preparation for the Gospel (cf. which serves them as a pre-understanding. The author of 2 Maccabees provides us with some historical research. Vatican II’s definition. Jesus Christ is the apex of God’s revelation. Redemptoris missio. Later writers or artists will take it as a model. However. moreover the speaker has the opportunity to correct misunderstandings on the spot. by means of Christ. 14:13). and this includes biblical books. and in the Holy Spirit we have access to the Father and participate in the divine nature (DV 2). The Synoptic Gospels collected the Jesus traditions and wrote them down as their own redactional theology through inspiration. Revelation and inspiration may coincide in one single author in various proportions: Paul himself wrote down the “mystery” of the call of the gentiles revealed to him. and Revelation 1:11. of course. One must keep in mind. What is true of literature in general is no less true of religious writings. we limit ourselves to speak of the founding classics—the books of the Old and New Testaments.

1) PG 53. perhaps also non-conceptual. It concerns experiences and concepts that transcend merely human capabilities. Heidegger’s etymology serves us in the case of God’s self-manifestation. but even to the individual author’s cultural and religious qualities.8 (hom 17. But we cannot establish this as a general rule. however. or a person’s sufferings. underlining. which is already a hermeneutic. Does the Spirit follow the whole process or 83 . Things are often more complex. The same thing can be said of responses to historical events or of one’s personal vicissitudes. but are these “cultural” and “religious” qualities totally independent of the Spirit? Jeremiah and Paul claim that they were called from their mother’s womb. however. In an audition. the moment of actual composition. God’s self-manifestation in re-velation is his own “truth”: a-letheia means un-veiling. as was Paul’s vision in the third heaven. It may have begun as a collection of traditions around a sanctuary or as an oracle pronounced by a prophet. later transmitted and reinterpreted by disciples.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 2 daily lives. On the other hand. others. but it is actually guided by the Spirit. glossed over by scribes. like the gift of tongues in Corinth. This is the later Heidegger’s contribution in Unterwegs zur Sprache: 37. These experiences elicit a response in an act of faith. even though it was imperfect. of course. God lowers himself not only to the human level of understanding. until it reached its “canonical form. A poet walking through a beautiful forest will capture its silent voice within his heart. the words are given directly. when he emerges from his hiddenness. A book of the Bible. in DV 13. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God was elicited by the Father. it can take place by means of visions or auditions—whether subjective or real—intuitions of the meaning of historical events. as in many psalms. When he does so the poet is lending his voice to the silent voice of being to share his experience with other men and women. the fundamental experience of the divine by a prophet may be called primary language. experience of God’s presence in acts of liberation and the sad plight of human existence. needed translation by other charismatics. 3.” which constitutes today’s authoritative text. which sparks off an intuition that pleads to be expressed in human language. given to the recipient of revelation himself or to others. may trigger them off. They ‘inspire’ him/her in a broad sense. Inspiration As already stated. of the OT especially. The response seems to be natural and spontaneous. That is. gratitude. It may occur in a variety of ways: as the recipients themselves in both Testaments testify. or confession. we speak of an inspired book. by means of the habitual literary genres of that people. prayer. So God’s selfmanifestation enters among us in many and various ways. We are dealing here with an analogy. It cannot. The recipient will then express it to himself in conceptual language. some experiences are ineffable. not always of the same intensity. has a long life. Jer 1:5. to acquire a global view of this charismatic phenomenon. Like that of the above mentioned poet. Gal 1:15). like the trumpets of war heard by Jeremiah (Jer 4: 19). as his subsequent upbraiding by Jesus testifies (Matt 16:17). Nor are we necessarily talking here of mystical experiences: a historical event. Would not the Spirit have “educated” them with his guidance throughout their lives. brings in Chrysostom’s doctrine of “condescension” (synkatabasis—In gen. Vatican II. for example. We prefer to extend the time of influence of the Holy Spirit. emergence from hiddenness. Through his linguistic response he becomes a “prophet” of nature. and even later through the sufferings they had to endure for the sake of their preaching? Was it not the Spirit who fortified them after their written testimony to endure sufferings and even death to provide further witness to the truth of their writings (Matt 10:20)? Further. until they reached that point of maturity to be capable of receiving his inspiration. to fix in writing the words or deeds of that revelation for contemporary and future generations. 134). be applied universally to biblical truth. another matter. At this moment the Spirit begins to guide and ends his guidance when the book is finished. He may even rise above this human experience to praise the greatness of the creator of such beauty. it is preferable to limit the term inspiration to that added charism. It is possible for the human mind to raise itself from these signs to acknowledge a Superior Being. Studies on inspiration usually limit themselves to the moment of writing. be it wonder. of course. as was John the Baptist (Isa 49:1. but always revealing a facet of his being to open our eyes to penetrate further into the mystery of his salvific design. and then address it to the congregation in either actions or words. Jewish and Christian revelation is. Inspiration is commonly limited to the moment a hagiographer puts pen to paper. repentance. Luke 1:15. and to respond by means of the language of cult.

diplomats. Recent studies (by.. Van der Toorn and P.Grech. archivists. and court advisers. CLXXI. through its handing down in written or oral form by the schools. Purdue. thus uniting their gifts of revelation and inspiration. e. the wisdom of the ancients. a. some prophets did write down their oracles. If. and reduce inspiration to its minimal denominator. in works that require little or no revelation. nothing can be more mistaken. as is said of Solomon in 3 Kings 4: 32–33 . 2). to its final product. Christianizing the rabbinic tradition. It should be obvious that the word “inspiration” in this broad sense. however. Their final products now belong to the relative canons of Jews and Christians.” Just as the Word incarnate took on a complete human nature and made it his own. qq. 171. it is in the minds of these wise scribes that the Holy Spirit completed his activity as Author of the sacred books. though it is the work of the Spirit. jurists. to constitute what is now the Pentateuch. as DV 13 and John 16:13 make clear.Th II-II. and this takes place through divine inspiration. parables and proverbs. In II-II. the Spirit pervades the mind. both guided by the Holy Spirit. yet contain something authoritative regarding our salvation. In Sirach 39 Ben Sirach. The Wirkungsgeschichte of a biblical book produces the Sacred Tradition of the Church as well as its interpretation. R. The scribes themselves were not unaware of their endowment with the Spirit. He concludes that “the Lord . is used in an analogical sense. heart. 110. and desires of the writer. 174. a. inspiration becomes the charism of scribes and wise men. As far as the Old Testament is concerned. This gift of discernment is also given to wise men in the case of truths that do not require a revelation. lists the activities of those who devote themselves to the study of the Law. This text is destined to accompany the Church along her history like the Rock that accompanied the Israelites during their march in the desert in rabbinic tradition. which constitute the high points of actual inspiration over and above the Spirit’s providential guidance during the formative process. . . but it exercises an influence on its faculties: the intellect and the will (STh II-I q. 5). Davies) on this category have brought out that scribes in the ancient Middle East were highly educated persons who acted as librarians. it is not an efficient cause. logical aspect of Wisdom literature see L. however. so were Mark and Luke.CLXXIV).” or would it not be more appropriate to classify it in a “wisdom” category? (On the theo84 We often imagine scribes to be mere copyists. constantly pouring its waters of wisdom to enlighten her way in history. At this point we can therefore say that inspiration. can such a work be classed as “prophecy. They will have ordered their material and inserted glosses in such a way that it conveyed a clear message to their contemporaries. St Thomas places prophecy within the category of grace. has a long afterlife subsequent to its publication. Thomas writes about inspiration in his questiones on prophecy (S. In the New Testament Matthew considers himself as a scribe (Matt 13:52). “Further Reflections on Biblical Iinspiration and Truth” is only the final product inspired? There are many points of intersection on the trajectories of the authors’ and the book’s evolution. if the Spirit had followed the process from prophetic revelation. K. of the motions of the soul to which it adheres. 3 Thomas writes: The second grade of prophecy occurs when one is enlightened interiorly to know things that are not above the limits of natural reason. and documents from the royal and temple archives. In 1 Corinthians 10:4 Paul interprets the Rock as Christ. G. partially written oracles. by analogy. As we said earlier. in which this activity reaches its distinctive moment. as did the author of Revelation. himself a scribe. In fact it is introduced by the words “God gave Solomon wisdom and much prudence. the prophecies. is that activity of the Holy Spirit which prepares an author or authors for the production of a written text. but a formal cause. in this broader view.) If this is so. sentiments. q.g. to encapsulate revelation. Like justness that renders a man just. Even a book. The prophet possesses a spirit of discernment to know with certainty whether or not a revelation comes from God (II-II q. it is most probably these scribes who put together the traditions. for example. Therefore. It is the same Spirit who inspired it who sounds the depth of the mysteries hidden in it. we distinguish revelation from inspiration. a. Prophets and Scribes St. the Deuteronomic history and the prophetic books as they stand.

thanksgiving. die in und durch den Weisen denkt. and desires of the writer. liegt aber in der Konsekuenz der Gesagten. The problem with these quotations is whether to write spirit with a small ‘s’ or a capital ‘S’—that is. we shall limit ourselves to inspiration in its pure form as described above. however. as already stated. was sie denkt.” This is said in retrospect. How is all this related to the above mentioned scribes? The category existed in Israel ever since there was a temple and a royal palace. In 24:33–34 Sirach confesses: “I will again pour out teaching like prophecy. Biblical wisdom is not confined to the intellect. the elevatio mentis is the absorbing of the mind by Wisdom. It is not only in biblical exegesis we find this difficulty. it is after the exile that their main biblical activity reaches its peak. Das wird zwar nicht so eindeutig gesagt. prophecy and wisdom are interrelated. the third Person of the Blessed Trinity.” And in Job 32:8. Hence the written text with all its imperfections. Paul distinguishes between the gifts of prophecy and the language of wisdom and understanding. The Book of Wisdom identifies wisdom with God’s Spirit: “For wisdom is a kindly spirit” (1:6). however. and adoration. It is not easy to discern when they are speaking of man’s spirit.) A further illustration of this interrelationship can be drawn from Michelangelo’s well known fresco in the Sistine Chapel of the creation of Adam. I. heart. denotes that divine power active in creation over and above human or natural possibilities. revelation as such can take place in many ways. and leave it to all future generations. petition. and prophecy are grouped together. We can easily imagine an “electric spark” filling the tiny gap that infuses God’s living breath into Adam and turns him into an animate being. in Origen’s especially (see M. We have also seen that in Job. 23. God descends and all but touches with his extended finger the extended forefinger of Adam’s inanimate body.” Biblical texts. We have seen that even St. Augustine (De doctrina cristiana. that makes for understanding” as opposed to mere human experiences. Just as the Word incarnate took on a complete human nature and made it his own. aufgrund seiner Begabung mit der Weisheit in der Gemeinschaft mit ihr das denden kann. Sirach and Wisdom (S)spirit. cultural and linguistic limits of the recipient. St. and the words they proffer to the people they simply attribute to God. The returned exiles and the new state 85 . He also says that prophecy (by which he sometimes means inspiration) is a gratia gratis data for the sake of the community that encompasses the whole soul so that it may conform itself to his way of thinking. 80) stressed the point that the final purpose of Scripture reading was love of God and neighbor—whoever reads but does not love has not understood anything. it is the spirit in a mortal. It recalls the Stoics’ Logos. dass nach dem Argumentationsduktus der Sap der Weise. penance. love. sentiments. These cry out to be spoken or written within the personal. Is it possible to say something about the dynamic relationship of the human spirit to the divine Spirit in the production of an inspired writing? Because. whose attributes are carefully enumerated in 7:22–27. this is “condescension. dass es geradezu die Weisheit selbst ist. CSEL vol. The psalms elicit praise. understanding. it exists even in the writings of the Fathers. “who spoke through the prophets. as he meditates on his mysteries” (39:7). or to the Holy Spirit as the transcendent endower of inspiration. Simonetti’s treatment in Monaci Castagno: 450–56. but the giver of both is the Spirit (1 Cor 12: 4–11). wonder. Observe that I have not labored for myself alone. Thomas acknowledges divine inspiration in matters that can be known by human reason alone to endow them with the authority of God’s word. But “who has learned counsel. If we limit ourselves to the Old Testament. The creed attributes prophesy to the Holy Spirit. Hans Hübner (1999) summarizes this interrelationship nicely in his comment on Wisdom 7: 22–30: Das Problem ist jedoch. In the New Testament. the Spirit pervades the mind. live. as the Spirit in the Old Testament and in some passages of the New. with ample bibliography). however. whether the author is referring to the spirit of man breathed into him by God. God’s Spirit. The wise man seeks to conform his whole personality to this creative design. and when of God’s. When Wisdom/Spirit envelops the human mind it “sparks off” intuitions and concepts to conform it to its own thought. Prophets experience this divine power. That is. In these texts we observe that wisdom. we read: “But truly. it leads a person to think. and act in accordance with the creative Wisdom of God which knows best his creative purpose and the order of creation. the breath of Shaddai. do not address only a person’s intellect. unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?” (9:17).B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 2 will direct his counsel and knowledge. in so far as it is God’s Spirit. but for all who seek wisdom.

” an activity over and above the Traditionsgeschichte through which the oracles and narrative had already gone. whence it was removed and replaced by the positive term Truth (Stakemeier: 154–58). non-contradiction with the rule of faith professed in baptism. chronological or otherwise. lastly. which they tried hard to explain away. So what would be the limitations of biblical truth? In the final text of DV 11 we read: Cum ergo omne id. historical. a minor kind of revelation. It is in this context that the text and the canon which began to proceed to their final stage are to be interpreted (see Davies 2002). its way of being written down and its place in this vast heterogeneous and seemingly haphazard anthology. meaning that it was received and read liturgically by all or most churches. however. It is well known that absolute monotheism in Israel was reached by a gradual process during a long process of ups and downs in Israelite religious thought and practice. universal public reading. That this adjectival clause refers to veritatem and to no . The cult in the new temple had to be restored and the attachment to the Land consolidated. ad erudiendum in iustitia: ut perfectus sit homo Dei ad omne opus bonum instructus” (2 Tim 3:16–17 gr). as the Galileo case demonstrates. the Bible is not interested in teaching astronomy. This is obviously not to say that if Isaiah or Jeremiah wrote down their pronouncements they were not inspired. fideliter et sine errore docere profitendi sunt. For differing opinions see the articles in Hahn & Scott. linguistic. theirs is what we now call “redactional theology. and its Weltanschauung. inde Scrip­­ turae libri veritatem. with some hesitation here and there. firmiter. ad arguendum. it is itself. antiquity.Grech. Inerrancy is a negative term meaning that Scripture could contain no error. the Christian community could recognize its own professed faith in them. Nor can absolute truth. While the Old Testament canon was completed and closed by the Jews at the beginning of the second Century AD. quam Deus nostrae salutis causa. one can say. we are here speaking. its heroes of the past.. Litteris Sacris consignari voluit. Theology needs inspiration if it is to be authoritative as God’s word. “Further Reflections on Biblical Iinspiration and Truth” that had been instituted under Persian rule needed consolidation. The clause quam Deus nostrae salutis causa. written documents. as it seals. but here we may talk of scribes only in the case of the evangelists and those who might have played a redactional part in the final text of the epistles. for which some kind of Constitution was indispensible. This was the Israelites’ main endeavor when they began to collect oral traditions. Litteris Sacris consignari voluit limits the extension of biblical truth. in the sense of a writing belonging to an apostle or to someone of his circle.g. or absolute truth: scientific. and discrepancies among the Synoptics. Each step forward required a re-reading of past history. the production of new writings and a re-interpretation of earlier ones. Mark 1:2). and the people needed self-definition both socially and religiously. we are dealing with scribes and wise men. This excluded many Gnostic works and others that appealed merely to popular legend (see Metzger 1987: 254-54). and various narratives transmitted from ancient times. The Fathers were already aware of certain contradictions in Scripture: the order of creation in Gen 1. The Truth of Scripture Text books and papal documents prior to Vatican II linked inspiration with inerrancy. inerrancy in an absolute sense cannot be maintained. Each and every part of this collection had its own purpose in its selection. not with prophets or apostles. the canon of the New Testament was only closed in the fourth or fifth Century. quod auctores inspirati seu hagiographi asserunt. Although one of the purposes of inspiration is the authentic preservation of revelation. A people is defined by its venerable history. The criteria of selection were apostolicity. as we said above. the latter being the consequence of the former. Both inerrancy and truth can be interpreted in an absolute sense of no possible error whatsoever. Itaque “omnis Scriptura divinitus inspirata et utilis ad docendum. it being the word of God. ad corripiendum. The writings of the New Testament are to be judged in an analogical way. prophetic oracles. It is at this point that the gift of the Spirit of wisdom is accorded to the scribes and wise men who completed the Old Testament. that is. attributions of quotations by the NT to the wrong prophet (e. our present twenty-seven books 86 as authoritative. mainly of those writings in which revelation does not totally coincide with inspiration. Therefore. The term persisted till the fourth draft of Dei Verbum. retineri debeat assertum a Spiritu Sancto. interprets and lends authority to the words of past authors and transmitters. Out of dozens of books circulating under the name of apostles the Christian communities retained. The scribes were not mere collectors.

in note 5. Oliver Twist never existed. 9. is not the whole book. sunt extranea a materia prophetiae (De veritate. ultimately. a moral treatise or an article in a paper for example. In this case it is narrative and rhetorical criticism together that will have to provide an answer to the exegete to understand how even such minute details serve a literary purpose.). ibid. which was considered inadequate as it could have meant that verses of Scripture that had no contents of faith were not inspired. and the wisdom genre. but if they were inserted into a definite context they must have been considered to have some rhetorical purpose—parenetic. 783). didactic. rearranged and perhaps completed it and inserted it into their new collection. It is true if it achieves this intention. That was about the Old Testament. This is the doctrine of Vatican II.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 2 other word was officially explained to Paul VI by the theological commission that inserted it. biblical texts are inspired in whole and in part. Why. some parts being inspired and others not. The limitation is qualitative. The truth of a lyric depends on the authenticity of the poet’s “inspiration”. 11:9). It had replaced an earlier insertion. proposes first of all the study of literary genres. is certainly transgressing his methodical limits. but each one of these has innumerable sub-genres. ad litt. but how can we discern the salvific meaning of individual passages? The Council. not by the facts it narrates. as a part of Scripture we consider it as inspired (see Burtchaell: 74ff. Every literary genre has its own way of being true. and the parts from the whole. There are therefore two ways of reading the Old Testament: one in itself and in its own historical and social context. but the whole canon. 20 and Ep 82. This broadens the canonical context and shifts the focal point. which is no longer the self-identity of the Jewish people. The focal point of both Testaments is now Christ.). this can hardly be said to contribute to our salvation. of course. In fact. which reminds us of Newman’s obiter dicta (Stakemeier. the supreme revelation of God. Were there pluralistic streams of thought among them? (See Gottwald: 514–90). In the Bible we usually distinguish the historical. That is. that is. The whole is explained from its parts. The modern exegete who reads every verse with reference to Christ. but by the genuineness of the original intuition that gave rise to it. God’s mystery cannot be encapsulated by the human mind into one totally coherent system. however diverse one genre may be from another..) The whole. is Scripture’s “condescension. Yet. 5. On the other hand. miracles. which. who wrote against the Gnostics who attributed the Old Testament to the Demiurge and extrapolated phrases from their context to insert them into their own Gnostic context. but are true only in so far as they mean to contribute to our salvation rather than to our historical or scientific curiosity. What purpose did it serve their contemporaries who were struggling to regain their selfconsciousness? Of course the hermeneutical circle comes immediately to mind. is a theological one. For a comment from the Catholic standpoint see Senecki. It must be asked why the post-exilic scribes chose a certain document from their archives. Old and New. This means that the old dispensation had not yet reached its final goal and looked forward to the fulfillment of its promises and hopes. A second criterion is canonical criticism. Scriptural inspiration does not proceed materially in dots and dashes. the other as related to the New. the truth of a novel is to be measured. Hübner and Gunneweg). as some of the Fathers did. wisdom sayings. 2. St Thomas himself had appealed to Augustine when he wrote: illa vero. however. The contributions of Childs and Sanders are well known. St Augustine’s De Gen. 12. quae ad salutem pertinere non possunt. etc. This too. veritas salutaris. He could have chosen some other genre to achieve his purpose. or narrative. but the Christian Bible is composed of both Testaments. to exclude an Old Testament reading in the light of the New Testament creates a hiatus between both dispensations that have the one God as their author and may lead to a Marcionite exclusiveness. as Job teaches us. but he decided that the novel form was more adequate for his purpose. the Council cites. but Dickens’s world was full of Oliver Twists whose plight the author wanted to make known. the fact that Tobit’s dog accompanied his master there and back on his journey (Tob 6:1. (This principle is as old as Irenaeus. q. The point was especially 87 .” Rhetorical criticism also comes into play. for example was Qoheleth placed alongside Sirach and Job and the Psalms? The discrepancy would have been obvious to the collectors. The Gospels contain parables. given the continual intertextuality within the New testament writings. Many verses are seemingly meaningless if taken by themselves. not quantitative. and each one of them has its own way of telling the truth. the prophetic. following Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (EB 557–62). (The question of the value of the Old Testament for Christians was radically revived by Bultmann (cf. If we take Newman’s example of obiter dicta. who is the truth.

” Because they are inspired. and bloody wars converge to convince the persecuted Christian communities that their adherence to Christ as the Lord of lords and King of kings will suffer no compromise. especially in apocalyptic literature (see Fishbane). therefore. In such circumstances. These will have been blown up in the course of oral narration to decisive wars and victories. The OT stories. openness to Hellenistic thought in Wisdom. Socially speaking. in spite of the fact that the possession of the Land formed part of Israel’s Credo. The Psalms too undergo this transposition and were recited by Jesus and his disciples without scruple. and skepticism in Qoheleth. encounter internal dissent. with the aid of rhetorical and narrative criticism. external menace and imposition. There certainly were skirmishes with the local inhabitants.” as is obvious in the New Testament book of Revelation. the wholesale importation of myths and proverbs from the surrounding cultures opened up a relationship with the gentiles that was far from the extermination of enemies in battle. various grades of openness toward non-Israelites. not “histories of Israel” but theological history. to the neglect of that worship due to Yahweh alone and fidelity to the covenant. mainly an exhortative one. This book. “Further Reflections on Biblical Iinspiration and Truth” stressed in the second century by Irenaeus. they communicate that truth which is necessary for our salvation. said to be ordered by God. with love as its central theme! If God is one. The writers of this period adopted various literary genres to indicate their perception of God’s will and purpose. The histories contained in the Old Testament—from the Deuteronomists onwards— are. Apocalyptic literature projects war and herem into an eschatological world-view. makes use of its numerous Old Testament allusions as tesserae to recompose a mosaic of the Pantocrator. not the Sore Points Whatever is to be said about Marcion. that we can call these narratives “the word of God. curses and prayers against individual and national enemies now tend to be transposed to a more general and abstract level. as already said. the post-exilic period offers a variety of facets.” This broadens and tones down the meaning of “enemy. the extermination of all the male inhabitants of a captured city—indeed. It was the Pharisaic attitude that scandalized Jesus. It is true that DV 15 acknowledges imperfections in the Old Testament.Grech. as said above. apocalyptic hopes in Zechariah and Daniel. in which all the traditional phrases of destruction. An apocalyptic view of history is the theology of the conflict between good and evil. have a rhetorical function. many Christians today feel a certain discomfort when reading the Old Testament. God’s “mighty deeds” recounted in this book would have acted as an exhortation for the exiles to return to his own Land. On the other hand the books of Jonah and Ruth. We already notice a spiritualization of history in Third Isaiah. The majority of the Jews still resided in Babylon and were reluctant to return. he is also the God of the Romans. apart from its being a key to the timeless formula to interpret contemporary happenings. in line with the exigencies of the day. and has the function of reinterpreting the whole of Old Testament history as well. And Revelation comes from John’s circle. Strict and exclusive monotheism became the ideal especially of post-exilic Judaism. vengeance. This is perhaps the reason why Joshua was not included in the Torah. therefore. Again we must ask ourselves what function the stories contained in the book of Joshua had when they were inserted in the canon in formation. often difficult to coordinate into an organic whole. Little by little they acquire an allegorical tinge. The matter must be considered according to the criteria listed above. It finds its model in the reinterpretation of laws in Deuteronomy and of historical narratives in both the Deuteronomic and the Chronicler’s history for the post-exilic community. They are addressed to hearers whose main sin was the compromising worship of false gods. but to say that these populations were ordered to be exterminated because of their sins is an oversimplification. A command by God in the past to exterminate every male in a conquered land now assumes a symbolic meaning to exhort to absolute monotheism without any compromise. as well as visions announcing the future. and as such were used by the Deuteronomists and later historians for the parenetic purpose of keeping the Jews from any religious compromise with the surrounding peoples. who is actually “the enemy”? Former threats. It is in this canonical context. The “Mosaic tribes” who wandered into Canaan joined kindred tribes already settled there. and if God is love his mercy will extend to them as well. The main difficulty is the herem. however. We 88 . God and Chaos—a “cry of the desperate. Today’s archeologists tend to consider the possession of the land as an infiltration rather than an invasion (see the articles on the settlement and the Judges’ period with ample bibliography in Meier & Chavalas). traditionalist attitudes.

Steubenville. IL: IVP. 1985. Gottwald. E. edited by P. & M. Spiteris.. 2010. Approccio canonico: Tra storia e teologia. 1960.” Pp. H. G. Die Konzils-Konstitution über die Göttliche Offenbarung. Gunneweg. and the various ways of history-writing in the ancient world. Paul’s Center of Biblical Studies. and Lot’s daughters are etiologies to explain the shameful origins of neighboring enemies. Monaci Castagno (ed.” Pp. 2005b. 2007. grown like a rolling snowball down ages of oral repetition and liturgical rites until it reached its actual literary form. Historical Books. Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. N. edited by Joannis Asimakis. P. 1978. Germany: Vanderhoek und Rurprecht. canonical. Die Weisheit Solomons. Downers Grove. 6: For the Sake of Our Salvation: The Truth and Humility of God’s Word. “Che significa ispirazione? Una visione globale. Paderborn. Italy: EDB. UK: SCM. A. Italy: Città Nuova. Sanders. 1966. Stakemeier. 1985. W. Unterwegs zur Sprache. epigraphy. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin. the exodus narrative is the literary outcome of a miraculous or providential founding experience of deliverance of the Mosaic tribes. Van der Toorn. 2007. vol. Truth for our salvation means that which the inspired author. London. is the correspondence between what actually happened and the historian’s presentation. Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration since 1810. 287–300 in Il messaggio biblico e la sua interpretazione. Italy: PUG. Grech. Gadamer. P. alla ricerca di un nuovo paradigma post-critico. Fishbane. far from being an obstacle to the faith of everyday Christians. KY: John Knox. 2005. “The Jewish Scriptural Canon in Cultural Perspective. Germany: Mohr. edited by L. Literary genres. Meier. On the other hand. Pfullingen: Neske. helped by archeology. Germany: Bonifacius. J.) 2010. Cambridge. no history of salvation without underlying facts or experiences. Senecki. The article is a revised translation into Italian of “The Language of Scripture and its Interpretation.” Pp. 2004. Göttingen. What “actually happened” is often difficult to know. 1998. 40–58 in Ermeneutica e teologia biblica. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. 85–90 in Donorum commutatio: Studi in onore di J. K. 250–72 in Kerygma und Dogma 30: 250–72. Italy: Borla. it is well to keep in mind that the Bible is not a history textbook. J. Purdue. A. “Rudolph Bultamnn und das Alte Testament. UK: Methuen. Chavalas. 277–86 in Il messaggio biblico e la sua interpretazione. Bologna.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 6 (1976). M. Davies. Louisville. ford. The progress in Scripture studies inaugurated by Pius XII and leading to the PBC’s 1993 document. H. particularly in the Gospels.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 2 wars in the Old Testament.). 1969. 1987. Still. “Ispirazione come saggezza. ATD Apokryphen Band 4. Philadelphia. M. “Saggio sul linguaggio della Scrittura e la sua interpretazione.” Pp. Italy: EDB. Heidegger. S. edited by P. McDonald & J. 2005a. studies on folklore. The deluge. 36–52 in The Canon Debate. M. M. UK: Clarendon Press. 1982. allowing ourselves a platitude. 1984. Historical truth. UK: Clarendon. Grech. Ox- 89 . R. Hübner. Louisville. Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. 2002. 161–76. rhetorical and narrative critical methods can explain other “shocking” episodes in the Old Testament. A. Analecta teologica 5. therefore. H. Origene: Dizionario. through his way of writing. Understanding the Old Testament. Cambridge. The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-literary Introduction.” Pp. Tessalonica. UK: Cambridge University Press. W. 1959. Bologna. Noah’s sons. 2000. philology. B. “‘Quid est veritas?’ Rivelazione e ispirazione: nuove prospettive. It is in this present literary form that we must seek the truth of the theology of salvation. Cambridge. A. & David Scott (eds. OH: St. Metzger. Dictionary of the Old Testament. Rome. There cannot be any Heilsgeschichte without Geschichte. T. there can be no digestion on an empty stomach! It is well to repeat here that it is far from the intention of the present writer to belittle the importance of historical facts. Wahrheit und Methode. Letter And Spirit. Ong. MA: Harvard University Press. helps them to acquire a deeper understanding of that biblical truth which is the backbone of their faith and to solve their understandable difficulties. MA: Hendrickson. London. KY: John Knox Press. (Rome. even though “Histories of Israel” are based on it.-G. but. Hahn. PA: Fortress Press. Works Cited Burtchaell. Development and Significance. wants the reader to understand regarding God’s saving design towards him. 1999. L. Oxford. Orality and Literacy. Tübingen. Wisdom Literature: A Theological History. Scott.” Pp. 1985. Grech. Rome.

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