THE PENTATEUCH PART I: GENESIS
Beloved Heavenly Father,
In the unfolding events of salvation history, You have revealed Yourself to mankind. You have expressed through real time and historical events Your plan of salvation and Your desire that every human being should come to know You, to experience Your love, and to accept Your gift of salvation. Bless us Father as we study Your plan of salvation and redemption for humanity, a plan in which each of us has a role to fill and a journey to take, and in which the success or failure of our lives will be measured when we stand before Your throne of mercy and judgment. In the name the Most Holy Trinity: Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
The coming of
God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for
it over the centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals
and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant." He announces him
through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel.
Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 522
The Book of Genesis is the first of five parts which comprise what Scripture calls "The Book of Moses." The title "Genesis" is from the Greek meaning: "Beginning." It is the first movement in the great liturgical symphony of the written record of God's interaction with mankind. The "notes" of this "overture" are the divinely inspired words describing people and events which are meant as instruction for us, as St. Paul wrote concerning all of Old Testament Scripture: These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor 10:11). Join us in the study of the origins of man, his exercise and abuse of God's gift of free will, and the beginning of God's comprehensive plan for the salvation of humanity.
[All Bible quotes in this study are from the New Jerusalem Bible translation unless otherwise noted. In this study the initials CCC indicate that a quotation is from the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church.]
THE RELATED THEMES OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION
The Bible is one book. It is the Holy Spirit inspired written record of God's master plan for man's salvation. Beginning in the Old Testament with the opening chapters of Genesis and continuing to the last book of the New Testament (The Book of Revelation), God the Father reveals His desire to heal the broken relationship between Himself and man through the saving work of the promised Redeemer, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus revealed the definitive nature of God's divine plan in what we call the Old Testament when He told the Apostles and disciples after His Resurrection: This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled (Lk 24:44). Echoing Christ's teaching, the Catholic Church, in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, has defined the focus of all of salvation history as the mission of Jesus Christ in God's master plan for man's redemption: ...wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, He manifested Himself to our first parents from the very beginning. After the fall, He buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption (cf. Genesis 3:15); and He has never ceased to take care of the human race. For He wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-doing (cf. Romans 2:6-7). In his own time God called Abraham, and made him into a great nation (cf. Genesis 12:2). After the era of the patriarchs, He taught this nation, by Moses and the prophets, to recognize Him as the only living and true God, as a provident Father and just judge. He taught them, too, to look for the promised Savior. And so, throughout the ages, He prepared the way for the Gospel. After God had spoken many times and in various ways through the prophets, 'in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son' (Hebrews 1:1-2). For He sent his Son, the eternal Word who enlightens all men... (Pope Paul VI, Dei Verbum 3-4, 1965).
The Old Testament begins in Genesis with the creation of the cosmos and an account of the origin of life on earth. The account continues with the fall from grace of our original parents and the promise of a future Redeemer through the "seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15). The history of the early world in Genesis proceeds with the stories of the lives of numerous individuals in the record of the family line of the "promised seed" that is preserved in Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, Seth's descendant Noah, and Noah's descendant Abraham. It was through Abraham that God set apart a family, and from that family a people to worship and fellowship with Him. The narrative of events in Genesis comes to a climax in a second "creation" event in the book of Exodus. Reminiscent of the Creation event when God separated the land out from the sea of chaos (Gen 1:9-10), God separated the children of Israel out from the chaos of the pagan peoples of the earth. Then, in the Theophany at Sinai (Ex 19-24), God brought about the birth of the nation of Israel - a people born to be God's holy possession and His Bride, the Church of the Sinai Covenant. Just as God established Adam to serve and guard His Edenic Sanctuary (Gen 2:15), Israel is called to become a priestly nation (Ex 19:6) - the national family whose mission was to serve and guard God's earthly Sanctuary, to be a witness to the nations of the world of the One True God, to take possession of the "Promised Land" (Gen 15:18-21; Ex 23:31-33; Dt 11:24), and to be the people from whom the promised Messiah (Gen 3:15; Dt 18:18-19) was to be born.
But these are not isolated events and biographies. The themes of lost fellowship, judgment, promised redemption, restoration of fellowship and unity are repeated throughout the Bible's record of salvation history and reach their fulfillment in the last Bible book, the Book of Revelation. The Bible begins with the creation of heaven and earth, with a bridegroom, a bride, and a wedding, and the Bible ends in the Book of Revelation with a new creation, a bridegroom, a bride, and a wedding: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride dressed for her husband (Rev 21:1-2). Genesis records the marriage of our first parents and Revelation the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb! (Rev 19:9).
The important related themes from Genesis and Revelation play a prominent role in the Bible's record of Salvation History and show the importance of studying the Bible as one book:
|Comparisons Between the Themes of Genesis chapters 1-11 and Revelation chapters 12-22|
|1. The creation of heaven and earth||Genesis 1:1-2:4a||1. The creation of the new heaven and earth||Revelation 21:1-5|
|2. The Eden Sanctuary, the river that flowed out of Eden, and the Tree of Life||Genesis 2:4b-17||2. The Sanctuary of the New Jerusalem, the river that flowed from the New Jerusalem, and the Tree of Life||Revelation 21:9-22:2|
|3. The bridegroom (Adam), the bride (Eve) and the wedding of Adam and Eve||Genesis 2:18-25||3. The Bride = the Church, and her Bridegroom = Christ; the wedding of the Lamb||Revelation 19:5-9; 21:1-9|
|4. Satan and the woman, Eve||Genesis 3:1-13||4. Satan and "the Woman," the "new Eve"||Revelation 12:1-17|
|5. The curse||Genesis 3:14-19||5. The curse is abolished||Revelation 22:3|
|6. Death enters creation||Genesis 3:19||6. Death is destroyed||Revelation 20:14-15|
|7. Babylon built; judgment on the nations||
|7. Babylon destroyed; judgment on the nations||Revelation 14:6-20|
|8. The Redeemer is promised||Genesis 3:15||8. The victorious Redeemer reigns||Revelation 20:1-6; 21:22-27; 22:3-5|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
THE BOOK OF MOSES
Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Write this down in a book to commemorate it'... Exodus 17:14a
Moses put all Yahweh's words into writing... Exodus 24:4
Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Put these words in writing, for they are the terms of the covenant which I have made with you and with Israel.' Exodus 34:27
Jesus' testimony to the Jewish crowd concerning Moses: 'Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you. If you really believed him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?' John 5:45-47
The Bible must be studied in context: every verse studied in the context of every passage, every passage studied in the context of every Bible book, and every Bible book studied in the context of the whole of Sacred Scripture in accord with the Sacred Tradition passed down from Christ to His Church (1 Cor 15:3; 2 Tim 2:2; 2 Thes 2:15). The written record of God's master plan begins with the book in five parts which Sacred Scripture calls the "Book of Moses" or the "Book of the Law of Moses" (i.e., Josh 8:31; 2 Kg 14:6; 2 Chr 23:18; 25:4; 35:6, 12; Ezr 6:18; Neh 8:1; 13:1; Dan 9:13). "The Book of Moses" is the same title Jesus used for this single book in five parts that begins the written record of God's interaction with man (i.e., Mk 12:26; Lk 24:44). It is also called the Torah, meaning "teaching or instruction," by Jews and by Christians it is known as the Pentateuch, a term derived from the Greek word pentateuchos, which simply means "five-part book," a designation that became popular with Christians in the second century AD.
Scholars are uncertain as to when the "Book of Moses" came to be divided into five books. The Hebrew text was translated into Greek circa 250 BC. By the first century AD this Greek translation, known as the Septuagint, came to be the principle translation for an Old Covenant society that was as a whole no longer fluent in Hebrew. As for when the "Book of Moses" came to be divided into five separately titled books, the last Old Testament book added to the canon of the Septuagint was Sirach (Ecclesiasticus in Latin), which according to the text itself was composed about 190-180 BC and translated by the author's grandson circa 170-117 BC (see Sirach 1:1-35). In Sirach the Old Testament texts are described as "the Law itself, and the Prophecies, and the rest of the books" (Sirach 1:24-25), referring to "the Law (of Moses) as one book. However, by the first century AD the Jewish priest/historian Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 AD) and the Jewish philosopher and theologian Philo of Alexandria (50 – 100 AD) both referred to the five parts of the Book of the Law.1 As for when the five parts of the Book of Moses came to be known by the Christians as the Pentateuch, the evidence suggests that the Greek name "Pentateuch" (five-part book) for the divisions of the "Book of Moses" into five separately titled documents came into use in the second century AD. The oldest document to use the Greek term "ho pentateuchos" (the Pentateuch) is found in a letter written by Valentinian Ptolemaeus circa 160 AD, in which he refered to the Book of Moses as "the five-fifths of the law."2 The title is also found in the Latin, Pentateuchus, for the five Books of Moses, in the writings of the Roman lawyer turned Christian apologist Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD).3 From the time of the second century AD, it was common for Christians to refer to the Book of Moses as the Pentateuch, "the book in five parts."
Christians have come to think of the Pentateuch as a collection of the five separate books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy rather than a single book, but the Pentateuch was originally intended to be read as a single book. Prior to the birth of the New Covenant Church, the Old Covenant people of God studied the five part Pentateuch as one book, and Jesus and His disciples also viewed it as one book (Mt 8:4; Mk 12:26; Lk 16:31; 24:27; Jn 1:17; Acts 3:22). For example, Jesus testified that Moses gave the Old Covenant people the instructions on the rite of circumcision (Jn 7:23), an Old Covenant rite for which the requirements are given extensively only in Genesis 17:9. Jesus' statement indicates that He accepted Moses as the inspired writer of the whole of the Pentateuch. The references in Sacred Scripture clearly indicate that the five-part Pentateuch was considered to be one book:
Both tradition and Sacred Scripture support the premise that the original text of the Pentateuch was intended to be read and studied as a single book.
THE QUESTION OF THE AUTHORSHIP OF
THE BOOK OF MOSES
Jesus speaking to the Sadducees, referring to Exodus 3:6: Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? Mark 12:26
Usually when we speak of the authors of Sacred Scripture we are thinking of the individuals, the prophets and other holy men who wrote down the words of each of the books, but according to the text of Sacred Scripture these men may have been the human writers but it is God who is the author. St. Paul and St. Peter, both writers of Sacred Scripture, testified to this belief:
That God is the author of the Bible has always been the position of the Catholic Church - the Bible being both human and divine in its origins, just as Jesus Christ, the Living Word, is Himself both human and divine. The Catholic Church affirms this 2,000 year teaching in the Universal Catechism: God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." "For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #105; also see Jn 20:31; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21; 3:15-16). That God is the author of Sacred Scripture was the belief of both Jewish (Old Testament) and Christian scholars until the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century when the Bible began to be studied simply as literature devoid of any divine connection. In the 19th century new theories were introduced that reduced the record of Sacred Scripture to different strands of oral stories handed down through generations and altered by the editing by numerous nameless redactors.
In the history of both Jewish and Christian tradition, and for most of the Judeo-Christian era, Moses is given credit for having been inspired by God to write down the words of God contained in the Pentateuch, and the Bible supports this claim.
Evidence of Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch
Found in Sacred Scripture
Do not imagine
that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on
Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you. If you really believed him
you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; and if you
will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?
Jesus' discourse to the Jews in John 5:45-47
Evidence from Within the Pentateuch
|Passages in the books referring directly to Mosaic authorship||
-Exodus 17:14; 20:22-23:33; 24:4, 7; 34:27
-Numbers chapter 32; 33:2
-Deuteronomy 31:9, 24-26
|Legal documents within the Pentateuch attributed to Moses||
-Exodus 12:1-28; chapters 20-31; chapter 34
-Leviticus chapters 1-7; chapter 8; chapters 13-25;
-Numbers chapters 1, 2, & 4; 6:1-21; 8:1-22; chapters 15 & 19; 27:6-23; chapters 28-30; chapter 35
-Deuteronomy chapters 1-33
Evidence from Other Old Testament Books
|Evidence from the historical writings:||
-Joshua 1:7, 8; 8:31-32; 23:6
-1 Kings 2:3
-2 Kings 14:6; 23:25
-1 Chronicles 22:13
-2 Chronicles 5:10; 23:18; 25:4; 30:16; 33:8; 34:14; 35:6, 12
-Ezra 3:2; 6:18; 7:6
-Nehemiah 1:7, 8; 8:1, 13:1; 14; 9:14; 10:29; 13:1
|Evidence from the wisdom books and the prophets||
-Ecclesiasticus [Ben Sira] 45:3-6
-Daniel 9:11, 13
Evidence from the New Testament
|Evidence found in the Gospels||
*= Jesus' testimony
-Mark 12:19, 26*
-Luke 2:22; 5:14*; 16:29-31*; 20:8; 24:27*, 44*
-John 1:17, 45; 5:45-47*; 7:19*, 23*; 8:5; 9:29
|Evidence from Acts, the Epistles of St. Paul and Revelation||
-Acts 3:22; 6:14; 13:39; 15:1, 21; 26:22; 28:23
-1 Corinthians 9:9
-2 Corinthians 3:15
-Hebrews 9:19; 10:28
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2004 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
External evidence supporting Mosaic authorship can be found in Jewish tradition, in the Jewish Talmud (including the Mishnah), the writings of 1st century Jewish scholars like Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, as well in surviving pre-first century AD Jewish commentaries found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The writings of the Apostolic Church Fathers and the lists of the early Christian canons also support Mosaic authorship.4
Today, however, most Biblical scholars ascribe to the "documentary theory" for formation of the Book of Moses. This theory was at first rejected by both Protestant and Catholic scholars but gained popularity in the 19th century when it was reformatted and presented by the German Protestant scholars Graf and Wellhausen. These scholars theorized that the Pentateuch was an amalgam of different documents composed and developed from different places and at different times, long after Moses may have lived, perhaps as late as the return from the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century BC. Today this theory, know as the "Documentary Hypothesis", theorizes that four oral sources came together: the Yahwistic source, the Elohistic source, the Priestly source and the Deuteronomic source (Y or J, E, P, and D), which were eventually edited centuries after they were composed into one book, with Moses being the possible author of one source.
A major weakness of this theory is that no two scholars seem to be able to agree as to which passages should be assigned to which of the four Y/J, E, P or D document sources. The other major problem is that not a shred of physical evidence exists to support this theory. An ancient document has never been discovered that even hints that any author other than God's inspired writer, the prophet Moses, wrote the Book of the Law of Moses, nor has any partial text been discovered that would correspond to any supposed separate strand, nor does sacred Tradition speak of any orally transmitted separate accounts that refer to God by only one name (a basis of the documentary theory based on each separated strand being keyed to different names used for God; i.e. Elohim vs. Yahweh vs. El Shaddai).
If the Book of Moses was not composed by Moses, but if it was instead a clever interweaving of four different oral traditions, the question begs to be asked why none of the four individual strands have survived independently in oral or written form. Instead, source written copies pertaining to the writings of Moses exist in a complete form similar to that of our Bible today, not in fragmented strands. For example, if according to the Documentary Hypothesis theory, Genesis chapter I and Genesis chapter II offer two separate creation stories that originate from two separate sources, then why is there no written or oral Jewish tradition of two creation accounts that mention the content of one chapter without mentioning the content of the other? The unification of these two elements in ancient sources supports that they were not separate in origin. There is no archeological evidence to support the Documentary Hypothesis; there are no written or oral traditions in existence today that contain less than all of the supposed "four document sources."
Other criticisms of Mosaic authorship are based on the argument that the text is too sophisticated to have been written that early in recorded history. Those critics are obviously neglecting the fact that whole archives of court documents and literature from the Sumerian civilization have been discovered that date to circa 3200BC, almost two millennia before Moses is believed to have lived (suggested dates for the Exodus range from 1550 – 1250 BC). Archaeologists have also recovered 40,000 lines of text from ancient Mesopotamian archives that were written approximately 2,700 years before Moses lived and thousands of documents from Egyptian diplomatic correspondence and archives that fall within the estimated dates of the Exodus. Centuries before the birth of Abraham (c. 2000BC), Sumeria, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia were full of schools and libraries that produced works of history, poetry, and theology as well as dictionaries in multiple languages.5
Archaeological evidence supports the claim that a work like the Pentateuch could have been written in the late Bronze Age or even earlier. The inscriptions of Hebrew slaves found in Bronze Age Egyptian turquoise mines in the Sinai prove there was a higher degree of literacy among the common people than scholars previously believed.
One must take into consideration that:
With the discovery of a huge archive of tablets at Ras Shamra (the ancient city of Ugarit, located on the Syro-Palestinian coast just opposite the tip of Cyprus) in 1929, scholars have traced the evolution of a formal Hebrew script from circa 1400 BC to modern times. Some of the Ras Shamra tablets record a code of laws, many of which are similar to those found in the Book of Leviticus (G. E., Wright, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, page 215). Ugarit/ Ras Shamra was an ancient city-state that was a power in the region during the second millennium BC, but the history of the site's human occupation can be traced back to as early as the fifth millennium BC.
Questions for group discussion:
As we prepare to begin the study of the first part of the Book of Moses, there are several questions that must be addressed.
When Moses first encountered Yahweh in the "burning bush experience," Moses asked God: Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is his name?' What am I to tell them? (Ex 3:13). God's response was to give Moses His holy Divine Name, represented in the text by the sacred Tetragrammaton, the consonants YHWH (translated into Greek as Kyrios, "Lord," a practice which is still observed in many English translations of the Old Testament which the word "Lord" is written in all capital letters (LORD) to signify the use of the Divine Name). For more information on the names of God found in Scripture and their meanings see the document "The Many Names of God" in the Documents / Miscellaneous section of the website.
Question: How does Moses' question: "Who are You,
God?" suggest why Moses was commanded to write the Pentateuch and how does that
question impact our study? See Romans 4:9-17; Galatians 3:6-9.
Answer: The short answer to Moses' question was God's Divine Name: YHWH, which scholars today express with vowels as "Yahweh"-- but the long answer to "Who are You, God?" is the entire record of the man's interaction with God that is recorded in the Pentateuch. The long answer to future generations includes that the God who sent Moses is:
As children of the New Covenant and the heirs of the blessings made to father Abraham, we need to have an understanding of those blessings and their fulfillment in Salvation History through the saving work of Jesus our Messiah and Redeemer. How can we claim our blessings if we do not know what they are or how they impact our role as Christ's apostles and our promise of salvation?
Question: Moses became the first prophet to the
newly formed nation of Israel. Moses and his generation lived the incredible
adventures of the Exodus experience. If Moses' contemporaries lived the
experience of the Exodus and had probably received the earlier history orally
passed down from previous generations, for whom then was the Pentateuch
written? Why does St. Paul teach that is necessary for those of us in the New
Covenant in Christ to continue to study the stories of the Pentateuch? See 1
Answer: The first two generations of Israel lived the experience; therefore, the written record of the Book of Moses is for the future, for the succeeding generations. The future generations of covenant believers were the heirs of the Sinai Covenant. They had to faithfully keep the commandments of God in order to fulfill their covenant obligations, to preserve the promised sacred "seed of the Woman" (promised in Genesis 3:15) and to be the catalyst of God's plan of salvation. In this sense, the Pentateuch becomes a primer, a lesson book for the inheritors of Yahweh's holy Covenant - including those of us who continue in faithful obedience serving God in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians: Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were described in writing to be a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages. Everyone, no matter how firmly he thinks he is standing, must be careful he does not fall. None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13).
Question: Why does the Pentateuch contain these
particular stories out of all the events, both triumphs and failures that
occurred in the lives from Adam, to Abraham, to Moses, and Joshua? What are
the lessons to be learned from the selected stories of the Pentateuch from Eden to the entrance of the children of Israel into the Promised Land?
Question: In addition to the written text of Sacred
Scripture, God has revealed Himself to His people through another source. What
is that source and is there an Old Testament link to this non-written source of
revelation? See 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1-3; 2 Tim 2:2; 2 Thes 2:15.
Answer: Throughout the course of Salvation History God has revealed Himself through a sacred Oral Tradition handed down by men chosen by God to be the reservoir of that tradition with the responsibility of handing that knowledge on to the next generation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies the character of this sacred Tradition in #78: This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, 'the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.' 'The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.'
(The Old Covenant Church also believed in a sacred Oral Tradition; that Tradition is recorded in the Jewish Mishnah).
Question: Which came first, the written sacred text
of the Bible or the Oral Tradition?
Answer: In both the Old and New Testaments, the Oral Sacred Tradition came first. For example, during the earliest years of the New Covenant people there was only the Old Testament and the teachings of Christ that were taught orally to His Apostles and disciples - the written revelation we call the New Testament would be recorded and passed on over a period of several years after Christ's Ascension. However, one cannot receive one form of divine revelation and ignore the other. It is as wrong for Catholics to focus on "Tradition alone" as it is for our Protestant brothers and sisters to focus on "Scripture alone." The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: 'Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.'* Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own - always, to the close of the age.**' CCC#80 [with quotes from *Dei Verbum 9 and **Matthew 28:20].
Question: What is the Catholic Church's stand on
private interpretation of Sacred Scripture outside or in contradiction to the
teachings of the Church? Please read 2 Peter 1:19-20; 3:15-18.
Answer: The Church strongly warns against private interpretation of the Bible outside the guidance of the teachings of the Church. Our Protestant brothers and sisters teach that the Holy Spirit can guide each individual who reads the Scriptures to a private but legitimate interpretation of the meaning of the text as God intended the text to relate to that individual. While the Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit must indeed guide us in the interpretation of Scripture, the Church teaches that the Holy Spirit guides us "within the Living Tradition of the Church", otherwise as imperfect human beings it is too likely, and so dangerous, that we can and will manipulate the text to say whatever we decide it should say to us - just as Adam and Eve usurped God's sovereignty in the Fall ("Does He really mean that we will really die if we eat of this fruit? Surely not!"). This means for us as Catholics that the interpretation of Bible passages must not contradict other Bible passages nor must the interpretation of Scripture contradict the deposit of knowledge passed down to us in our Oral Tradition: Read the Scripture within 'the living Tradition of the whole Church (CCC# 113). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, articles #109-114, records important guidelines for the study of Sacred Scripture. If you have a Catechism please read those passages.
Question: Can you give some examples of the dangers
of interpreting Scripture "outside" of the Living Tradition of the Church? For
example read Matthew 1:24-25 and 26:26-28.
Answer: The dogma of the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary and the dogma of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are two examples. The word "dogma" means "truth." It is used in Catholic theology concerning all the truths that the Catholic Church teaches to have been revealed by God as the doctrine (teaching) of salvation which is necessary to define us as the Roman Catholic Church. For nearly 2,000 years these truths were taught consistently in the Church from the time of the Apostles. Today, sadly, many Christians, falling under the influence of the secular world or usurping the Church's divinely appointed prerogative to judge the interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, doubt or deny these truths.
Question: Where do you stand on the issue of obedience to the teachings of the Church? Are you an obedient son or daughter, trusting Mother Church to guide you on your journey of faith, or do you feel you are qualified to judge for yourself what is good and what is not good? This will be an issue we will be addressing in the next lesson.
1. In Against Apion 1.8, Josephus wrote: Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses (The Works of Josephus, page 776). Josephus is giving the accepted canon as 22 books, apparently still only counting the "books of Moses" as one single book and the other like Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, etc. as only one book each. It is difficult to determine what books Josephus is including but it would appear that in order to get 22 books that he is not counting the Deuterocanonical books which were the last of the Old Testament books to be accepted into the first century AD Septuagint translation (copies of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls). Philo also noted that the Book of Moses was in five parts and names the first of the five as Genesis: The first of the five books in which the holy laws are written bears the name and inscription Genesis (Works of Philo, page 411).
2. Ptolemaeus, a late 2nd century Gnostic writer, wrote a letter concerning the interpretation of Mosaic Law which was quoted by the early Church historian Epiphanius in a work which dealt with Christian heresies, Refutation of all the Heresies. In the passage quoted by Epiphanius, Ptolemaeus referred to the pentateuchos ("five fifths" or five-part book) of Moses: that whole law which passes around in the Pentateuch of Moses (Refutation of All the Heresies 33.4).
3. Tertullian, Against Marcion, 1:10 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, Tertullian: Against Marcion, Book I, page 278-279, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
4. For example see Bishop Eusebius' 4th century Church History, 1.2.4: This, too, the great Moses teaches, when, as the most ancient of all the prophets, he describes under the influence of the divine Spirit the creation and arrangement of the universe (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, Eusebius: Church History, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, page 82).
5. A History of the Ancient Near East, page 170.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE PENTATEUCH PART I: GENESIS