Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Untold Story

If, as Channel 4 would have them, Muslims ever did succumb to "higher criticism", then they would be mad, and indeed rather behind the times.

That strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, Biblical criticism, purports to read the Bible "as if it were any other ancient text", but in fact subjects it to a series of methods that would be laughed out in any other literary of historical discipline. Those methods are carefully constructed to "prove" the presuppositions of that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, liberal theology.

Thus, if two Biblical books are word for word alike, as Matthew, Mark and Luke certainly are in parts, then they must have been copied from each other, since there is no way that God could have inspired them all and, funnily enough, done so in such a way that they confirmed each other's accounts. Hence the theory of Markan Priority, that Saint Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, and that  Saint Matthew and Saint Luke copied out great chunks of it word for word. And hence the theory of Q, no copy of which exists anywhere.

Likewise, if Mark ends with what looks like a sort of synopsis of the post-Resurrection events recorded in the other Gospels, then that ending must be a later accretion, since there is no way that those events could actually have happened. Jesus simply did not claim divinity for Himself, so that rules out John at a stroke. Miracles simply do not happen, a position not even compatible with agnosticism. Style simply does not develop (seriously), so Saint Paul cannot have written several of the Epistles beginning with the words, "From Paul". And so on, and on, and on.

Academia is at last moving away from this sort of thing. When will the Church in practice, since of course She has never adopted it, and cannot do so, in principle? It is amazing that the account of the Ascension in Mark 16 is not the Gospel either for Ascension Day or for the following Sunday even in Year B. For that matter, it is astonishing that there are only Years A, B and C, with no Johannine Year D. Or, at least, it is amazing now. It was only too predictable a generation or two ago. But those days are, mercifully, gone.

If, like the Eastern Orthodox with whom they have always had considerable contact at ground level, the Muslims will have absolutely nothing to do with all of that, therefore continuing to believe, for example, that Jesus was the virgin-born Messiah promised to the previous Prophets, then good for them.


  1. Quite.

    I also used to unquestioningly accept the 'late' dating of the gospels. Then I read John A. T. Robinson, who maintained that there are no real grounds for putting any of the NT books later than 70 A.D. His main argument is that there is no clear reference in any of them to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple which occurred on September 26th of that year. This cataclysmic event brought to an end the sacrificial worship that was the center of the Jewish religion and it should have merited a mention in the NT books if they were written afterwards.

    Robinson puts the composition of Matthew from 40 to 60, Mark from 45 to 60, Luke from 55 to 62, and John from 40 to 65.

    John Wenham goes even further back than Robinson, and puts Luke to between 49 to 55, during which time he produced the first draft of his Gospel, beginning with our present chapter 3, which records the preaching of John the Baptist. It was to this Gospel, Origen explained, that St. Paul was referring when, writing to the Corinthians in 56, he described Luke as "the brother whose fame in the gospel has gone through all the churches" (2 Cor. 8:18).

    Obviously, there are many more evidences to support the earlier dating and historical veracity of the gospels, both literary and archaeological - Pool of Siloam, anyone? - but it's good to see you putting these lies to the test in so public a manner. Personally, it seems more preposterous to argue the later dates, as some scholars still do, than it is to make the case for the earlier ones!

  2. Yes, indeed.

    Vatican II certainly did define the primacy of Scripture in teaching and practice, not that there was anything even vaguely or remotely novel in that. It certainly did not define the primacy, or even the admissibility, of secular and secularising Biblical criticism.

    The Authorship of God’s Written Word is, like the Person of His Incarnate Word, both fully human and fully divine. The Bible comes only with, in and through the Church that defined its Canon and has preserved it through the ages, and its implications for doctrine, for morality and for future hope are integral to its literal, Authorially original sense.

    The founders of Protestantism spoke of Scripture’s plain sense, but that sense is in fact canonical and ecclesial, allegorical and typological, tropological and moral, anagogical and eschatological, while also including the historical factuality of the events recorded as such at least from the Call of Abram onwards, with apparent difficulties finding their resolution precisely in Canon and Church, in Tradition and Magisterium. It is that which enjoys priority in faith and practice.

    In order to be more fully Herself, the Catholic Church needs to encourage large numbers of Her members to learn the culture of the Word from that Evangelical tradition which is historically, if even in its own terms no longer necessarily, separated from Her full communion. Such a culture is one in which the defining narratives are those of the Old and New Testaments, and examples of it range from Handel to Holman Hunt.

    All cultures define and perpetuate themselves by telling stories, and the Bible culture initially arose in order to fill the gaps left after the Reformation where the Lives of the Saints had previously been. Catholicity, however, requires both, not least in order to express the indivisible continuity between the Bible and the Church.

    Catholics are not being asked to take on anything remotely Protestant as such here: look at the Liturgy, look at the Fathers (up to and including the Medieval Doctors), look at the Medieval and post-Medieval mystics, and look at the iconography and other spirituality of the Christian East, whether Catholic or separated.

    Taking on is a defining mark of Catholicism, which radically and fundamentally distinguishes the Catholic Church from the giving up that characterises Protestantism.

  3. Great post. This sort of Biblical research seems increasingly relegated to cable television documentaries, along with programs on Bigfoot and space aliens. Good company if you ask me.