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August 24, 2005

Comments

Shane

I was under the impression that Humani Generis specifically forbade any interpretation of Genesis other than to say that there were two distinct original parents. What does it say which leaves this option open?

Chris Weathers

I don't think it does leave this option open to the future.

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. Now it is no no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Steve Jackson

I thought the appeal of Catholicism was supposed to be that it offers certainty whereas Protestantism leads to subjectivism, rationalism, secularization, the Enlightenment and who knows what.

Now we are told that, based on "science" and biblical criticism, whether Moses wrote Genesis, whether God created the universe in 6 days, whether Adam and Eve existed, etc. is all subject to revision.

Why not go whole hog and demytholgize the New Testament like Bultmann?

John Henry

What does it say which leaves this option open?

My guess is that it's this quote from what Chris Weathers posted:

"Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose"

I would speculate, subject to correction, that various people might say that it has now become apparent how it can be reconciled. That the pope was leaving the door open to future development of understanding of doctrine when he said that.

I don't pretend to understand how it can be reconciled, nor do I necessarily agree with that interpretation of the pope's words.

John Henry

Why not go whole hog and demytholgize the New Testament like Bultmann?

I love these types of comments, because they always highlight Chesterton's genius. These types of comments always come in twos. 1) We are accused of selling out the truth to contemporary science. 2) We are accused of being hidebound recalcitrants who hate science.

Fun stuff.

Eric Giunta

Even if Pius XII's statemets on the matter did not "leave the question open" what's the problem with admitting that he was just plain wrong, in the same way that the Church was wrong when she condemned Galileo's heliocentrism?

Steve Jackson

Mr. Henry,

Chesterton may have been a genius, but this type of argument (if he used it) is particuraly inane.

For example, Luther was accused by the anabaptists of being a traditionalist and by Roman Catholics of being too liberal.

Traditional Catholics are accused of being too reactionary by Vatican II catholics and too liberal by sedevacantists.

You can prove anything by the "I'm getting it from both sides so I must be right" argument.

Christopher

Re: Galileo, there were actually two condemnations - the first, in 1616, of his heliocentric theory, was made by the Congregation for the Index, which had no dogmatic authority; the second, in 1633, was a disciplinary matter (he was put under house arrest for not complying with the terms of his first sentence). In the Galileo matter, the Church never decreed via the ordinary or extraordinary magisterium that Galileo was wrong; he was simply found guilty in court of spreading a theory which seemed to contradict the Bible and for which (it was almost universally held at the time) he had insufficient proof.

Thus, a papal encyclical should be viewed as a more serious, and more authoritative, statement of the faith.

Steven D. Greydanus
I thought the appeal of Catholicism was supposed to be that it offers certainty whereas Protestantism leads to subjectivism, rationalism, secularization, the Enlightenment and who knows what.
You can hardly have been under the impression that the "appeal of Catholicism" is that if offers certainty about absolutely everything.

Catholicism offers certainty regarding certain matters where certainty is a practical necessity and where Protestantism offers only conflicting points of view: infant baptism, women's ordination, etc.

Catholicism does not answer with certainty absolutely every religious question that anyone could ever ask, partly because God hasn't given us all the answers, and partly because the development of doctrine (cf. Newman) is a continually ongoing process.

Tim J.

As a new convert 12 years ago, I thought one of the things that what was appealing about Catholic biblical teaching was the refreshing willingness to admit that there are things we don't know for certain, and others that we do.

Thus we are free to read Genesis in a more literal way or in a more symbolic way (as long as we hold on to certain basics) without at all compromising our Catholic faith.

It is clear that Pius XII's statement rejects the idea of polygenism, even if the language of the statement is not air-tight.

Steve Jackson

But whether the opening chapters of Genesis are historical, whether Adam and Eve exist & whether the Bible is accurate are not seconday issues. These sound as important as infant baptism and women's ordination (the latter which protestants historically reject).

Jesus and Paul obviously believed that Adam and Eve were literal. The accuracy of Scripture was a big deal for them, so if contemporary churchman such as a Catholic bishop tells me otherwise, shouldn't I reject the latter's opinion?

Curtis P

One of the major things that science has already shown is to show that there was an Eve from whom all of us are desecendents. This was shown with mitochondrial DNA, which is completely seperate from the nuclear DNA, as it is always passed on from mother to offspring. Male mitochondrial DNA never gets passed on to children, shuffles in, or anything. As a result you can use this to find that there was one Eve and she seems like she seems to have either originated in Africa, or serious expansion happened once she was in Africa.

Steven D. Greydanus
But whether the opening chapters of Genesis are historical, whether Adam and Eve exist & whether the Bible is accurate are not seconday issues. These sound as important as infant baptism and women's ordination (the latter which protestants historically reject).
Protestants also historically rejected contraception, until 1930. Now look where they are. Protestantism has no unchangeable commitment to its "historical" view. Give women's ordination another 100 years, another 200 years. Already the "traditional" view is moving toward the fringes.

In any case, what is under discussion here isn't whether Genesis 1ff are "historical" or whether the Bible is "accurate" -- we agree about that. The question is how literally or literarily Genesis 1ff treats its history, what the Bible means. If you insist on absolutely literal historiography it's hard to understand how you have 24-hour days and nights, let alone growing plants, prior to the appearance of the sun.

It is simply not true that whether the Fall involved a literal eating of a literal fruit or some other primeval act of rebellion is as important as infant baptism and women's ordination. What makes infant baptism and women's ordination so crucial is that they can, must, and do inevitably split Christians into separate, divided communions.

You and I could have conflicting beliefs about whether the Fall involved literal fruit and yet be united as fellow Christians in our membership in one church, under one authority, receiving one communion, etc. We could not hold different beliefs regarding infant baptism and women's ordination and have this level of unity -- at least, not forever, and not if we were each committed to the practical side of our views.

Jesus and Paul obviously believed that Adam and Eve were literal. The accuracy of Scripture was a big deal for them, so if contemporary churchman such as a Catholic bishop tells me otherwise, shouldn't I reject the latter's opinion?
Again, the accuracy of scripture is not under dispute here. Jesus and Paul obviously believed that Adam and Eve were historical, and so does the Church. How literal Genesis means us to take its account of Adam and Eve is another question. What is of primary importance is that God created the first human beings in his image, and they rebelled against him, fell into sin, and were cut off from everlasting life. Whether the first man was literally created directly from dust, whether the first woman was literally taken from his side, and whether the act of rebellion involved fruit is of secondary importance.
John Henry

this type of argument (if he used it) is particuraly inane

No argument. Just an observation. And you can call me John. :)

John Henry

Oh and also, Steve,
If I may ask a legitimate question... Can you give me an example of specific claims about Luther or sedevacantists, made by outsiders, that are completely contradictory? Not things like "liberal" and "traditional", but something like: 1) sedevacantist believe that the seat of Peter is empty and 2) sedevacantists believe that the seat of Peter is filled. Or 1) Luther believed in salvation by faith alone and 2) Luther believed in salvation by works.

Very seriously, I am sure it exists, but just curious. I know little about the groups. Peace.

Tim J.

Steve J.-

If the church teaches that the Bible writers used different literary forms that does not mean that the Bible is then open to the charge of being inaccurate.

Adam & Eve existed. If "Adam & Eve" were not their actual names that does not impugne the accuracy of the Genesis account at all. If the writer uses the eating of fruit as a poetic way of expressing the first sin, that does not make the writer a liar, but a poet. A divinely inspired poet, too.

If we believe that every word of the Bible must be taken literally, then we must believe that when Jesus said "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Saducees" he was warning the disciples about bad yeast.

Maureen

On the other hand, a certain amount of literalism has its charms. I'm still pretty excited about the idea that the first sin may have indeed been disobedience over actual tree-grown fruit, given how much of the fix (in the first covenant, anyway) deals with kosher laws about food, and how the second covenant is about Jesus being eaten and drunk. :)

Tim J.

Right, Maureen. I would not be surprised at all to find that the first sin really was eating forbidden fruit.

In defending the poetic sense of scripture I most always like to leave room for the possibility that it may be surprisingly literal.

I look forward to alot of surprises in heaven, the biggest of which will be that I am allowed to be there in the first place.

Steve Jackson

Tim & Steve,

No one is arguing that every word in the Bible must be taken literally. Not even fundamentalists with their far-out interpretation of Revelation take everything literlly.

The question is whether those portions of the Bible that are historical are historically accurate. Genesis 1-11 gives every appearance of being literal history, so I will take it at that.

And if Genesis isn't supposed to be taken literally, then why not dispense with the literalness of Jesus' miracles, as Walter Kasper does?

John,

Luther has been accused both of being a rigid moralist and a libertine.

Steven D. Greydanus
The question is whether those portions of the Bible that are historical are historically accurate. Genesis 1-11 gives every appearance of being literal history, so I will take it at that.
You mean seven literal 24 hour days, three of which occur before the creation of the sun?

Your claim that "Genesis 1-11 gives every appearance of being literal history" is contested by a whole lot of earnest Bible readers, including such early Fathers as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, and Jerome. "I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (Origen, The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

And if Genesis isn't supposed to be taken literally, then why not dispense with the literalness of Jesus' miracles, as Walter Kasper does?
Because (a) the Gospels relate historical events experienced first-hand by the writers and/or those known to them, and (b) they are written in the matter of the history of the day and plainly claim to set forth history (cf. Luke's prologue, John's various declamations of intent, etc.).
Steve Jackson

Mr. Greydanus,

A day consists of 24 hours, and it doesn't matter whether there is sun.

The same God who inspired the NT inspired the OT, so whether they are first hand accounts is beside the point. The NT writers believed in Cain and Abel even though Moses wasn't around to see them.

This essay is instructive --

http://www.ldolphin.org/haseldays.html

Steven D. Greydanus
A day consists of 24 hours, and it doesn't matter whether there is sun.
Um, no. The sacred writer says, "And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day," etc. Moreover, the sacred writer has already specified that day and night exist as light and darkness.

If we read the text literally, we must imagine 24-hour periods of alternating light and darkness, day and night, evening and morning -- in the absence of the sun (as well as all other visible celestial bodies).

Obviously, it goes without saying that God COULD do such a thing if he wanted to. The question is, is this really what the sacred writer wishes us to understand and believe from his account?

You spoke dismissively before of women's ordination on the basis that it was contrary to the historical Protestant view. Surely you can't think that your view that the days of creation must be 24 hours represents the historical Protestant (or broadly Christian) view.

The same God who inspired the NT inspired the OT, so whether they are first hand accounts is beside the point.
The same God also inspired the book of Revelation; do you believe that Revelation is just as literal an account of the end times as you believe Genesis 1-3 is of creation? If not, why not? Is it any harder for God to describe literally the end of the world than the beginning? Is Revelation less accurate than Genesis?

The Bible is the word of God in the words of men. As Jesus was like other men in all respects except sin, so the Bible is like other human literature in all respects except error.

Yes, it is without error -- but yes also, it is like other human literature is every respect, and must be read, appreciated, and understood accordingly, each book according to applicable literary rules. You can't flatten out the literary diversity in the Bible by saying "It's all the word of God."

To insist that Genesis 1-11 must be read exactly the same way as Matthew is a bit like insisting that Homer's account of the Trojan War be read in exactly the same way as the war records of Julius Caesar. The point is not that Caesar's records are "true" whereas Homer's are "false"; rather, Homer was writing a different sort of work.

This essay is instructive --

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2004/0401frs.asp

Tim M.

one of the things that inspired me to "swim the Tiber" and come home to Rome is MYSTERY.

...and we are talking about a lot of mystery here. I am comfortable with mystery.

"Mystery is the greatest joy of the human heart." - Albert Einstein

how literal or figurative Genesis 1-3 is; only God knows (= mystery)...the principal message is that there is a Creator of all who is KING in the garden - WORSHIP HIM!! alone!

Steve Jackson

Steve,

Liberal OT scholar James Barr has written:

"… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
1. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
2. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
3. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark."

Contrary to Catholic mythology, protestants don't take the position that everything in the bible is interpreted literally except the eucharistic discourse in John. There are different genres and the most "literal" interpretation is to take history as history, poetry as poetry, etc. With respect to Revelation, I think it is of a different genre than say Genesis.

But everytime Genesis 1-11 is mentioned in the Bible, a literal interpreation is assumed. Yes, there may be some difficulties, but scholars find difficulties in believing that Paul wrote the Pastorals, Peter wrote II Peter, the infancy narratives are historical, etc.

So when the Bible says God created everything in 6 days, or Paul wrote the Pastorals, I take it at face value even if I can't as of yet reconcile everything with modern science or modern textual analysis.

Mary

But everytime Genesis 1-11 is mentioned in the Bible, a literal interpreation is assumed.

Could you give some examples?

Steve Jackson

Mary,

Some examples:

Adam

Romans 5:14 - Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

1 Corinthians 15:22 - For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:45 - And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

1 Timothy 2:13 - For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

1 Timothy 2:14 - And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression

Cain

Hebrews 11:4 - By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

1 John 3:12 - Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

Jude 1:11 - Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.

Mary

I can't see how you can say that the first three ones for Adam and the last one for Cain assume a literal interpretation.

Steve Jackson

Well, the assume that these people existed, contrary to much contemporary interpretation.

Mary

Even the "Way of Cain"?

I assure you that people who believe nothing at all in the Bible will speak of the "Mark of Cain."

If you don't agree with that -- well, I don't see any point in arguing whether any of the others require a literal interpretion.

whosebob

Regarding the sentence in paragraph #37 of Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis which begins, "Now it is no no way apparent how . . .":

First, the official English translation given on the Vatican's website actually has the double "no," which is obviously a typographical error. I am very curious as to whether printed copies (e.g. by the Daughters of St. Paul) also contain the same mistake. Whatever the case, I think the original translation was more likely:

"Now it is in no way apparent how . . ."

BUT, perhaps that is a poor translation to begin with. What if the original Latin edition should have been translated as

"Now it is apparent that in now way can . . ."

That would make a big difference as to interpreting the late Pope's meaning and intent.

One would then need to ask whether what was apparent to Pope Pius XII, and as such conveyed to us by his encyclical, should be regarded as normative Catholic teaching on the matter, even (and especially) if the same is not apparent to Catholic theologians/philosophers/scientists/etc of the present day.

That's a "big" question, though I think it is very important that paragraphs #18 - 21 of the same encyclical be read carefully to get some feel for how the late Pope might have answered it himself.

I couldn't find the latin text for Humani Generis on-line, but maybe someone else can. Then, if anyone here can translate (Mr. Akin?) the sentence in question and get back to us . . . well, that would be really great!

Publius

I couldn't find the latin text for Humani Generis on-line, but maybe someone else can. Then, if anyone here can translate (Mr. Akin?) the sentence in question and get back to us . . . well, that would be really great!

Alas, it doesn't seem to be online (I really wish the Vatican would get the move on and put the Latin text of all modern encyclicals up on their website!). I'm sure you could find it in the bound volume Acta Apostilicae Sedis for 1950, which a really good library might have. Unfortunately the library for Big State U in my area, which does have Acta Apostolicae Sedis going back to the 1900s happens to be missing that volume. Sigh...

Dayem

I didn't get half the argument there, but, if u want the true story of Noah's(peace be upon him)ark, Adam(pbuh), then u dont have to do much:just read Quran.They are scintifically true, and not a bit 'impossible' as Bible make it look.Read it, and check for yourself.

John Henry

Dayem,
I don't think anyone is arguing that anything, particularly a worldwide flood, is "impossible", let alone that the bible makes it appear that way. Quite the contrary, it is the fact that the bible speaks of the flood very plainly that has all of us debating how the text is best interpreted.

As our Lord said, "All things are possible with God."

Steven D. Greydanus
Liberal OT scholar James Barr has written: "… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:

1. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
2. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
3. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark."

And most liberal OT scholars would probably equally argue that all respectable OT professors (meaning those who are liberal like them?) agree that

1. the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 could not possibly be Moses,
2. creation ex nihilo is not implied in Genesis 1, but is a later interpretation,
3. the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are separate, contrary pericopes,
4. the serpent in Genesis 3 has nothing to do with the Christian devil or Satan,

etc. They would also argue that

5. the Hebrews had little if any concept of an afterlife, except for a gloomy hades-like sheol, and certainly no concept of resurrection,
6. nearly all of the OT passages cited in the NT as messianic and applied to Jesus are not in fact messianic and have no applicability to Jesus,

etc., etc.

Contrary to Catholic mythology, protestants don't take the position that everything in the bible is interpreted literally except the eucharistic discourse in John. There are different genres and the most "literal" interpretation is to take history as history, poetry as poetry, etc. With respect to Revelation, I think it is of a different genre than say Genesis.
Excuse me, I never said anything that remotely implied that Protestants "take the position that everything in the bible is interpreted literally except the eucharistic discourse in John." I haven't cited irrelevant "Protestant mythology" against you; why are you muddying the water with claims I never made?

I agree with you that Revelation is a different genre from Genesis. I also believe that Genesis 1-11 is a different genre from Matthew... and, so far as I know, there is no professor of biblical languages or scripture studies at any world-class university who would not agree.

Matt

I kinda stumbled on to this site and, after reading some of the posts, found the dialog very interesting. I would like to throw a thing or two into the mix. I see the terms "literal", "symbolic", and literary styles being discussed in reference to certian things. I was wondering what anyone and everyone thought about these verses of scripture in light of that. Please bear with me.

In John 3:3-7 Jesus is teaching Nicodemus about the Kingdom and the new creation. He wraps it up nicely in verses 6 & 7 when he says, "flesh gives birth to flesh, Spirit gives birth to Spirit", "and you must be born again". Nicodemus, who is a Pharisee, takes it "literally" because he is trying to understand it with his carnal mind and is at that point blind to the hidden wisdom of God anyway and could not be born again. So, he thinks Jesus is talking about being in the womb again and Jesus tells him that unless one is born again and of water and the Spirit he cannot see or enter the Kingdom of God.
Paul talks about this in 1Cor 2:7-14 saying that, "it is the hidden wisdom of God, not understood by the rulers of this age, but predestined for our glory and revealed by the Spirit". And in 14, "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit.... because they are spiritually appraised". Romans 8:7 says, "the carnal mind is enmity against God...". I hope it's obvious that I sorta summed those verses up.

1 John 2:27 says, "ye need not that any man teach you".
Paul, who said in Phil 3:5 that he was a "Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;" said that the revelation he received did not come from any man. He goes on to count it all as loss because now, considering all he had been taught, he truly sees the divine nature, purpose and Glory of God, who is Jesus.

In conclusion, while I do see that there are many things (literary styles?) that can affect how we perceive what the Bible is saying and we can take things literally out of the Bible (thou shalt not steal), it seems to me that truly understanding any of it comes by revalation, which is not literal but does make what is revealed (Jesus) a reality. Sorry if this was too long.

Steve Jackson

Steve,

I believe Genesis 1-11 are strict history for the reasons set forth in Hasel's article.

There are some people (Ray Brown most famously) who look at the infancy narratives and conclude that they aren't history in the same way as other parts of Luke and Matthew. After all, Joseph taking Jesus to Egypt must be "Midrash" on various OT stories, etc. Of course, some would argue that the miracle portions of the Gospels are stylized "healing stories," etc.

In the absence of any compelling reason to take Genesis and the infancy narratives as non-historical (and 'modern science' isn't one of them) they should be interpreted literally.

Tim J.

Steve-

You keep lumping our observations in with those of liberal scholars with whom you should know we disagree. The fact that Raymond Brown is wrong about the infancy narratives has nothing to do with a debate concerning Genesis, a very different book.

The Catholic church teaches that the Gospels record what Jesus really did and said.

If we do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin that has a huge effect on our theology. If, on the other hand, we believe that God took a great number of years (rather than 6 literal days) to create the world, that does not necessarily have any affect on our understanding of salvation history, including our faith in Christ.

This is why the Church allows these different interpretations of Genesis. There is no official Catholic position on the "6 literal days".

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