Rome Re-Thinks Limited Inerrancy?

Or maybe not. Collin Hansen explains.

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  1. It should be noted that the subsequent chapters in Dei Verbum on the OT and the NT assert the historicity of God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel, as well as the numerous types fulfilled in the NT (e.g., “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New.”). Most explicit is the historicity of the Gospels:

    “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1).” (paragraph 19)

    I note this because Greg Allison’s analysis is misleading:

    “The dogma of inerrancy was limited to the area of saving truths,” said Gregg Allison, associate professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matters related to history and science fell outside the purview of inerrancy. “This significantly reduced biblical problems raised by Roman Catholic scholars, but it also went against the church’s historical view of Scripture’s truthfulness.”

    History is certainly not “outside the purview of inerrancy” according to Dei Verbum (though perhaps finer points of, e.g., chronology may be). This is a critical point that Dr. Allison (at least, as quoted and summarized by Collin Hansen) failed to convey. After all, scripture is a “history of salvation,” so even limiting inerrancy to matters of salvation would necessarily include historical veracity.

  2. Scott — this is an attempted resolution at a longer-standing problem within Catholicism. David Wells, in his brief 1972 book “Revolution in Rome” commented:

    Present-day Catholicism, on its progressive side, is teaching many of the ideas which the liberal Protestants espoused in the last century. Though progressive Catholics are largely unaware of their liberal Protestant stepbrothers, the family resemblance is nevertheless there. Since these ideas have only come into vogue in Catholicism in the last two decades, they appear brilliantly fresh and innovative. To a Protestant, whether he approves or disapproves of them, they are old hat. Wells, pg. 8.

    He later cited a specific example of this:

    One kind of interpretive problem, then, which an analyst of the documents faces concerns the existence of those passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interest of both parties. The statement on biblical inerrancy best illustrates this problem. The council affirmed:

    “since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”

    This statement, over which there was a considerable tussle both in private and in public, seems at first sight to affirm Rome’s traditional stance on this matter. For this reason, conservatives in the Council agreed to it, and some Protestants subsequently have been led to think that Catholicism’s historic stance on this matter is unaltered….

    But is this really the case? A careful scrutiny of the Council’s statement shows that it can be interpreted in an entirely different way, one which a majority of Catholic scholars are now following. In perhaps the most lucid account of the Council’s theology, B.C. Butler the English bishop and progressive theologian, explains how. The council obviously spoke of the Bible “teaching without error”, but the significance of this phrase, he argues, depends on the view of “the truth” which Scripture is said to teach without error. ‘Here the word “truth” is qualified by a statement of the finality or purpose of inspiration; it is a question of truth relevant to God’s saving purpose summed up in Christ (citing B. C. Butler “The Theology of Vatican II” London, 1967 pg. 56). The point he is making is that many truths of science and history have no part to play in our salvation. “For instance” he says, “the date of the appearance of the human species in natural history is not formally relevant to our salvation; the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection is formally relevant.”

    The illustration in the first half of Butler’s sentence is so obvious that the reader is disarmed against the thrust of the second half. The council’s statement, he argues, guarantees as inerrant only those truths necessary for our salvation. The meaning of the passage, therefore, turns on the question of how much we need to know with certainty to be saved. Apparently there is room for discussion on this point. Butler has limited the inerrant statements of Scripture to those which bear on the saving actions of God which were summed up in Christ, but Gregory Baum has trimmed this core even further. To be saved, he says, we need to know exceedingly little; exceedingly little, then, is inerrantly taught in scripture. (emphasis added).

    The item that Wells quoted is taken from Dei Verbum, Section 11, found here:

    More recently, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, started in 1893 by Leo XIII (I think) and endorsed by the current Pope (Ratzinger) gave its blessing to the “Historical Critical” hermeneutic as the official interpretation method of the Catholic Church:

    It has led to stuff like this: John H. Elliott, editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, writing an article entitled “No Kingdom of God for Softies,”;col1

  3. Rome has changed and changed for the worse. On Scripture, she “now” wants to leave room for limited errancy. On justification she has only changed her “appearances”. Rome is ever the apostate church, and John Henry Newman made the biggest mistake of his life in perverting to Rome.

    The true Augustinian Succession is to be found in the Reformation Churches.

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