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Making Sense of Scripture

Inspiration and Revelation

We are called upon to study the whole nature of literary composition, from the origin of an idea (cf. Ps. 139: 47) to its position in the liturgical canon8, taking account of any and every legitimate factor which contributes to the whole9.  This is further emphasized by Pope John Paul II when he says, concerning the task of the exegete: 'None of the human aspects of language can be neglected'10.  For God 'knows the thought which is still unformed and the word which is still unuttered'11, as he does every nuance of a word12 and every variety of culture which is as it were prepared to contribute what it can to the manifestation of His word13.  Thus one could say the following concerning the nature of inspiration: that inspiration is involved in the entire human process qua process14, from originating 'idea'15 and the circumstantial facts16 to which it is related by way of a response17, to the redaction of the final text and its acceptance into the canon of the Church.

The term Revelation, however, can be applied in three ways to the Sacred Scripture.  Firstly, Christ is 'the sum total of Revelation'18.  Therefore each and every one of the many and various ways in which God has spoken is not just prophetic but prophetic of the Son (Heb 1: 1-2)19.  Secondly, Revelation refers to that order of its content20 which is by definiton beyond the capacity, but ordered to21, the unaided reason of the author22.  Thirdly, while there is an order of knowledge which can be naturally known to man, yet these same things can also be revealed to man: "that those things, which in themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, can, in the present condition of the human race, be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty, and without the contamination of error'23.  In other words what constitutes Revelation is not first and foremost whether what is revealed cannot be known naturally, nor even that it is a 'word', although Revelation can be understood in both these senses; rather, Revelation, which 'is realized by deeds and words'24, is each and every act by which God chose 'to reveal himself and to make known his will (cf. Eph 1: 9)'25.  Thus what constitutes Revelation is whether or not a word or a deed is a word or a deed of God.  For a word or a deed of God is by definition a Revelation of its divine author26; and a word or a deed which does not have God as its author is not of itself a Revelation of God.

On the one hand, then, inspiration directs us to every activity which is legitimately characteristic of man's human nature; and on the other hand Revelation directs us to what is intrinsically and of itself a word or a deed of God.  When, therefore, one considers the interrelationship of inspiration and Revelation in relation to Holy Scripture, it could be said that inspiration would be intrinsic to the activity which makes a word of man the Revelation of God.  Thus inspiration and Revelation are the beginning and the end - the termini - of a process by which what begins in the interior of a person is made manifest in his written words.

While, however, human activity and divine inspiration are two orders of activity and knowledge27, this difference between them does not produce two things, but one actually individual28 and indivisible29 reality: the Holy Scripture30.  The two analytically separable and in 'reality' different orders of activity and knowledge are yet by God's act made to be the one actuality of Scripture in which each order of knowledge and activity is related to the other as the inerrant literal sense is to the spiritual truth necessary for our salvation, just as the human nature is different to the divine nature and yet both are united in the one person31 of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ32.  Finally, just as the 'material' of the body and the form of the 'soul' are said to mutually condition33 one another, so did the truth to be made known and the cultural factors of composition mutually condition one another.

Therefore it could be said, again drawing on Pope John Paul II Address, that the task of the exegete, the task of the sacred author and the 'task' of the Holy Spirit and the Church34 have the following in common: 'to put believers into a personal relationship with God'35.  Thus it is both necessary and indispensable to be 'guided by the Holy Spirit' who inspired the sacred authors36 and to accept and to understand that the Scriptures are to be read in the context of the Church37: 'the New Testament took form within the Christian Church and that it is the Holy Scripture of this Church, the existence of which preceded the composition of the texts'38.

7 All Scripture references, unless otherwise stated or included in a quotation, are from the following edition: The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966).    Back
8 Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission on The Interpretation Of The Bible In The Church, Vatican translation, (Sherbrooke: Editions Paulines, 1994), Pt. I, C, 1, pages 50-53. Abbrev PBC etc.    Back
9 Cf. PBC: Pt I etc.    Back
10 Pope John Paul II, art 8 of his Address On The Interpretation Of The Bible In The Church (23 April, 1993) and published as part of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's book on The Interpretation Of The Bible In The Church, page 14. Abbrev. PBC, A.    Back
11 Rev. W. E. Addis, The Psalms, (cxxxix) page 395 of A Commentary On The Bible, A. S. Peake et al, (London: Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd.). Abbrev. TP.    Back
12 Cf. Pope John Paul II, A Catechesis on The Creed, Vol. III, The Spirit, Giver Of Life And Love, (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1996), pages 153-154. Abbrev. SLL, JPII.  Cf. also M. J. Dahood, Hebrew Language, page 976 of Vol VI of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, (USA: Jack Heraty and Associated, Inc., Palatine III, reprinted 1981). Abbrev. NCE etc.    Back
13 Ad Gentes Divinitus, art 9, page 823 and art 22, page 839 of VCII.    Back
14 Cf. Fr. J. Redford, Theology of Revelation, Book 1, (Birmingham: Maryvale Institute, 1990), pages 80-83. Abbrev. TR, Bk 1.    Back
15 J. L. McKenzie SJ, Dictionary of the Bible, (London: Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1965), page 392: Inspiration. Abbrev. DOB etc.    Back
16 Fr. J. Redford's MA in Catholic Theology course notes on The Letter To The Hebrews, page 9: 'Biblical Introduction should enlighten us regarding those circumstances which occasioned the writing of that particular text of scripture.' Abbrev. MAH.    Back
17 Cf. F.C. Copleston, Aquinas, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1955) pages 173-178.  Abbrev. Aqu; and cf. also G. K. Chesterton, Aquinas, (London: Hodder And Stoughton, 1943), pages 148-9: 'M. Maritain has used an admirable metaphor, in his book Theonas, when he says that the external fact fertilises the internal intelligence, as the bee fertilises the flower.'  Hereafter this book will be known as G. K's Aqu.    Back
18 Dei Verbum, art 2, page 751 of VCII.    Back
19 Cf. Dei Verbum, art 4, page 751 of VCII.    Back
20 Cf. Dei Filius, art 3015, page 45 of The Christian Faith, (New York: Alba House, revised edition 1982). Abbrev. TCF etc.    Back
21 Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic: On the work as a whole, Communio, Vol XX, No 4, (Winter 1993), pages 623-624. Abbrev. TL.    Back
22 Cf. Dei Verbum, art 6, page 752 of VCII.    Back
23 Dei Verbum, art 6, pages 752-753 of VCII.    Back
24 Dei Verbum, art 2, page 751 of VCII.    Back
25 Ibid, page 750.    Back
26 Cf. CCC, art 236.    Back
27 Dei Filius, art 3015, page 45 of TCF.    Back
28 L. M Corvez, Individuality, page 474 of Vol VII, NCE.    Back
29 C. F. Weiher, Indivisible, page 478 of Vol VII, NCE.    Back
30 Cf. DOB, page 393: Interpretation.    Back
31 Symbol of Chalcedon, art 302, page 145 of TCF.    Back
32 Cf. Fr. J. Redford, Introducing Theology, (Birmingham: Maryvale Institute, 1990), page 160. Abbrev. IT.    Back
33 N. A. Luyten, Soul-Body Relationship, page 472 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
34 Cf. Dei Verbum, art 10, page 756 of VCII.    Back
35 PBC, A, art 11, page 17.    Back
36 PBC, A, art 9, page 15.    Back
37 Cf. PBC, A, art 10, pages 15-17; and cf. also PBC, Pt. I, C, 1, page 52.    Back
38 PBC, Pt I, F, page 72.    Back

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