Inspired by feedback to Episode 1 by Father Libardo Rocha, a former professor of dogmatic theology at a pontifical university in Rome, Father Jayme acknowledges the “Truth-o-meter” determination that the soundbite used as the title of Episode 1 is only “Mostly True.” He explores how much we can know of the historicity of the people and events in the scriptures, with a particular focus on the historical Jesus. Drawing on the scholarship of the likes of John Meier, Rudolph Bultmann, Norman Perrin and Nicola Denzy Lewis, Father Jayme notes that much of what we know about Jesus of Nazareth is “faith knowledge.” While acknowledging that there are elements of history in the scriptures, he cites 15 specific examples that serve to warn us against leading people to believe that the Bible might be “a book of history.” He concludes with Dr. Denzy Lewis’ observation, which is especially poignant for Extraordinary Catholics: “The Bible can be meaningful, even without needing it to be historically truthful and accurate. The various stories of the Bible were assembled to reflect and build the faith of a community—something it does so well, that it is still a powerful document for millions of people today.”
Have you seen the latest issue of Extraordinary Catholics magazine?
Check out Episode 87 of the Sonic Boomers podcast!
Learn more about the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM), of which Inclusive Catholicism is part, through Sacramental Whine podcast, and check out Sacramental Whine: Chronicling the Independent Sacramental Movement, Volume 1 & Volume 2!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_is_Lord[Becky & Terry Ann 0:03]
Welcome to “Extraordinary Catholics,” a podcast for—you guessed it—extraordinary Catholics! In a world with over a billion ordinary Catholics, the Good Samaritans of Vatican-free Catholicism are truly extraordinary, seeking to model Jesus’ inclusive spirit and his discipleship of equals. Like Roman Catholicism, Inclusive Catholicism possesses valid lines of apostolic succession and shares valid sacraments. One in every ten adult Americans self-identifies as a former Roman Catholic. If we were to band together, we would form the second-largest religion in America. In Mexico, over 1,000 Roman Catholics leave the church every single day. To learn more about Inclusive Catholicism, please visit www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith, and join our Extraordinary Catholics Facebook group. And now, meet the host of Extraordinary Catholics, the pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, the only inclusive Catholic community in Austin, Texas: Father Jayme Mathias!
[Father Jayme Mathias 1:20]
Welcome, extraordinary Catholics! I am Father Jayme Mathias, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.
We thank the special saints who helped make this episode possible:
* Bishop Kenny Von Folmar of Solomon’s Porch in Phoenix, Arizona, part of the Convergent Christian Communion;
* Corey Hurt Montiel of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Bishop Jerry Brohl of the Independent Roman Catholic Church in Wyandotte, Michigan;
* Bishop Theodore Feldman of the Sanctuary of Divine Providence in Birmingham, Alabama;
* Very Reverend Ben Jansen of the Congregation of the Servants Minor in San Diego, California, part of the Progressive Catholic Church International;
* Archbishop Richard Roy of the National Catholic Church of American in Albany, New York;
* Pete & Maureen Tauriello of St. Francis of Assisi American National Catholic Church in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the hosts of The Sonic Boomers podcast;
* Marguerite & Paul Foster, Rudy & Gloria Nieto, and Mary Alice Jaimez of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Bishop Michael Leavitt of the Apostolic Marian Independent Catholic Church in New Ipswich, New Hampshire;
* Archbishop Alan Kemp of the Ascension Alliance in Gig Harbor, Washington;
* Bishop Ken Corbin of St. Francis Community of Faith for All People in Plainville, New York, part of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit;
* Bishop Michael Scalzi of TOCCUSA, the Old Catholic Church Province of the United States in Palmyra, Pennsylvania;
* Father Scott Carter of the Pilgrim Chapel of Contemplative Conscience in Ashland, Oregon, part of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch;
* Michael Stroder of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Dr. Lawrence Lewis of the Order of St. George Grand Priory of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana;
* Bishop William Cavins of Abiding Presence Ministries in Winter Park, Florida, part of the Reformed Catholic Church;
* Bishop Tony Green of St. John of God Parish in Schenectady, New York, part of CACINA, the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America;
* Father Frank Bellino of St. Michael’s Catholic Parish in San Antonio, Texas, part of the Unified Old Catholic Church;
* Father Chad Shaw of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross & St. Benedict Anglo-Catholic Chapel in Marshall, Texas; and
* Reverend Beau Minson of Divine Mercy Ministries in Richmond, Missouri.
Looking to earn your wings? Visit dwy.io/podcast to join the list of saints who are stepping up to sponsor future episodes. Again, that’s dwy.io/podcast.
And now, let’s continue our exploration of the theological foundations of Inclusive Catholicism!
Inspired by "Sacramental Whine" Podcast
I’m admittedly new to the podcast world. I came to know podcasts only last year, through Bishop David Oliver Kling’s “Sacramental Whine,” which I judged to contain some real gold. I bow my head in the direction of Bishop Kling, who is generating some great content, and who is helping people to learn more about the larger ISM, the Independent Sacramental Movement, of which Inclusive Catholicism is part. I know: For those of us who self-identify as solidly within the Catholic tradition, there are a number of esoteric, Gnostic and other voices that sometimes make us grit our teeth, but they, too, are threads in the rich tapestry of the Independent Sacramental Movement. I like to say that Inclusive Catholicism, a subset of the ISM, is like a large, stained-glass window, with great beauty and diversity. But, just like any church, when you get a closer look at some of the pieces of glass, you might think, “Well, that’s odd,” but it’s still part of that marvelous stained-glass window!
So, bear with this podcast neophyte.
Feedback to Episode 1
I appreciate the feedback to Episode 1, “The Bible is a Book of Theology, Not a Book of History: How Inclusive Catholics Interpret the Bible.” Terry Ann, one of the voices in our intro and outro, noted that my voice sounded “too soft, too hush-hush, like [I was] in the corner of a room, trying to be quiet.” My husband can assure you that I wasn’t too hush-hush that day, but we’re going to try another microphone here, and we’ll see how it goes.
Special thanks, too, to Gene Fisher for pointing out that not all Pharisees were rigid and judgmental, as Matthew painted them to be. Gene notes that there were two main groups of Pharisees: those who followed Shammai (the Shammaiites), who could be considered rigid and judgmental, and there were also those who followed Hillel (the Hillelites), who understood the Torah, the Law, in much the same way that Jesus understood it. Hillelites focused on the spirit of the Law, and both Christianity and Judaism ended up following the Hillelite approach to the Law, not the Shammaiite approach. Gene writes, “It is important to understand this because the false stereotyping of all Pharisees was one of the sources of the development of the ancient Christian teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism, that laid the groundwork for modern racial anti-semitism.” Gene, I could not have said it better myself. I appreciate your feedback and your perspective. You’re absolutely right.
So, I thought I started this podcast series with a roadmap: In Episode 1, I would speak of hermeneutics. Then in Episode 2, I would start “in the beginning,” with the creation stories in the book of Genesis and that rich story of the fall in Genesis 2 and 3, which Dr. Pamela Milne says, “ has had a more profoundly negative impact on women throughout history than any other biblical story.” I have episodes mapped out from the Hebrew scriptures to the Christian scriptures and extra-canonical literature, from the early Church to the various divisions—the various “mutinies”—within the Body of Christ, from the controversies of Gallicanism and Jansenism, and the ensuing Unigenitus, to the birth of Independent Catholicism and the formation of the Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches, from the divisions caused in the Church by the proclamations of Pio Nono, to the extraordinary vision of the Second Vatican Council. But, already in Episode 2, I’m proposing a slight detour. And the reason for this detour is feedback that I received to Episode 1 from Father Libardo Rocha, one of our priests here in Central Texas.
Father Libardo Rocha & His New Book: A Priest Forever
First, a bit about Father Libardo. For over 20 years, Father Libardo served as a Roman Catholic priest in Rome, Italy, where he pastored parishes, served as a hospital chaplain, was a postulator for the causes of saints in the Vatican, and taught dogmatic theology at a pontifical university. When Father Libardo decided that he had had enough of the Roman Church, we were delighted to welcome him to Texas, where he served as one of our associate pastors, together with Father Roy Gomez, who retired from active ministry at the end of 2020, and Father Cleofas Maria Cruz, now pastor of Santa Cruz Catholic Church in Lockhart, Texas. At the end of 2019, just prior to the pandemic, Father Libardo founded San Judas iglesia Católica Independiente (Saint Jude independent Catholic Church) in Niederwald, Texas (just 11 miles south of Holy Family).
Let me pause to “plug” Father Libardo’s new book, A Priest Forever: Reflections on the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Father Libardo just published the book last week on Amazon, in English and in Spanish. At just over 40 pages, it’s a quick, simple read. Father Libardo discusses the valid sacraments of our movement, which are sometimes attacked by our brothers of the Roman Catholic Church who slept through seminary classes on sacramental theology. Chapter 2 of his book focuses on married priests, noting that there is no incompatibility between the sacrament of Marriage and the sacrament of Holy Orders. And chapter 3 is an insightful discussion on women in the ordained ministries of the Church. Best of all, Father Libardo is making this book available at no financial benefit to him, so you can find it for $3.58 on Amazon. We’ve already ordered copies of it, that we’ve shared with our families at Holy Family. Order copies today for your community of A Priest Forever: Reflections on the Sacrament of Holy Orders by Father Libardo Rocha. If you’d like 10 or more copies, contact us and we’ll help you to get them for $2.15 each, plus postage.
So, Father Libardo and I enjoy a relationship where we challenge one another on things theological. When I’m editing and translating his books, I can say to him, “Wait, you can’t use the word ‘all’ in this sentence. You can say ‘most,’ you might say ‘many,’ perhaps you could even say ‘almost all,’ but in this instance, you can’t say ‘all.’” In that fraternal spirit, when I shared Episode 1 with Father Libardo, his response was, “The title of your first episode is not exact, since there are elements of history in the Bible.” Huh. Father Libardo was a professor of dogmatic theology at a pontifical university, so I take his words very seriously. And yes, his words are absolutely true: There are elements of history in the Bible. In order to better understand Father Libardo’s critique, we’re going to deviate a bit today. I had planned to jump into the creation stories found in the book of Genesis, and begin unpacking the stories of Adam and Eve—and yes, Lilith—but instead, in this episode, let’s massage a bit my assertion that “the Bible is a book of theology, and not a book of history.”
Many of us are aware of PolitiFact, the project of the Poynter Institute that examines the statements of politicians and rates them for accuracy. Their “Truth-o-meter” consists of a range: from True, to Mostly True, to Half True, to Mostly False, to False, to Pants on Fire. Spoiler alert: The title of this episode contains the results of our inquiry into the truth of the statement, “The Bible is not a book of history."
Let’s begin by asking ourselves what elements of history can be found in the Bible.
Elements of History in Creation Myths?
Let’s start “in the beginning,” with the book of Genesis. There is no scientific evidence that the world was created in six days, that is, in 144 hours. There’s no historical evidence for the Garden of Eden. And there’s no evidence to suggest that all human beings traced themselves back to two initial beings. And yet, those stories of creation seem historical. Our ancient ancestors certainly interpreted them literally, just as the listeners of any number of creation myths tended to understand what they were hearing, literally.
The Cherokee say that the first human beings were a brother and sister. After the brother slapped his sister with a fish and told her to multiply, she gave birth to a child every week. That poor woman! Soon the world was overpopulated, and women were limited to just one child per year. False, some people might say, but it’s a great story!
The Mayans say that the first humans were created from mud, but the mud crumbled. The next humans were created from wood, but the wood was destroyed by rain. Finally, the human beings we are today were created from, you guessed it, maiz (corn)! Pants on fire, some might say, but it’s a great story!
The Choctaw of Mississippi say that two brothers led their people from the land in the West, planting a staff in the dirt each night, then walking in the direction that the staff pointed the next morning. How would you rate that story? True, or false, or somewhere in between?
Archaeologists are finding some historical evidence that coincides with the stories we find in scripture, but there are still some things that fit better in the “basket” of folklore and legend and perhaps even myth, than in the “basket” of history.
The Jesus of History v. the Christ of Faith
In Christology, we speak of “the Jesus of history”—who that guy really was—versus “the Christ of faith”—what people believe about that guy. For instance, there’s no historical way to verify that Jesus of Nazareth walked on water, or that he miraculously multiplied bread and fish, or that he rose from the dead, for that matter: These are matters of faith. The first Christians heard these stories, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they literally believed that Jesus walked on water. As we said in Episode 1, “nothing is impossible for God,” right (Lk. 1:37)? There’s also no historical evidence for a census at the time of Jesus’s birth (Lk. 2:2), for a star that moved in the sky (Mt. 2:9), or for a slaughter of children ordered by King Herod (Mt. 2:16), but these were tremendous elements of story that were important for placing Jesus within a long line—or even at the front of the line—of other special prophets, magicians and miracle workers.
Father John Meier, a retired professor of the New Testament at the Catholic University of America, has attempted to parse the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. Sulpician father, Raymond Brown, the “dean of New Testament scholars,” attempted to do the same in his books on the birth and death of Jesus.
The Historical Jesus is Not the Real Jesus
Meier stresses the paradox that the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus, and that the real Jesus is not the historical Jesus. Think about that for a moment. Historians attempt to assemble a reasonably complete picture of any person or event. I share an extended quote from Meier, who writes, “The total reality of Richard Nixon will continue to elude us, as it eluded him, but we have and can hope to refine a reasonably complete portrait and record of the real Richard Nixon. In this limited, sober sense, the real Richard Nixon—and any recent public figure—is in principle available to the historian. The real and the historical do not coincide, but there is considerable overlap. Not so with Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority of his deeds and words, the reasonably complete record of the real Jesus, is irrevocably lost to us today. The real Jesus is unknown and unknowable. The reader who wants to know the real Jesus should close this book right now, because the historical Jesus is neither the real Jesus, nor the easy way to him. The real Jesus is not available, and never will be. This is true not because Jesus did not exist—he certainly did—but rather, because the sources that have survived do not and never intended to record all or even most of the words and deeds of his public ministry, to say nothing of the rest of his life” (A Marginal Jew, Volume 1, pp. 21-22).
Elements of History regarding Jesus
To return to the argument that yes, there are certain elements of history in the scriptures with respect to Jesus:
* Yes, he really existed, according to pagan and Jewish sources outside of the Christian tradition.
* And yes, if he really existed, then yes, he was born and yes, he died.
* Yes, his existence was rooted in the ancient Near East, between Jerusalem and Galilee, in the backwaters, the “boondocks” of the Roman Empire.
But there are far more elements in his life that are to be interpreted through the lenses of faith, than those that are to be taken literally.
As John Meier points out, the evangelist didn’t intend to present a biography of the real Jesus. Meier writes, “To speak of the gospel writers as presenting or intending to present the historical Jesus transports them in an exegetical time machine to the Enlightenment.”
Rudolf Bultmann, that great German Lutheran theologian who died in 1976, said that even though we know much about Jesus’ teachings, “we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either his life or his personality, and are moreover fragmentary and often legendary.
Norman Perrin, the English-born American professor of Biblical Studies, who also died in 1976, distinguished between various levels of knowledge when it comes to faith. He suggested that, with Jesus, we need to forego Level One knowledge, which is descriptive, historical knowledge—hard knowledge—of Jesus. Meier suggests that this Level One knowledge is hopelessly intertwined with the Level Two knowledge that is historic knowledge, the significance of historical knowledge for us today. Historic knowledge. Meier concludes that what we’re left with is Level Three knowledge: faith knowledge. We have a faith stance that causes us to say that Jesus is Christ, that Jesus is Lord—and this is something that we apply to Jesus and to no other figure in history. Meier then dedicates three volumes of A Marginal Jew to separating out what we might know about the Jesus of history, the historical Jesus.
The Historical Jesus, according to Father John Meier
What can we know about the Jesus of history? That is, what elements of history concerning Jesus are in the scriptures?
* We know his name: Yēšūaʿ in Aramaic.
* We know that he was born in Bethlehem, right? Actually, that’s problematic. Meier suggests that Jesus was more likely born in Nazareth of Galilee.
* That he was born in Herod’s kingdom? That’s likely.
* That Yēšūaʿ was born during the reign of King Herod? Yes, if Luke 3:1-2 is true. But think about this: Herod died in 4 B.C., four years “before Christ”—so if Yēšūaʿ was born before 4 B.C., while Herod was alive, then this is not the year 2022 that we’re living; instead, it’s at least 2026. We’re living in the year of our Lord 2026 or beyond!
* That Yēšūaʿ was born on December 25th? Hardly a chance.
* That he descended from David? A challenge, even if we recognize that Yēšūaʿ’s adoptive father— Yôsēp̄ in Aramaic—descended from David.
* That his mother’s name was Mary, or Maryam in Aramaic? No argument there.
* That Maryam was a virgin? Not verifiable, but certainly a mistranslation that has influenced the Catholic imagination for over 2,000 years, and veritably a story fitting within a larger tradition of stories of other virgin births.
* That Yēšūaʿ spoke the ordinary language used by the Jews of Palestine? Certainly.
* That Yēšūaʿ spoke Aramaic? Actually, a matter of debate. We have no recordings from first-century Palestine, and there are arguments to the contrary, like our O.P. Taylor, who argues that Yēšūaʿ regularly spoke Greek, or Harris Birkeland, who argues that Yēšūaʿ regularly spoke Hebrew.
* That Yēšūaʿ was an effective teacher? No doubt.
* That Yēšūaʿ could read? Well, he was adept in scripture, it seems, so we presume he could read—maybe, especially, if Luke 4:16-20 is a faithful report of a historical event.
* That Yēšūaʿ was a carpenter? Let’s be careful here. We know that the word “carpenter” is used in a specialized sense in the United States workplace. If Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 are to be believed, Yēšūaʿ was a tektōn (τέκτων). It’s likely better for us to translate that Greek word tektōn as “wood worker,” all the while recognizing that the same word was used of people who worked with stone, with horns, with ivory, as well as with wood.
* That Yēšūaʿ had brothers and sisters? That’s a matter of interpretation, with Meier concluding, due to the criterion of multiple attestation, that, “ the most probable opinion is that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were true siblings.”
* That Yēšūaʿ was married? Meier argues that Yēšūaʿ was celibate, while noting the arguments of William Phipps and others who suggest that Yēšūaʿ may have been married.
* That Yēšūaʿ lived and died as a Jewish layman, that is, not of a priestly descent? Meier concludes, “Jesus of Nazareth was insufferably ordinary, and his ordinariness included the ordinary status of a layman without any special religious credentials or power base.”
* That Yēšūaʿ’s public ministry began around 30 A.D. and lasted some three years? Historians generally agree that his ministry began sometime between 26 and 29 A.D. and lasted at least one year, perhaps as long as three years and some months.
* That Yēšūaʿ died around 33 A.D.? Historians generally agree that Yēšūaʿ would have died sometime between 28 and 33 A.D.
I offer all of that simply as a summary of John Meier’s first volume. Volume 2 explores Yēšūaʿ’s purported relationship with John the Baptist, his preaching of God’s reign, the miracles, exorcisms and healings attributed to him, his nature miracles, and his purported ability to raise people from the dead. Volume 3 explores Jesus’s relationship to other Jews, to the Twelve, to his disciples, to his Jewish followers, to the Pharisees, to the Sadducees, and to the Essenes.
It seems Meier is right: Because of all the works written about Jesus decades after his death, we likely know more about him than about other historical figures in his day, like Pontius Pilate. After all, how many books do you know that were written about Pontius Pilate? Actually, because of Pilate’s relationship to Jesus, perhaps that question is not fair. So I ask: How much do you know about Pilate’s predecessor and/or about Pilate’s successor?
Hermeneutics: Sifting Fact from Faction
One of the tasks of hermeneutics, then, becomes the sifting of fact and history, from elements that came from the writers’ imaginations—things like the census at the time of Jesus’s birth, the star that moved in the sky, or the purported slaughter of children ordered by King Herod, things not proven yet by history. Dr. Nicola Denzey Lewis, a visiting associate professor of Religious Studies at Brown University and a contributor to the History Channel, BBC and CNN, notes that we hold the Bible to different standards than other ancient works. Though based on true events, the Iliad, the epic text of the 12th century B.C. attributed to Homer, has many fictitious elements, and we’re comfortable dismissing its stories of so many actions directed, caused or influenced by the likes of Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Ares and Hermes. Dr. Denzey Lewis writes, “Seeing the Bible as scripture has meant, particularly nowadays, that many tend to see it as something that must automatically be true and accurate. Many also tend to see it as primarily a sort of book of history.”
"Facts are Tricky Things"
It was only in the fifth century B.C., beginning with Herodotus, that we began to record history as it happened—but the “facts” that people wrote down are tricky things. I’d like to share an extended explanation by Dr. Denzey Lewis, who writes: “Facts are tricky things, though. Some historical data, presented as facts in the Bible, can’t be verified, because we have no independent verification, no ancient ‘fact checkers.’ Similarly, we can’t verify that Jesus performed miracles, or that he is the Son of God. These are theological ideas, not historical statements. We need to make our own judgments about whether or not we are convinced by a text’s historical veracity. Every now and then, however, we’re lucky enough to find some piece of non-biblical text or artifact that backs up or substantiates biblical information. For instance, we know that biblical figures, such as King Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar II and King Herod, to name only three, existed, because other non-biblical sources confirm it. In fact, the field of biblical archaeology was originally developed as a way to confirm the veracity of the Bible by searching for independent archaeological evidence of biblical figures and events.” I pause to note that part of Father Libardo’s educational background is in biblical archaeology, which makes him such a rich resource for our Inclusive Catholic movement.
Dr. Denzey Lewis concludes that biblical archaeology does more to uncover details about the social and cultural history of biblical peoples, than to prove the historical accuracy of the scriptures. We haven’t, for instance, proven the historicity of the great flood in Genesis 6-9.
Homer & Harry Potter
Fundamentalists insists that the scriptures are historically accurate. They say that the flood must be true, because the Bible is the infallible word of God. They argue that the scriptures contain many minor details that have been found to be accurate—like the depth of Jacob’s well in Samaria (Jn. 4:11)—so, the major, unverifiable events in the scriptures must be true, too. Right? Dr. Denzey Lewis says it would be like believing that the god Achilles really exists because the Iliad got the geography of Troy right.
Dr. Denzey Lewis summarizes: “To be more provocative, it should not surprise us that the Harry Potter books series gets certain details of British life—like a fondness for tea—right. After all, it was written by a British author. We would be mistaken to call it generally historically accurate, just because of what details it gets factually correct.”
And then, what do we do with the details that the authors of the ancient scriptures got wrong? Dr. Denzey Lewis shares one example. The gospel of Luke (Lk. 2:1-2) tells us that Jesus was born when Herod was king and when Quirinius was the legate in Syria. The challenge: Herod died before 5 B.C., and Quirinius wasn’t the legate in Syria until some 10 years later, around 5 A.D.
"Luke Intentionally Wrote Something that Resembled Accurate History"
I apologize for the lengthy quote, but Dr. Denzey Lewis is much more eloquent than I. She concludes: “We can’t say that Luke was writing accurate history. He might well have thought that he was, and that he had the dates right. Or, the point might have been that Luke intentionally wrote something that resembled accurate history, but that accuracy was not as important as the message that he was trying to convey: that Jesus’s birth was historically significant, just as it was theologically significant. In the case of the New Testament, the gospel writers did not want to write factual history, but to offer proof that Jesus was the Son of God. This is why the four gospels each produce a unique portrait of Jesus, slightly different in its historical details. The Bible can be meaningful, even without needing it to be historically truthful and accurate. The various stories of the Bible were assembled to reflect and build the faith of a community, something it does so well that it is still a powerful document for millions of people today.”
Theological Challenges Resulting from the Literal Reading of Scriptures
And so, I would suggest we need to be extremely cautious in suggesting that the Bible might be a book of history. If the picture that Meier paints of the historical Jesus is a far cry from what many of us believed in our literal understandings of the scriptures, just imagine the many difficulties that arise when people start believing that various words and actions attributed to God might be historical:
* That God dammed the entire human race and cursed all of creation for the actions of two people (Gen. 3:16-23, Rom. 5:18). What kind of God does that?
* That God drowned people and animals in a universal flood (Gen. 7:20-23).
* That God tormented people with plague after plague for their leader’s obstinance (Ex. 9:8-11).
* That God killed babies during the Passover (Ex. 12:29-30).
* That God ordered people to slaughter others and steal their land (Deut. 7:1-2).
* That God killed King David’s baby because of an act of adultery (2Sam. 12:13-18).
* That God would order the massacre of entire peoples (Num. 31:17, 1Sam. 15:3, Ez. 9:4-7). I feel I need to pause, to state the obvious: Our God does not have the morals of a sociopathic mass murder.
* That God required the torture and murder of God’s own Son for the salvation of the world (Rom. 3:24-25).
* That God will sentence non-Catholics and non-Christians to eternal torment (Rev. 21:8).
* That God caused the earth to swallow entire families (Num. 16:32) and destroyed others with fire (Num. 11:1, Num. 16:35).
* That God sent bears and lions and serpents to attack people (2Kgs. 2:23-24, 2Kgs. 17:24-25, Num. 21:6).
* That God sanctioned slavery (Lev. 25:44-46).
* That God caused cannibalism (Jer. 19:9).
Warning: In his book, The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine wrote, “The belief in a cruel God makes a cruel person.”
These are only a few examples, and I largely focus on the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but you can just as easily do an internet search for historicity of the Bible, or look at sites like Wikipedia.
The Bible is an Historic Work of Theology
And so, while we recognize that Father Libardo’s statement is absolutely true—the scriptures do contain some elements of history—we have to be extremely careful about leading others to believe that the Bible might be a book of history, rather than a book of theology.
How would the Truth-o-meter judge my assertion that the Bible is a book of theology, and not a book of history? I would suggest it’s mostly true. Absolutely, the scriptures are theology: They tell us about God and what our ancient ancestors believed about their gods. To return to the paradigm of Norman Perrin, we might say that the scriptures are more historic than historical, that the people and events of which they speak are extremely significant to us some 2,000+ years later, regardless of how little we might know about the historical people and events contained in them. To be absolutely true, perhaps we might rephrase the title of Episode 1. Rather than say “the Bible is a book of theology, not a book of history,” it is certainly more correct to say the Bible is an historic work of theology.
We thank Father Libardo for his feedback and for inspiring this episode. Please check out his new book, A Priest Forever: Reflections on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, available in English and Spanish on Amazon. And please, if you see Father Libardo, let’s all encourage him to assist us with a podcast in Spanish on Inclusive Catholicism!
Join us for Episode 3, which, if we get back to our roadmap, may lead us back into the Garden of Eden—unless, of course, the Spirit leads us in another direction before then! As you might suspect, I tend to follow the advice of an old priest, Father Angeles LeFleur, who 30 years ago, when I was in the seminary, once counseled me: “Grab hold of the Spirit’s tail feathers, and never let go. It’s a wild ride!”
Extraordinary Catholics Don't Merely Parrot Scriptures
To come full-circle: It is indeed a wild ride when we don new lenses and begin to see the scriptures, the Word of the Lord, in more than literal and historical ways.
Many ordinary Catholics are not conscious of the ways in which their parroting of scriptures has detrimental, even deleterious, effects on individuals, on our society, and on our faith. Let’s be conscious of this. Yes, let’s be…extraordinary Catholics!
[Terry Ann & Becky]
Thank you for joining us for Extraordinary Catholics podcast with Father Jayme Mathias! Check out our directory of over 2,000 Inclusive Catholic clergy at www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith. Have an extraordinary day!