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Question 94:

Many of the details are written down differently in the Gospels. If the same Spirit inspired the writers, why all the differences in the details?

 

The questioner should carefully re-read the 1st chapter of the above published book: Holy Scripture and the Word of God and then our reply to question 60 above, about why there are four different gospels.

The question why Jesus did not ask for his message and teachings to be written down arises from the classical Islamic teaching from the Qur’an (see Sura 2:136) that some outstanding prophets, such as Moses (Mūsā), Jesus (‛Īsā) and Muhammad have each been given a scripture directly from God. For Moses it was the Tora, for Jesus the Gospel and for Muhammad the Qur’an. According to this belief, the respective scriptures, the words of which were at first found in the heart and on the lips of its prophet, were soon written down in the form of a scripture roll or a codex, without any changes in the actual wording. This understanding implicitly contains two statements, one, that these prophets did indeed receive the actual wording of a scripture, and secondly, that what they have proclaimed verbally, i.e. what they believed to be God’s message, was then written down verbatim without changing even a single letter. We leave the question open to which extent this view of history can be reliably verified.

The consensus among critical non-Christian and Christian researchers about Jesus of Nazareth is, without exception, that He never claimed that God had revealed to Him the wording of a Holy Scripture which already existed with God, which in Islamic tradition is called injīl, nor that He alone or with the help of His apostles had given the message thus understood a written form in one single book, called injīl.

In a consensus with critical research, it must be imagined that the process of becoming writings of Jesus messages, or better, the process of the genesis of the writings which were later collected and became the normative scriptures of the Church in the form of the New Testament, occurred as described by the well known Catholic theologian Otto Hermann Pesch:

“Jesus Himself refers to scripture, to the law and the prophets (see the Gospel of Matthew 22:40), which contain [according to Jesus teachings} the Word and the Will of God. But what happened to Him [Jesus] was the same as happened to the stories of the Old Testament and to the words of Moses and the prophets. At first, people talked about Him – during the eucharistic celebration, in the teaching and announcing of the faith and so on, the believers spoke about His words. Only later were they written down, at first a few, then more and more words He had spoken and that they meant for the believers. Finally, in the hands of talented writers and theologians, stories, word and interpretation merged together again to complete stories, which we call the Gospels, in accordance with the first line of the oldest among them (see Mark 1:1). In addition, there were the pastoral letters of the various apostles, missionaries and leaders of communities, especially of Paul.

And thus a new collection of books, the New Testament was created. And just like using the Old Testament, the people of Israel learned their faith in God’s closeness through their history, so Christians use the New Testament to learn their faith in Gods final and irrevocable closeness to all human beings in His Son, the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. Therefore, the New Testament is Holy Gospel, just as the Old Testament. It does not negate the Holy Writings of the Old Testament. It is the same God in whose actions among the people of Israel and in whose appearance in Jesus Christ we believe in. Both Testaments together, one as the book of promise, the other as the book of fulfillment, form one Holy Scripture – the founding Charta of faith and the Church. The question: Can the Bible be believed has therefore been answered, because it answers itself. We believe because the Bible invites us to believe. Without the Bible we would not be Christians, because without it we would not believe. It is as though we would look at a beloved person and ask: Am I allowed to love this person? If we love him, then we simply love him and no longer ask whether were allowed to do so. The same is true about belief with regard to the Bible: Its word invites us to believe. If, as a consequence, we believe in God, we simply believe. The Bible has then convinced us so much that we no longer ask, whether we can believe in it.

The Bible as a human book

[Of course]… we want to know whether all these things have happened just as we read them in the Bible: All these strange stories of God’s miraculous intervention in the course of history. We keep hearing of biblical criticism, of critical biblical science, which compares the stories in the Bible with the knowledge we have about the times and the environment of the Bible with other sources, and then concludes: It cannot have been like this, history and legend have merged here, and the religious interpretation has colored the telling of the story. …”

At this point, we have to impress something important: The Bible contains God’s word, but hidden in human words. The more we therefore take the Bible seriously as a human book, the better. However, this also means that its authors were men and women of their times – which can also be seen from the fact that they wrote in their own language which happened to be spoken in their environment: Hebrew or Greek. They wrote their books in the way people wrote books in those days. Because, for example, in those times good stories were even more loved than today, biblical writers included stories in their books and maybe even invented some in order to explain what they wanted to say. And of course they wrote their books to promote faith in God, to proclaim His activity. Who can be surprised then that faithful interpretation and the report itself merge? Nor is it astonishing, that the books contain much of other thinking besides faith, for example the construction of the universe, the end of the world etc. What they did not write was a modern day school book, where one thing clearly follows the other, nor an objective newspaper report or a police protocol, because they did not know what that was. And if you had told them they had been taken for legends, they would not have understood why this should be a criticism.

Gods word cannot be obtained by any other means than bound in this word of the Bible written in its particular time. And if the Bible were different, if, for example, it was written the way we would rather have it, then we would never have found faith, because this Bible would not exist. It is easy to understand. If the biblical writer, possibly through special revelation from the Holy Spirit, had written in the style of the 20th century, then no-one in his own time would have understood properly. No-one would have felt that it concerned them, and therefore, no-one would have been interested, no-one would have kept it, written it down, translated it into other languages and spread it – and we would know nothing of the Bible today. There is therefore a very good reason for God’s word being hidden in the human. We should be thankful for that and not complain that we, having been born later and somewhere else, not only have to translate the Bible, but also have to explain and interpret it in order to understand it fully. (“Kleines katholisches Glaubensbuch”. Topos Taschenbuch no. 29; 13. Edition. 1992.)

For the process of explaining scripture through the centuries into ever new times and situations, the Church has been promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit. According to Catholic understanding, the Holy Spirit, via the office of teaching (lat. magisterium), the Bishop of Rome who stands in the succession of Christ, and all the other bishops, protects the Church from basic errors in the teaching of faith and morals.

 

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