The Pontifical Biblical Commission & the Problem of the Parousia (Part 1 of 3)

This post is the second in a series which deals with Scripture apparently erring in its expectation that the Second Coming of Christ would take place in the first century. As a first step toward resolving the problem of an imminent parousia of Jesus, we actually need to throw in another wrench. Today’s post is the first of a short series concerning a 1915 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, an office that served as an organ of the Magisterium in that epoch. This document can be found in Italian and Latin on the Vatican site and in English in the book entitled The Scripture Documents. Like the other documents of the PBC at the time, this document is in Q & A format, with the answers being the magisterium’s teaching on the matter in question. Today we’ll treat the first of the document’s three questions.

Question 1: “Whether it is permissible for a Catholic exegete, in solving difficulties that occur in the Letters of St. Paul and the other apostles, where the so-called ‘Parousia’ or Second Coming of our Lord Jesus is mentioned, to assert that the apostles, although they teach no error under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless do express their own human views, into which error or deception can enter.”

Response 1: “Negative.”

This answer combats the notion that Scripture contains certain statements which issue from the pen of human authors who are liable to err when they are not writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, what is condemned here is the attempt to preserve biblical inerrancy by saying that problematic biblical passages merely constitute the expression of a human point of view and are not as such inspired. From this perspective rejected by the PBC, only parts of the Bible are inspired.

In line with the PBC, Vatican II would later reaffirm the Church’s traditional teaching that “the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author” (Dei Verbum 11).

In the same section of Dei Verbum just cited, the council goes on to teach that “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum 11). To give a hint of the argument which I will be making, one of the keys to addressing the riddle of the imminent parousia lies precisely in the correct understanding and application of this text. A few blog posts from now, we will take a look at how Pope Benedict XVI endeavors to ascertain the “fundamental message” and “essential points” being made in texts which appear to contradict the facts of history.

The reason why this PBC document constitutes another wrench for us is that it is not immediately apparent how Benedict’s approach is reconcilable with that of the PBC we’re dealing with here. We’ll get to that in due time, but for next time we’ll continue with this PBC document and examine its second question. If you’re interested in how Benedict approaches the early documents of the PBC, I recommend downloading my talk The Substance of Catholic Doctrine I: The Church & Exegesis.

 

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