Monday, August 22, 2005

His Word is Truth

I came across a rather ill-considered footnote (though typical for modern biblical “scholarship”) in a Bible I’ve been reading. The translation is actually a very good one (RSV), but the annotations suffer, at times, from the “debunking disease” of commentators who have evidently lost a significant degree of their faith. It was an explanatory comment on the holy prophet Elijah’s raising to life of a dead boy in 1Kings 17. Here’s the comment: “Some have argued that the child was not really dead, and hence that no miracle was involved. This is beside the point. The writer meant to portray a powerful God and a worthy prophet.”

Let us briefly demolish this argument. Who the “some” are is not indicated. I suppose if I were prone to making ridiculous statements I would hide behind a shield of anonymity as well. How they could know (or think) that the child was not dead, when the text says he was, is sheer (and dishonest) speculation. The boy’s mother lamented “the death of my son,” and Elijah questioned why God would afflict the woman “by slaying her son.” Hard to see how “some” can argue that the child was not dead. The last phrase of that sentence in the comment betrays their agenda: “and hence that there was no miracle involved.” They come to the biblical text with an a priori disbelief in miracles; therefore miracles must be explained away. If miracles don’t happen, then this story that describes a miracle must be interpreted so as to deny the miracle. Again, dishonest scholarship, based on a personal or communal (the unbelieving academic community) presupposition.

After saying that there was no miracle in the biblical account of the miracle, they assert: “This is beside the point.” Sorry, but the miracle is precisely the point. This is like what I said yesterday about those who think they can have Christian faith if Jesus’ bones were to be found in a grave. They think that is beside the point too. But again, that is the whole point. It's also like what "some" say when they assert that the words of Jesus in the Gospels are not literally his own but what his disciples put in his mouth as they wrote their accounts for the edification of the Church. Weren't the things that He actually did say worth writing down? I guess, then, that Jesus must not have said anything noteworthy, and his disciples were better at expressing the revelation of God than He was. (One group of "scholars" actually votes on whether or not Jesus actually said certain things written in the Gospels!) I don't see how the sheer idiocy of this approach escapes some otherwise intelligent people.

The commentator goes on to say that the alleged miracle—which wasn’t a miracle, and which is beside the point anyway—is “meant to portray a powerful God and a worthy prophet.” This comment is lame in the extreme. In what sense is God portrayed as powerful if there was no miracle? And how is the prophet worthy if he is a liar and a charlatan—for he said the child was dead, prayed to God, and returned him to his mother alive. God is only portrayed as powerful if He
did raise the dead child, and Elijah is only worthy if he is the faithful mouthpiece of God’s word and instrument of his power.

We should allow God’s word to speak for itself, for his word is truth. I don’t deny that some passages are obscure or too profound for a facile interpretation, and hence we need the guidance of the Church to properly understand God’s word. What we don’t need are the speculations of scholars who are either trying to make a name for themselves with “original” or controversial interpretations, or those who have simply lost their faith and are trying to look respectable in the eyes of secular colleagues, or those who really do have an agenda to contradict or dilute the Church’s Scripture-based doctrines. If the Bible says Elijah or Jesus worked a miracle, then the burden of proof (and it’s a heavy one) is on those who would deny it. Let us read the Scriptures with an attitude of faith and humility: "standing under" them that we may under-stand them, responding to the inspired authors like the woman who received her son from the dead and said to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”