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New York Scripture seminar affirms reliability of New Testament
During November 1999, an important seminar was held in New York entitled "The Bible and the Catholic Church: Challenging The Findings of the Jesus Seminar." The Jesus Seminar represents a well-funded assault on the scriptural foundations of Christian doctrine. Composed of scholars who meet regularly to vote on which of the words and deeds of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels can be considered as true, the Jesus Seminar has concluded that less than 18 percent are historically accurate. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it asserts Jesus did not rise from the dead.
The 'opposition' seminar - organised by the noted New York priest-author Msgr Michael J. Wrenn - brought together some of the cream of orthodox biblical scholars from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, who focussed critical attention on the claims of the Jesus Seminar.
This short report can refer but briefly to the detailed - sometimes complex - arguments advanced during the seminar.
Among the contributing scholars, Rev N. T. Wright, a former lecturer in the New Testament at Oxford University, as well as canon- theologian at Westminster Abbey, stated that Christianity depends on things that happened within history, and he pointed out that a failure to anchor Christianity in historical realities easily leads to inventing a Jesus to suit our own ideologies. Rev Dr Brian Harrison pointed out that on several occasions during his pontificate, Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the received Catholic teaching on the historical reliability of the Gospels as did Vatican II in Dei Verbum.
Professor William Farmer, a biblical scholar from the Catholic University of Dallas, stated that the members of the Jesus Seminar "are involved in a comprehensive misunderstanding of the New Testament." He refuted their assertion that St Paul took over the tradition concerning the Last Supper from pagan Hellenistic circles somewhere in Asia Minor or Greece. Taking the New Testament texts 1 Cor 11: 23-26 and the accounts of the Last Supper in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Professor Farmer demonstrated that, despite some differences, these texts nonetheless converge in bearing a reliable double attestation to the facts regarding what happened at the Last Supper. He stated that, in the convergence of these accounts of the institution of the Eucharist, the Church has "two separate accounts of the same event," which rest upon "the same set of eyewitnesses, namely, the disciples of Jesus who were present to witness the awesome event."
Professor Scott Hahn linked the Church's teaching on the Kingdom of God with the Sacrifice of the Mass: "Our Eucharistic liturgy is a royal Sacrament in which we participate in our King's priestly self-offering before the angels and saints and unto his Father and our Father in heaven."
Dr David Laird Dungan, a Protestant scholar and author of A History of the Synoptic Problem (Doubleday, 1999), stated that sceptical and rationalist questioning of the historicity of the Gospels had infected German biblical scholarship in the period 1860-1939. This, he said, had contributed to "a violent attack upon Roman Catholicism" in the aftermath of Vatican I and to the assertion by "liberal Lutheran scholars" that "the idea of Papal Infallibility was absolutely irrational." Dr Dungan said that opposition to the dogma of Infallibility gave rise to "a Government- led witch-hunt on Roman Catholic faculties in German universities" and that biblical criticism was used to challenge the authenticity of Mt 16: 16-19 ("Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church") as a text traceable to the historical Jesus.
Msgr George A. Kelly revealed that his involvement with biblical theory began in 1970 when he read Raymond Brown's book Priest and Bishop. Msgr Kelly said that in this book, Brown "could not prove that Christ instituted the ministerial priesthood or episcopacy as such, that Christ established the Eucharist as a sacrifice, that those who presided at the Eucharist were really priests, that a separate priesthood began with Christ, that presbyter bishops were in any way traceable to the apostles, that Peter in his life-time would be looked upon as the Bishop of Rome, or that the bishops were the successors of the Apostles - even though Vatican II had restated that very claim."
Msgr Michael Wrenn referred to a book written by Father Marie Emile Boismard of the famous Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, titled At The Dawn of Christianity: Before the Birth of Dogmas. Msgr Wrenn noted that "Moismard attempts to eviscerate accepted scriptural justifications for the Virgin Birth, the Divinity of Christ, the Blessed Trinity, and the Eucharist."
In basing himself on the teaching of Vatican II in Dei Verbum, Kenneth D. Whitehead, former US Assistant Secretary of Education and author of several books, stated that in order to serve the Church, biblical exegetes must forge their scholarly judgements in accordance with three criteria, which are: i) the unity of the whole of Scripture, ii) the Tradition of the Church, and iii) the analogy of faith.
To interpret the Scriptures according to "the analogy of faith", said Whitehead, means "that the exegete cannot interpret texts in a way that contradicts either established doctrines of the faith, or interpretations of other passages of Scripture accepted by the Church."
A published collection of the papers presented at the New York seminar could prove a valuable contribution to the cause of orthodox biblical scholarship, not to mention the defence of traditional Christian beliefs.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 13 No 2 (March 2000), p. 8
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