One the floor of the Second Vatican Council, bishops debated whether to clarify the church’s teaching on Biblical inerrancy. They disagreed, some having a view more like many conservative Evangelicals today- although there may be fiction in the Bible, such as some of the parables, when the Bible records history there are no historical errors, according to this view. Some of the Church Fathers held to a view close to this, hence elaborate attempts to reconcile the genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke. But the more liberal view was that there might be historical errors in the Bible, such as Genesis 24:10, where Abraham’s servant travels by camel, when according to most scholars camels were not yet domesticated. However, even the more liberal Catholic view is that Scripture is inerrant in all matters of doctrine and morality. Hence the compromised, more vague language of the Vatican II document “Dei Verbum,” Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation : “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (Dei Verbum 11:4-5
However, this debate does not interest me that much. I am hardly willing to be martyred over whether or not there were domesticated camels in the time of Abraham.
However, I am interested in what even the more liberal reading means we must hold to, including some beliefs that are unpopular in some circles today.
First of all, although I admit I am not particularly interested in him (and read a few books just to make sure I’m not), I will admit that Hans Urs Van Balthasar was a great Catholic theologian- one can hardly deny that when Blessed John Paul II chose him as a cardinal just because he was his favorite theologian. But von Balthasar’s idea that it is possible that there are no human beings in hell is clearly, in my opinion, contrary to Scripture. Both Matthew, Luke and Revelation, not to mention other parts of the Bible, clearly depict that there will be some human beings in hell for eternity. (Revelation 20:15, among many other texts).
Secondly, the Bible clearly teaches that certain actions which are popular to condone in our culture are immoral- such as homosexual acts and abortion.
Thirdly, the Catholic church has such a high regard for Scripture that it would be wrong to say that parts of the Bible are sexist, despite St. Paul’s prohibition on women speaking in church (1Corinthians 14:34, 1 Tim 2:11). Such a different role of the genders that they had 2,000 years ago does not mean sexism, anymore than failing to explicitly condemn slavery condones slavery now. Certainly we have a higher view today of the equality of the sexes than people did in Biblical times, and there is still a human element in Scripture, although Scripture is both human and divine, like Christ. There are texts in the Bible that defend the equality of the sexes, such as “In Christ there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Consider Esther, Judith, Deborah in the Old Testament, or the role of the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalen in the Gospels, or Priscilla in the Acts of the Apostles. I do not even think the creation story is sexist when God creates Eve as a helper for Adam. I believe the Bible is not sexist, and had a idea of sexual equality that was rare for the time.
Also, if Biblical inerrancy is true, then the whole New Testament must teach Catholic Christology. Thus we can not take Mark 13: 32 literally- the Son does know the hour of the second coming, since he is fully God, but does not know it from his human nature. Attempts to see Christological heresies in the New Testament are wrong, despite some modern scholarship to the contrary.
Despite the importance of Scripture, we still need tradition to interpret it.