Scriptures are True

Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson has an essay in this week’s Commonweal upon which I would like to comment.

(As of this moment, it is not possible to read his essay on-line–unless you are a Commonweal subscriber. Maybe this will change in a few days.)

Are the Sacred Scriptures true? Certainly they are. Here is why:


Jesus is either the Son of God, or He was a madman. He worked miracles; He rose from the dead—these are solid historical facts. These vindicate His claim to be divine. Therefore, He is the Son of God.

Christ founded a Church. He gave authority to His Church.

After He ascended into heaven, Christ’s Church…

1) produced the books of the New Testament.

2) decreed that the books of the Old Testament are holy

3) organized, preserved, and handed down the Bible.

illuminated-bibleThe Church teaches that the Bible is the infallible written Word of God. When we read it, we can be certain that God is speaking to us.

The $10,000 question is: How can we understand Him when we read His Word?

The books of our dear Bible were originally written in languages which few of us can read. We rely on experts to translate.

Even when we read the Bible in English, many parts of it are notoriously difficult to understand. These books were written a long time ago, by people who had things on their minds that we do not. Therefore, we rely on experts to explain the Scriptures to us.

Above all, we have to remember that the Scriptures belong to the Church. After all, the reason we trust these books is that the Church of Christ tells us that we should!

sun moonDr. Johnson’s essay contains a few statements which I think are untrue:

1) Modern science has demonstrated that the universe does NOT have three storeys, heaven, earth, and hell.

In fact, science can neither prove nor disprove this. The fact that the universe has three “storeys” is something we learn from divine Revelation. There is no question that the universe does have three storeys: heaven, the material cosmos, and hell.

2) The Bible is historically inaccurate.

There is no good reason to doubt that the history recorded in the Bible is accurate. For much of what is recounted, we have only the Bible as a historical record. On the other hand, other historical documents and artifacts corroborate some of the information in the Bible. None of the accounts in the Bible have ever been disproved by other documents or artifacts.

Of course, not everything written in the Bible is history. The Psalms, the prophecies, and the letters are not histories. The account of creation is not a ‘history.’ It cannot be, because the sun is not created until the fourth day. In history, we have no way of measuring days other than the sun. So the seven ‘days’ of Genesis 1 are something other than 24-hour intervals.

3) According to Dr. Johnson, the real question is: Is the world which the Bible ‘imagines’ true? This question is absurd, because there in only one world, one cosmos.

Reality and imagination are different. If the Bible ‘imagines’ things that are not real, then it is not true. But we know that what the Bible teaches is true. Therefore, the only possible source of error would be our own understanding of what the Bible means.

To put my commentary on Dr. Johnson’s article in a nutshell:

commonweal_coverIn academic circles, the truth of the Bible is regarded as a problem. But it is not a problem at all. The Bible is definitely true.

The problem is: We ourselves are inadequate to the task of understanding the Bible fully.

We have to keep trying, of course.

And we can have confidence in the explanations which our Fathers offer us. (The Fathers of the Church, the Holy Father, etc. Individual priests can make mistakes.)

But if anyone ever claims to have given the definitive interpretation of even one verse of the Bible, you know he is a snakeoil salesman. The Bible has altogether more meaning than any single human mind can handle.

We are fools if we doubt the Bible. Also, we are fools if we do not doubt our own interpretation of the Bible.

If you are looking for one interpretation of the Bible which you can take to the bank, click here.

Any thoughts?

One thought on “Scriptures are True

  1. Luke Timothy Johnson does have some good stuff, even since he’s been an “ex-priest”, but he’s one of those scholars with a mortal fear of appearing “too conservative” to Commonweal Catholics. This article sounds like it has as one of its purposes to reassure them of his cred and get invited to Margaret Steinfels’ next cocktail party.

    St. Augustine said something like “I would not believe the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Church.” Mr. Johnson likely discounts (or at least diminishes the necessity of)the authority of the Church as a foundation for the truth of the Scriptures.Thus the truth of the Scriptures is questionable in his eyes, and he gets to ask the questions on his own authority. (After all, he’s an expert!)

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