February 4, 2006
Answers in Genesis
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response to our letter. We have reflected upon your words regarding the practical outworking of authority in the Catholic Church today and must admit that in large measure we agree with you. The focus of our last letter to you concerned the final source of doctrinal authority within the church. While the Kolbe Center, as a lay apostolate, holds no direct teaching authority within the church, we can play an important role in communicating the doctrinal truths of creation to all Catholics including the bishops in a manner which they can understand and respect. A key role of a bishop in the Catholic Church is to uphold and preserve the teachings of the apostles – a very conservative role which does not permit the introduction of new doctrines. It is our duty as faithful Catholics to respectfully remind our bishops of the contents of the deposit of faith handed down to them. These contents overwhelmingly support biblical inerrancy and a literal reading of Genesis.
Regarding the canon of scripture, we do need to point out some historic realities regarding its development. It was the Catholic Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which came to recognize and determine which books belonged in the Bible. Our Catholic and Protestant New Testament canons are identical because the Church discerned and enforced this at the councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD). The same councils confirmed the canonicity of the books contained in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the apostles themselves. (St. Jerome’s official translation of the Old Testament into Latin followed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and avoided certain errors in the texts of the Septuagint books-in the genealogies of Genesis, for example.) The Septuagint includes the deuterocanonical (apocryphal) books that some claim were added by the Catholic Church. In reality, these books were part of the Apostle Paul’s scrolls and parchments from the first century. The Council of Trent merely reaffirmed the canonicity of these books after they were objected to by Protestants for doctrinal reasons. In fact, early Protestant Bibles, such as the King James Version, included these books as apocryphal or uninspired and later editions removed them entirely. In light of these facts, it is not correct to say that the Catholic Church added books to the Old Testament. It would be more historically accurate to say that the Protestant reformers removed these books from the Bible.
The Holy Spirit guided the Church to recognize 27 books in the New Testament that you claim as authoritative. What if the Magisterium made a mistake in determining the canon and included an uninspired book? What would this do to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy that you so diligently defend? Any claim that the Church, through her oral Tradition, erred in determining the canon inevitably harms the authority of the written Word. Much of the Bible was passed down orally before being committed to writing. At the very least, you must realize that the Bible doesn’t contain an inspired table of contents. An authority, outside of Scripture, was necessary to determine which books belonged in the Bible. The Bible teaches that Jesus promised to guide the Church into all truth (John 17:13) by the Holy Spirit. The world does not recognize Him and his providential role – but you do. The pillar and foundation of truth – according to the Bible – is the Church (1-Tim 3:15). The Apostle Paul commands us to hold firmly to both the Oral Tradition (‘by word of mouth’) and his written letters. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we are to hold only to the written letters.
Acts 15 gives a clear example of the necessity of a divinely appointed and visible teaching authority in the Church. Two factions had the same Scriptures but interpreted them differently. Without the Magisterium–the teaching authority of St. Peter and the other Apostles in union with him–the Church would have been rent asunder in the first century. On the other hand, Acts 16:4-5 describes the blessings that flowed (and still do flow) from unity under the Magisterium.
It may be helpful for us to give you a contemporary example of how a consistent and faithful interpretation of Genesis depends on the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For this purpose, we invite you to look at Genesis 38: 7-10. The text (in the NIV version) reads as follows:
But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’S sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’S sight; so he put him to death also.
Now, it is a matter of fact that all of the Fathers of the Church, and all Church leaders, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, (including, among others, Martin Luther and John Wesley) up to the twentieth century interpreted this passage as a clear condemnation of contraception. Indeed, not until the Lambeth Conference of 1930 did any Christian denomination permit contraception in contradiction to the constant teaching of the Church from the time of the Apostles. Sadly, since 1930, most of the leading Protestant communions have allowed contraception and have reinterpreted Genesis 38:7-10 accordingly. However, the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church has not changed. Indeed, in the very year that the Anglican Church deviated from the constant teaching of the Church on contraception, the successor of St. Peter published an authoritative letter entitled Casti Connubii (31 December 1930) on marriage. He wrote:
It is not surprising that the Sacred Scriptures themselves also bear witness to the fact that the divine Majesty attends this unspeakable depravity with the utmost detestation, sometimes having punished it with death, as St. Augustine recalls: “For it is illicit and shameful for a man to lie with even his lawful wife in such a way as to prevent the conception of offspring. This is what Onan, son of Judah, used to do; and for that God slew him” (cf. Gen. 38: 8-10).
Notice how the successor of St. Peter used his teaching authority not to impose his own private interpretation on the Scripture but to confirm the interpretation that had been handed down from the Apostles and Fathers. Please note that from 1930 until now there has been no shortage of Catholic voices–including some very influential theologians and even cardinals and bishops–who have dissented from the traditional interpretation of Genesis 38:7-10. Indeed, most of the “experts”–including cardinals and prominent theologians–who advised Pope Paul VI in regard to birth control in the 1960’s recommended that the traditional interpretation of Genesis 38:7-10 be overturned. However, Our Lord kept his Matthew 16:18 promise and made sure that the Pope did not follow the advice of the overwhelming majority of his advisors and instead upheld the traditional prohibition against contraception. He wrote:[The conclusions of] these experts [could not] be considered definitive, nor dispense us from a personal examination of this serious questions … above all because certain criteria of solutions had emerged which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant firmness by the teaching authority of the Church. . . . (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae)
Just as the Pope upheld the traditional, magisterial interpretation of Genesis 38:7-10, so will the Magisterium ultimately uphold the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1. The Kolbe Center exists to pray and work for this end–although God will accomplish that end, with or without the Kolbe Center!
Not surprisingly, without a divinely-guided Magisterium, one denomination after another has cast aside the interpretation of Genesis 38:7-10 held by all Christian leaders for 1900 years–which raises a poignant and urgent question: “If sola scriptura is true, why did the Holy Spirit allow this passage of Scripture to be interpreted in one way for 1900 years–and in a totally different way for the past half century and more?”
It is our hope and prayer that our common struggle will forge new relationships that will inevitably lead to the unity that God desires of Christians “… so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21b). Until then, we will be honored to assist you in determining the authoritative Catholic teaching on matters related to Genesis.
Yours in Christ our Creator,
P.S. For an in-depth discussion of Genesis 39:7-10, please see the article on our website by Fr. Brian Harrison, “Onan’s Sin Revisited.”