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The Pontifical Biblical Commission
From 1902-1968 the Pontifical Biblical Commission [Catholic
Commentry on Holy Scripture (1952) 47b,c] had Cardinals as members
and its decrees were understood by most [CCHS
47d] but not all [CCHS 47e]
theologans to be binding on Catholics to internal assent. Rome now
chooses to ignore many of them. In 1955 a clarification by A. Miller and
A. Kleinhans, the secretary and assistant secretary of the Commission stated
that the early PBC decisions could be ignored! However, according to a
"The document .... that seems to revoke
the previous decrees had no authority behind it and the person who did
it was disciplined for giving the appearance of speaking for the Biblical
Commission. The weight that should be put on the decrees stated colloquially
is 'that the burden of proof is on those who would disagree with the decrees
and unless that can be done the decrees should be followed'."
Pius XII gave a huge boost to Catholic biblical scholarship with his encyclical
Afflante Spiritu" . In it:
Pius XII encouraged translations from the original languages.
While neither he nor any later pope ever revoked any of the decrees of
the PBC, since his pontificate Rome has in practice adhered to the spirit
of the Miller-Kleinhans clarification. No Catholic scholar who contradicted
its decrees since 1955 has been criticized or disciplined.
Although this had never been forbidden, it was not done in general.
Pius XII allowed that literary genres were used by the writers of Scripture:
This was because the Council of Trent had said that the Vulgate was
This had been taken to mean that it was the inspired text and that
it was inapporpriate to use earlier versions.
Pius XII overturned this understanding.
He explained that Trent meant only to establish the Vulgate as a standard
basis for religious argumentation.
He said that it did not mean that scholars should not use the original
"What these [genres] were, the scholars cannot
decide in advance, but only after a careful investigation of the literature
of the ancient Near East."
However, he also warned:
"Let Scripture scholars, mindful of the fact
that there is here question of a divinely inspired word, whose care and
interpretation is entrusted by God Himself to the Church - let them not
less carefully take into account the explanations and declarations of the
Magisterium of the Church, and likewise of the explanations given by the
Holy Fathers, and also of the 'analogy of faith,' as Leo XIII ... wisely
and a few years later declared:
"We must specially deplore a certain excessively
free way of interpreting the historical books of the Old Testament ....
the first eleven chapters of Genesis, even though they do not fully match
the pattern of historical composition used by the great Greek and Latin
writers of history, or by modern historians, yet in a certain true sense
- which needs further investigation by scholars - do pertain to the genre
Some of the most problematic decrees (with my
1906 - Moses personally wrote or directly
supervised the writing of all the Pentateuch, even
Genesis doesn't claim Mosaic authorship.
Whenever Moses is referred to in the Pentateuch,
it is always in the third person.
Deuteronomy describes Moses' death and events just
There is insufficient evident that it was compiled
by later redactors from various sources dating from after Moses' death,
e.g. "J" and "P".
There may have been some later editing, and
Moses may himself have made use of earlier sources.
1909 - Genesis 1-3 is strictly historical,
not a fictional or mythological narrative,
nor sanitized redactions of pagan mythologies
nor are they allegories,
nor legends, partly historical and partly fictional.
Some allowance may be made for figurative language
and scientific naïveté.
In particular, the following facts are historical:
1908 - Isaiah contains real predictions -
not ever discussions after the event.
creation of all things by God in the beginning
This may be good or bad Physics, it is unclear as
special creation of man
This depends a lot on what is meant by special
formation of the first woman from the first man
This is highly dubious. The interpretation given
by Pope John Paul II, in his audience of Nov. 7, 1979 of the formation
of Eve is amusing. He twists it into a way of expressing the unity of the
human race. In effect he redefines it as the opposite of itself:
"Perhaps, therefore, the analogy of sleep indicates
here .... return to nonbeing .... to the moment preceding the creation,
in order that, through God's creative initiative, solitary 'man' may emerge
from it again in his double unity as male and female."
[John Paul II, "Original Unity of Man and Woman,
Catechesis on the Book of Genesis" St. Paul Editions,
transgression of divine command at the instigation
of the Devil under the form of a serpent
1933 - Matthew wrote his gospel first, before
the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD and not necessarily after Paul.
The evidence is insufficient to suggest several authors
living in different centuries.
The hypotheses of "Deutero Isaiah from Ch 40 onwards"
and that the Servant Songs are extrinsic are rejected.
1912 - The original order is: Matthew;
Mark; Luke, although Greek Matthew may have been written after Mark.
He originally wrote in Aramaic.
The historical authenticity of some passages is emphasized,
in particular the Infancy Narrative(!)
1907 - The apostle St. John must be acknowledged
as the author of the Gospel of John.
St. Mark writes according to the preaching of St.
Peter and St. Luke of St. Paul.
Sts. Mark and Luke are really the authors of the
Gospels named after them.
Catholic authors can discuss the "Synoptic Problem".
However, they may not advocate the two source theory,
i.e. the notion of "Q".
1913 - 1 and 2 Tim and Titus were always counted
as canonical and were written by St. Paul himself in 63-66 AD.
1914 - Hebrews is genuinely Pauline, although
it may have been reformed since he wrote it.
These statements by an organ of the Ordinary Magisterium are all questionable.
Some would find virtually no Catholic defenders today. While they have
never been formally repudiated, Rome takes no action to defend them, and
allows books such as the New Jerome Biblical Commentary - which attacks
virtually every proposition - to be published with imprimaturs and nihil
All of John's "facts" are historical and were
not created to serve as symbols or allegories.
In my view, most of John is historical and sometimes
more trustworthy than the Synoptics: especially in the run up to the Passion!
My priestly correspondent continues:
"Despite what some scholars may think
decrees have not been disproved. It is interesting to note that Pope
Paul VI changed the nature of the commission around 1968 and so it no longer
has magisterial authority but merely presents theological opinions which
are not binding on the faithful. The decrees up to that change around 1968
are still binding with the theological weight that I have tried to explain."
I strongly agree with him. The decrees are so carefully couched as to be
un-disprovable. The issue is not whether the PBC objectively erred, but
whether the manifest import of the teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium
is in this case either an accurate or helpful guide as to what is true.
For example, it seems to me that whether or not
the Torah was compiled by later redactors from
various sources dating from after Moses' death
is of little importance. In the last analysis, all that is being asserted
by the PBC (at a minimum) is that Moses was familiar with (virtually?)
every source that eventually went towards constituting the Torah. Now this
is a very cautious statement and certainly un-disprovable, failing any
interrogation of the prophet himself! Nevertheless, the original and
intended effect of the PBC statement was to outlaw any consideration of
the idea that the Torah was not overwhelmingly authored by Moses, which
was unfortunate, especially as the question of Mosaic authorship is one
of historical not theological fact: in which case it does not fall within
the ambit of magisterial authority.
(this proposition is directly condemned by the
the various sources used by later redactors in
compiling the Torah were all written either by Moses or under Moses' supervision,
though they may have undergone revision and may themselves have been based
on earlier sources
(this proposition easily escapes the condemnation
of the PBC)
See "New Jerome Biblical Commentary", 72:25-28
or (for a 1952 view) "A Catholic Commentary on Holy
This document was inspired by an earlier study by Paul Halsall to be found
in his "Compedium of Errors"
on the Gay Catholic Handbook website.
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