Faith of our Fathers

This was the word of the Lord?


In the beginning was the Word

Recently, the Pope condemned The New Revised Standard Version as an incorrect translation because the translators came to the text with certain a priori political and sociological assumptions from late twentieth century western secular culture, central to which is the secular doctrine of political correctness. So all language about God, mankind and society was rewritten within the cultural constraints of how the sexes are being engineered to relate to one another in our modern secular society.

The compilers of contemporary liturgies have operated in the same way so that worship has been emasculated within the constraints of a hermeneutic of political and sociological reductionism, where the focus of contemporary worship has shifted from God to man, in not giving glory to the Father consistent with the Incarnation of our Lord.

Neo-Gnostic heresy

These latter day assumptions emerge from the modern discussion as a priori guides, telling the translators beforehand what to see and how to translate the text. The feminists approach the interpretation of the Bible with their a priori assumptions about the place of women in modern society culled from sources other than the Christian Tradition, that tells them beforehand what to see, and how the Bible must be adjusted to express this phenomenon.

It is by no means a modern approach to the reading and interpretation of Scripture, but a neo-Gnostic way of interpretation that Irenaeus dealt with in the second century. Speaking of the Valentinians (Against Heresies, Bk. 1, ch.8 i) he wrote,

They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support.

In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.

This same approach emerged in the General Synod debate about women bishops, with the same strategy as was used in the debate about women priests, that reduced the matter to a ‘justice’ issue, to strike a popular contemporary appeal. The argument in favour of women bishops is grounded on political and sociological considerations of human rights, and the relation of the sexes in today’s secular society, rather than on any new theological insight.

What has happened is the bringing of an a priori conclusion with which to see and read how the Church has always understood priesthood, episcopacy, the reading of Scripture and how this must be adjusted and rewritten to support an argument for feminising the threefold ministry. Even New Testament scholars can come to the text with an a priori conclusion about women bishops, and by a series of exegetical contortions, read it to assert that the qualification for being an apostle was being a witness to the resurrection.

So Mary Magdalene and her companions at the tomb are claimed to be apostles. This does not square with Jesus calling twelve men to be apostles and the choice of Matthias to replace Judas rather than any of these women. Unwittingly, such people end up worshipping other gods and usher in a new religion.

Scripture needs tradition

The proper reading of the text will let the questions emerge from the data observed, even though these are ancient texts and the emergent questions may be irrelevant. The translator’s and interpreter’s task is to establish a strong, independent voice, and as far as possible keep these biblical writers true to themselves, so that they can speak not only to our questions but also against them.

Newman said that Athanasius (The Mind of Cardinal Newman p.49) never aimed to prove doctrine by Scripture, nor did he appeal to the private judgement of the individual Christian in order to determine what Scripture means; but he assumes there is a tradition, substantive, independent, and authoritative, such as to supply for us the true sense of Scripture in doctrinal matters – a tradition carried on from generation to generation by the practice of catechising, and by the other ministrations of the Church.

He does not care to contend that no other meaning of certain passages of Scripture besides this traditional sense is possible or is plausible, whether true or not, but simply that any sense inconsistent with the Catholic is untrue, untrue because the traditional sense is apostolic and decisive.


Arthur Middleton is a lecturer and a writer