Peter Sean Bradley writes…

You might find this interesting. I’ve taken the reading that my group has done on the Summa over the last ten years and started a podcast – Radio Free Aquinas. Mostly, I carve off one question per episode and walk through the objections, responses and arguments against the responses.

On Good Friday, I decided to take on Bart Ehrman’s claim that the Gospels contradict each other as to the hour of Jesus’ death and the day on which he was crucified in light of Thomas’ writing in Part III, Question 68.

You might be interested in seeing how the Angelic Doctor fares against the Doctor from the University of North Carolina.

There are, it seems to me, two mistakes fundamentalists can fall into with regard to Scripture. One is to attempt to make it The Perfect Book according to the anal-retentive standards of a flat-footed literalist. So, for instance, tying oneself in knots trying to “harmonize” things that the sacred writers are themselves fairly loosey goosey about produces reams of nonsense that prove only that the harmonizer needs to cut back on the caffeine.

Take, for instance, the Eucharistic Institution Narratives:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

These are accounts of an incident that, by definition, only occurred once in the life of Jesus. The foolish reader will will be scandalized that they vary slightly in ways that are not strictly reconcilable to the reader who reads with the insistence that every single solitary word of the gospels is supposed to be the transcript of a tape recording of the events recounted. Such a fool will say, “Who even knows *what* Jesus every really said?”

A sensible reader will come away from reading these extremely similar accounts concluding that the story recounted here is very obviously a historical memory of a real event told in such a way as to capture the core of what occurred. He will also conclude (if he really is paying attention) that, as Fr. Robert Barron puts it “The Gospels have been accurately characterized as ‘passion narratives with long introductions'” and that it is therefore utterly foolish to conclude that this particular memory–which lies right at the heart of the only real news the messengers of that community had to give and the thing that drove them out to tell the entire world of their experience–is something they can’t remember. Quibble all you want about whether Jesus said “Blessed are you poor” or “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (though it’s likely he said both). But if there is anything that is historically certain, it is that Jesus took bread, broke it, give it to his disciples and said “This is my body” and took the cup saying, “This is my blood”. That gesture, and his crucifixion, and his disciple’s conviction that he was raised from the dead and that they had seen him are historical facts or no historical claim in the world is a historical fact.

There is nothing sillier than taking a massive historical fact and then trying to nibble it to death with dumb quibbles about details. It’s like people claiming that because eyewitnesses differ on the number of shots fired at Dealey Plaza, therefore JFK never existed or was never assassinated. The ne plus ultra of this kookiness is seen in the people who (seriously) argue that no planes hit the World Trade Center because (surprise) eyewitness accounts of that moment differ.

The Bible is not written to be the Big Perfect Book of Everything. It is written to relay firmly, faithfully and without error those truths God wished us to know for the sake of our salvation. Eyewitness accounts which do not record “ipssissima verbi” (the exact tape-recorded words) are not “contradictory”. They get at the gist of what happened. They can leave out details that don’t concern the author or his readers and include details that do (as, for instance, when both Paul and Luke record that Jesus said the cup is the “new covenant” and not merely the “covenant” in His blood. But varying details do not (except for flat-footed fundamentalists) “prove” the story is worthless. They merely prove that the witnesses are human beings telling about an intensely important memory in a human way. The only thing more foolish than trying to enforce a foolish hyper-consistency on such testimony is to lose your faith when you fail to do so.

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  • Thanks for the link.

    Over the weekend, I had another run-in with the “scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist” rule. This time it was the guys at Triablogue who demonstrate that if you scratch a fundamentalist, you will find an atheist.

    Hays at Triablogue thinks he has a “killer” argument against Catholicism and its tradition of “oral tradition” because – donchaknow – John 21:23 – 24 shows that “oral tradition” got it wrong when some Christians were saying that the Beloved Disciple would live until the Second Coming but the Beloved Disciple didn’t, and no one knew that this “oral tradition” was wrong until the inerrant Gospel of John was written and told them what’s what, because – you know – an apostle simply saying something orally is fraught with all kinds of problems and is not inerrant like it is when an apostle writes things down!


    My point was that if he’s treating real oral tradition – things taught by the Church, such as things taught by the apostles – as being fallible, he’s basically sawing off the branch he’s sitting on because how do we then know what books are in the bible and how do we recognize the truly inspired books from the fakes (something the Church did, in part, because the truly inspired books conformed to the prior oral tradition.)

    Here’s the link to the lengthy post on my blog that captures the back and forth – or –

    Interested readers can use the link to get back to the Triablogue post if they have an interest in seeing what it looks like when someone reasons from the premise that “if the Catholics say it, I’m going to say the opposite know matter where it leads.”

  • Ted Seeber

    “That gesture, and his crucifixion, and his disciple’s conviction that he was raised from the dead and that they had seen him are historical facts or no historical claim in the world is a historical fact.”

    I had an atheist recently challenge me on the historical nature of the crucifixion and resurrection- claiming that there was no “independent testimony” of it. I pointed out that *multiple* people, not just the Apostles, saw Christ risen, that enough people seem to have witnessed what I call the miracle of the weekend of the living dead, during which not just Christ arose but also apparently several other saints and walked around Jerusalem for a while that we still lave local legends in Jerusalem of that event to this day, and that tradition holds that within living memory and trying to write his Gospel, Luke apparently actually *interviewed eyewitnesses*, the same as any other good historian working a few decades after the fact.

    I never got an answer, but I thought it was interesting that a new atheist choose to center his non- belief on the idea that the resurrection was false, despite so many witnesses to the contrary.

    • Smitty

      I find the very idea of “independent testimony” somewhat amusing. I think that anyone who witnessed the resurrection would become a believer. Wouldn’t you? According to your atheist, though,that would automatically make your testimony non-“independent.”

  • Atheist arguments are largely based on question begging, in that they assume what is to be proven or disproved.
    Anyone who has professionally been engaged in writing down experiences after the fact – often not immediately after the fact – as I have – will be aware that human memory is not usually faithful in every detail, but that the essential action and the essence of speech is retained by an observer.

  • Matthew

    I find most of this concern with textual variants to be born of a hyper-sola-scriptura. If there is no Church, that is no living continuing authoritative teaching body, than textual variants become crisis points. If there is a Church than all variants can be treated as the variants present in the notes of students jotting things down from their professor. The Church, because she is who she is, can sort it out and fill in the gaps.

  • Connie

    A priest once commented that the 4 Gospels could be likened to 4 people on 4 different corners who saw an automobile action take place. Mark’s report would be “just the facts”; Matthew would be the legal ramifications and precedents; Luke would report on how it affected the people who saw the wreck, and John would be the mystical and universal implications of what had happened.

  • Connie

    Um, automobile accident. Sorry.

  • scott

    I call b.s. on the author of this blog for one primary reason: you portend to make some sort of argument but you insert to the reader how they should feel about themsleves according to your very weak extrapolations on the book you read.

    “…any sensible reader of this book would…” Tsk tsk. That’s a judgement my boy and whoops, you are specifically told by your Lord NOT to judge. Repeatedly in fact, right?

    Ya know, here’s an idea….if ya’ll concentrated more on just expressing Christs love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness and acceptance, I dunno…just those things…you’d be on your way to undoing thousands of years of bigotry and violence in the name of Christ….ah, but THOSE things are hard to do…especially with ‘enemies’…whereas passing judgement and criticising comes oh so easy…..hmmm…wunnder why….

    …might have something to do with the influence of the great accuser? ( i’ll let you figure out his name, i personally don’t like giving him press myself )

    • Dave Pawlak


      What exactly are you trying to say?

  • Putting out quite a lot of hatred and judgment yourself there fella
    How about a few words about the actual subject of the post – or is that too much for you?