In the past few weeks I have been reading several Bible commentaries (well, not really reading them, but browsing theough them) to see what is going on in the world of Catholic biblical scholarship these days. The two I examined most recently were Inside the Bible by Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ (Ignatius Press, 1998) and another one called A Catholic Guide to the Bible by Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, a Lazarist (Ligouri, 1998). Needless to say, the Ignatius Press one was a little bit more orthodox than the one by Ligouri, but both commentaries suffered from what I considered deplorable deficits in their scirptural scholarship. This led to wonder, what exactly is a good Bible commentary? The answer to that is multifold, and it may be easier to list several warning signs that you have a bad commentary (sadly, because these are so much more common). If you pick up a commentary and some of these positions are espoused, you might do well to get another one.
So, let me present to you my Top Ten Signs You Have a Bad Bible Commentary. I have tried to list these in order from least to most aggregious errors, and some (though not all) of these were found in both of the commentaries listed above. I'm interested on your feedback as to whether these are as serious as I claim them to be, and whether or not there may have been others that I have missed.
One more note: these signs have to do with Bible scholarship specifically (i.e., exegetical and hermeneutical practices in the interpretation of the Scriptures), not with ways that we approach Revelation in general. Thus, you will not find on this list the notion that the Bible is only inspired in areas pertaining to salvation, though this is certainly a huge and common error. Rather, this list treats of more specific errors that pertain to certain biblical books.
Now, on with the list.
10) The Dating for the Book of Daniel: Daniel, for 2,000 years of Jewish and Christian history, has been dated as being written during the time of the Babylonian exile. Modernist scholarship, however, attempts to date it after the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (c. 163 BC). Why? As Fr. Baker says in his commentary, there are too many prophecies in Daniel that have way too much accurate information about the time of Antiochus. The implication is that real prophecy can't happen, and if any prophecy looks too accurate, it must have been written after the fact.
9) The "Reed Sea": When you get to the commentary on the Exodus, does it say that the Israelites didn't really cross the Red Sea, but a very shallow ( 3 inches) marsh called the Reed Sea? The motivation here is an arrogant disbelief in the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, since the crossing of a marshland of three inches of water requires no miraculous explanation. Again, the modernist interjection is a denial of the miraculous intervention of God on behalf of His people.
8) There are Two Contradictory Genesis Accounts of Creation: Does the commentary attempt to force a dichotomy between the Creation account of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2? This is often suggested by appealing to the so-called "Documentary Hypothesis," a popular belief that several authors with different theologies all contributed to the Old Testament (they are often referred to as the Elohist, the Jahwist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomic writers). The implication is that there is no clear and consistent theology in the Old Testament, but that it is a pluralistic compilation of several varying and often contradictory theologies. The Pontifical Biblical Commission during the time of Pius X condemned this belief).
7) Second Isaiah: The book of the prophet Isaiah was actually written by two men. Why, well, it is obvious that Isaiah lived in the 8th century BC, but he seems to make prophecies that relate to the restoration of Israel after the Exile (5th century). Therefore, he could not have written them. Again, like with #10, the implication is a disbelief in the reality of prophecy.
6) Jonah is a Parable: Read the commentary on Jonah; does it say the story is probably a parable only? This is another result of a disbelief in supernatural occurences and Divine Providence. The Jews, Church Fathers and Jesus Himself all referred to Jonah as a historical book. Who are we to say any differently?
5) Most Books are Dated as After the Exile: If you check the dates that the commentator says each book was written in, do most of them fall after the Exile, even the Pentateuch? By placing most books as being compiled after the Exile (c. 497 BC), the commentators are attempting to insert doubt into the Biblical texts by removing them further and further from the events described in them, by making them the work of scribes instead of inspired prophets and by casting doubt on Tradition as a whole, since Tradition says that the Pentateuch was written during the time of the Exodus (c. 1400 BC), not during the Exile.
4) Advocates the "Q" Theory in the NT: Does it deny the traditional assertion, going back to St. Irenaeus, that Matthew's Gospel was the first to be written and instead assert the existence of a primitive common "source" for all the Gospels, which it calls "Q"? This is a modernist theory and the corner of liberal biblical scholarship. It is an attempt to solve what is called (arrogantly), the "Synoptic Problem," which is the fact that all of the Gospels use similar language and agree with each other. Admitting that this is due to their historical veracity and divine inspiration is not even brought up. Instead, a purely historical reason is looked for. To the extent that this "Q" theory is advocated, the reliability of the NT is often questioned.
3) The Genesis Account is Taken From Babylonian Folklore: This assertion makes a joke of the unique Creation of the world by God, casts doubt on the historicity of Genesis, insults inspiration and mythologizes the Creation. For this reason, it is a most grievous error.
2) A Late Date for John's Gospel: John's Gospel contains some of the most profound and important sayings of Jesus, sayings on which much Catholic doctrine finds its source. Thus, it is in the interest of those who hate the Church to try to claim that this Gospel was not written by John (and therefore, that the words are not really those of Jesus), but was composed sometime between 120 and 200 AD by a "Johannine community" whose writings represent their specific theology and not the authentic words of Christ. This claims dares to put forth the notion that the words fo Christ as recorded in the Fourth Gospel are not His own but those of men put into the mouth of Christ.
And now, the number one sign that you have a bad Bible commentary (drumroll)...
1) Matthew 16:18-20 is A Later Addition: Yes, the biblical foundation of the papacy in Matthew 16 is often claimed to be a later addition by partisans of St. Peter. Why? Because this verse gives such clear authority to Peter that it cannot have possibly come from Jesus! Therefore, it must be an addition. This position rejects out of hand the inspiration of the Scriptures, the power ans authority of the Church and Christ's willed institution of the hierarchy. No one can advocate this position in any way and still be a good Catholic. For this reason, I list it as number one on my list.
Please feel free to add your own if I have omitted any. Please state the reasons why you believe it to be an error.