SECTION THREE: SCRIPTURE

 

Scientists claim that humans started off as apes. How does this fit with the story of Adam and Eve?

The Bible is not trying to teach modern science. It uses poetic language to describe the relationship between God and man. But, then, poetic language is probably the most accurate way of doing it, since what is being described goes beyond anything physical.

It would be quite compatible with Scripture to believe that the body of man was prepared by a process of evolution before God 'breathed' into the first man a new kind of soul. The Book of Genesis says that 'God formed man out of the slime of the earth': that could be quite a good description of the process of evolution! The latest scientific view seems to be that all human beings probably WERE descended from a single mother, and so from a single couple. Pius XII reaffirmed this idea ('monogenism') against the Nazis' version of Darwinism in 1939.

However, it is worth remembering that modern science does not 'prove' anything in a strict sense: it just makes lots of judgments of greater or lesser probability. Its conclusions are always in the form of a theory, which is open to revision if a better explanation of the evidence – or new evidence – comes along. (Of course, scientists – like anyone – can get very attached to a particular theory and not want to change it, for a whole lot of very unscientific reasons!) There are still many unanswered questions about evolution, and in fact there is more than one 'theory' of evolution, so clearly nothing in this field is as certain as non-scientists tend to believe.

The most important thing is that even if the body evolves gradually the soul does not, nor does it derive from the parents, but comes straight from God. (This does not mean that animals do not have consciousness, nor that they do not have souls of any kind. They have animal souls.) Science cannot say anything about our immediate relationship with God: how could it? The soul is the spiritual principle in our nature, which links us to God. Science can only investigate the bodily dimension of the person, since the tools it uses are physical objects.

See Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras 355-368. And you'll find some useful articles on this topic elsewhere on our web site.

If Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, and then Cain killed Abel, how did Cain populate the rest of the world?

If we are to take these accounts literally, remember that the Bible also mentions a third son, Seth. (Read Genesis 5: 1-5 and after.) In a lifetime of 930 years Adam must have had many sons and daughters. As for whom they would marry: in the early days, marriage of brother to sister would have been necessary and permissible, for the sake of populating the earth.

How does the God of the Old Testament, the God of sacrifice, wars, etc., relate to the loving God of the New Testament? And if God is so perfect, why does he get angry at all?

It is not always a sin to be angry. 'Righteous' anger is justified as a reaction to some real evil, and may be a way of rectifying that evil.

If you look at the Biblical texts, you will see the Old Testament also presents God as a loving God. There is great emphasis on his mercy and compassion. Of course, God was trying to make himself understood to a barbaric people in barbaric times. When the Bible speaks of God being 'angry' or 'jealous', we have to understand that it is using a metaphor to describe the way God was experienced by the Chosen People whenever they betrayed the Covenant.

But also remember that for Jesus himself, the Old Testament was the Bible, and the Psalms were his own daily prayer book. He did not reject the image of God presented there: why should we? Jesus even speaks of Hell. That hardly fits with his 'lovey-dovey' image, but it doesn't mean he isn't loving. It just means that truth has consequences. The stories about hell are intended as a warning, not a geography lesson.

Why didn't Moses get to the promised land?

It seems he was told by God he would not enter the Promised Land because he had doubted the power of God's word. This may be referring to the time he was told to call forth water from the rock for the Israelites, and struck the rock with his staff (twice) as though to force the miracle, or perhaps in order to impress the people. This looks like a trivial fault to us, but in one who is as close to God as Moses is judged by a higher standard. (In the same way, a saint may feel like a great sinner for committing a sin that to any ordinary person would seem very slight.)

Of course, since Heaven is the true 'Promised Land', Moses will arrive there in the end. But it is Jesus who leads the people in. (The Jews were led over the Jordan by Joshua. Interestingly 'Joshua' is another version of the name 'Jesus'. Names in the Bible often have important symbolic properties!)

Why does the Bible give two different 'family trees' for Jesus (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38)?

Traditionally Luke was thought to have listed the genealogy through Mary (Jesus' only physical parent) and Matthew through Joseph (his legal parent according to the Jewish Law). If both Mary and Joseph belonged to the 'house of David' the two lines would inevitably be intertwined in various ways. Certain anomalies were explained by variations in the names by which individuals are referred to in different traditions.

It is also possible to view at least one of the genealogies as largely symbolic, being designed to express the truth that Jesus summed up in himself the whole history of Israel, or even of the whole human race.

Why does Jesus say in Luke 12, 51-53: 'I have come not to give peace but to bring division. Father against son, mother against daughter, etc'? I thought we were supposed to love our families?

He is not saying what he WANTS to happen, but predicted what WILL happen as a result of his coming. History shows that families are often divided by faith. St Clare, for example, had to run away in the middle of the night to join St Francis of Assisi in a life of radical poverty after she had been called by God, and when her family found out that she was gone her brothers rode after her to drag her back. The same pattern repeats itself in the life of many saints, and in our own lives we see how often faith causes division.

It is said in Acts 2:1-4 that: 'When Pentecost day came around, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind, which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to be tongues of fire...' Why does this not happen today?

Some people say it still does: the Charismatics experience something like this – the Holy Spirit seems to descend on them and fill them with a fiery joy and inspiration.

Also, many saints have experienced a kind of physical illumination associated with the Holy Spirit: the Italian Saint Philip Neri, for example, and more recently Saint Seraphim in Russia. In Philip's case, a ball of fire seemed to enter his chest when he was praying in the Roman catacombs, and for the rest of the life he never got cold; after he died they found his heart had expanded and had even bent his ribs aside to make room.

But dramatic physical manifestations seem to be rare these days. If true, that could mean that the faith of modern people is more feeble than in earlier times, and so less likely to evoke a miracle. Or it might be exactly what one would expect: it makes sense that the Spirit would appear dramatically at his first manifestation in the world, at Pentecost. But the energy and power of the same Spirit might be 'spread out' more quietly and thinly throughout the Church as it grows.

(That would also help to explain why we don't get to speak other languages when we are confirmed. The gift of speaking other languages was given to the disciples as a symbol of the universality of the Church, and of their mission to go out and speak to everyone about Jesus. It wasn't something that was intended to last, or to save them the trouble of learning to communicate with people the hard way.)

Is the evidence for the Resurrection really convincing? How do we reply to those who claim that Jesus was not really dead, but drugged with mandrake or something?

The Apostles and Disciples obviously thought it was convincing. If they had not become convinced that they had really seen him in the flesh they would have remained demoralized and miserable, as they clearly were after the Crucifixion.

Remember that crucifixion is not at all a pleasant process. Even if Jesus had not died, he would have been in bad shape a few days later, and unable to convince anyone that he had risen from the dead.

Obviously we can't PROVE the Resurrection empirically – in the way Jesus did for Doubting Thomas, for example. We can't prove the opposite either. In general, God seems not to want to prove things to us in a very crude way that no one could deny: he invites us to believe, so that it will be our heart that decides whether we WANT him to be true or not. It is our heart that he is after, first of all.

There is one other thing. Don't you think the Resurrection stories have a beautiful 'strangeness' to them that rings true? Read them again, and consider whether this is really the way a bunch of first-century fishermen and ex-tax collectors would have told it if they were trying to make it up.

If Mary remained a virgin, why does the Gospel speak of the 'brothers and sisters' of Jesus?

The phrase that is translated 'brothers and sisters' is found elsewhere in Scripture, and commonly in the language of the time, to refer to an extended family group, including cousins. It means something like 'brethren'.

Here is a short article on this question taken from the EWTN web site:

'Mt. 13:55 and Mk 6:3 name the following as brothers of Jesus: James, Joseph (Joses – the manuscripts vary on the spelling), Simon and Judas. But Mt 27:56 says at the Cross were Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Mark 15:40 says Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses was there. So, although the proof is not conclusive, it seems that – unless we suppose these were others with the same names, that the first two, James and Joseph (Joses) had a mother other than the Mother of Jesus. Therefore the term brother was used for those who were not sons of Mary the Mother of Jesus. So the same easily could be the case with the other two, Simon and Judas.

'Further if Mary had other natural sons and daughters too at the time of the cross, it would be strange for Jesus to ask John to take care of her. Especially, James the "brother of the Lord" was alive in 49 AD (Gal 1:19). He should have taken care of her. Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham (cf. Gen 11:27-31) is called his brother in Gen 13:8 and 14:14-16.

'The Hebrew and Aramaic "ah" was used for various types of relations: Hebrew had no word for cousin. They could say "ben-dod" which means son of a paternal uncle, but for other kinds of cousins they would need a complex phrase, such as "the son of the brother of his mother" or, "the son of the sister of his mother".'

If the serpent was really the Devil, why did God let him into the Garden of Eden?

Perhaps because he wanted to allow Adam and Eve to be tempted, and thus to have the possibility (by resisting temptation, not by falling for it!) of achieving a greater kind of perfection.

If Adam and Eve hadn't yet eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, how could they be expected to know that God was good and the Devil was evil?

There are different kinds of 'knowing'. I can often know something is wrong, even though I haven't done it. On the other hand, if I do it, then I also 'know' it in a different way, from the inside, so to speak. I can know that something is wrong, or a sin, without having ever sinned, but once I have sinned, then I know what sinning is like. I may wish I didn't!

But it isn't possible to make a really responsible choice between good and evil if we haven't experienced both for ourselves. Otherwise we are only following orders.

That is not true. The experience of doing evil actually damages us, and damages the power of our will. It is like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in physics, where the act of observing a particle actually changes it. We can't just sample both good and evil, in order to make a detached choice of one or the other. We may indeed learn something from doing evil (and William Blake rightly said that 'The fool who persists in his folly will become wise'), but what we learn, in the end, is that it would have been better if we had done the good instead – better for us, and better for the world.

Also, accepting the advice of someone who loves us is very different from 'following orders': it doesn't take away our own responsibility, because it is still our own decision to do the right thing, whereas in blind obedience we are in some way being forced to do it by the will of another person. When a loving God says, 'Do not eat this!' we should obey because we trust and love. In this case, the disobedience was the symptom of a wrong attitude: the real temptation, to which Eve and then Adam succumbed, was not simply to eat the fruit, but to regard God as possibly having deceived them and lied to them.