Biblical Commission

Established by Pope Leo XIII, 30 October 1902, for the maintenance and development of all that pertains to biblical science. It is composed of a few cardinals and a large corps of eminent biblical scholars of various nationalities. On 18 November 1907, Pius X declared that all Catholics are bound in conscience to accept the decisions published by this commission. On questions affecting the general historicity of the Bible, the commission has decided that “tacit quotations” in historical statements are not to be admitted, except where, subject to the mind and decision of the Church, there are solid reasons for admitting such quotations and for proving that the sacred writer does not himself approve what he quotes nor make it his own. This was aimed at those who, to escape certain historical difficulties in the text, supposed that in such statements the writer was quoting from some uninspired document. It was further decided that the historical narratives must be accepted as genuinely historical and not as merely having the appearance of history for the purpose of setting forth some religious idea; an exception was granted under proper restrictions where it could be solidly proved that the writer meant to give only a parable or allegory, and not an historical narrative.

Moses must be held to be the author of the Pentateuch, though it was conceded that he might have used secretaries in the actual writing, who wrote under his guidance and whose work was approved by Moses and published under his name. It may also be held that Moses made use of earlier documents or oral traditions and that various additions and minor modifications were later introduced into the Pentateuch either intentionally or through error. The first three chapters of Genesis were declared to be literally historical to the exclusion of all fables or legends; this historical character holds especially for those facts which touch the fundamentals of the Christian religion, e.g., universal creation by God, the special creation of man, the formation of the first woman from man, the unity of the human race, the original happiness and subsequent fall of Adam and Eve, and the promise of a Redeemer. Single words and phrases, however, might be used in these chapters in a metaphorical or anthropomorphical sense, and natural phenomena might be described in popular, rather than in strictly scientific, expressions.

While David need not be considered the sole author of the entire Psalter, a large number of the Psalms attributed to him, especially those which in other parts of ScrIpture are expressly cited as his; the antiquity of the titles prefixed to the Psalms must be upheld and their testimony is not to be set aside without solid reason; some of the Psalms may have been divided or joined into one or slightly modified for liturgical or other purposes; there is no probability in the opinion that not a few Psalms were composed after the time of Esdras and Nehemias or even as late as the Machabean times; many of the Psalms are to be recognized as foretelling the coming of the Messias and describing His kingdom.

The true character of the prophetic writings must be acknowledged; they really foretold distantly future events, especially regarding the Messias. The arguments used by critics to show that Isaias could not have written the whole of his book are declared to be unconvincing.

Decisions were issued defending the traditional position on the authorship of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, though the present form of the latter Epistle may be attributed to some disciple of Saint Paul. The Gospels and the Acts are historically reliable; the first three Gospels were written in the following order: Aramaic Saint Matthew (the Greek translation being substantially the same as the original), Saint Mark, Saint Luke; this arrangement excludes the “Two Document Theory” advocated by most non-Catholic critics as a solution of the Synoptic problems; under these restrictions the Synoptic problem is left open to discussion. The writings of the Apostles are not to be construed in such a way as to support the opinion that they looked upon the Second Coming of Christ as imminent.