The Little Priest, the catalyst for Jack’s enquiry about sacred texts, along with the discussion further along the Way with Mariam and Fatimah, form the basis for an understanding together of Sacred Texts. The dialogue illustrates that though both are Sacred Texts, they are of a very different composition and often, for most adherents to the corresponding faiths, the texts are understood quite differently as well. Too often they are discussed in the same breath, yet this is too radically misrepresent them.
Without going into a full analysis of either, there are a few observations that might be made.
The first is that the idea of Sacred Texts are part of a wider discussion, in Philosophy it might come under an epistemological concern, ‘Can we believe anything that is not given directly to the senses’. Sacred Texts have both an historical context, and a faith claim. Both are important to the validity of a text.
Theologically speaking, the question will come under the Faith vs Reason debate, is one entitled to believe something entirely on the basis of faith.
The Faith and Reason question has a counterpart: The debate as to how people can come to know God. This is either through Revealed Theology, from Sacred Scripture, or through Natural Theology, observation of the world around us.
This draws us in turn into the question of the relationship between Religion and Science, an area that I will turn to when we look at later chapters in the book.
The debate between Faith and Reason has a long history, it includes theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Moltmann, Barth, in fact in some way or another they all addressed this question, including St. Paul himself.
For now however, returning to the question of the place of scripture and how it is dealt with in the text, it is sufficient to say that Jack’s conclusion is that the texts must be given a context, they must be cited in their history, and in this regard the approaches to the Bible and the Qur’an are quite different.
It is not really rationally possible to see the Bible as the direct, unmediated word of God. We know too much about its construction, and we know that the Bible is at the very least mediated through a human prism. It is constructed by the hand of humans. That is not to say that it is not inspired, that is a belief of course, but it is not unmediated, it is not given to us directly from God. A quick comparison between Luke and Matthew’s Gospel soon shows that they are edited and have a bias.
Equally, as with the discussion with Mariam and Fatimah, a text has to be understood and to be open to being analysed in a historical setting. If a text has changed, has been edited, or if a text has historical claims, it has to be open to being challenged about those claims. If it is not, it’s faith claims have to be equally be questioned. This is true of all sacred texts.
Thus Jack, Fr. Tom, Mariam and Fatimah all fall into the Reason side of that debate, and seek historical evidence for the setting of those texts.
However, as Fr. Tom explains, there are still truths to be found in the Bible, both for those who still see the text as inspired, and those that do not.
And as evident with the discussion with David, we have to be careful too not to hold up Reason as the ultimate tool for truth……