Scripture : A Unique Word



by Francis Etheredge


Reviewed by Dr. Eugene J. Fisher Distinguished Professor of Theology, Saint Leo University


This very Catholic book lives up to its name in providing a unique set of approaches to and understanding of the Word of God in Scripture, Catholic tradition over the centuries, and in our time the teachings of the Magisterium, especially Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It weaves together the perspectives of Catholic biblical scholars, theologians, anthropologists and philosophers, from the Fathers of the Church to the present day. Its fifteen essays were written over a period of time, and in different periods in the life of the author, who works to integrate them into a satisfying whole.


This very Catholic book lives up to its name in providing a unique set of approaches to and understanding of the Word of God in Scripture, Catholic tradition over the centuries, and in our time the teachings of the Magisterium, especially Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It weaves together the perspectives of Catholic biblical scholars, theologians, anthropologists and philosophers, from the Fathers of the Church to the present day. Its fifteen essays were written over a period of time, and in different periods in the life of the author, who works to integrate them into a satisfying whole.


Humanity, both creation narratives affirm, is best understood as male and female, one unique whole which reflects the unity in diversity of the Divine One Who is best understood as Trinity. He meditates on the relationship between science and the understanding of the nature of humanity as created by the living word of God, as reflected in Scripture, the unique word of God. He affirms that this deepens our understanding of fundamental human relations, the sexual and conjugal role of humans as giving forth new life. He sees the fact that the individual books of the Scriptures were were written over many centuries and in different contexts but all teach the same, profound lessons about God and human nature. Scripture is a record of salvation history, which has not only a beginning and an ongoing history, but an End known to God and revealed to us through the Scriptures and in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Etheredge uses key passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews which, though most biblical scholars believe it to have been written later in the first century and likely not by St. Paul, he believes may well have been written by St. Paul. He centers bioethics on the creation account(s) as the “archtypical action of God,” which sets the context for understanding salvation history, the Christ event, and the End of Time. A full understanding of the human person needs to understand the maleness and femaleness that define two individuals before and when they come together in marriage and have conjugal relations to carry forward the history of salvation in the temporal realm, the human realm which is infused with the divine from the moment of Creation to its transformation through Christ until its perfect fulfillment at the End of Time.


We humans are, the author notes, human dwelling places for the Spirit of God from the moment of conception, so quite understandably condemns the “unspeakable crime of abortion.” The author correctly notes the theme of Covenant as central to Scripture, to the relationship between humanity and God (made explicit in Genesis with the covenant between god and Noah and all his descendants, which is to say all of humanity), as well as the special covenants with Israel/the Jewish People, and, again, with all humanity through the risen Christ


The book ends with a deep meditation on the sacrament of marriage as a covenant between man and wife, and between the two and the One God, a liturgical act central to Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, which three he sees as in dialogue and oneness, just as the Trinity reflects the Oneness and dialogue within the One God and between God and humans. Again, all of this is interwoven with references to the teachings of the Councils of the Church over the centuries, official statements of the Holy See, and with the teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.


The Foreword by Robert Ignatius Letellier of Cambridge, says it well:

“These essays see the Scriptures as profoundly truthful reflection on the mystery of life – in light and in darkness, joy and pain . . . (They) involve an extensive range of historical, theological and philosophical reference, and review different methods of study and modes of approach . . . whether or not one agrees with the author on all the points he raises, these essays, born out of reflection on many different circumstances and questions, represent a thoughtful response to the variety of life seen in the context of divine revelation, the study of Scripture, and the witness of the Church.”


I would note as a biblical scholar and historian that the author underestimates the full range of biblical scholarship as can be seen, for example, in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly in this country. He is unnecessarily negative about the Enlightenment, writing it off as simply a “rejection of God.” There was such a rejection among the so-called “enlightened” authors, but valuable insights also came out of the enlightenment, thoughts and reflections that have to do the American revolution and the development of the Constitution of the fledgling United States of America. The notion of the equality of all religions in society and the separation of Church and State come immediately to mine.


This book can be rather dense and difficult to read at times, but readers will come away with a deeper understanding of Catholic faith and tradition.

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