Reading through more of (then Cardinal) Joseph Ratzinger’s brilliant Eschatology, I came across a dandy of a quote:
One must be very cautious when using biblical data in systematic theology. The questions which we ask are our questions. Our answers must be capable of holding up in biblical terms…[but] this complicating factor in the theological appropriation of Scripture is in any case something demanded by the structure of the Bible’s own affirmations…the Bible itself forbids biblicism.
I just love that closing line. The occasion for this quote is a discussion of the New Testament’s teachings on the resurrection, with its various and sometimes cryptic statements that often do not gel. On this particular topic, though, of the Bible itself forbidding biblicism, I think especially of the “synoptic problem.” This, of course, is the recognition that Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a great deal of material and structure in common (with Mark being a major source for the other two). But the three get small details different, or tell things in different orders.
Thus Scripture demands exegesis. Harmonizing these differences (making all the pieces ‘fit’ at the expense of the particular narratives of each gospel) has been ruled a heresy for a reason. Only God is perfect – the Bible is indeed Holy, the absolute source of faith and practice for the Church universal – but it is not perfect, at least, if ‘perfect’ means completely in agreement with itself at all times. But then, God’s ways are not our ways. Our idea of perfect and God’s idea of revelation may not be identical. And we can thank God for that…