Tough Love

I was struck by this sentence in John Garvey’s column “An Imperfect Union” (October 11): “For most of its history, marriage has been about the melding of families (it’s still about this, as married couples often learn after the fact)...not, or not primarily, about romantic feelings.” 

Garvey seems to presume that the understanding of marriage that makes it possible to permit same-sex marriage is one where marriage is primarily about romantic feelings. As a gay man, now widowed, I find that idea offensive. My married life was not an endless series of gauzy Valentine’s Day moments. Nor was that the sort of life we aspired to. Our marriage was making a home; it was being involved in the lives of both our families; it was extending ourselves for other family members and friends in times of need. It was going to couples counseling to work out troubles; it was making sacrifices in career and other facets of life to stay together. It was taking care of one another in sickness, and in the long battle with cancer that claimed my husband’s life over a year ago, a battle that we fought together. Our relationship started romantically, but it certainly became something deeper and much, much less romantic.

Jim Hohman

Greendell, N.J.


Bad Beginnings

John Connelly’s review of David Nirenberg’s book Anti-Judaism (“Through a Glass Darkly,” September 27) left me puzzled. He spends a great deal of time on the meaning and intent of Jesus’ words, and less on the meaning and intent of the evangelists’ words, which are not necessarily the same. Exegetes point out the importance of context to understand the text. One significant aspect of the context of Jesus’ life was the Roman Empire.

The Jewish revolt of 67 C.E., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 C.E., and the consequential slavery into which Jewish prisoners were forced by the Romans occurred at the time before or during some early Christian writings. Wasn’t it a priority of the evangelists to separate themselves as Christian Jews from the “bad Jews” who revolted against Rome? Blaming Rome for the death of Jesus was simply not in their best interests. So the poison of anti-Semitism was in the well from the beginning.

Paul Stubenbort

Bensalem, Pa.



Gary A. Anderson’s fine article on Jewish sources of Christian charity contains a geographical error (“The Current of Creation,” September 27). He places St. Basil at “Caesarea, the great Roman port just north of modern day Tel Aviv.” St. Basil actually lived at Caesarea in Cappadocia, described by Philip Rousseau in his book Basil of Caesarea as surrounded by land “sandy and liable in parts to flooding.” Having visited both locations, I can attest to the difference between the two: the first faces the sea; the other, a strange rock formation.

(Msgr.) Nicholas Schneider

Clayton, Mo.


Bible Study

Recalling Karl Barth, Frank Matera (“An Act of Theology,” August 16) stresses that it is God’s word that judges the reader, not the other way around, that “the text we dare to hold in our hands” is “God’s word in human words.” But this entails a paradox.

If, as Dei Verbum has it, the Bible teaches “firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation,” an obvious question arises: What truth is it that God wanted put into those writings? The question is equally important for a Catholic who accepts the teaching authority of the church and for a reader who relies on sola scriptura as a solus lector. Accepting Scripture as norma normans non normata does not resolve for many readers the tension between the worldviews of Proverbs and of Job. It does not, for most readers, make clear whether Deuteronomy 22:24, as part of the norma, is presently normative. In short, the conscientious believer, while accepting the judgment of God’s word, must sort out the testimony of the human authors in context. This requires making judgments.

And of course readers do make those judgments, whether they are popes, bishops, theologians, or the most ignorant “common readers.” It is in making those judgments that the scholars employ the methods mentioned in Matera’s article.

His article is thorough and engaging, but the conclusion is too tidy. I am left uneasy because Matera’s perspective is that of an expert, mine that of a nonspecialist.

Biblical scholars may understandably take the historical-critical method for granted as an everyday tool or, in Matera’s phrase, a lingua franca that has served them well for many years. Despite the “balkanization” of their discipline produced by a profusion of newer methodologies, the historical-critical method remains “an indispensable starting point for a theological reading of the text.” But it is only a starting point. In the world of biblical scholars the emphasis must be ongoing from that starting point, and Matera spells out a number of suggestions in that regard.

Among the rest of us, the situation is rather different. Having spent more than twenty years working with parish Bible study groups, I can attest that many otherwise well-informed adult Christians adhere to a fairly fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Moreover, when exposed to works aimed at popularizing the contributions of biblical scholars, all too many find such works disturbing rather than illuminating. If the historical-critical method is an “indispensable starting point” for exegetes, some appreciation of the fruits of that method would also seem to be important for ordinary Christians. Failure to communicate that appreciation may, unfortunately, favor at least implicit acceptance of “interpretations that do not respect the incarnational nature of God’s word.”

Matera urges exegetes to “return to foundational questions such as revelation and inspiration.” Similarly, popularizers might encourage ordinary Christians to consider the meaning of inspiration. Too often the unexamined and implicitly accepted notion is that of God overriding the personalities of the human authors, so that their very humanity, with its inherent limitations, disappears. That makes possible a tidy sort of biblical inerrancy, but it entails suppressing difficulties and forsaking insights.

Julian Irias

Davis, Calif.

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Published in the November 15, 2013 issue: View Contents
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