The historical-critical method of understanding the Bible began as an effort to show that the Bible is the authentic Word of God through a value-neutral science akin to the natural sciences, the findings of which are objective and rendered with a high degree of certitude. It has not gone as expected.
Holy Mother Church teaches us, § 113 “Read the Scripture within “The living Tradition of the whole Church.” However, the historical-critical method seeks to isolate each Scripture text from its roots so that it can be considered in isolation. This approach has some value: The more we know about the environment in which each passage was written, the better we can understand how it illuminates God’s saving action throughout history.
Historical-critical interpretation of a text seeks to discover the precise sense the words intended to convey at their time and place of origin…. [But] it is important to keep in mind that any human utterance of a certain weight contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time…. At this point we get a glimmer, even on the historical level, of what inspiration means: The author does not speak as a private, self-contained subject. He speaks in a living community…which is led forward by a greater power that is at work…. Neither the individual books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature. The Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject—the pilgrim People of God—and lives within this same subject…. [And] likewise, this people does not exist alone; rather, it knows that it is led, and spoken to, by God himself, who—through men and their humanity—is at the deepest level the one speaking.
Note especially his last two sentences:
The Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject—the pilgrim People of God—and lives within this same subject…. [And] likewise, this people does not exist alone; rather, it knows that it is led, and spoken to, by God himself, who—through men and their humanity—is at the deepest level the one speaking.
Historical-critical research sets limits on itself, intentionally excluding the supernatural. If we allowed it to take over all of Scripture criticism we would lose our deep understanding of God’s presence among us. It has to be cordoned off and not allowed to take over the whole of Scripture analysis.
Let us illustrate: The New American Bible (NAB) in 1996 translated Isaiah 7:14 as, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” But the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) in 2011 translated the same passage, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” The relevant Hebrew word here is almah, a very young woman who in Isaiah’s time would virtually always be a virgin. The historical-critical fingerprint here is obvious. A virgin birth would be a miracle. A young woman giving birth is a normal everyday event.
In isolation this change does great damage to our understanding of Isaiah’s prophecy. The historical-critical scholar is saying that Isaiah in his own time and place could not have anticipated the birth of Rabbi Yeshua. He would say Isaiah must have been referring to the siege of Jerusalem by the combined armies of Syria and the Northern Kingdom around 735 BC. Rabbi Matityahu Mt 1:22 told us that Rabbi Yeshua‘s birth fulfilled Isaiah’s 7:14 prophecy but, apart from divine inspiration, how did he know that this particular young woman would give birth to the Messiah?
Blessedly, the Catholic Church reads Scripture § 114 “attentive to the analogy of faith.” So she looks at all of the Messiah’s Scripture prophecies and forms from their similarities and consistencies a perspective that places the highest priority on Rabbi Yeshua‘s salvific revelation over the observations of science, while accepting the authentic contributions that science has to offer.
This makes eminent sense. The Big Bang and Genesis demonstrated through widely accepted mathematical equations that an infinite power and intelligence living as pure spirit outside of space and time made somethingout of nothing Lk 1:35, and the Word was made flesh Jn 1:14. Science Without God has no explanation for it. Rabbi Yeshua alone is our highest source of true authority.