Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader asks:
I have a question I hope you can help me research for my youth group. We are using the Life Teen program and I am one of the core team members. Where can I find real, researched information on Lilith…..supposedly Adam’s first wife who was edited out of the bible because of a whole jumble of conspiratorial reasons I cannot quite fathom yet. Her erasure and other yet to be named biblical rewrites mean sin doesn’t really exist though…….I did get that much.
My kids are a pretty bright group, and two of my brightest are the most challenging, the most confused, and the least accepting….. and I want to respect their challenges with real responses, even when they are off the wall.
Last night was a mostly open topic in small group and we had quite the discussion around sin, kicked off by discussing the IC and why Jesus wanted a sinless mother. The question started about sexual activity and came across as ‘how can something I like and that feels good really be sinful’. I expanded the discussion to all sin and talked about how anytime we chose a desire or behavior as more important than our relationship with God and what he asks of us we are in a state of sin. We then talked about the sacramental nature of marriage and the infusion of grace that full participation in a sacramental marriage can bring. We also talked about how sex outside of marriage can be pleasurable but ultimately empty and unfulfilling because the spirit is not fed.
As I’m feeling ok about how the conversation is going, the Lilith discussion starts and comes across as ‘the bible was edited and all this stuff that was left out means the bible is not really true and that is not what God wants from us.’ We were about out of time at that point, so we had a 5 minute cover of the role of the Bishop and some of his gifts of the Holy Spirit, the counsel the selected the cannon of scripture and how we can be confident that the bible is the inspired word of God.
The answer to the question “By what right does the Church get to decide what goes in the Bible?” is the same as the answer to the question “By what right do you get to decide what goes in your family photo album?” The Bible is the family photo album, first of Israel, then of the Church. The books that are in it reflect the faith of Israel and of the Church. Lilith, while a fun legend, is not and never was part of the faith of Israel or the Church, so the story doesn’t go into scripture. In short, it wasn’t “edited out” because it was never in. One might as well wonder why the story of King Arthur was “edited out” of the New Testament. Lilith is a legend mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (a rabbinic commentary on the Bible) that only starts to take firm shape in the 8th to 10th centuries. How we get from that to “the Bible is not true” is mysterious. Certainly none of the Lilith legend has anything to do with the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. My suggestion would be to get a decent overview of Scripture and see what the author of Genesis is actually up to before dismissing it. I recommend “Walking with God” by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.
The basis of the Church’s view that the Bible is inspired is, quite simply, the authority of Jesus Christ. Reading the Bible, not as the inspired word of God, but as merely human documents we judge in the way we judge all human documents, we find that the Bible tells a story that is hard to account for as a merely human story. The difficulty of giving an answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” that is not more preposterous than the strange Christian explanation (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”) is very great. This is why the early Christians became believers themselves and it is why they wrote the New Testament, to chronicle their experience of Jesus (both before and after his resurrection). It is only because we trust him that we trust his word to the apostles that they will speak and write in his Name, not merely as men, but under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And since they receive the Old Testament as the word of God too (as all Jews did), the Church accepts its inspiration too. The tricky part, of course, is that even inspired texts need an interpreter and are, in fact, more thorny to read than an ordinary book (since the Holy Spirit thinks more deeply than the human authors and the text therefore has unguessable layers of meaning which are only unpacked over time). That’s why we need the Church, the community that gave us the Bible. About the worst way in the world to read Scripture is to divorce it from the community that created and compiled it.