After about a year of stopping myself, I finally picked up The New Catholic Answer Bible (Wichita: Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005). The work appears to be some sort of collaboration between Dr. Paul Thigpen, editor of The Catholic Answer magazine and My Daily Catholic Bible (Our Sunday Visitor) and Dave Armstrong (a self-proclaimed Catholic apologist). Thigpen left the charismatic movement to swim the Tiber, and holds a PH.D in historical theology. Armstrong, also a convert, calls his swim across the Tiber “Confessions of a 1980s’ Jesus Freak.” To my knowledge, he has no theological training.
So far I haven’t been able to locate any information within the book as to who wrote either the notes or the plentiful information inserts. Amazon.com indicates Armstrong and Thigpen wrote the inserts (the Amazon link features a picture of Armstrong, so I think it’s safe to say Armstrong is involved, he also links to this book from his blog). But, I haven’t found either Thigpen’s or Armstrong’s names anywhere in the book. Well, it is around 1400 pages, so perhaps I’ll come across this information yet. I wrote the publisher a few days ago asking for this information, and so far, no response. This reminds me a little bit of the old who wrote the New World Translation? Add to this, the frequent Watchtower-like drawings throughout this book, giving one that “I’m reading something a bit slippery” feel.
The book is set up like a typical study Bible with commentary notes at the bottom of each page. Whoever wrote these notes though, is still a mystery. Throughout the book are “inserts.” These are one page topical overviews of Roman Catholic doctrine, basic theological, and apologetic issues. I’m going to guess these are primarily Armstrong’s and Thigpen’s, and there is indeed a difference in content between the inserts and commentary. The commentary appears to be written by someone with at least some exegetical training. The inserts have more of the typical current trend of Catholic pop-apologetics.
As I’ve skimmed through the book, one thing I immediately looked for was what particular body of doctrine was this Bible going to attempt to give “answers” to. That is, is this Bible going to defend the growing popular Catholic understanding of material sufficiency, or will it use vague language, giving it a partim-partim slant? Those adhering to material sufficiency would hold all the doctrines Catholics are to believe are found in the Bible. Those holding to the Partim-Partim view say that part of God’s special revelation is contained in the Scripture, and part is contained in Tradition. I think this is a crucial question, because it will determine exactly how particular answers will be given. For instance, will non-biblical key Catholic dogmas like the assumption, papal infallibility, or indulgences be defended and proof-texted in the commentary, or will these been seen as elements of Tradition?
Perhaps this quote from Insert U1 (after page 1314) provides the answer:
“Some Christians insist that only Scripture is authoritative for Christian faith and life. They deny the Catholic teaching (and the historical reality) that Scripture is actually a written portion of a much wider sacred and authoritative Tradition, which includes other elements passed down orally and by patterns of behavior. They fail to realize that if Scripture were the only legitimate source of Christian belief and practice, the early Christians who lived before the New Testament was written and circulated could not have lived the faith. St. Paul alludes to this reality. He tells the Thessalonians how to discern the truth from error: ‘Brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement [oral tradition] or by a letter of ours [Scripture]’ (2 Thes 2:15). “
Insert N-2 states the following:
“St. Paul, for example, commands Christians to ‘hold fast’ to the traditions he has passed on to them, both those that were written down (and were later recognized as Scripture) and those that were not written down (see 2 Thes 2:15).”
This seems to be a partim-partim leaning. Interestingly, the commentary note on 2 Thes. 2:15 doesn’t even address this particular issue. I was a bit shocked to find that The Catholic Answer Bible didn’t have this bolded with a two-page section of commentary, as it has been a key proof-text for Roman apologists. I think this points out the difference in scholarship between the writers of the inserts and the writers of the notes. The insert writers present your standard Catholic pop-apologetics.
So, as far as I can tell, this answer-Bible will not be helpful on one of the most important issues facing Roman Catholics, that is, are Catholics defending more material than is found in the Bible? Perhaps Armstrong and Thigpen plan on doing The New Catholic Answer Tradition Book sometime in the future. For instance, in their note on the assumption, they state,
“Is Mary’s assumption described in the Bible? No, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The death of St. Joseph isn’t described in Scripture, either, though it’s certain that this important event took place within the years chronicled by the gospels. In fact, many events even in the life of our Lord himself were not recorded in Scripture (see jn 21:25). The assumption of Mary is only one of the many significant events in the life of the early Church that have been remembered and witnessed to by ancient Tradition.”
So, this “answer Bible” is not limited to giving Biblical answers! Non-biblical answers are included in the inserts written by Thigpen and Armstrong. In the next few weeks, I’m going to post more of the answers I’ve found in The New Catholic Answer Bible. Perhaps the next edition should include the disclaimer: “not all answers will be Biblical.”