Father Raymond E. Brown; The Modern Catholic Heretic

The Catholic Scholar Who Rejected Much of the New Testament

Who Was This Man?

F ather Raymond Edward Brown (1928 - 1998), was an American Roman Catholic priest and a prominent Biblical scholar of his era. He was regarded as a specialist concerning the hypothetical 'Johannine community' (supposedly a separate group who were responsible for The Gospel of John), and he also wrote influential (though highly controversial) studies on the birth and death of Jesus as well as venturing into other New Testament areas. Perhaps surprisingly, Brown was professor emeritus at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York, where he taught for 29 years. It was highly unsual for a Roman Catholic professor to gain tenure there, and, though generally thought of as a good lecturer (technically-speaking), controversy continually dogged his time there; certainly a huge section of Roman Catholicism simply viewed him as an infidel and were quite happy that his direct influence was confined to a liberal Protestant seminary. 'Union' was well known for upholding liberal theology and so were only too happy to welcome, probably, the leading liberal Roman Catholic New Testament 'authority' of his time.

'Father' Raymond Brown (1928-1998) was a Roman Catholic "Bible scholar" who spent many years undermining the New Testament, something most Catholics have never forgiven him for.

Brown was one of the first Roman Catholic scholars to apply historical-critical analysis to the Bible. As Biblical criticism developed in the 19th century, the Roman Catholic Church had opposed this questionable form of "biblical scholarship" and essentially forbade it in 1893. In 1943, however, the Church issued guidelines by which Catholic scholars could investigate the Bible historically. Brown called this encyclical the "Magna Carta of biblical progress." Vatican II further supported higher criticism (or so it was generally felt), which, Brown felt, vindicated his approach. This might be so, but, without question, his liberalism and lack of confidence in the New Testament made him highly disliked among the majority of sincere Roman Catholics.

As Robert A. Sungenis, Ph.D., says of him,

In the hermeneutic of Fr. Brown, one of his favorite ways of promoting the historical-critical method was to keep drumming into his student's heads that Scripture contains "fiction." The vehicle he used to support this idea was that it was never the biblical author's "intent" to write accurate history. You will see the word "intent" over and over again in liberal literature on Scripture. Even though he has no proof, the liberal critic gives the impression that he knows the precise intent of the biblical author and can therefore construct his conclusions accordingly. (quote from here.).

As James Likoudis has written,

Attacks on the knowledge of Christ tending to undermine belief in His divinity have appeared in the writings of Rev. Daniel Helminiak, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Charles DeCelles, Fr. Bruce Vawter, and Monika Hellwig - all clearly taking their cue from the books of Fr. Raymond E. Brown whose abuse of the historical-critical method of Scripture Study has been brilliantly exposed in Msgr. George A. Kelly's indispensable "The New Biblical Theorists: Raymond E. Brown and Beyond" (Servant Books, Ann Arbor, 1983) (quote from here.).

Brown's 'Old' Liberalism

The truth is: Brown's liberalism was 'old hat' stuff, a sort of recycling of 19th century Liberal Protestantism and by the time that Brown had finished his writing many of his erroneous conclusions were already well-overturned by leading evangelical Protestant scholars. Only intellectual arrogance prevented people like Brown from being corrected by these later writers.

Catholic polemicists of Brown have often thought that his errors were due to him being so influenced by Karl Barth, the leading Protestant theologian of the 20th century; this however, seems distinctly unfair to Barth. It might be true to say that Brown took the worst parts of Barth but none of his strengths; there is also good evidence that, like many others, he misunderstood Barth at times. For example, Barth never stated that the resurrection never occurred (as some still appear to believe), rather, that it was 'only visible to the eyes of faith.' In a sense that is perfectly true though many of us feel Barth did not go far enough (being overly-burdened by his existentialistic neo-orthodoxy), but Barth eventually became much more evangelical and can be praised for his ongoing fight against the liberalism of his age.

For sure, the resurrection of Jesus occurred in real time and space and the acceptance of this becomes clearer in Barth's later writings but there remains a real sense in which 'only the eyes of faith' really see Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection, and it is nonsensical to others.

Brown also showed support for the so-called 'Q Source theory' (from the German 'Quelle,' or "source") in the writing of the New Testament. This is an unnecessarily complicated and hypothetical explanation of how the synoptic gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) shared some of their accounts about the life of Jesus. It proposes that there was also another document which the gospel writers had access to called the 'Q source.' A good basic explanation of how this was supposed to work can be found here. It should be carefully noted however that if this were true it would in no way affect the divine inspiration of the New Testament. Many other (mostly liberal) scholars believed that there were two sources for the stories of Jesus, the supposed 'Q', and Mark itself. However, this whole theory has now lost a lot of ground; while some New Testament scholars still hold to this, or to some variation of this, many now consider it to be pointless theory (especially in view of the fact that this supposed 'Q' document has never been found even when many other spurious New Testament-related documents have emerged).

During the last fifty years or so it has become the tendency for scholars to show more respect for the New Testament just as it is. Scholars such as Mark Goodacre, Eta Linneman and John Wenham have greatly advanced this more evangelical, but no less scholarly, approach. The more modern approach would be to say something like, 'we can never successfully know much about original sources - if there were any - let us simply study the text as we find it.' The belief that Matthew was the earliest gospel (rather than Mark) has also tended to return and it is certainly the view which I personally hold, after much research into the matter.

It is unfortunate that Raymond E. Brown spent so many years effectively undermining the authority of the Holy Bible. Certainly, by the time he was through, several of his errors could have been overturned by consulting better authorities. Here we see the arrogance of all the liberal Bible polemicists who so firmly believed in their own 'knowledge,' against more sound authorities.

Bible critics come and go, whether they support "historical-critical analysis " or some other intellectual fad of their time, but the Word of God still stands and it is true to state that nothing has affected the Bible's prestige and authority among the genuine 'seeker after truth,' yet scoffers there will always be and one simply has to accept this. Brown enjoyed some respect and prestige for a while but his 'dipping into the bin' of old ideas of Liberal Protestantism eventually produced nothing substantive.

Robin A. Brace. February 20th, 2013.