"I Don't Know" Doesn't Matter

Friday, May. 20, 2022
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

I laughed out loud during my Scripture study on Sunday.

The first reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter was, as you may recall, Acts 14:21-27. It continues the saga of Paul and Barnabas as they travel throughout the Roman Empire, proclaiming the Good News. This particular passage reads like a travel itinerary: Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and a return to Antioch. In these seven sentences, only one dredged up a scintilla of devotional thought: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Yes, I thought, that message is repeated frequently throughout the New Testament; Jesus says it several times and it’s a major theme in Acts and in Paul’s writings. In fact, the first reading for last Sunday had a similar message, if more subtle.

The only other value I gleaned in the Scripture passage was the practical bit in the last sentence, that God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” This line is important because it helps set the scene for what happens next, when Paul and Barnabas defend against the practice of requiring converts to the Way to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.

So what, you may ask, was humorous about all this?

Nothing, in itself. The funny part was the commentary on it by Peter Kreeft in his book Food for the Soul. Regarding that particular Scripture passage, Kreeft writes, “Today’s reading from Acts is a lot like last Sunday’s: it’s mainly a list of cities Paul and Barnabas went to in order to preach the Gospel. I apologize for not finding anything more edifying in this passage. I don’t know why our liturgical experts chose it.”

I laughed at this not only because I had the same reaction as Kreeft, but also because I can’t recall the last time I heard an expert admit he or she didn’t know something, even something so minor.

In Kreeft’s defense, his exegesis for the previous week dealt with the topic of suffering out of love for Christ, so I can understand him not having anything new for this week’s reading. And I’m sure somewhere in the Church archives are notes detailing why specific readings were chosen, but it’s such a picayune detail that I can’t imagine anyone studying up on it.

My amusement and amazement that Kreeft would acknowledge that he didn’t know why this particular reading was chosen came also from a couple of conversations I’ve had recently about civil discourse in this country. Those conversations lamented the fact that people used to be able to agree to disagree, but now the atmosphere seems to require condemning anyone who doesn’t completely conform to your opinion. Admitting a lack of knowledge also is seen as a sign of weakness, even though it’s not possible for anyone to know everything.

Take Kreeft, for example. He’s written more than 80 books on Christian philosophy, theology and apologetics, and I’m sure he’s knowledgeable in all of those fields. Still, the sheer breadth of scholarship in those areas is staggering. To be an expert on apologetics alone would require among other things an in-depth knowledge of the Bible. Scripture scholars study the languages used to write the Bible (Latin, Greek and Hebrew, with Aramaic also considered a biblical tongue). In addition, Biblical studies include theology, the history of ancient Israel and Rome as well as the art and architecture of those times, hermeneutics, and many other disciplines. There’s no possible way a person could know everything about any one of those fields, much less all of them, not least because of the ongoing scholarship that adds more information every day.

Do I think any less of Kreeft because he admitted he didn’t know why that particular Scripture passage was chosen for the Sunday reading? No. In fact, I found him more credible, and in that frame of mind I was more open to read his insights about the passages from Revelation and the Gospel of John that were the day’s other readings.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at marie@icatholic.org.

For questions, comments or to report inaccuracies on the website, please CLICK HERE.
© Copyright 2022 The Diocese of Salt Lake City. All rights reserved.