Let’s look at the most essential principles taught by the Catholic Church for reading and interpreting Scripture.
The Bible is uniquely important
The Holy Bible is unmatched in importance for learning about God, his plans for us, and how he has worked through human history for our salvation.
Pope John Paul II wrote:
[Sacred Scripture] is truly divine, because it belongs to God truly and genuinely: God himself inspired it, God confirmed it, God spoke it through the sacred writers Moses, the Prophets, the Evangelists, the Apostles and, above all, through his Son, our only Lord, in both the Old and the New Testament.
It is true that the intensity and depth of the revelation varies [within the Bible], but there is not the least shadow of contradiction [between different parts of Scripture].
(Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter _Patres Ecclesiae_,
January 2, 1980)
Since God inspired & confirmed the Bible, we need to know how to read it.
Key principles for reading Scripture
These three points are essential to a basic understanding of the bible:
- God is indeed the principal author of Sacred Scripture.
- God made use of specific people that wrote in a human language, and did so at a particular time and place in history.
- At times we have to work carefully to determine exactly what a sacred author is asserting to be true, distinguishing that from something he’s using as an image to help us understand the truth more clearly.
Let’s look deeper into these points.
God is the principal author of Scripture
Catechism of the Catholic Church:
God is the author of Sacred Scripture. The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy spirit.
For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred ad canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. To compose the sacred books God chose certain men who all the while he employed them in the tasks, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that , though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.
God chose to reveal to us certain truths for the sake of our salvation. This message of salvation is the set of revealed truths which we call the “deposit of faith,” or Divine Revelation. The Bible is primarily concerned with telling us these truths, which are without error. God himself made sure of that.
The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) said it well: “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum, #11).
God made use of people to write the Bible
God did not “dictate” the Bible, word for word, to people who just wrote down his words. Instead, he did amazing.
He made use of specific people to write the various sacred books of the Bible. And although God gave each author special grace to aid him in this work, each author wrote in a way that was natural to him.
This is also really important for a true Catholic understanding of the Bible. We have to understand this point completely, or we risk a serious misunderstanding!
The Second Vatican Council:
In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.
(Vatican II, Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), 11)
These writers used the language of their time, and they used words and wrote in a style that reflected their own personalities and educations.
These men had to work with the imperfections of human language and understanding. Despite this limitation, the Holy Spirit still used them to write the message of salvation in a way that was completely accurate.
John Paul II made this point when he addressed the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1979:
The language of the Bible is to some degree linked to language which changed over the course of time…. But this only reaffirms the paradox of the [Christian] proclamation of revelation: …people and events at particular points in history become the bearers of an absolute and transcendent message.
(Pope John Paul II, Address, April 26, 1979)
This is really quite astonishing—God was willing to work through people to tell us his saving truth. He revealed his divine truths via historical acts, using events and people of his choosing.
Human language and knowledge
God also used human language and knowledge—with all of its limitations—to tell us his eternal truths.
He conveyed things to people through words and actions that made use of the ways of speaking and thinking that were common at the time. God worked this way so it would be possible for humans to write down or pass on these eternal truths.
The people who experienced these events and received God’s divine messages either wrote them down later, or would pass them on in a reliable oral tradition that was later written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, sometimes we have to work carefully to get past the imperfections of human language and knowledge in order to see what God wanted to tell us.
Available are many useful books to assist us in deciphering the truth about Holy Scriptures. Be sure to find a good one that is written by a Catholic scholar. I use The Catholic Bible, Personal Study Edition, New American Bible. I also use many other sources to help with the true understanding of Scripture that can be found on the market.
We must remember that the Catholic Church has already determined the true meaning behind every word in the Bible. Always seek out the one true Catholic and Apostolic Church teachings for an interpretation of Scripture.
Rest assured the Catholic Church teachings are true and right.
What are your thoughts?