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How Do Catholics Interpret The Bible

Areas Of Scriptural Research

How do Catholics interpret the Bible?

At least since Vatican II, Catholic theology has been understood as the search for fruitful understanding of the Church’s dogma, doctrine, and practice. While dogma, the most basic beliefs, does not change, Church doctrine includes the many other beliefs that may reflect a single interpretation of dogma, of Scripture, or of the Church’s tradition and practice. An example would be the dogma that “Jesus died for our sins.” The many ways in which his death on the cross impacts us or in which it may be called a “sacrifice” have filled reams in the history of theology. An up-to-date theology of the question can be found in various places, in substantial agreement. How this process works, through the “study of believers”, was given at Vatican II:

The Tradition which comes from the Apostles thrives under the assistance of the Holy Ghost in the Church: the understanding of the things and words handed down grows, through the contemplation and study of believers, who compare these things in their heart , and through their interior understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience. The Church, we may say, as the ages pass, tends continually towards the fullness of divine truth, till the words of God are consummated in her.

Reading With The Magisterium

One argument Ive heard before claims that any interpretation of Scripture by a Catholic layperson is by definition contrary to the Church that because the magisterium claims the right of being authentic interpreter, the Catholic layperson has no rights to interpret Scripture for himself at all, but instead must punctiliously submit his every thought to the literal dictations of the magisterium that there is supposedly a compendium of magisterial scriptural interpretations that every Catholic exegesis must be compared with and must agree with. In fact, no such compendium exists the authentic interpretations of the magisterium are contained in Catholic doctrine itself, as taught by the ecumenical councils of the Church and by the popes.

Truthfully, these authentic interpretations of the magisterium speak specifically to only a subset of Scripture, specifically to those Scriptures that form the basis of doctrine taught by the Church and to those about which there has been substantial dispute. For all the rest of Scripture, the reader is left, allowed, and encouraged to read and interpret for himself, in accord with the mind and sense of the Church.

The Role Of The Bible

  • Catholics believe the Bible reveals Gods word and Gods nature. Catholics believe that they can learn to understand God better by reading the Bible.
  • Parts of the Bible are read during liturgical worship.
  • Worship using the Bible unites Catholics with other members of their faith.
  • The Bible also plays a role in private worship, which many Catholics use to build a relationship with God.

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Did The Catholic Church Forbid Bible Reading

Bible reading in the Catholic Church is encouraged though not as strict as it is in the Protestant churches. For instance, Catholics read the Bible at home with their families and experience scripture as other Christians.

Saint Jerome who is recognized as the Doctor of the Church within the Catholic circles is quoted even in Protestant writings as a Christian of profound belief. In the 5th century, he was quoted as saying ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.

This is an encouragement that Catholics have embraced and continue practicing both at home and in church.

In Catholic parishes all around the world, Bible studies are held to understand more about what scripture has for the contemporary church.

If it were true that the Catholic church forbids Bible reading, the Catholic parishes wouldnt offer Vacation Bible School and organize Bible study groups to help the faithful interact with the Word of God and deepen their study of scripture.

Try Starting With The Gospels

The Come and See Ser.: How Do Catholics Read the Bible? by ...

Reading the entire Bible seems daunting, so first open the Gospels. These can be much easier to grasp and the names and episodes within them are more familiar. In particular, start with the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel. Reading Mark can give you a sense of accomplishment as well as an interest to see how the other Gospel writers narrate the life of Jesus.

Many Christians will simply read through all four Gospels over and over again, digging deeper into the heart of Jesus and his message. For the reader who doesnt know where to start, the Gospels might be the perfect place.

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The Catholic Churchprotected The Bible

The Catholic Church protected the Bible across the ages until theGutenberg press was invented. Century after century, Monks inMonasteries faithfully copied Scripture. They were incredibly accurate.We have a modern testimony to how accurate the Monks were when theycopied the Bible. The “Dead Sea Scrolls” were discovered in1947 and they date back to 200 BC. They contain Old Testament bookssuch as Isaiah. They predate some of the Monk’s copies by 1500 years.Yet the hand copied Bibles created by monks are almost identical to theDead Sea Scrolls. This is remarkable given that the Monks were workingfrom copies of copies. It would take each monk several years to copyone Bible and thousands of faithful Catholics dedicated their lives tothis work. Catholics protected the Bible over the centuries of wars,famines, plagues, the fall of Rome, fires, and threats from all sides.This was long before any other denomination existed.

The Bible didn’t just drop out of the sky, spiral bound, with an NIVsticker on it. The Catholic Church chose which books to include in theBible in the Synod’s of Hippo and confirmed it at Carthage. A timeline ofhow the Bible came to us is here. Here are the words of ProfessorPeter Flint, the non-Catholic scholar who translated the only Englishversion of the Dead Sea Scrolls which won first prize from theWashington Biblical Archeology association:

“Without the Catholic Church you have no Bible,just a bunch of books and letters. With the Church you have theBible!”

Questions About The Lectionary

What’s the difference between a Bible and a Lectionary?

A Lectionary provides the readings and the responsorial psalm assigned for each Mass of the year . The readings are divided by the day or the theme rather than according to the books of the Bible. Introductions and conclusions have been added to each reading. Not all of the Bible is included in the Lectionary.Individual readings in the Lectionary are called pericopes, from a Greek word meaning a “section” or “cutting.” Because the Mass readings are only portions of a book or chapter, introductory phrases, called incipits, are often added to begin the Lectionary reading, for example, “In those days,” “Jesus said to his disciples,” etc.

How is the Lectionary arranged?

Is the New American Bible the only translation of Scriptures we can read from at Mass?

Since May 19, 2002, the revised Lectionary, based on the New American Bible is the only English-language Lectionary that may be used at Mass in the dioceses of the United States.The 1970 edition of the New American Bible is used in the Scripture readings and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours

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The Interpretation Of The Bible In The Church


Pontifical Biblical Commission

Presented on March 18, 1994


I. Methods and Approaches for InterpretationII. Hermeneutical QuestionsIII. Characteristics of Catholic InterpretationIV. Interpretation of the Bible in the Life of the ChurchConclusionEndnotes


The study of the Bible is, as it were, the soul of theology, as the Second Vatican Council says, borrowing a phrase from Pope Leo XIII . This study is never finished each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books.

In the history of interpretation the rise of the historical-critical method opened a new era. With it, new possibilities for understanding the biblical word in its originality opened up. Just as with all human endeavor, though, so also this method contained hidden dangers along with its positive possibilities. The search for the original can lead to putting the word back into the past completely so that it is no longer taken in its actuality. It can result that only the human dimension of the word appears as real, while the genuine author, God, is removed from the reach of a method which was established for understanding human reality.

Rome, on the feast of St. Matthew the evangelist 1993.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


A. The State of the Question Today

You have taken away the key of knowledge you have not entered in yourselves and you have hindered those who sought to enter” .

B. Purpose Of This Document

2. Principles

The Church And The Bible

Do Catholics Read the Bible? (REAL History of Bible Reading in Catholic Church!)

Because God inspired the Bible, Catholics need to interpret the Bible in the light of the Holy Spirit. At heart, the Bible has one author, so when Catholics interpret the Bible they understand that the Bible will never contradict itself.

The Holy Spirit guides the Church in a special way. He guided the Church in its process of discerning which books belonged in the Bible, and he continues to guide the Church in its interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, Catholics do not interpret the Bible for themselves but rely on the wisdom of the Church in understanding what God is saying through the Scriptures. St. Augustine once said,

I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.

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Paul And Barnabusconsulted The Central Authority Of The Church On The Interpretation Ofscripture

We have a Biblical example of the Church having a central interpreterin early times during the crisis of faith over circumcision. Paul and Barnabus went to Jerusalem to settle the circumcisionissue. “As they went through the towns theydelivered to the believers the rules decided upon by the apostles andelders in Jerusalem, and they told them to obey those rules.” This is a good example of the Lord using the”Church” to decide on matters of interpretation.

The Bible Is Inspired

God inspired human beings to write the Bible. These men used their own abilities and perspectives to write the books that became part of the Bible. For example, Luke says he did research into the sources of the information he put into the Bible. Luke was also a skilled storyteller, and he tells the life of Christ in a very engaging way. God did not dictate the Gospel word-for-word to Luke. Instead, he allowed Luke to use his own unique talents in writing his Gospel.

Luke is truly the author of the Gospel of Luke, but because he was inspired by God, God is still the primary author. When Catholics say Scripture is inspired, it means that God worked in a very special way in the writing of the Bible. The human authors of the Bible wrote whatever God wanted written, no more and no less. If someone today says that God inspired them to write a book, this is a different use of the word inspired.

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Embrace The Word Of God

The whole point of reading and understanding the Bible is to encounter God, understand the revelation he has given us, and grow in faith.

So now that youâve read a passage of Scripture and understand what the author is saying

take that next steplisten to God!

Scripture is a living thing, meant for people in all times & places. God speaks through it now just as much as he did when it was written.

To help our faith grow as we read Scripture, the Church gives us three important points for interpreting and understanding the Bible:1 âBe especially attentive âto the content and unity of the whole Scriptureââ . It all fits together, so donât just look at parts in isolation.1 Read the Bible within âthe living Tradition of the whole Churchâ , since the Holy Spirit guides the Church in interpreting Scripture. Especially helpful is seeing how the Saints, Popes, and Church councils have commented on Scripture.1 Pay attention to âthe coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelationâ . Like point #1, above, the entire deposit of faith forms a wonderful unitydoctrine sheds light on Scripture, and Scripture on doctrine.

Why Does The Catholicchurch Think That Its Interpretation Of Scripture Is Right

How do Catholics interpret the Bible?

Catholics believe Jesus ordained Peter and the Apostles to be theteaching authority over Godâs Word to us. We believe that Godgave Peter a special Grace to teach infallibly. Jesus said “…youare Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates ofhell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys ofthe kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound inHeaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.“. We believe that Jesus extends . We call this specialgrace infallibility. We think itis a rallying point and a great source of unity that Jesus summons usto in Scripture. More Christians are in unity with Rome in this waythan all the other denominations combined.

The Catholic Church does not claim to fully understand all Scripture.There are many mysteries within its pages that still are not fullyunderstood. What the Church is saying is thatwhatever has been revealed to it and set out in Dogmais true. There are many areas of Scripture that are still mysteries,and therefore not defined as Dogma. There is much for the Church tolearn. We believe God is not finished with us. That is why we say thatthe Catholic Church is on a pilgrimage.

Catholics think that perhaps God organized the authority thing toprevent us from having a thousand variations of Catholicism based onevery person who gets a conflicting insight about Scripture. If thishappened, it would not be consistent with Jesus’ wish for Unity..

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Iii Characteristics Of Catholic Interpretation

What characterizes Catholic exegesis is that it deliberately placesitself within the living tradition of the church, whose first concern isfidelity to the revelation attested by the Bible. Modern hermeneutics hasmade clear, as we have noted, the impossibility of interpreting a textwithout starting from a “pre-understanding” of one type or another.

Catholic exegetes approach the biblical text with a pre- understandingwhich holds closely together modern scientific culture and the religioustradition emanating from Israel and from the early Christian community.Their interpretation stands thereby in continuity with a dynamic patternof interpretation that is found within the Bible itself and continues inthe life of the church. This dynamic pattern corresponds to the requirementthat there be a lived affinity between the interpreter and the object,an affinity which constitutes, in fact, one of the conditions that makesthe entire exegetical enterprise possible.

All pre-understanding, however, brings dangers with it. As regards Catholicexegesis, the risk is that of attributing to biblical texts a meaning whichthey do not contain but which is the product of a later development withinthe tradition. The exegete must beware of such a danger.

A. Interpretation in the Biblical Tradition

1. Rereadings

2. Relationships Between the Old Testament and the New

3. Some Conclusions

The way in which sacred Scripture reveals its own interpretation oftexts suggests the following observations:

Why Catholics Don’t Read The Bible


The independent fundamentalist church I went to as a boy gave me a fantastic amount of Bible knowledge.

There were Bible drills in Sunday School, Bible memory contests, and Bible quizzes, not to mention a complete grounding in all the characters and exciting stories from the Bible.

As I got older, I listened to long Bible sermons and went to home Bible studies, youth Bible camps, and a Bible holiday club. I ended up going to an Evangelical University where Bible study was part of our everyday schedule. As a result, I learned that the Bible was God’s inspired word to heal and reconcile the human race.

Our Christian home wasn’t particularly anti-Catholic, but some of our preachers were, and the general impression I got was that Catholics not only didn’t read the Bible, but that they weren’t allowed to. How could Catholics believe the Bible if they didn’t read and study it like we did?

It’s true that many Evangelicals know their Bible upside down and backwards, and compared to them, Catholics sometimes seem ignorant of the Bible. But that’s only an appearance. During this, National Bible Week , let’s sort out how Catholics use the Bible.

Prayer book or rule book?

Ordinary Catholics might not be so adept at quoting chapter and verse, but they do know and use Scripture regularly, albeit it in a different method. For a Catholic, Scripture is not so much a book to be studied as a book to worship with.

Built on the apostolic tradition

Burning Bibles

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How Does A Catholic Read The Bible

How does a Catholic read the Bible?

I certainly can’t speak for all Catholics, but I can speak a little to the Catholic tradition. And the best explicator of that tradition in recent decades was, in my opinion, my professor of New Testament in graduate studies, the late Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., who taught at Boston College for many years, wrote hundreds of articles on the Bible and was the editor of the scholarly journal New Testament Abstracts. He probably knew more about the New Testament than any other scholar in English-speaking world.

Funny enough, he started one of his books with the story of some traveling evangelists coming to his home in Boston when Dan was about 10 years old. This was around 1950. When his Irish-Catholic mother opened the door, the “ministers of the Word” said that theyd like to come in and discuss the Bible.

Were Catholics, she said. We dont read the Bible. As Dan said, The conversation was over. Fortunately, things have changed since then.

In that same book, How Do Catholics Read the Bible? Dan provided a wonderful summary of our topic:

I should probably just end now because that’s as clear as anyone can say it. But since I’m a Jesuit, I won’t end her. Ill continue for just a little while.

Let me point out just three highlights of these two important documents.

To my mind, it’s a sensible and spiritual approach to the Bible.


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