An embarassingly dumb question


The church is the sole interpreter of scripture I am aware. Private interpretation is out. I hear this time and again but where are these interpretations found? only in homilies on sunday? in the chatecism? more specifically what if I am talking about one obscure verse in particular? Hearing this so often I imagined a gigantic set of volumes of commentary taking up an entire book case. Some commentaries like this exist but how official are they? which one is right? I guess my question is where does one find the absolutely official interpretation of scripture as done by the magisterium of the church especially with regards to the minute details and little known passages of scripture? I feel like an idiot for not knowing this or missing something. I have looked in the archives but didn’t find much of a clear answer in any of the threads or any that were exactly what I am talking about.


I can’t answer your question but I don’t think it’s dumb at all.


The Church is a sheepfold and, while it has its limits, we are free to move about within. The barrier around the sheepfold was not erected to trap us within but rather, to protect us from the error which lies outside. Or, think of the Church as a ship on a journey to heaven, which is another common analogy. Every ship has a railing around the perimeter of the deck. That railing limits movement, to be sure, but its purpose is to protect crew and passengers from falling overboard. We are free to climb over the railing (free will), but in doing so, we will fall overboard and therefore, not reach our destination.

As to scripture, we may interpret scripture differently from others, but it must always remain within the boundaries of Church teaching. Some interpretations which we arrive at may be in the vein of private revelations, and intended only as personal illumination. As to interpreting prophecy, I leave that to the professionals in the Church. Both the expanse as well as the boundaries of Catholic teaching may be found in the catechism, which is a wonderful, if greatly under-used tool.


The church is not the sole interpreter of Scripture.

We can freely interpret Scripture but must check our interpretations against the teachings of the Church, Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church and the Sacred Traditions of the Church.

You might as well read the phone book if you can’t interpret what you read in the Scriptures. We have to check our interpretations against the Church, that’s all.



There are several approved (imprimatur/Nihil Obstat) Catholic Commentaries, and indeed some do take up a full shelf in my personal library (the Narvarre Commentary -

Others are a single large volume, for example the New Jerome Biblical Commentary -

One of the oldest but still best Catholic Commentaries is the Haydock -

You may find this interesting from EWTN:

While an older orthodox commentary from the 1950s, called A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Nelson Publishers) can sometimes be found, we are now starting to see new faithful commentaries being published. The best one is the Navarre Bible (Scepter Press). It is a work in progress from the University of Navarre in Spain. It has both the RSV and the Latin Vulgate, with commentary underneath from the Fathers, Doctors, the Magisterium and the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. So far the volumes of the New Testament (one per Gospel and collections of the epistles) are available, as well as some Old Testament volumes (Pentateuch, Joshua-Kings). Additionally, Ignatius Press has begun to publish the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, individual NT volumes by orthodox scholars, including Scott Hahn. Sop, far the Gospels and Acts have been published. Both the Navarre Bible and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible can be obtained from EWTN’s Religious Catalogue, the publishers, and through most Catholic catalogs, distributors and bookstores.
The most widely used Catholic commentary is probably the Jerome Biblical Commentary, now in a 2nd edition. There is also a summary version of it. This commentary is the work of well-known Catholic Biblical scholars and is filled with articles on historical, archaeological, linguistic and other subjects useful for understanding the background of the Scriptures. The JBC is, therefore, a valuable resource for those seeking such information. However, the textual commentaries use primarily the historical-critical method, and thus must be read with discernment. The Church approves of the use of this method for the purpose of understanding the historical and literary foundations of the text (see Vatican II, Dei Verbum 11-13), but finds it an incomplete method apart from the Tradition. Scripture must be interpreted according to the analogy of faith, that is, in accordance with what God has revealed in toto, as taught by the Magisterium.


Actually, it is not true that the Church is the sole interpreter of Scripture. I have a personal collection of hundreds of commentaries on books of the Bible. There Catholic writers interpret passages of Scripture. The standing in the Catholic Church of the commentaries on books of the Bible that I have is perfectly good. The Church, it is true, has spoken about some passages of Scripture authoritatively. For example, the Church says that when Jesus tells Nicodemus in chapter 3 of the Gospel according to John about being born of water and the Spirit, that he is talking about baptism. But actually there aren’t very many passages in Scripture that the Church has passed on, saying what specifically they mean. When it comes to the others, Catholic interpret, work at understanding them.

Actually, Catholic’s Immediate and personal response to Scripture has meant many life-changing experiences. Saint Augustine was instantly converted by a passage in Saint Paul. Saint Francis had a similar experience when it came to a passage on poverty from the Gospels. No one told them what these passages meant, they themselves well saw what they meant. Catholic’s response to, own interpretation of Scripture, is extraordinarily common and important in the spiritual life of the members of the Church.

Others here are correct about seeing passages from Scripture in terms of the teaching of the Church. This has been called the analogy of the faith. For example, to take a passage from Scripture as saying Jesus is not divine, would be clearly out-of-line.  But this is different when it comes to understanding what a passage in Scripture actually does say.It simply says some interpretations of passages are inappropriate; it does not show what the actual interpretation should be specifically.


That’s more than one question and none of them are dumb. :nope:



There are very few passages of Scripture on which the Church holds a “must interpret thus” view. Perhaps a dozen at most. We individually interpret Scripture all the time. Sometimes you read a passage and a phrase pops out at you that “talks” directly to you, even though what you read may not have anything to do with that passage of Scripture. Thomas Merton, reading about Zechariah’s disbelief that Elizabeth would conceive a child, saw the words, “you will be silent,” and was convinced that he should become a Trappist.

Personal meditation on Scripture, even considering context and doctrine, is a form of “personal interpretation.”

Catholics are not forbidden to interpret Scripture. After all, we are the “faithful.” Scripture belongs to us. But we belong to the Church. It is in our very bones to read and to understand Scripture “ex corde Ecclesiae” – from the heart of the Church.


The Catholic Church is the sole interpreter of the Scriptures. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has censored bad Catholic books, but the Conciliar Church does not do this. If you want sound Catholic interpretation you can trust traditional bishops and priests, most pre-V2 books, and traditional commentaries, such as the Haydock Commentary. God bless you.


The scriptures belong to the Catholic Church and she is the ultimate interpreter of the meaning of scripture.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (around 1992) asserts that the Church has only a few “official” interpretations of scripture. One of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Verbum Dei, says that the scriptures are an infinite source of inspiration, so obviously we do not have an infinite set of writing from the Church.

By way of reference, The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford Press) says that Judaism has no official interpretation of any of its Hebrew scriptures.

Pope Benedict’s series of books on Jesus of Nazareth do not have an imprimatur or nihil obstat. I think those endorsements are more appropriate in teaching documents.

NOTHING says that you cannot form an opinion about the scriptures, but you SHOULD be mindful of what church teaching is. And, you should ALWAYS be open to the HOLY SPIRIT who is the author of scripture.

Let’s take an example: John 21:25 There are many things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

Now, I hear priests on EWTN use this verse most often to justify the Tradition of the Church, which is not literally recorded in the Bible.

But, is that the one and only understanding?

One of the things you run into with scripture commentaries is the question of what did scripture mean THEN when it was written, and what does it mean TODAY?

  1. Well, “what Jesus did” certainly refers to what He has done in each of our lives, all people of all time. So, that would be a lot of books indeed.

  2. More particularly, what is in YOUR “book.” What has Jesus done in your life? Is it for salvation or for condemnation? When you are preparing for marriage, do you EVER consider what is in your fiance’s “book?” What has Jesus done in his/her life? Is THIS your ideal Christian lifemate?

Or take the lovely first verse of the epistle of James: *** James, a servant of God and of the LORD Jesus Christ.***

Now, the popes seize this title “servant” and refer to themselves as the “servant of the servants of God” (referring to the Bishops). People on the way to canonization are given the “title” of servant of God. But, would you put that on your tombstone " Harriet, Servant of God" or “George, Servant of God” Well, as a Christian you should LIVE that way and it should be appropriate to put that on your tombstone. Think about it. Think about scripture in new ways.



Not a dumb question at all.

I went over some of this here.

I’ll repeat parts of it below.

Hope this helps.

God bless.


2nd PETER 1:120 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, . . .

So does this mean we cannot “interpret” Scripture at all? No. It means we must do this in HARMONY with the Church’s teachings.

COUNCIL OF TRENT Session IV “Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, – in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, – wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy Mother Church – to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures – hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. . . .

– Council of Trent, Session IV, April 8 1546 (From page 11 Tan Edition Dogmatic Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent). Bold and ul mine

Pontifical Biblical Commission The Spirit is, assuredly, also given to <individual Christians,> so that their hearts can “burn within them” (Lk. 24:32) as they pray and prayerfully study the Scripture within the context of their own personal lives. This is why the Second Vatican Council insisted that access to Scripture be facilitated in every possible way (Dei Verbum, 22; 25). This kind of reading, it should be noted, is never completely private, for the believer always reads and interprets Scripture within the faith of the church and then brings back to the community the fruit of that reading for the enrichment of the common faith. (from here bold and ul mine)

All the Christian faithful have a right and a duty to share God’s message.

CCC 900a Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. . . .


The Catholic Church proclaims the true gospel. That proclamation always aligns with Scripture, never contradicts it, so that, if one interpreted John 6, for example, in a way contrary to the teaching of the Church regarding the Real Presence, that person would be interpreting scripture wrongly. Very few verses have been specifically interpreted in any official capacity from my understanding but multitudes of verses are effectively interpreted simply based on the teachings of the Church. This is made evident, to name one way, when the Church uses Scripture to support teachings in the Catechism, for example.


You should find the articles here informative – take your pick



Go to the Vatican website.The biblical exegesis seems poor here. Vatican archives are very reliable


May I ask a very important question.

What is your understanding of the difference between interpretation and Catholic doctrines? Then, which are you really looking for – either interpretation or Catholic doctrines?

Thank you.


There have been useful responses here. I don’t really think there is any difference between the two. I just wanted interpretations of the details within the confines of doctrine done for me. I am just kind of one of these people who needs everything spelled out in plain black and white. I like huge books of codified official stuff. I was asking because I hear so frequently “the Church teaches this or that about this scripture passage” etc. but I always hear it third or fourth hand from the source and I cannot get to the bottom of where things are found. I guess when I entered the church I thought there would be a bookcase somewhere which resembled the bookshelves sitting behind lawyers on t.v. Just a massive imposing set of volumes with numbered passages that contained everything known. Essentially the sum of all Catholicism in one place which had all the answers and could not be touched or altered forever. A collection consisting of the Bible, every single doctrine and dogma spelled out clearly in numbered lists. the complete catechism, codes of cannon law, patristic writings, official biblical commentary which dissected scripture on a line by line level. huge indices arranged by topic in which to look things up. :shrug: I don’t know. come to think of it maybe I should just amass a collection consisting of those things. I just like black and white, and utter unchangeable clarity. I believe whatever the church teaches. If someone asks me what my opinion is on something I want to be able to look it up and simply assent and reply “what does the church say… yeah that!” once again like an attorney whispering responses in my ear. I’m sick of forming my own opinions. That is why I have started probably too many threads on here asking where things are found and it is starting to look like a fixation of some kind. sorry for the rant.


Knowing and understanding the differences between patristic writings and Catholic doctrines would be very helpful. All I can do is to make the suggestion. :shrug:

Another brief suggestion is to take a look at page 689 which is the beginning page of the " Index of Citations" in the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. I often use this as an important tool for locating the source of various Catholic teachings. However, that method may not be appealing. What can I say. :shrug:

I also check footnotes in the universal Catechism. And I definitely suggest reading paragraphs 20-21 in regard to “small print.”

This book is an excellent source of information.

The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, A Compendium of Texts Referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ISBN 0-89870-450-2 (HB); ISBN 0-89870-451-0 (PB)

All I can do is to recommend some reputable ways of going beyond forming your own opinions.:shrug:


The Church is not the sole interpreter of Scripture but rather the sole interpreter of the Christian faith. The Church is not a Bible commentator, but the Church does have theologians and expositors to do that. The Church uses Scripture to teach the faith. This is where protestants get confused because the Bible is the sole authority to their faith, whereas we Catholics dont follow a religion of a book but the faith as established by Christ and preserved in His Church.


We ALL interpret scripture to one degree or the other . The problem is when we think we are the sole arbiter of interpretation.The Church is a community -not me and Jesus but we and Jesus. so guidance for reading scripture comes not from an individual but the Church through the deposit of Faith.


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