Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture


Ok a little help. What are the Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture? Could you list them in laymen's terms: simple, clear, precise.


There are four senses of Scripture.

  1. Literal. This is "the plain meaning." It does NOT mean that we take metaphorical expressions literally. (An example in English is "it's raining cats and dogs." Which means, "it's raining very hard.")

But it does mean that if the speaker isn't using a metaphorical expression, then we have to take him (usually, but sometimes her, as well) at his word. We also need to understand the various literary forms of the Bible. The "literal interpretation" of poetry comes out differently than the "literal interpretation" of front-page news, or history.

The literal sense is the hardest, because it requires that we study and know the various forms of literature used at the time that the various books of the Bible were written, and also have a sense of the original languages, and what kinds of things to expect from them.

  1. Allegorical. This is where you look at the passage and discover its relationship to the Doctrine of the Faith and the Sacraments. (Example: the story of the paralyzed man, and its relationship to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)

  2. Moral. What does the passage teach us about how we ought to behave?

  3. Anagogical. This is where you are putting yourself into the story, (for example, in the story of the Prodigal Son, you put yourself in as the father, as the older son, and as the younger son, and use your imagination together with your faith to converse with Jesus about the situation) and asking yourself, "What is Jesus saying to me about my life right now, in this passage?"


I really like your explanation, esp of the literal, bit I thought anagogical related to how parts of the Bible point to or pre-figure Heaven?


There are four Catholic keys for interprettintg Scripture.

*]Scripture was given to us for the sake of salvation. God’s only purpose for Scripture is that we might be saved. The Bible is not a history book, nor is it a scientific journal. Everything God wanted in scritures so that we could be saved is free from error. An incorrect date or something that doesn’t line up with modern science shouldn’t cause a crisis of faith because they are not the point of scripture. Scripture is for our savlation and everything in Scripture for our salvation is without error.
*]Pay attention to the senses of Scripture. As jmcrae stated, there are two senses of scripture, the literal and the spiritual. There are three spiritual senses. All of the spiritual senses flow from the literal. We have to understand what the author was trying to say. In order to understand the literal sense, it helps to know history, geography, the culture, politicics, military customs, and even the diet of the ancient Jews. Without a proper understandeing of the literal sense we should have no expectation of correctly interpreting the spiritual senses. Refer to jmcrae’s post.
*]Pay attention to the unity of scripture. God is the primary author of scripture and God does not contradict himself. If you see something in the Bible that appears to contradict something else in the Bible then it is your understanding that is incorrect.
*]Pay attention to the Analogy of Faith. Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradtion and the Magesterium of the Church protected by the Holy Spirit - these three never disagree

These are the four keys for reading scripture with the heart and mind of the Church.



The best book on the subject is The Bible Compass by Dr. Edward Sri. It is short, inexpensive and to the point.



Catecism of the Cat Church
*Be especially attentive "to the content and unity of the whole scripture"

Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart

*Read scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church"

The Church carries in her Tradition the livingmemorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the scripture

*Be attentive to the analogy of faith

We mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

I would say, a focus is on the faith in the Holy Spirit that guides, taking in account the whole of scripture and its center (which is the gospel of Our Lord Jesus) and understanding what is in unison with the Traditions of the Church, or not contradicting them.


Thank all. This is what I was looking for: short, sweet and expandable. A


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