Creation, Noah, Jonah, and Fundamentalist Interpretations of Scripture

I’d like some opinions regarding how we are to read certain parts of the Bible in light of some of the Church’s teachings.

Pope Benedict XVI, in Verbum Domini, takes fundamentalist interpretations to task, explaining that “the ‘literalism’ championed by the fundamentalist approach actually represents a betrayal of both the literal and the spiritual sense… ‘The basic problem with the fundamentalist interpretation is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it make itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. [It] tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods.’” (44, with quotes from the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church).

The Commission’s work is stronger on the point: "Fundamentalism…historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.

"Fundamentalism…accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology, simply because it is found expressed in the bible…

“The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory…[F]undementalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with that are in fact its human limitations.” (I.F.)

What would constitute a fundamentalist interpretation of, for example, the creation accounts, the flood story, or the the story of Jonah (three days living in the belly of a great fish), that we might want to avoid? And, what interpretation would avoid fundamentalism and still be in line with the argument that they are nonetheless religiously true stories?

From my view (you said you’re looking for opinions) is that absolute literal interpretation leads you too easily into a trap.

In last part of July, I had occasion to visit both the Creation Museum, and the newly opened Ark. I thought both visits interesting, inspiring, and humorous all at the same time. One of the “sermons” given on one of their videos said something to the effect that “if you can’t believe the first chapters of Genesis as literal historical fact, then there is no basis for Christianity”. Er, no. That’s really a dangerous position to hold. But that’s the trap that some folk fall into.

The Creation museum has dinosaurs living along side humans in early days. It also had dinosaurs on the Ark. I am actually curious to see how they are going to portray The Tower of Babel (which is also planned).

My own opinion is since I wasn’t there (barely, according to some perple), is that I have to rely on common sense and Church teaching. The exact physical timing and events are not what is important. What IS important is the religious meaning, and the “take away” message. I further consider the need to focus on the physical, and force people to accept an unlikely reality, drives them away from G-d’s message.


Opinions do not apply to what the Church teaches about interpreting Scripture.

From the Catechism:

"The senses of Scripture

115 "According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 "The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 "The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84

  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85

  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

118 "A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

"But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89"


Thanks, Ed.

I’m familiar with that part of the CCC. I find the reference I provided to be clearer, and hoped to jump from that clearer starting point. What am I missing? How do you see my question being answered by the CCC excerpt?

Inasmuch as opinions may not apply to what the Church teaches, what the Church teaches sometimes seems to be a matter of opinion.

Thanks. This is mostly in line with my way of thinking on the matter, I think. At the same time, I think these matters have to be addressed in certain situations (i.e., with children), and a correct footing has to be provided. I have my opinions on these matters. Sometimes, when reading Church documents, I think everything is consistent. Other times, and when surrounded by Catholics who seem to read the Bible in a fundamentalist, literalistic manner, I wonder.

The CCC passage referenced ianswers your question about avoiding fundamentalist interpretations, although in a very condensed form.

It seems to me these words from Pope Benedict in the same document might be the most important words ever proposed for the Christian faithful in regards to Scripture:

Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.[140] I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

How do we interpret these passages? With Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ, who is the word Himself.

A fundamentalist interp of creation, for instance, would insist on literal six-24 hour day creation.
If you want to see Catholic Scripture interpretation at the top of it’s game, try Theology of the Body. It wasn’t intended as a primer on scripture exegesis, but it is.
JP2 wrings the profound meaning out of Genesis, and never once gives a thought to literalist or fundamentalist interpretations.

What’s the best introduction to Theology of the Body? The market is flooded with material. What I’ve seen at my parish is a bit on the light side for me. What’s a good way into it?

Let me place my original question differently with a hypothetical:

How should a parishioner deal with a catechist teaching literalistic interpretations of Creation and the Flood story to elementary school kids when the parishioners, generally, support such an interpretation?

Just buy the book itself if the cliff notes are ineffective. JP2 does not dumb down his writing and most people will find it very challenging without a philosophy background.

Let me place my original question differently with a hypothetical:

How should a parishioner deal with a catechist teaching literalistic interpretations of Creation and the Flood story to elementary school kids when the parishioners, generally, support such an interpretation?

Grab an earth science textbook and ask the catechist to explain how the Grand Canyon was made in a day.

Here’s another nuance on this whole issue:
The literal sense is the primary sense on which all others are based. By literal, we mean the words on the page have meaning as a work of literature as they are written. So if other more spiritual senses are gleaned, that does not mean the work of literature can be discarded. Every word is inspired, as written. Bible means “book”. It is literal by nature. That is different that literalist interpretation.

The temptation works both ways:

  1. Throw out the passage because it presents difficulties that seem irreconcilable with the NT, or with science,or with history.
  2. Insist the passage is historically and/or scientifically accurate, which is not what inspiration is. Many catechists and amateur apologists don’t get this. Finding meaning when the literalist interpretation is troubling takes some work.

**Inspiration does not equate to scientific or historical accuracy.

“God performs miracles all the time!” I’ve heard the answer before, to similar questions.

And “literal,” as I understand, refers to what the human author intended. And that intention can only be understood by considering literary form and genre. This is something lost on many people at my parish.


And so in the eyes of your parish catechist, God’s miracles are subject to their understanding of scripture??
That kind diminishes the miraculous aspect.

And “literal,” as I understand, refers to what the human author intended. And that intention can only be understood by considering literary form and genre. This is something lost on many people at my parish.

I would show them what Pope Benedict has to say on the subject. And the catechism.
Ignorance is no excuse when good exegetical material is available.

The Creation Museum is not built by or supported by the Catholic Church, so what is it doing in this discussion? And what are some specific examples of what the Catholic Church teaches? It has the job of interpreting Scripture correctly.


The OP I thought was asking how to counter those things that are NOT supported by Catholic teaching. It provides an example of such, and that was the intent of mentioning it, as well as describing how one con go wrong with that approach. Several examples of Catholic teachings are provided in CCC, which has already been quoted in the thread.

Thanks for allowing the clarification.


I don’t think the Creation narrative is literal, but from what I understand,
the order in which God created things is completely accurate.
I’m not going to discuss ‘evolution’ here since from what I understand there is no
fossil record of one ‘kind’ of creature changing into another. There is adaption,
extinction, new animals, but no changing from one ‘kind’ into another.
Is it possible that God used apes for ‘clay,’ yes it is. But with our limited understanding
while it is permissible to accept it as theory — I would need more proof.
I’m sure some would post scientific evidence either way, but I think I will
wait until God tells me one way or another.

Also, God set a precedent with Adam and Eve. So the way I understand the answer
to where did all the people come from, like Cain’s wife & Abel’s wife — the answer
that fits to my understanding is God Created them.

I understood the reference to the Creation Museum fine.

I’ve heard this mentioned several times. I’d say it wasn’t accurate. After all, many plants rely on animals to function correctly (think pollinators, for example), so not all the plants could be around before the animals. And plants wouldn’t do well without the sun (which was created the next day). Also, birds before land animals? No. And *all *sea creatures (including whales) before land animals? That’s not right. And all this ignores the fact that plants and animals–the only life mentioned in Genesis–ignore life that doesn’t fit into those two kingdoms.

I think it’s all brilliant, and I think there’s reasoning behind the order of creation in Genesis, but I think it’s human brilliance and reason. Had it been God, I think it really would have to be completely accurate, and less limited by human knowledge of the world.

There are many fossils of the sort you refer to–that show the evolutionary path from one species to another–but you’re probably imagining something like a duck evolving into a crocodile (which doesn’t happen), so sure. I’m not sure where new animals would come from, though, if not through evolution.

I understand your incredulity. It’s certainly an incredible notion. I think if you really read the evidence–from many, many fields of study converging on evolution–you’d possibly be convinced.

When dealing with non-life-or-death matters, this is probably usually a good policy.

I think it’s all brilliant, and I think there’s reasoning behind the order of creation in Genesis, but I think it’s human brilliance and reason. Had it been God, I think it really would have to be completely accurate, and less limited by human knowledge of the world.

As far as poetic prose goes, it is completely accurate, not scientific, which it
wasn’t meant to be.
I’m positive the inspiration of God made it accurate. It took faith and reason.

*Just a heads up. Sticky: Temporary Ban on Evolution Threads

That said, this discussion is right on track and in no violation of the rules and guidelines.

:thumbsup: Let’s keep it that way please.*

It depends, I’d assert, on what the relationships are between this parishioner and the catechist, and the parishioner and the student(s) in question. Is this parishioner the parent of the students being taught? Is this parishioner likewise a catechist?

If he’s a parent, then the way to deal with it is to teach his children the difference between ‘literalist’ and ‘literal’ speech. (“It’s raining cats and dogs” is a good example. It literally means that it’s raining really, really hard – even if it literalistically can be misinterpreted to mean puppies and kitties are falling from the sky.) If he’s not a parent, then this parishioner’s opportunities to step in are more limited.

In the same way, if the parishioner in question isn’t a catechist, then perhaps he should consider becoming one. Depending on how the pastor interprets Scripture (let’s hope he doesn’t demand a fundamentalist approach to Scripture… right?!?), perhaps there’s an opportunity to discuss what’s being taught, in the context of volunteering to be a catechist.

Finally, there’s the question of how said parishioner knows what’s going on in the CCD classes. From whom is he getting his information? Is he getting it second- or third-hand? A measure of prudence might be necessary to come to an understanding of what’s really being said in class… :shrug:

When you say it’s “accurate…as far as poetic prose goes,” what do you mean?

We are in agreement that it wasn’t meant to be scientific. We are in agreement that it is inspired by God (and, thus, completely “true,” even if not scientifically or historically factual).

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