Did The PBC say that Inerrancy is Restricted?


My question is this:

Did the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) recently say in no uncertain terms that inerrancy is restricted only to matters of faith in its 2014 document “The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture”?

Here is the relevant text from the English translation provided by Liturgical Press:

“it is undeniable that Dei Verbum, with the expression “the truth . . . for the sake of our salvation” (n. 11), restricts biblical truth to divine revelation which concerns God himself and the salvation of the human race.”

  • Page 125

I know that Catholic Answers, Scott Hahn, and numerous other orthodox Catholics have firmly denied that inerrancy is restricted to matters of faith. However, this document seems to be saying quite the opposite.

Furthermore, the head of the PBC (Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller), who wrote the forward to this document, is also head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Any insights are much appreciated.

One thing I forgot to mention is the possibility of a translation issue. I’m not betting on that, but I suppose it’s possible. This came from a translation published by Liturgical Press, not the Vatican, so I don’t know whether or not that plays any role.

And before I forget, below is a link to a fairly well-known piece on Scott Hahn’s website.

It’s written by Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., and it argues strongly against the view that Dei Verbum restricts Scripture’s truth to matters of faith and morals.


So this seems very at odds with the PBC’s recent view.


I think I found the full document on Google Books. The selection you quoted is in Part 3. A selection from Part 2 appears to contradict the selection you quoted, affirming that Dei Verbum 11 does not limit inspiration: books.google.com/books?id=pwFzBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA71#v=onepage&q&f=false

This section also clarifies: books.google.com/books?id=pwFzBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA123#v=onepage&q&f=false


Good find. That does indeed sound very different than the other quote and much more in-line with the unrestricted view. It does make you wonder whether:

  1. Someone poorly translated the quote I referenced
  2. The quote I referenced mistakenly found its way into the document
  3. We are misunderstanding something here

I also just found that the first 68 pages are posted for free (as a PDF) on the Liturgical Press website:


Unfortunately, this doesn’t include the quote in question.


Here’s the thing. The Bible is inerrant in faith matters. But if you are to believe that it is inerrant in all matters, then you must believe that God created the world in exactly six days about 6000 or so years ago. IMHO, the point of the PBC’s document is to say that (a) the Bible is not a science book, and (b) until recently, histories didn’t have the same scrutiny as they do today (in other words, though the battles listed in the OT really happened, the numbers used were probably meant to emphasize the importance of the victory - or defeat - more than they were the actual numbers).

Regardless, most of the Bible is faith matters, including much of the history. It’s considered a matter of faith to believe that the entire human race originated from one couple, who fell from grace and passed down original sin to all of us. It’s considered a matter of faith that Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac (and that both Abraham and Sarah were elderly when Isaac was born). It’s considered a matter of faith to believe that Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea. It’s considered a matter of faith that David really ruled over Israel, and that his lineage led to Joseph, who adopted Jesus as his own son. It’s a matter of faith to believe that Jesus had no biological human father, and that Mary concieved Jesus virginally, and remained a virgin her entire life (even retaining her hymen through Jesus’s birth). It’s a matter of faith to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection - then ascended to Heaven. It’s a matter of faith to believe that the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the exact same place where, just over 7 weeks before, the night before He died, Jesus had transformed the Passover seder into the Holy Eucharist and commissioned His apostles as His first bishops.

In other words, most of the history in the Bible is considered matters of faith. Every single miracle attributed in the Bible is a matter of faith - from the crossing of the Red Sea, to the battle where the sun stood still, to Elijah’s battling the prophets of Baal, to the cleansing of Naaman in the Jordan, to Jesus changing the water into wine, to Jesus rising from the dead. We are to believe that these actually happened. What we don’t need to believe is that God created the world in exactly six days, or that a serpent actually talked (though we do need to believe that Adam and Eve somehow fell from grace), or that the antidiluvian humans lived over 900 years, or even that there was a worldwide flood (though we might need to believe that there was a flood large enough so that it certainly seemed to be worldwide to the people involved).


Thank you for sharing your insights. My point is that when the term “restricted” (or any of its forms) is used with respect to inerrancy, it is usually associated with the view that Scripture does indeed make assertions that would qualify as real historical and/or scientific errors, though these errors do not impact Scripture’s teachings pertaining to matters of salvation (faith and morals). The term “limited” is also used in the same way.

When someone coming from a more conservative angle (such as what we would usually expect from Rome) rejects six literal days of creation, they don’t commonly do it on account of Scripture’s truth being in an way restricted, but rather on account of properly recognizing the literary genre of the creation narrative.

So in theory, I suppose you could say Scripture’s truth is restricted in the sense that it is restricted from being used as a science or historical textbook, but use of the term has wisely been avoided by conservatives because it can so easily be misunderstood as meaning that parts of Scripture can’t be trusted, even when we properly understand what the author is asserting. That’s why I find use of the term here by the PBC as surprising and perhaps a matter for concern.


And see, I don’t. I honestly just think that Catholics and other Christians (especially fundamentalist Protestants) have a completely different way of thinking about what inerrancy means. Catholics understand that the Bible, in all its writings, is primarily a text teaching us about God and His relationship with His people - and His loving us in spite of our failures to live up to our side of the marriage covenant. That’s why we read the Bible as a whole, not focusing on specific chapters and verses, but as an entirety. Our one obligation to God is to love him with all of our being, and our one obligation to our fellow man (or woman) is to love him (or her) as we love ourselves. Yet, due to our fallen state, we fall short. The entire OT is a lecture on how the first humans (through Noah), the patriarchs, and the Israelites (the first nation God chose as His very own) could not stay faithful to the covenant - but that God continued to love them regardless. The NT provides the solution to this problem - God sent His only begotten Son (the second part of the Trinity) to heal the broken relationship. This is the entirety of the scriptures.

The problem with how fundamentalist Christians see inerrancy is that they can’t see past the literal words on the page. Inerrancy to them means that God really did create the world in 6 days. God really did create Eve from Adam’s rib, etc. Any claim otherwise means that the Bible isn’t inerrant, and can’t be trusted. This is how many fundamentalists (though not all) when presented with scientific discoveries, either reject science or reject Christianity and become atheists.


Right, but this still leaves my original question as to why the PBC document chose to speak of Scriptural truth as being restricted.


I agree with some of the others above. I don’t have access to your p. 121, but on p. 71 it seems to be very explicit:

“This must not, however, be taken to mean that the truth of Sacred Scripture concerns only those parts of the Sacred Book that are necessary for faith and morality, to the exclusion of other parts…”

It then goes on (again, p. 71) to quote Augustine (who “excludes from biblical teaching all that is not useful for our salvation” and Thomas Aquinas (“Those things, however, that cannot pertain to salvation are alien to the matter of philosophy.”)

and states the problem clearly: “The problem, then, is to understand what “truth for the sake of our salvation” means in the context of Dei Verbum…”

I think there is a lot of room there for interpretation. I recently came across a debate (not here, another web site) about Matthew and the two donkeys. One camp feels that if Matthew said Jesus rode two donkeys, then he rode two donkeys. The other camp says, “No, that’s silly. Of course Jesus only rode one donkey, and talking about two donkeys was a literary expression” [like we would use the phrase “goods and chattels” or a lot of other legal terminology–it’s not really that we mean two different things, it’s that we’re using conventional terminology, in this case using an Anglo-Saxon term and a French term which are really synonymous.]

In my own experience, I have not found a “definitive” commentary. There are a lot of Catholic commentaries out there, and quite often they give different interpretations of the same verse. But no one ever said each verse has just one interpretation–in fact, the contrary. Several interpretations could be equally valid. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.


A lot of people believe thAt the Vatican library has a giant book in which every verse of scripture is interpreted and a theology attached to it. There isn’t. The church gives us a lot of leeway. We all have our own interpretation of a verse and what it means to us. That is allowed as long as it doesn’t contradict the Magisterium.
A Fundamentalist take on scripture is a big no-no. So when the Bible says moses saw God face to face ,we know that its a metaphor. Jesus was they only one in the Trinity that had physical form. To believe otherwise is heresy. That is the real danger of Fundamentalist readings.
The church never took fundamentalist stance on scripture .it was always interpreted .Like the Jewish people who’ve arguing,interpreting, and loving their scripture for thousands of years
. I cannot believe that one meaning of scripture would keep you interested more than a couple of minutes. It would bore me to distraction. But the Bible is alive and breathing and still has the ability to effect lives.
. It’s not either/ or in our take on scripture but both/ and.
You will never hear an evangelical say Mary is the mother of God. They would say that Mary was Jesus’s mother. We say that she is both. Mother of the man Jesus and mother of the incarnate one.


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