Fundamentalist (literal) Interpretation of Scripture

There seem to be quite a few folks, both Catholic and non-Catholic, on this forum that hold to a literal reading of scriptures. The basis of their argument for this interpretation seems to be that all scripture is inspired by God and therefore must be taken literally regardless of any evidence that brings into question the literal accuracy of parts of scripture.

I was reading a link provided by wildleafblower and came across a link to another document titled “Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1994, chaired by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. There is much discussion about exigesis throughout the document, but there is one section that I think really gets to the heart of the matter.

From the document:

Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details. But by “literal interpretation” it understands a naively literalist interpretation, one, that is to say, which excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development. It is opposed, therefore, to the use of the historical-critical method, as indeed to the use of any other scientific method for the interpretation of Scripture.


Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often 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.

And finally:

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, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism 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 what are in fact its human limitations.

There is much more there, but I want to be carefull pasting too much into this post. The full discussion on the fundamentalist interpretation can be found in section I F of the document which can be found here:

Now, I know my non-Catholic friends will blow this off because they have nothing but scripture to rely on, but what about my Catholic brothers and sisters? Does this make you stop and think about your position regarding the literal reading of ALL of scripture?



“Fundamentalist (literal) Interpretation of Scripture”

Fundamentalism of any kind is dangerous. IMHO, Christian Fundies don’t actually worship Christ, but the Bible instead. Yes…they’ve confused the two, and worship the Bible itself.

Agreed. Interestingly, though, there are quite a few Catholics that participate in this forum that have a fundamentalist approach to Scripture.



The mountains skipped like rams; the hills, like lambs of the flock

(Psalm 113, 4)

Show this to a literalist and he will say, “That is poetry; we can’t take it literally”, thus admitting of literary genres in the Bible. But he will refuse to see literary genres elsewhere in the Bible. They have closed their mind to the true meaning of the Bible.


They’ll never take Matt. 26: 26-28 literally. :rolleyes:

I was a Fundamentalist for my entire life until I converted to Catholicism in 2004. I was confirmed at age 49. The reason I came home to Rome was because as I got older and read and studied the Bible more and more, I could see that some of the doctrines I believed were not supported by the Bible. Sola Scriptura cannot be proven by the Bible. What was amazing to me is that it is the Catholic Church which takes passages literally–Baptism and the Eucharist. The Fundamentalists claim to take the Bible literally, but they are quick to call many passages “symbolic”.

The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. When we listen to Her, we have the correct and accurate teaching of the Bible.

Merry Christmas.


I have a brother-in-law who is a fundamentalist, and we often get into debates about how to properly interpret Scripture. Interestingly, he decides the Bible isn’t literal when we debate John 6, however. :slight_smile:

A while back I wrote an article on Catholic Scripture interpretation vs. Fundamentalist interpretation that you might find useful:

Catholic Scripture Interpretation: Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism

It is clear and has been clear for a long long time that a strict literal interpretation is not the correct way to read the Bible.

A correct reading is to look at each verse against the totality of the Bible. We also depend on the Magisterium’s interpretation and long held Tradition. (we do not hold to the Protestant view of Sola Scriptura and private interpretation) The faith is like a three legged stool - Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium. Take any one of these three away and the stool topples.

Now it seems in modern times many would like to remove the constant teachings and interpretations. The stool starts to teeter but is soon replaced with modernism. :frowning:

Are you expecting a document soon that will overturn the long held Tradition on origins and creation? About what date did our mistaken interpretations come to an end?

See my thread - Catholic Traditon vs Science - are we looking deep enough

Did you read the document?



I will read it again.:slight_smile:

This is just my opinion, but I think the problem is not reading Scripture literally. To me this means that we are reading it as the original author intended it for his original audience, taking into consideration phrases and figures of speech that would be evident to the original audience.

The problem with the fundamentalist interpretation is that often they are reading the text literallistically, trying to apply a modern spin to a text that was not written for that audience. Most often, bad interpretation comes from taking the text out of context.

…just my two cents…

God Bless and Merry Christmas to all!

Yeah, that’s basically gist of the document.



There is nothing in the document that I disagree with.

However, this also contains early cautions on the historical-critical methods repeated in PBXVI’s Jesus of Nazareth.


I’m a member of the RCC and have been for several years. I was baptized in the baptist church andI have attended services at many of the different denominations of Christianity. One thing that I’ve noticed while attending Bible studies at each church, is that in every series of Bible studies, each church will accept one Bible passage as literal and they will either regard another passager as metaphor or they will completely disregard a passage. Let me give some examples that I can remember quickly.

I had been asked to attend a Jehovah Witness service at their Kingdom Hall. I attended and among other things I observed that they don’t worship the Son only the Father, which I think disqualifies them from being a Christian religion. I have a copy of their New World Testament version of the Bible and they have changed the text several places to make it conform to their doctrines. Even with the changes that they had made, there were still inconsistancies, such as the name “Jehovah”. They taught that people knew to call on the name “Jehovah” since the beginning, and even Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had called on that name. When I asked about Exodus 6:3 where it say that God had made himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “God Almighty” , but not “Jehovah”, they dismissed that verse. They taught that God would not destroy the fish ,animals, and plants, when the end comes,just the bad people. I asked what about passages in 2 Peter where it says that the earth was destroyed with water, but has been reserved for fire this time, and I brought up the fact that Genesis 7 says that all the animals that were not in the ark perished. At that point some of them grew a bit angry and decided that they didn’t want to discuss the Bible any farther. They believe that the people at the Watchtower in New York are gifted with the Holy Spirit, and they alone can pass down what is taught in their Kingdom Halls.

When I studied with the local Presbyterians, some of the elders that were in the class siad that they thought that there were probably other ways to Heaven than through Jesus. When I asked about John 14:6 where Jesus says "No one comes to the Father except through me, one of the ladies in the class said that she didn’t believe that. At another point in the class I asked about the children of the devil spoken of in 1 John 3. A gentleman in the class spoke up and said that he didn’t believe that there were any children of the devil.

Several years ago, at RCIA, the deacon said that the Magisterium was lead by the Holy Spirit and passed on there teachings to the laity. I asked “doesn’t the Bible say that we (Christians) are all guaranteed to receive the Holy Spirit also”, and the deacon responded by saying well…yes…but we have to be careful because of pride. The same deacon was teaching about purgatory and used 1 Corinthians 3:15 to support his teaching. I was reading the footnotes of my Bible, which is a Catholic bible, and it says that " the text of v15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this". When I asked him about the footnote in my Bible, he got visibly angry and shouted that “this is what the church has always taught”, keep in mind that I was not questioning purgatory, just the use of that particular verse to support the idea.

Each group has their own “special” way to interpret the Bible, and each group has a tendency to twist or completely dismiss any Biblical passages that refute their doctrines. I’ve also found that most people are more than glad to “help” you understand things their way, even if it’s not what the Apostles are credited for teaching.

“Catholics worship Mary” vs “Fundies worship the Bible”…the longer I stay at CAF the more I realize it’s pretty much CARM in Catholic clothes, although the moderators here are much more fair.

This is the most direct answer to the OP’s original concern. We must be careful when discussing this topic to differentiate between a LITERALISTIC interpretation of Scripture (which is what is being discussed here) and the LITERAL interpretation of Scripture which is what the Church teaches must be the primary interpretation of 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.”

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.
  1. 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”.
  1. 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.

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.

Catholics Only Worship the Blessed Trinity.Mary is our
spiritual mother whom we deeply honored foremost as
the Mother of God. If Jesus Honors her then Everyone
should. All Graces and all Good Things only comes
From God. Mary because of her Holiness and closeness to Jesus is a very powerful intercessor,although the Success of our prayers
ultimately depends on the Power and Wisdom ofGod.

Dear Friend,
I was born and growth in Protestant admosphere so my way of perceving things is a bit - in the protestant senses- particularly in reading the scriptures…many says that there is different between protestant scriptures and catholic’… my question is is it right that we have different scriptures? could you explain to me what makes it different? And, how to know that it is the catholic scriptures?



I have never run into a fundamentalist who has plucked an eye out, or cut a hand off. Thus, it appears that they read and believe that which is easy to follow, and are not true fundamentalists. Are they 'bible selectionists"?

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