Higher criticism


How does the Catholic Church interperet/approach the Bible?
I’m wondering because I have been studying about the Catholic church with an idea of possibly converting (but I have some barriers for now which is a whole 'nother thread).
I was born and raised LCMS, became non denominational evangelical for many years fell away came back to ELCA and was happy in that denomination except for the creeping liberalism. In a Bible study I took I found out about higher criticism, i.e.the claim that the first five books of the Bible weren’t written by Moses but a variety of authors, Daniel wasn’t a real person, Jesus really didn’t say certain things but the church added them later on, ect.
I reject that but I’m not a wooden literalist either. I don’t believe that the earth is only 10,000 years old or that the Bible is a science textbook. I am now a WELS Lutheran and they do approach the Bible very literally which I have grown to love as it has strengthened my faith, but I have been doubting Sola Scriptura for a number of years now.
I have also read the Apocrapha, and like the Macabean books.
I believe the old Testament people were real people, not just stories to help us along our way and some of my ELCA friends can’t believe I think the story of the prophet Jonah might be real.
How does the RC approach these things?


Higher criticism is a tool used by theologians–it’s not doctrine or dogma. I don’t care for higher criticism and other modern methods that reject the miraculous and demand evidence that cannot be found (due to the passage of time and the loss of original materials). I think it only confuses the faithful and in some cases directly denies the Church Fathers, who lived in the first centuries of the early Church. A good Bible Commentary is Haydock’s: haydock1859.tripod.com/. He’s sometimes too dialectical, but he’s quite sound, although not perfect or the last word. Also, the online Catholic Encyclopedia is useful.

The Church’s view of Scripture is covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You may what to buy one–the paperback version isn’t costly. :slight_smile:

Here’s a quote from the CCC about how the Church interprets Scripture:

The four ways of interpreting Scripture: #s 115-119.

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 judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment 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


The Catholic Church is a ‘big tent’. There is Catholic scholarship that uses historical-criticism and there is more traditional Catholic scholarship out there. It is evident by the different Catholic study Bibles available. There is the more traditional Douay-Rheims translation with the Haydock commentary. On the historical-critical side of commentary notes there is the NABRE (New American Bible) and its companion 'The Catholic Study Bible. There is a brand new Catholic Bible that just came out (this week), ‘The Didache Bible’ by (MTF and Ignatius Press), it uses the RSV-2CE (second Catholic edition) and its commentary notes are based upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The only thing that the Church speaks out against are the extreme ends of the spectrum; fundamentalism and the liberal theology that denies that Christ was not truly human and divine, the Trinity, etc.

Where ever you fit in theologically you can find a place in the Catholic Church! :thumbsup:


An article I think relevant to our discussion: theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/01/myth-magic-mundane-old-testament-fantasy-literature.html. We so often think of Holy Writ in terms of it’s theology that we can miss the meaning behind the theology. :wink:


Thanks Della and CalCatholic! I will look at those resources when I have more time!


here’s a somewhat technical but useful reference


It basically says that there is no one strategy, such as literary criticism, historical criticism, feminist criticism, patristic/allegorical criticism, etc. that the Church uses. Such approaches may have some advantages, but the paper lists the disadvantages.

Without going into specifics, it recommends that a layman should read the Bible alongside a commentary.

this paper


says that Jewish commentaries can be used for study, acknowledging the differences in the faith that underlie them.

the first edition of this book (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary)


says that the Church has few official interpretations of scripture.

The first edition of this book (Jewish Study Bible)


says that there is NO official Jewish interpretation of any of the scriptures.


With respect to the sources I cited in the preceding post, some anomalies occur:

The New Jerome Biblical commentary says that the marriage of Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth WAS a levirate marriage, but the Jewish Publication Society Commentary on Ruth says that it was NOT a levirate marriage. I think JPS takes the book itself to say that there WAS NO ONE to fulfill the levirate duty to Ruth.


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