Historical-Critical Method


I recently posted a thread about my searching for a new Bible translation for daily study. A lot of people seemed to bash the NABRE, because of its notes. Looking at other sources, reviewers were concerned because they believe that the translation and (especially) the footnotes rely too much on the higher-critical method. I have taken basic Bible courses at my secular university, and I’m not sure what to think about the academic method. It seems to have some merit, but it also seems misleading at times on matters of the faith.

What is your opinion? Should Catholics embrace the historical-critical method or be wary of it? Why? :bible1:



The two options seems compatible: you can embrace it warily, or embrace parts of it. I think this comment by Pope Benedict XVI sums it up pretty well: “What is needed is not simply a break with the historical method, but a self-critique of the historical method; a self-critique of historical reason that takes cognizance of its limits and recognizes the compatibility of a type of knowledge that derives from faith; in short, we need a synthesis between an exegesis that operates with historical reason and an exegesis that is guided by faith. We have to bring the two things into a proper relationship to each other. That is also a requirement of the basic relationship between faith and reason.” source


Like any method it will have its uses, but I would caution using it as the ONLY method and to recognize it’s limitations and pitfalls. It can help us understand the human element of scripture, but the greatest pitfall is it tends to deemphasize the supernatural.

In Pope Benedict’s book, Light of the World, he reminds us that we need to take a balanced approach and remember that scripture is both historical and spiritual. If you acknowledge the limitations of HC and use it in synthesis with a spiritual understanding then it can provide a greater depth. At the same time it always must be done through the lens of tradition so as not to distort the meaning that God reveals to us. The Bible is first and foremost God’s revelation to man and if it is approached as primarily a historical document the HC method can undermine the faith.

Personally I am always cautious about any Historical Critical analysis that downplays the salvation narrative.


See Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI on it, Dr. Scott Hahn and the various documents from the Church (including Verbum Dominum from Pope Benedict XVI).


I will always be wary of anyone who overuses the historical-critical method as I would be of anyone who would have absolutely nothing to do with it.

The historical-critical method is valid, and I daresay, essential in studying the Bible because the Bible is still a collection of ancient literature and deserves to be treated as such. I have seen how those who reject the method outright come to opinions and conclusions just as erroneous, foolish or ridiculous. So sometimes it will yield evidence that traditional positions such as order, authorship or timetable are not what they were held to be. Big deal. Truth will never contradict truth, and Church doesn’t fear any of that. So if it is found that Isaiah was written by three different authors over three different time periods, there’s no need to worry of have one’s faith shaken.

But to use it at the exclusion of faith, tradition and other points of view is just as stupid a position to take because then we get interpretations that end up way out there. A key example is the so-called Q source for the synoptic Gospels. It’s so widely embraced by modern scholars but no fragment of any such source has ever been found, while papyri are still hanging around in fragments, despite the fragility of the material. Not so with Q, but noooo…the historical-critical method says so. Early Fathers said Matthew wrote in Aramaic? Don’t care, not part of the historical-critical method.

Both extremes are dangerous. A right balance is the way to go.


I fully agree with this. Having studied scripture in a scholarly setting, I do love the historical-critical method, and it makes a lot of sense in many cases. However, scholars sometimes seem to make assumptions that I find hard to believe.

Some scholars are now dismissing the ‘Q’ source, BTW.






I wish more Catholics knew about this exhortation. It is just a wealth of profound insight.
Sections 42 and 44 especially.



Yes as is all his work :slight_smile:


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