How should Scripture be interpreted?

I’m a former Evangelical recently turned Catholic, and the particular Catholic school of though I was trained in didn’t deny that things in the Bible actually happened, like Noah and the ark; it just brought a whole new Catholic meaning to it. Now I’m encountering a whole 'nother Catholic school of thought on how Scripture should be interpreted that says some things in the Bible really happened, such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but that other things, like Noah and the ark or Job, are more of a parable nature and shouldn’t be interpreted as historical events. I’m not sure what to believe. What is official Catholic Church teaching on how Scripture is supposed to be interpreted? Could someone please bring clarity to this issue?

To my knowledge, there is no official Catholic Church teaching on whether Noah and Job (among others) are to be interpreted literally or as more of a parable. You will find Catholic scholars for each position. As long as the Church does not make an official declaration, you are free to interpret the passage according to your own insights – as long as those insights do not conflict with any Catholic doctrines.

I follow the traditional teachings that the Church has taught for the last 2000 years, and that is, Daniel wrote Daniel, Jonah, Noah, Job are historical, the miracles actually did happen, etc. There is a school of thought that has developed within the last 100 years that basically teaches that most of the books of the Bible were not written by who they say they are written by or traditionally believed to have been written by, and that most of the miracles are not historical but humorous myths that are only meant to teach a moral lesson. I reject that with a passion! I follow the understandings of the great Saints of the past such as the Early Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The liberal minded school of thought does nothing but lead a believer into doubt and confusion, and that thought has made its way into footnotes (NAB) and commentaries, and in my opinion should be ignored.

I am a huge supporter of a Patristic approach to the Bible, and that is a Catholic approach that has been around the whole time and has served the Church well!

:thumbsup: Me too.

And check out his website too!

Here are some of the Catholic rules of Scripture interpretation:

We must interpret Scripture literally unless the literal interpretation is untenable (St. Augustine). All other interpretations are built on the literal interpretation (St. Thomas Aquinas). If we come to a difficult passage we should look for easier relevant passages to help interpret the difficult passage (St. Augustine). And, of course, we cannot interpret Scripture contrary to what the Church teaches, nor can we interpret Scripture contrary to the unanimous opinion of the Church Fathers (First Vatican Council).

And if you find another Catholic who follows these rules, please, let us know! :o

The Catholic Church has only definitively interpreted a small number of passages from the scriptures.They have to do with justification and the sacraments - issues which divided Catholics and Protestants. These passages were definitively interpreted at the Council of Trent.

1.** John 3:5 “Unless a man is born of water an the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”**
Real (natural ) water must be used for a valid baptism.

2.** Luke 22:19 and
3. I Corinthians 11:24**-- "Taking the bread, he gave thanks, broke it and gave it to
them, saying 'This is my body given for you: do this in remembrance of me."

Jesus, in commanding his apostles to “Do this in memory of me” after instituting the Eucharist, conferred priestly ordination on them and their successors enabling them to offer His body and blood.

  1. John 20:22-23-- "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are
    forgiven; whose sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven
    ," and

5.** Matthew 18:18-- “Whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and
whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”**

Jesus conferred a
power exclusively on the apostles authorizing them and their successors in the priestly office to forgive sins in God’s name, and condemned the proposal that everyone could forgive sins in this sense.

  1. Romans 5:12-- "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death
    through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…"

The Church condemned the denial of original sin to which all mankind is subject
and which baptism remits, citing this passage to be understood in that sense.

  1. James 6:14-- "Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray
    over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."

    The sacrament of the anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ and promulgated by the apostles.

• In addition, the decree of Vatican I about Christ establishing Peter as head of the Church - which cites **Mt 16:16 and John 1:42 **- is a defined doctrine, even though the phrasing about the use and interpretation of the scripture cited is more implicit than explicit, by comparison with the above Scripture passages.

The limits of Scripture Interpretation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that Vatican II enumerated three criteria (CCC 111; cf. Dei Verbum 12).

The **first **of these was that “serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out” (DV 12). This means that no properly understood assertion of Scripture will ever contradict another. If it does so, it must be a false interpretation.

The second criteria was that “the living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account” when interpreting Scripture (ibid.). This states in a general way a limit that was more concretely expressed at Vatican I:

“In matters of faith and morals, affecting the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of holy Scripture which holy mother the Church has held and holds…, Therefore no one is allowed to interpret the same sacred Scripture contrary to this sense or contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers” (De Filius 2).

The “living tradition of the whole Church” referred to by Vatican II includes both of the items mentioned by Vatican II—the judgment of Church and that of the Fathers regarding the interpretation of Scripture. Both of these elements must not be violated when seeking to establish the meaning of Scripture.

In the first regard, the judgment of the Church’s magisterium must not be violated. As when evaluating ecclesiastical statements in general, the strength with which the Church’s judgment has been proposed must be taken into account. The highest form of Church approbation regarding the interpretation of a verse would be for the magisterium to infallibly define the sense of the verse—or a part of its sense…

In the second regard—that the judgment of the Church Fathers must not be violated—again the standard set for violation is rather narrow. Only when the Fathers speak with “unanimous consent” is their interpretation mandated. When they do not speak with unanimity—as is the case in the great majority of verses—then there is liberty of interpretation.

Finally, the third limiting criterion named by Vatican II was that the exegete must also take into account “the harmony which exists between elements of the faith” (DV 12), which the Catechism expresses by stating that the exegete must “be attentive to the analogy of faith. . . . * the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of revelation” (CCC 114). This means that Scripture cannot be interpreted in a way that contradicts what is theologically certain…

Two books which I have found very useful when reading and trying to understand scripture are:

*A Father Who Keeps His Promises *- God’s Covenant Love In Scripture - Scott Hahn

*Making Senses Our of Scripture *- Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did - Mark P Shea

I also found the St Paul Centre For Biblical Theology’s online bible-study courses very helpful.*

I can’t think of any canonized saints who denied that the things mentioned in the Bible actually happened. However, there are thousands of canonized saints who believed that the things mentioned in the Bible actually happened. If you believe that the things mentioned in the Bible actually happened you would be in very good company.

A Catholic Exegesis of Sacred Sripture

A Catholic Exegesis of Sacred Scripture has for 2,000 years been based on four rules in the Exegisis of
Scripture fully defined Established by Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus (1893) seconded and confirmed by Pope Benedict XV in Spiritus Paraclitus (1920) and by Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) Pope Pius XII declared in Divino… that Leo’s encyclical Providentisisimus for interpreting the bible to “the supreme guide in Biblical studies”

Four rules for interpreting the Bible for the Catholic Church

  1. Always pay attention to the Magisterium the authority of the Church

  2. Be guided by what the early fathers had to say about a particular passage. When they are in agreement one cannot suddenly come up with new interpretations.

  3. Always to be guided by what the Bible has to say as a whole (not key phrases here and there for defining ones theology and ignoring passages which do not fit one’s theology, see opening quote). One must take into account all of Scripture which pertains to a given doctrinal truth.

  4. Always take the Bible Literally unless it is reasonably unattenable

question, do you have the citations for the documents which you are quoting in relation to Augustine, and Aquinas. Also do you know or have quotes from church fathers in relation to the other 3 rules cited for inerpretation of Scripture. Thanks Michael


You need to read Dei Verbum, which is a document from Vatican II that clearly spells out how the Church interprets divine revelation, including the Scriptures.

Another good resource is The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church from the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Last (and least), I wrote an article on this subject a number of years ago and posted it to my website: Catholic Scripture Interpretation: Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism.

I hope that helps!

You might find the short CCC section on the senses of Scripture interesting. It’s very brief - #115-119. Here is Paragraph #118 on the literal sense:
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”.
(Quote sentence is from St. Thomas Acquinas)

Here is a link to that Article in the CCC:

I will also agree with you too!!!

Hey COPLAND 3, could you give me some resources about this relatively-new liberal school of thought and how it started, and the traditional Catholic school of thought? (being a recent convert from Evangelical Protestantism I don’t know much about how Catholics have traditionally thought) Thank you so much!

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