Interpreting Sacred Scripture


What am I to understand as factual and just allegorical in Sacred Scripture? I’m having a hard time understating how the Bible is God’s word if most of it is allegorical.


I would say your assertion that most of it is allegorical is inaccurate. The opening parts of Genesis may be, and certain books like Job may also be allegorical / fictional, but that’s about it.

Most of the OT of the Bible is history, the record of Israel’s sojourn through time as God’s chosen people. It includes the record of their kings, their military conquests and exiles, and lots of other historically / covenant-relevant events. The NT is pretty much entirely biography / instructive writing. The only exception would be Revelation, which is prophecy.

I’m guessing some of these concerns are coming from the topic about how God dealt with the Amalekites. Frankly, I think too many people are too quick to dismiss it as allegory since it doesn’t sound good to our modern ears.

I’m guessing this question is the root of your concern? (From teh other topic).

There is a large branch of “Biblical study,” that wants to try to reduce it to a merely human work, devoid of miracles, and honestly pretty much devoid of God. This is not the Catholic position. The miracles are real, God is involved with His people, and He still performs miracles to this day. Do


What translation are you reading? I suggest you find one with good, long, meaty introductions, not necessarily book by book but at least one for each group of books. For example, in the NT, one for the Synoptic Gospels, one for John (his Gospel plus his three Epistles), another one for Acts, and so on.


This is what I’ve learned over the years:
#1, The Bible is a collection of books, so it is best to understand the history and context of each book of the bible to understand what you are reading. Is it history, or poetry, or prophecy, etc.?
#2, At the time of writing, most history was transmitted orally, and oral tradition may not always line up with what exactly happened, but you get the gist of it, and maybe what exactly happened isn’t that important anyway.
#3, Just because something may not have happened exactly as is written, the Bible is still the word of God because of the lessons it imparts. The Bible shows primarily how the Israelites interpreted their own history to show that God acted to call men to himself.


Yes it is response to that topic. I guess my assertion is coming from so many Catholics and Christians claiming that the Bible is to be interpreted in such a way dismissing the grandeur of God and making scripture out to be equivalent to Classical Greek and Roman Mythology.


It’s a fine line to walk. I personally believe that the opening of Genesis is allegory. It relates ontological truths about the nature of our relationship with God and the nature of creation, as well as the cause of our suffering, but not in a literalistic way. It continues this way through Noah (which I’m split on, I honestly am not sure what to believe about the flood account), until you reach Abraham, where it shifts into cultural history. From Abraham onward is the story of Israel as a people.

You have to keep in mind that the Bible isn’t just a book, it’s a collection of nearly eighty individual manuscripts which all deal with a specific aspect of Israel’s history / God’s covenant with them. It doesn’t have one overarching genre or style, it has several.

People who try to simply dismiss it as mythology are simply wrong. What defined the creation myths / mythologies of other cultures is that they took place in the primordial “past.” They were events which had occurred before. The Bible, and especially the NT, are quite clearly historical accounts, tied to specific times and places. They have a place in the history of the world, unlike all the myths of Pagan cultures.

Then there are the people who see the supernatural elements of God’s intervention and simply can’t accept them as true, so they try to explain them away or edit the Bible down to ignore them. These people are, likewise, simply wrong. Their reasoning is circular, they claim that a supernatural account cannot have happened because there is not such thing as the supernatural.


Those who want to deny the reality of their situation maintain that Scripture is allegorical.
For instance, Jeremiah 25:32-33

See! The disaster spreads
from nation to nation.
A mighty tempest rises
from the far ends of the world.
Those slaughtered by YHWH that day will be scattered across the world from end to end. Do dirge will be raised for them; no one will gather them or bury them. They will stay lying on the ground like dung.

This is a reasonably good ancient description of the beginnings and results of a global nuclear war. And it must be such a war that is the cause of this unprecedented disaster because we know from Genesis 8:21 that God Himself is not that cause.


You had me up to the part about the global war, then I don’t understand how that suddenly came into it…

I understand the Scriptures as being various genres of writing - including history, allegory, poetry, prophecy, & the like, but I don’t call it all one genre as a one-size-fits-all to it.


I would evaluate it based on the type of literature it is. Much of the Bible consists of historical narrative, in which case I would pretty much take those passages at face value as narrative literature. Other books are highly poetic in nature such as the Psalms and wisdom literature. The prophetic books are a mixture of the two, usually providing some narrative text along with prophetic oracles which can be very emotive or poetic in nature.


You are trying to work out the classic false dichotomy proposed between literal and spiritual senses of scripture. There is no dichotomy. These senses work together to reveal God’s saving truth.
This is revealed in your OP where you say “just allegorical” as though allegorical is a lesser sense to convey God’s Truth than historical or scientific facts that can be established in scripture.
Not so. God conveys Truth through all the various genres and senses employed.

May I kindly suggest that your question indicates a modern bias towards reading the bible as journalism. In journalism, or in court proceedings, the most important thing is to establish material facts. Inspiration and exhortation have no place. News reporters are tasked with discovering what happened in a factual material way. Taper recorders and tv cameras aid in this, and in our time we are conditioned to absorb truth as it is fed to us by a reliable material source in ways we can understand.
It is impossible to apply this bias to scripture. While there are historical and factual elements, overall scripture is nothing like this type of journalism that we are conditioned to.


Not true.
Spiritual senses of Scripture are an integral part of the conveyance of God’s truth. Look at the CCC. It has a basic passage dealing with this. I think you can trust the CCC.


Ok, but usually whenever someone outside the faith hears “allegory”, they can very easily make a connection with it as a fable, or fiction, or a myth…not to be taken literally…& easily dismissible. They relegate it to the realm of falsehood as something to be mocked & disregarded. I understand the use of allegory in Scripture, but not all of the Scriptures is allegory.


What you say here is all true. And at the same time we cannot respond by distorting the reading of scripture in an opposite way. We need to simply know and explain the Catholic Church’s way of doing this.

On the opposite side of your observation above is the scandal that happens when Christians insist on fundamentalist and literalist interps of the bible. And that drives people away from the Church, especially young people. And it gives atheists easy pickings to attack the Church. Don’t give in. Know your stuff and explain it well.


Here’s a good basis to think about this:
All of Christianity is incarnational. In the Incarnation we have the unity of divine/human. God comes to meet humanity in Jesus Christ.
With this as a basic principle, you can have a full view of everything else in Christianity. In Scripture, we have God’s inspiration in human language. It is a co-operation between the divine and the human. And so we have to account for the whole of the elements and not lapse into false dichotomies.

The common problem arises when Divine Inspiration is seen as an operation of God alone without the co-operation of the human writer, and all of the human context that entails.
The dictation or robot model of scripture betrays this: “the human being sits in a dumb trance while God infuses the words into his pen”. As if having a fully functioning human being co-operating violates the integrity of Scripture. No. In the fist place, much of scripture is not immediately put to pen, it goes through quite a bit of oral time before committed to literature. So in scripture, you are not only trusting one person, in many cases you are trusting the tradition of a community. (Does this sound familiar Catholics? Tradition is integral for us)

Because Christ has become one with our human nature, we can appreciate this human element in all of revelation, and see the union between divine/human.


Yes to all of your statements, but I think you’re describing something that is not where I’m coming from.

I like history. I want to know the history, the archaeology, the people, the culture…I like all of that. I like backgrounds on that. I don’t think that in any way takes away from the Scriptures, but rather makes it more alive to me.


It is wonderful. Pursue your love.
It does not detract from scripture but adds to it.
Try to bring these elements together as a whole.


That is the aim, but I keep getting told “allegory”, & that grates on me like nails against a chalkboard. :grin:


Stop assuming the false dichotomy. Start with the assumption of scripture as a unified whole.


Easy for you to say. I wasn’t brought up with that view. I don’t see it as a false dichotomy as you say.


Jeremiah predicts an unprecedented global disaster, but in Genesis 8:21 YHWH promises that He will never again destroy humanity. Therefore the only avenue left for the occurrence of the predicted disaster is that men are its cause. Until the 20th century men did not possess the means; now they do.

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