Official Verse by Verse Catholic Interpretation?

Hello. I’ve been witnessing to a Protestant friend, and he wants to know if there is a verse by verse Bible Commentary (similar to the Protestant Matthew Henry Commentary) that is approved by the Vatican. Basically what he wants is the Official Church position on passages of Scripture, particularly of the Book of Revelation, that isn’t some guys opinion, or one of multiple complimentary opinions. He’s been reading Scott Hahn and some others, but he seems to think that these books are more or less individual opinions. Does such a Commentary exist?

I could be dead wrong, but I think there’s a lack of real degreed biblical scholars that wander through these threads. We’d be knocking it around a lot more. Yes, I’d like to know the answer to this question, too.

Hahn and co-workers are the only ones that I know of that are trying to put together a usuable post-Vatican II commentary, one that, further, incorporates ideas from the Catechism. That’s a big job.

I’ve been reading Jewish commentaries, and they’re working along the same path – having an expert write the commentaries for each of the books of the Torah. And, it took years to write each book, like a rate of 20 pages a year, on average. But, I think they are excellent, for their point of view. Their format is very helpful, a line - by - line commentary, with clearly delineated embedded essays and supplementary essays to complement the commentary.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary of c.1991 works at multiple levels, but I don’t find it easy to read, inasmuch as it is more of an encyclopedic commentary, with an emphasis on the current, rather than on the historical commentary on the texts. If you’re looking for controversy, you’ll find it there, for sure.

From brief and perhaps superficial reviews of these various commentaries I can say this. The Jewish commentaries by the Jewish Publication Society are written for the late-high school, early college or general student (explicitly) and are very readable.Critically speaking though, they lack an index. Matthew Henry’s commentary I’d say is written for the Protestant “believer” and for the minister. I’ve read parts of this book, which seems most appropriate for a Protestant seminarian.

The NJBC seems to be written for ordained clergy and professed religious, and for college level readers - not for the feint of heart.

The short answer is “no” - because the Church does not officially interpret individual verses of Scripture. There are lots of good commentaries by respected Catholic scholars, but they are not “official” in the sense that an encyclical is “official.”

What makes the Matthew Henry Commentary “official”? Isn’t it also the work of one man and therefore an individual’s opinion/interpretation?

I didn’t mean to insinuate that the Matthew Henry Commentary is official, only that it was the type of commentary that my friend is seeking.

There are commentaries approved by the Catholic Church, but not exactly what you are asking about. As for Revelation I have done a commentary myself based upon Catholic teachings

The closest thing to an “official” line-by-line commentary that the Church has ever had is the Glossa Ordinaria and the Glossa Interlinearia, aka Ye Big Fat Cliff Notes and Theological Quotes for Medieval Bible Readers. But even that was optional, although probably every educated Bible reader was familiar with it. Since most libraries didn’t have full sets of the Fathers and the famous theologians or good dictionaries of obscure words, it supplemented your copy of the Bible with a cross-section of useful info.

Nowadays, there’s no real need for a single official commentary. It’d be like asking for one official crucifix pattern or one official floor tile. We have dogma and systematic dogmatic theology to keep things straight. So there’s a great deal of freedom interpreting the Bible within those guidelines, which is as it has always been and always should be.

If you read the Catechism or dogmatic theology books, you can find out what a lot of the important key verses are, for various important Catholic concepts and teachings. But even when it comes to those key verses, that doesn’t mean that no other meanings are present. There is layer upon layer of meaning in pretty much every verse of the Bible, so there’s plenty of room to interpret stuff in various ways.

The general attitude has generally been – Go crazy as much as you like with allegorical interpretations of Scripture! As long as you don’t espouse something contrary to morality or the teachings of the Church, it’s okay to interpret it that way. Even if you make a factual mistake, which is quite likely, if you stay within the guidelines it’s not going to send you to Hell. Severe embarrassment is the worst you can suffer.

God uses the Scriptures to speak to all of us individually as well as collectively. So there’s bound to be a lot of individual spiritual experience and insight involved in interpreting the Bible, within the guidelines taught by God through His Church. Therefore, you have to allow people a good chunk of freedom, or risk interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit. If a verse about cows inexplicably causes someone to see an analogy with computers and their work life and thus to repent of doing bad stuff, far be it from the Church to bar that interpretation. :slight_smile:

Stuff like the Navarre Bible probably has most of what your friend wants, though.

Yes, there are many good Catholic bible commentaries. A couple of modern ones are the Navarre Study Bible and the Ignatius Study Bible. There are many going back 2000 years. Can your friend mention one that he knows of from the 14th century? The 10th? How about the 5th or 4th centuries. St. Jerome did some excellent work in the 3rd century.

Also, one of the best explanations of the Bible teachings is The Catechism of The Catholic Church. Although it’s not ordered by bible chapters, rather it is organized thematically.

A great run-down. Thank you. I need to remember this.

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