What is the different between the way Catholics read the Bible vs. the way Protestants read the Bible?

What is the difference?

I have always been taught that the bible is to be read for education, meditation, and contemplation. In college, I was a double major in psychology & religious studies. There I was taught to read how culture and society impacted the Bible, and to read it in light of those things. I was also taught to read it as a work of literature. Thank Heavens some good priests in the seminary introduced me to meditative reading and lectio divina. Although the “educational” aspects in college were interesting, I have gained so much more from a devotional, spiritual understanding of the Bible, because it has been a channel of God’s voice and direction in my life.
I have known most of my Protestant friends to read it the same way.
HOWEVER, Fundamentalists such as: Pentecostals, Baptists, etc (who I have trouble calling Protestant since they are so extreme and don’t even hold most of the beliefs that would characterize Luther’s followers) seem to read only to memorize the parts they’ll use to tear you to shreads if you do something they consider “wrong”. I see very little spiritual struggle and search there, only a belief that every, single word is absolutely literal… oh, except passages that mention the eucharist, holy orders, the Petrine Ministry, etc…

There is a great variation amongst protestant denominations as to how certain scriptures should be read. So one large difference is the “difference” in interpretation amongst sects in protestanism. Baptists for example have hundreds of sub-sets, some beliveing in speaking in tongues and others that do not.

the Catholic tradition leans much more to prayer with the bible as the most common way of approaching scripture and incorporating it into one’s spiritual life, rather than beginning with formal bible study in the academic sense, which is characteristic at least of Evangelicals and Baptists (the ones I have most contact with anyway).

I was tickled to see lectio divina introduced and recommended for youth by Group magazine, which comes from the publisher of I believe Christianity Today, for youth ministers.

also Catholics tend to know the general story about Christ’s life, the parable, the gist of the sermon on the mount for instance, while a good Protestant will be able to quote chapter and verse on any number of topics, and have a lot more verses memorized.

One difference would seem to be that Protestants find doctrine in the bible, while Catholics find confirmation of doctrine in the bible.

This is another way we differ:
The Old Testament (OT) prepared the way for the New Testament (NT). Persons and events in the OT prefigured, foreshadowed, anticipated, and symbolized persons and events in the NT. According to an ancient Christian saying: “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” CCC 129.
The OT persons and events are called “Types” of the NT persons and events they prefigure. A type is a prophetic foreshadowing of its NT counterpart. To fully understand the OT we must read in terms of types.

Here are some examples:
The NT requires that we read the OT in a typological sense. Consider:
(1) In Matthew 12:40, Jesus teaches that Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish foreshadowed Jesus’ three days in the tomb.
(2) In John 3:14, Jesus says that the bronze serpent of Numbers 21:9 symbolized His crucifixion.
(3) In 1 Peter 3:19-21, St Peter points out that the flood in the time of Noah prefigured Christian baptism.
(4) In Colossians, 2:11-12 St. Paul explains that circumcision foreshadowed Christian baptism.
(5) In 1 Corinthians 5:7 the Passover Lamb prefigures the sacrifice of Christ.
(6) In 1 Corinthians 10:4, St. Paul calls the rock that followed the Israelites in the desert “Christ.” Notice he does not say the rock was like Christ; St. Paul says the rock was Christ. He used this language to stress that the relationship between a type and its NT fulfillment is more than a similarity.
(7) In Romans 5:14, St. Paul specifically calls Adam a type of Christ.
These examples show how the NT teaches that in the OT persons and events, we are to see doctrines that are made more explicit in the gospel. Thus to be faithful to the NT, we must appreciate the rich typology found in the OT.

We must first read the Bible in a literal sense. All the senses of Scripture;—typological, moral, and analogical–are based upon the literal. See CCC 115-118.

I will stop here but if you want to know about the Women in Gen 3:15 and Our Blessed Lady and show where Catholics can show that our Marian devotions are Biblical, let me know?

CCC= Catholic of the Catholic Church

Many branches of Protestantism tend to take a verse, interpret it literally, and then ignore or explain away other verses contrary to their interpretation.

I love the way Catholicism interprets the Bible. Our faith takes into account ALL Scripture passages dealing with a certain topic, and from them determines the proper interpretation - an interpretation that encompasses and synthesizes everything said by Scripture on the subject.


To say there is a “Catholic” and a “Protestant” way of reading the Bible would probably be a stretch. However, thre are some general trends in exegesis:

  1. Catholics rely on Scripture and Tradition, holding the oral teaching of the Apostles to be co-equal with the redacted documents of the Canon. Protestants tend to be Sola Scriptura – if it isn’t in the Bible, it isn’t.

  2. Catholics tend to a “whole book” aproach, reading scripture more in context. Many Protestant sects are based on readings of specific texts (the “rapture” concept is an example) and emphasize these texts over others.

  3. Catholics are guided by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. While there is a great deal of lattitude allowed in interpreting the Bible to Catholics, some interpretations are established by the Church (for example, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary) as dogmatic.

Yes your are right on the Money. Enclosed are four rules for interpretation of Scripture. While most all protestants ignore rule 1, if they paid attention to the last 3 rules they would most of the time arrive at the teachings of the Catholic Church. The problem is most ignore all four rules which is the reason why so many different Protestant interpretations occur,

A Catholic Exegesis of Sared 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.
  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). 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

all Christians outside of the Catholic church ought to pay attentions to the last three rules particulary rule number “2” and “3”. Rule “2” states to always be guided by what the early church fathers had to say. Why? First we were not there to hear and see everything and can easily be fooled into reading something not there into Scripture or reading something out of Scripture. The First Fathers were trained by the Apostles and the preceding Fathers are closer to the time frame allowing for less corruption of the teachings to occur. We are 2,000 years removed from the original source. Second and Most Important is that Scripture is clear on this and is repeated often by Paul that we are to pay attention to both the Sacred Oral word as well as the Sacred Written word passed down.

I agree with much of what the previous posters have said. There is one more thing I would add but will do so with a caveat. Nothing is absolute and there are many variations. Nevertheless, it would not be improper to point out that:

Catholics place more emphasis on the gospels.

Non-Catholics place more emphasis on the epistles of Paul.

I’ve always thought the principle difference between the ways Catholics read the Bible vs. the way Protestants read the Bible is that Catholics focus on the New Testament, specifically the parables of Jesus. Also the catholic flock relies on the parish priest or father to explicate, rather than guess at the meaning as bible carrying Protestants seem to.

Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Protestants don’t understand Catholicism and when they think they do they usually are opposed to it. The foundational principle of Protestantism is Faith Alone—Sola Fida and Scripture Alone—Sola Scriptura.

Lets start at the Beginning Gen 1:1 In the Beginning. Geneses chapter one verses one and two says:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. Then God created the Sun, the Moon, plants, animals, and finally on the last day the sixth day God created Man and Women verse 27 God created man in His own image in the divine image He created him, male and female He created them.

We are all pretty much familiar with that creation story. However not to many of us is familiar with chapter two of Geneses.

Starting at verse two “Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work He had been doing, He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had undertaken. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy; because on it He rested from all the work He had done in creation. So everything is created and God rested. Now a little bit further down we read God created man before the plants and the animals. God created Adam from the dust of the earth in verse 7, and after Adam is created God creates the plants & tress in verse 9, the animals in verse 19, then in verses 21 & 22 God creates women. Now just wait a minute in chapter one God created man on the sixth day, in chapter two God creates man before the plants & animals. Which is it? Is the Bible the Word of God? Is God contradicting Himself? The quick and simple answer is NO!

What the Church teaches is that the interpretation of Scripture must be done in a literal sense as opposed to be interpreted in a literalist sense. What’s the difference they sound alike they are basically the same word. At first glance you might think they mean the same thing. But they don’t at least not in the world of theology. The Church teaches the interpretation in a literal sense and condemns a literalist sense of interpretation of Scared Scripture. [See paragraph CCC116]. I will explain the difference between the two. Now lets say I emailed you and said, “It’s raining cats & dogs outside." As Americans and the rest of the world in the 21st century you know that if you go outside it’s raining pretty dog gone hard. That is the literal interpretation of what the author [me] intended for me to say for you to understand. On the other hand what if you took the literalist interpretation of raining cat & dogs. That means if you walked outside cats & dogs will be falling from the sky like rain. After all that’s what the text says so that’s what it means. The literalist is not taking into account the accepted meaning of that fraise. Not taking in account of what the author was trying to convey. “It’s raining cats & dogs by golly that’s what it says that’s what it means. Not taking into account the time-period, who did the author intend to convey this too, what culture, what is the author’s meaning? What if this email was read two thousand years from now? What would be the best way to interpret this the literal sense or the literalist sense? A literal sense of course.

So what the author is trying to convey in the meaning of these two chapters is man is the highest in order of all of Gods creations. He is not conveying a time line or a scientific thesis.

 What is most disconcerting is the fact that protestants refuse any authority other than the authority that comes from scripture. But then they pick and choose which passages should be interpreted in a literal sense and which ones in a symbolic sense. 
Clearly there is no place in scripture that teaches how to make this determination, so when confronted with this question: Where does the authority comes to make this differentiation? They can not answer. The whole Sola Scripture building collapses like a deck of cards.

In His Love
Catholic Deacon


hey D M… good comment. And I would add magisterium. The 3-legged stool of Truth needs all 3 legs.

Our separated brethren have to rely on only Scripture, and well… there are lots of threads discussing all the problems that result when sitting on a one-legged stool


Everyone uses the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is made up of:


The importance that each person puts on any one of these determines how they interpret the bible.

I put most of the importance on the content of what God has revealed publicly in the bible, then Reason, Experience and Tradition follow in importance.

My friends and I interpret the bible in its HISTORICAL succession paying close attention to God’s progressive revelation. The doctrine and message that God has given to us is the MOST RECENT doctrine and message for the Body of Christ to obey. That is found in Paul’s epistles.

To get a detailed explanation of God’s work with His people as recorded in the bible check out this article.


I must also add that I will put that explanation of God’s various dealings with man explained in The Twelve Dispensations up against any other person’s explanation of God’s dealings with man.

Would love to hear some intelligent critiques of it.

Catholics and Protestants read the Bible the same way except the Protestants interpret it 25,000 different ways.

So, you think that every Catholic interprets the little bit of the bible that they read the same way? I know this is false. Its demonstrably false. Check out the discussion on the death penalty for the evidence.

You sure your sources are right? From all the catholics i have bumped into… this definately does not apply

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