What is the dogma/doctrine/teaching of the Church on the inspiration of Scripture?

I’ve looked at a few web sites that have a listing of dogmas from Ott, and I don’t see any that pertain to the nature of the Scriptures.

Here is what I have culled together from a set of documents (from 1870 to 1993). But apart from Dei Filius, I don’t think any of them are declared in an infallible manner:

The Old and New Testament are “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” and “they have God as their author”. (Dei Filius, c. 2, n. 7)

Regarding what Scripture says about “the essential nature of the things of the visible universe”: “the Holy Ghost ‘who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things … things in no way profitable unto salvation’”. The Sacred Authors used “figurative language” or “terms which were commonly used at the time” in these cases. (Providentissimus Deus, 18)

“It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.” All the books of the Bible “are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost”. As for what they wrote: the Holy Spirit “so moved and impelled them to write … that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth”. St. Augustine said that “His members executed what their Head dictated” (De consensu Evangel. 1. I, c. 35), and St. Gregory the Great said “He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution” (Praef. in Job, n. 2). (Providentissimus Deus, 20)

“For having begun by expounding minutely the principle that the inspired writer, in composing the sacred book, is the living and reasonable instrument of the Holy Spirit, they rightly observe that, impelled by the divine motion, [the inspired human author] so uses his faculties and powers”, so that exegetes might be able to determine “the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse, and the forms of expression he employed”. (Divino Afflante Spiritus, 33)

The comparison between the incarnation of the Word of God and the inscription of the Word of God is as follows: “For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things ‘except sin’ (Heb 4:15), so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.” (Divino Afflante Spiritus, 37)

To correctly interpret Scripture, one must identify the “manner of expression or the literary mode adopted by the sacred writer”. (Divino Afflante Spiritus, 38)

“From the material available to them the Evangelists selected those items most suited to their specific purpose and to the condition of a particular audience. And they narrated these events in the manner most suited to satisfy their purpose and their audience’s condition.” (Sancta Mater Ecclesia, II, 3)

"Since the meaning of a statement depends, among other things, upon the context in which it is found, the Evangelists reported Christ’s deeds and words in varying Contexts, choosing whichever one would be of greatest help to the reader in trying to understand a particular utterance. Hence the exegete must try to ascertain what the Evangelist intended by reporting a certain saying or event in a particular manner or a particular context.

“The truth of the Gospel account is not compromised because the Evangelists report the Lord’s words and deeds in different order. Nor is it hurt because they report His words, not literally but in a variety of ways, while retaining the same meaning. As St. Augustine says: ‘It is quite probable that each Evangelist felt duty-bound to narrate his particular account in the order which God suggested to his memory. At least this would seem to hold true for those items in which order of treatment would not affect the authority or truth of the Gospel. After all, the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts to each as He chooses. Since these books were to be so authoritative, He undoubtedly guided and directed the sacred writers as they thought about the things which they were going to write down; but He probably allowed each writer to arrange his narrative as lie saw fit. Hence anyone who uses enough diligence, will be able to discover this order with the help of God.’” (Sancta Mater Ecclesia, II)


“In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.” (Dei Verbum, 11)

“For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.” (Dei Verbum, 13)

The reason I bring these up is because the document “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (written in 1993) has this to say about the fundamentalist Christian literal interpretation of the Bible (section I, part F):

The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that … it refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language and that this word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit.

So is the Catholic understanding that Scripture was dictated by God (the Holy Spirit) to men in a way that was not “word for word”? In other words, that God revealed (in manner like unto dictation) that which He would have the sacred authors write, and they, in turn, wrote it as they were so moved, using the words and figures of speech known to them at the time, without error? Does that sound right?

read dei verbum?


I believe you have the essence of the matter.

Of course we also have to keep in mind the subject matter of the Scriptures, and realize that although they are without error, they do not contain sufficient information on subjects outside of their point of focus to provide us with an accurate picture of them.

For example, the Scriptures, though they mention various items of food in passing, cannot be used as a cook book. And although they mention various scientific subjects in passing, again, there is not sufficient information to provide any kind of sensible hypothesis on these scientific matters. The reason is not that the items in question contain any error, but simply that they are not the subject of the Scriptures, they are only mentioned in passing, and there is not enough information there to be at all useful in these non-religious disciplines.

One error that is common with fundamentalists is to assume that the Scriptures contain all the knowledge required to function as a sensible human being - they do not.

I’d prefer not to use the word “dictated” when describing the Catholic understanding of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture. There is an actual false theory out there by the name of the “theory of dictation” or “dictation theory” and I avoid that word to forestall confusion.


EXCELLENT!!! :thumbsup:

The Bible itself contains the teachings of the Church on the nature of the scriptures.

2 Tim 3:14-17
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:20-21
20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

"Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but **is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings **is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. Rom 16:25 - 1 Cor 1:1

How does anyone know the Bible is inspired? Saying the Bible itself contains the teachings produces a circular argument similar to the one Protestants get into with Sola Scriptura.

We know the Bible is inspired through the Tradition of the Church accepted through faith. Some people consider the Koran the inspired word.

2 Tim 3:14-17 - 2 Peter 1:20-21 - Rom 16:25 - 1 Cor 1:1

How does anyone know the proper interpretation of the nature these verses? There are so many different interpretations of these verses that it gets crazy trying to combat them all.

We need to rely on the Sacred Tradition of the Church to guide us in interpretations also.

That was not the question, though. The OP was asking for official teaching on the nature of the scripture, and this is found within the Scripture.


Sacred Scripture is entirely inspired and entirely inerrant.

Frightening statement from the “Working Document” of the Bishops’ Synod on the Word of God (n. 15):
Many responses to the Lineamenta raise questions on the proper way to explain to Christ’s faithful the charism of inspiration and the truth contained in the Scriptures. … In summary, the following can be said with certainty: … with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (DV 11) …
That’s completely opposed to the previous pronouncements of the Magisterium. Pope Pius XII, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 3, says: “It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writers have erred.” That sounds exactly like what the working document is declaring.

I understand Dei Verbum 11 to be saying that all of the canon is inspired. So any old sentence or passage I pick out, from a story in Ruth to a census in Numbers to a parable in the NT, all of these are inspired. Italics mine:

…the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author…

Are the bishops trying to say that some verses (of the official canon) of the bible are not inspired? Or is the working document quote trying to say something about inerrancy or interpretation, and not about inspiriation, do you suppose?

I think it is possible that they are just trying to say something about or encourage figuring out what the sacred authors were trying to communicate or specifically assert. I say that because they quote DV11 and that quote in DV11 is flows fairly logically into DV 12, which talks about that topic.

  1. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words…

Right. And, because inspired, ergo inerrant. But the “working document” says that the inerrancy is limited: “inerrancy applies only to ‘that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation’”. In other words, the authors of Scripture could have erred in things not “relevant” to salvation. That is not what the Church has taught.

It is only frightening that it took so long for the bishops to make such an intelligent statement about something the chuch has been teaching since 1965 when Paul VI clarified the overly broad and untenable statement of Pius XII. It should be remembered that *Divino Afflante Spiritu *is seen as the “magna carta” of biblical scholarship which ushered in the great age of historical criticism and literary form analysis.

It is all a process of evolution in understanding and there will be many more related advances.

That’s completely opposed to the previous pronouncements of the Magisterium. Pope Pius XII, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 3, says: “It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writers have erred.” That sounds exactly like what the working document is declaring.

Thank God for that!

Here are three excerpts from Papal documents, teaching on Scripture.

First from Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu nn. 1, 3 (from 1943):When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the “entire books with all their parts” as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as “obiter dicta” {i.e. “said in passing”} and - as they contended - in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules. … Hence with grave words did he proclaim that there is no error whatsoever if the sacred writer, speaking of things of the physical order “went by what sensibly appeared” as the Angelic Doctor says,[5] speaking either "in figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even among the most eminent men of science." For “the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately” - the words are St. Augustine’s [6] - “the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things - that is the essential nature of the things of the universe - things in no way profitable to salvation”; which principle “will apply to cognate sciences, and especially to history,”[7] that is, by refuting, “in a somewhat similar way the fallacies of the adversaries and defending the historical truth of Sacred Scripture from their attacks.”[8]

  1. Cf. S.T. Iª, q. 70, art. I ad 3.

  2. De Gen. ad litt. 2, 9, 20; PL 34, col. 270 s.; CSEL 28 (Sectio III, pars. 2), p. 46.

  3. Leonis XIII, Providentissimus Deus, n. 20.

  4. Cf. Benedictus XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, n. 22.
    Next, from Pope Benedict XV in Spiritus Paraclitus n. 22 (from 1920):Those, too, who hold that the historical portions of Scripture do not rest on the absolute truth of the facts but merely upon what they are pleased to term their relative truth, namely, what people then commonly thought, are - no less than are the aforementioned critics - out of harmony with the Church’s teaching, which is endorsed by the testimony of Jerome and other Fathers. Yet they are not afraid to deduce such views from the words of Leo XIII on the ground that he allowed that the principles he had laid down touching the things of nature could be applied to historical things as well. Hence they maintain that precisely as the sacred writers spoke of physical things according to appearance, so, too, while ignorant of the facts, they narrated them in accordance with general opinion or even on baseless evidence; neither do they tell us the sources whence they derived their knowledge, nor do they make other peoples’ narrative their own. Such views are clearly false, and constitute a calumny on our predecessor. After all, what analogy is there between physics and history? For whereas physics is concerned with “sensible appearances” and must consequently square with phenomena, history on the contrary, must square with the facts, since history is the written account of events as they actually occurred. If we were to accept such views, how could we maintain the truth insisted on throughout Leo XIII’s Encyclical - viz. that the sacred narrative is absolutely free from error?
    Lastly, from Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus, n. 20 (from 1893):The principles here laid down will apply cognate sciences, and especially to History. … It is true, no doubt, that copyists have made mistakes in the text of the Bible; this question, when it arises, should be carefully considered on its merits, and the fact not too easily admitted, but only in those passages where the proof is clear. It may also happen that the sense of a passage remains ambiguous, and in this case good hermeneutical methods will greatly assist in clearing up the obscurity. But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. …

That’s unfortunate. Do you mind expanding on that?

Dei Verbum n. 11 refers to those three documents I posted above, not to refute or restrict them or go against them, but to build upon them; it says, in part: “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” Everything asserted in Scripture is asserted by the Holy Spirit (who does not speak falsehood). All of Scripture teaches without error, and what it teaches is the truth which God wanted written for our salvation.

Only an anti-traditional (that is, opposed to the tradition and traditional teaching of the Church) interpretation of that sentence can lead one to believe that Vatican II was changing the teaching of the Church to mean that “only those parts of Scripture were written without error, which pertain to the truth necessary for our salvation”.

The problem with all these excessive words is that nowhere does anyone define explicitly what the word “error” means and nowhere is it stated as to what writings the term applies. The statements you quote attempt to be clear in a very fundamentalist sort of way but really are merely generalizations which help very little.

Do they apply to the original documents (which we don’t have)? To a translations? Which translation into which language? From what source documents (there are thousands)?

Does the error free concept apply to a stict literalistic reading or does it apply to the truths being taught, assuming that the writing can be myth, legend, allegory, poetry, or history? The Church most definitely teaches the latter and has stated so in numerous documents.

The statements also ignore the very real ability of authors to teach error free truth using total fiction and that God certainly has the right to inspire such writing. Are fictional stories which never happened free from all error? One can assume that they can be. The birth stories of Jesus are mostly fiction and yet they teach a great deal of truth about who the author thought Jesus was.

Then why does Dei Verbum also explicitly state the opposite?

The problem with relying on specific church documents is that no individual text is complete in itself. The development of church teaching on scriptures is a process that can only be understood by following the progression of thought. Providentissimus Deus is an important component of that process and even though it is all the things people here have said it is, it is NOT complete and it paints things with far too wide a brush. It leaves out some very essential concepts, several of which are identified and explained in subsequent documents. Divino Afflante Spiritu, attempted to clean up some of this and Dei Verbum expounded considerably more*.*

The problem with *Providentissimus Deus *in this discussion is that it fails to clearly delineate what it means by inerrancy, truth, freedom from error, etc. and some here have assumed that these terms have meanings beyond what they mean in the scriptures. That is why Dei Verbum is so important - it explicitly states that while the scriptures contain error free truth, the format for the presentation of that truth varies widely thoughout the writings and that one cannot assume that the truth is presented as literalistic truth or that one can understand that truth without considering that truth is presented differently in different times.

For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture.

Which brings us to the statement which started all this and which I firmly support. As Dei Verbum clearly states, it is wrong to blindly apply the broad brush of inerrancy literalistically to all scriptures (as Providentissimus Deus implies*)*. Everything written contains inerrant truth but that truth is not always conveyed in a literal manner, not always with historic truth or scientific truth also.

The statement "…for the sake of salvation" is important because of what it includes, not because of what it denies. It re-emphasizes that the truth is that of salvation, regardless of the form in which that truth is presented, which is not necessarily history, etc.

The Church does not required literal belief in the creation accounts, the flood, the serpent in the garden, or the infancy narratives of Jesus but it does require belief in the truth they teach. And that is why all the documents are important and incomplete in themselves. Dei Verbum isn’t the last word either, future scholars and popes will no doubt build on it.

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