What is the Roman Catholic position on the literal interpretation of Scripture?

In general, or as instructed by the Pope, Do Roman Catholics take every word of the bible to be literal or does the RC faith accept symbolic messages and metaphor as a part of Scripture? Some combination of the two? What does the RC church teach with respect to what happens to faithful believers who cannot bring themselves to “believe” in the 100% literal truth of stories like Job and Noah, but “believe” in the sense that they put their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and keep the sacraments as understood by the RC church?

My personal belief is that God is too immense for our pea-brains, and He cannot be fully explained or understood in any language, so it is necessary to use metaphor and symbolism to get certain points across. (A little like trying to explain the internet to a 1st century Hebrew.) Particularly in the Old Testament, there are many stories we grew up learning that I do not believe God expects us to accept as literal truth. That does nothing to diminish the truth of the Bible’s messages or make the Bible less guided by the will of God, it merely allows the stories to transcend the confines of time, culture, and language. That is my opinion, and my church might disagree with me, but I cannot simply turn away from my faith that God is omniscient to believe God and Satan actually wagered over the faith of Job. As Einstein said, God does not play dice. To me, that makes God way too human and pedestrian, but it was necessary to anthropomorphize God to illustrate the important truths about faith that the Job story is trying to get across to people.

Any thoughts?

Here’s a good start:



It’d be best to read the catechism on this matter. Beginning here at Article 2 and then on to Article 3 following it:

Some parts of Scripture are meant to be taken literally, while others are not. In any case, as the Church teaches, our faith is not first of all a “religion of the book”. It’s a living faith, the precepts of which were received and understood and proclaimed before a word of the New Testament was written.


Allegorical interpretation of the scriptures goes back to the ECF’s with Origen of Alexandria.

The teaching magisterium of Church is the only infallible interpretar – that said, she has not officially interpreted much. We are allowed to interpret sacred scripture so long as our interpretation is not at odds with Church teaching. If I come to a symbolic understanding of the Eucharist, them I am wrong, etc.

I believe most of it is literal and perhaps some small parts of it in the OT are allegorical. There are definitely word pictures therein. I think even the brightest scholars are still fallible human beings and the Word’s majesty is far too great for my brain to figure it all out. I can’t even recall what I had for lunch two days ago. :slight_smile:

If you disagree with the Church on a matter of serious weight, it is good to realize that you are one of those humans who can easily make mistakes, but that God guides His Church. Let us further study! But even if this shall fail, let us trust in God.

That out of the way, Catholic Answers has this by Jimmy Akin:

Remember that Scripture may not be an “either/or” interpretation, but “both/and”. That is, there is the basic interpretation of facts, and then the spiritual interpretation/lessons drawn from these base facts, though this is touched on in the above article.

Hope this helps. God bless.


See the catechism “divine revelation” and the four senses of scripture.

*Allegorical interpretation of the scriptures goes back to the ECF’s with Origen of Alexandria.As we read 1 Corinthians 10:1-12,

St Paul uses typology- for example in [1 Corinthians 10:1-12] which helped form the allegorical interpretation of scripture.

Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII:


A joy to read. :heart:

We accept as literal every word of the Bible that is meant to be taken literally.


Good answer. Very diplomatic and obviously true. I’m not a Catholic, which is why I posted on this board, but I do appreciate the insights I get on this website. I admire how many people are actively discussing serious issues here, and giving others information about the Catholic perspective on Christianity. Hopefully, everyone has taken this question as I meant it - an honest query about the Catholic approach to Scripture. I was curious and thank you for answering thoughtfully.

There will always be those who are intolerant of anyone who does not believe exactly what they perceive to be the only pathway to God, but the congregation of which I am a member has been actively involved in building bridges with the RC church using the things we have in common: Our recognition of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the need for humble confession and repentance, the importance of baptism, the sacrament of communion, faith, hope, and love. The list goes on. Maybe we disagree on the mechanics of communion and confession, but anyone who takes part in them is on the right path (assuming they are sincere).

Again, thank you to all of the Catholics who are willing to explain your faith to an outsider. It speaks well of you and I appreciate the effort.

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