How to Read the Bible?
Catholic Approaches
to Biblical Interpretation
Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Institute for Spirituality – Orange, CA
http://catholic-resources.org
Should Catholics read the Bible?
 Common
Warning before Vatican II
– DON’T read the Bible!
 Why
Not?
– Too dangerous! Too easy to misunderstand!
– Just listen to what Sister or Father tells you about it.
 New
Emphasis since just before Vatican II:
– DO read the Bible, but humbly, carefully, prayerfully!
 How?
– In Liturgy & Sacraments, communally & individually
A Key Question:
• Should Catholics Read the Bible Literally?
– Do we accept the Literal Interpretation of the Bible?
• Answer: YES!
(Are you surprised?)
• Distinctions:
– “Literal” but not “literalistic” (not naively; not as fundamentalists)
– “Literal” means “according to the letter”  Bible is literature!
– “Literally” AND “spiritually” (not either/or)
What Is “Fundamentalism”?
• Five “Fundamentals” of Christian Doctrine
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
(1890’s, Prot.)
Literal Inerrancy of the Bible (interpreted 100% factually)
Virgin Birth & Deity of Jesus
Substitutionary Atonement (Jesus’ death)
Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
Imminent Return of Jesus
• Popular Appeal of Fundamentalism:
– simplistic answers to complex questions
– meaning of texts is obvious?
– people crave certainty (don’t want ambiguity or complexity)
5 Principles of Catholic Biblical Interp.
1. “Incarnational Theology” Core (God’s Self-Revelation!)
vs. bibliolatry, over-emphasis on Bible as text
2. “Both / And” Approach to Christian Theology
vs. one-sided over-emphasis or neglect
3. “Ecclesial Guidance” for Proper Understanding
vs. individualistic mis-interpretations
4. “Literary Genres” are Diverse/Complex
vs. modernist / historicist assumptions
5. “Historical-Critical” Exegesis is Essential
vs. fundamentalist / literalist fallacies
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (1)
Incarnational Principle: God’s Self-Revelation
• “Revelation” = God’s “self-communication” in/to world
– In multiple stages: more and more explicit over time
• “Tradition” = “passing on” God’s revelation to future
– In multiple stages: gradually more explicit and established
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (1)
Incarnational Theology is the Core & Climax
• “Word of God” is not just a book (Bible), but Jesus!
– Jesus is the Pinnacle of God’s Self-Revelation to the World
– “God sent his only-begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
• Incarnation: “The Word became Flesh…” (John 1:14)
– Jesus of Nazareth = both Son of God and Son of Mary
– Word of God (God speaks, things happen; cf. Gen 1)
– Word made Flesh (God speaks in human languages)
– See New Testament Christology (FJ)
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (2)
The “BOTH / AND” Approach is Foundational:
– Applies to Theology in general, Scripture in particular
– Heads/Tails, Positive/Negative, North/South
Examples from Theology:
– God is both transcendent and immanent
– Jesus is both fully human and fully divine
– The Eucharist is both a meal and a sacrifice
Problems/Errors with One-Sided Over-emphases:
– Ex: Blind people touching different parts of an Elephant
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (2)
The “BOTH / AND” Approach is Foundational:
–
–
–
–
–
Bible is both the Word of God and authored by humans
Bible contains both Old Testament and New Testament
Bible is both studied academically and prayed liturgically
Bible is used both individually and communally
Bible has both literal and spiritual meanings (4-fold meaning)
Caution: Read it literally (as literature of various types),
but not literalistically (mere historical facts)
– See “BOTH/AND: The Essential Key to Catholic Theology” (FJ)
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (3)
“Ecclesial” Guidance is Necessary
• Jesus, Disciples, Holy Spirit, Church:
– All came before the Bible was written and compiled!
– The Church (guided by the Holy Spirit) created the Bible,
not only vice-versa!
• Church community helps us understand the texts:
– Homilies, Books, Courses, Bible Study, Scripture Sharing Groups, etc.
– Personal interpretation should not conflict with Church Tradition
– Popes and Bishops are the guarantors of the Church’s Tradition
(assisted by theologians & exegetes)
Official Church Documents:
• Pope Pius XII: Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943)
• Second Vatican Council: Dei Verbum (1965)
• Pontifical Biblical Commission:
– “Historical Truth of the Gospels” (1964)
– “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (1993)
• Catechism of Catholic Church (1994; 2nd ed. 1997)
– In section on “The Profession of Faith” (par. 51-141)
• [ Online versions of these and related documents - FJ]
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (4)
Awareness of Literary Genres is Crucial:
• “GENRE”= category or type of literature (or art, music, etc.)
– characterized by a particular form, style, or content.
• Many publications contain multiple genres:
– Ex: Newspapers have news articles, editorials, comics, obituaries,
sports results, financial reports, classified ads, movie reviews, etc.
• The Bible is not just one “book,” but a whole “library”
– It contains many different literary genres, not just “history”
– See “An Introduction to Literary Genres & Form Criticism” (FJ)
Hebrew Bible Genres
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Myths & Legends (Genesis, parts of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Legal Codes (Leviticus, parts of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Genealogies (parts of Genesis, much of Numbers)
Annals (Josh, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, etc.)
Prophetic Books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.)
Psalms/Odes/Songs (Psalms)
Prayers/Laments (Lamentations)
Proverbs (Proverbs)
Wisdom Literature (Job, Wisdom, etc.)
Apocalypse (Daniel)
New Testament Genres
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John)
Acts (Acts of the Apostles)
Letters (esp. Paul's)
Church Orders (1 Timothy, Titus)
Testament (2 Timothy & 2 Peter)
Homily/Sermon (Hebrews)
Wisdom Collection (James)
Epistles/Encyclicals (1 & 2 Peter)
Apocalypse (Revelation to John)
• Many more sub-genres, esp. within the Gospels
What is “Truth”?
• There are different KINDS of “Truth”:
–
–
–
–
–
Historical: Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
Conventional: My name is Felix.
Scientific: The earth revolves around the sun.
Mathematical: 2 + 3 = 5
Theological: God is love.
• All of these are “true” – but not all are “historical”
– So, the whole Bible is true, but not all the Bible is historical!
Literary Genres - Applications
• Did God create the whole world in only six days?
– What is the literary genre of Genesis 1?
• Was Jonah really in the belly of a whale for 3 days?
– What is the literary genre of the Book of Jonah?
• Was Daniel really thrown into a Lion’s Den?
– What is the literary genre of the Book of Daniel?
• Is the “Parable of the Vineyard Workers” really fair?
– What is the literary genre of Jesus’ parables?
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (5)
Historical-Critical Exegesis is Essential:
• Ex-egesis = “leading out” (drawing the intended meaning out of the text)
– Vs. eis-egesis (putting your own pre-formed opinions into the text)
– “Critical” = asking analytical questions (not just “critiquing”)
• Consider multiple levels of both Content and Context:
– Historical / Literal Content & Spiritual / Theological Content
– Historical Context (surrounding world) & Literary Context (surrounding text)
• Openness to Development (historical, literary, theological):
– Development from oral preaching/tradition to written texts/scriptures
– Growth in our understanding and application of texts over time
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (5)
Results of Exegesis available to non-specialists:
• Study Bibles:
– Catholic Study Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, HarperCollins SB
• Bible Dictionaries:
– HarperCollins, Eerdmans, Anchor, Interpreter’s, etc.
• Bible Commentaries:
– One-Vol: New Jerome BC, HarperCollins, Collegeville, etc.
– Multi-Vol: Sacra Pagina, Anchor BC, many others
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (5)
Biblical Exegesis shows Theological Developments,
even within the Bible itself. For example:
Polytheism (there are many gods, with different roles)
 Henotheism (our God is better than all other gods)
 Monotheism (there is one and only one true God)
 Trinitarian Monotheism (one God is Father, Son, Spirit)
Principles of Catholic Interpretation (5)
Biblical Exegesis also shows Moral Developments:
• Ancient Cultures: escalating retribution
– Strike back hard! If you kill one of us, we’ll kill ten of you!
• Hebrew Bible: limited retribution
– “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life”?
– Exod 21:23-24; Lev 24:19-20; Deut 19:21
– Literal meaning? Historical context?
• New Testament: NO retribution!
– Matt 5:38-48 – turn the other cheek, love your enemies…
– Literal meaning? Modern application?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• The Bible says, “There is no God!”
– At least three times! Ps 10:4; 14:1; 53:1
– Literary context?
– Literal meaning?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• Does the Bible contradict itself?
– “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their
spears into pruning hooks…” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3)
– “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks
into spears…” (Joel 3:10)
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• Did Jesus have “Brothers & Sisters”? (Mark 6:3)
– Literal meaning?
– Historical context?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• “Pluck out your eyes, cut off your hands/feet?”
(Matt 5:29-30 & 18:8-9)
– Literary genre / form / type?
– Literal meaning?
– Historical context?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• “Don’t call anyone on earth ‘father’ ”? (Matt 23:8)
– Literary genre / form / type?
– Literal meaning?
– Literary and Historical context?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• Should women wear veils in church?
(1 Cor 11:4-10)
– Literal meaning?
– Historical context?
Applications to “Difficult Texts”
• Your Examples?
–
–
–
–
–
–
Literal/original meaning?
Spiritual/theological meaning?
Literary genre/type?
Historical context?
Literary context?
Canonical context?
Summary / Review
1. “Incarnational Theology” Core (God’s Self-Revelation!)
vs. bibliolatry, over-emphasis on Bible as text
2. “Both / And” Approach to Christian Theology
vs. one-sided over-emphasis or neglect
3. “Ecclesial Guidance” for Proper Understanding
vs. individualistic mis-interpretations
4. “Literary Genres” are Diverse/Complex
vs. modernist / historicist assumptions
5. “Historical-Critical” Exegesis is Essential
vs. fundamentalist / literalist fallacies
Catholic Teachings
on Biblical Interpretation:
Vatican II: Dei Verbum
Fr. Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Institute for Spirituality, Orange, CA
http://catholic-resources.org
Dei Verbum (Vatican II)
“Preface”
 The
WORD of GOD!
 Hearing it with Reverence; Proclaiming it with Faith
 Quotation of 1 John 1:2-3
 In the footsteps of Trent and Vatican I
 Authentic doctrine on divine revelation
“and how it is handed on” (Lat. transmissione)
 Hearing  Believe  Hope  Love
Ecumenical Councils & The Bible:
 Council
of Trent (1545-63) – Session IV (4/8/46)
– Q: Biblical Canon & Authorized Translations?
– vs. Protestants who omitted books & made vernacular transl.
 First
Vatican Council (1869-70) – Dei Filius
– Q: Relationship between Scripture & REASON?
– vs. both Fideists (faith alone) & Rationalists (reason alone)
 Second
Vatican Council (1962-65) – Dei Verbum
– Q: Relationship between Scripture & TRADITION?
Official Catholic Documents:
 Pope
Pius XII: Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943)
Vatican
 Pontifical
II: Dei Verbum (1965)
Biblical Commission:
– “Historical Truth of the Gospels” (1964)
– “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (1993)
 Catechism
of the Catholic Church (1994; 2nd ed. 1997)
– In section on “The Profession of Faith” (par. 51-141)
 Synod of Bishops: “Word of God in Life/Mission of Church (2008)
– Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Exhortation: Verbum Domini (2010)

Online versions of these and related documents - FJ
Council of Trent: Session IV (1546)
 First
Conciliar List of the Canon of the Bible:
– 46 OT books (incl. 7+ “Deutero-canonicals”)
– 27 NT books (luckily, same as Protestants!)
– Official: Latin Vulgate!
 Norms
for Translations:
– Done by Catholic scholars
– Approved by Bishop(s)
– Esp. Douay-Rheims
Vatican I (1869-70) – Dei Filius
 SCRIPTURE
& REASON are COMPATIBLE:
– Vs. Rationalists (reason alone)
– Vs. Fideists (faith alone)
 BOTH/AND
Approach!
– Heads & Tails
– Science & Religion
– Creation & Evolution
– Etc.
Vatican II (1962-65)
 Four
Main “Constitutions”
– Sacrosanctum Concilium:
Const. on the Sacred Liturgy
– Lumen Gentium:
Dogmatic Const. on the Church
– Dei Verbum:
Dogmatic Constitution
on Divine Revelation
– Gaudium et Spes:
Pastoral Const. on the Church in the Modern World
Vat II: Dei Verbum – very short!
GS: Church in Mod. World (24,076)
DV: Dogm. Divine Revelation (3,420)
LG: Dogm. Church (17,489+912)
PC: Religious Life (3406)
AG: Mission Activity (9961)
DH: Religious Freedom (3307)
SC: Sacred Liturgy (8,066+182)
OT: Priestly Training (3118)
PO: Ministry & Life of Priests (8112)
OE: East. Rite Churches (1911+912)
AA: Apostolate of the Laity (7254)
GE: Christian Education (2735)
CD: Past. Office of Bishops (6216)
IM: Social Communications (2312)
UR: Ecumenism (4932+897)
NA: Non-Christian Religions (1217)
Dei Verbum = “Word of God” (Vatican II, 1965)
Preface (§1)
1) Revelation Itself (§§2-6)
2) Transmission of Divine Revelation (§§7-10)
3) Sacred Scripture, Its Divine Inspiration
and Interpretation (§§11-13)
4) The Old Testament (§§14-16)
5) The New Testament (§§17-20)
6) Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church (§§21-26)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Dei Verbum
The Profession of Faith: "I Believe" - "We Believe"
"Dogmatic Constitution
on Divine Revelation"
(Second Vatican Council - Nov. 18, 1965)
Chapters:
Preface (§1)
1)
Revelation Itself (§§2-6)
2)
The Transmission of Divine
Revelation (§§7-10)
3)
Sacred Scripture, Its Divine
Inspiration and Interpretation
(§§11-13)
4)
The Old Testament (§§14-16)
5)
The New Testament (§§17-20)
6)
Sacred Scripture in the Life
of the Church (§§21-26)
(Part One, Section One, Chapter Two - §§ 51-141)
Article 1: The Revelation of God (§§ 51-73)
1.
2.
3.
God Reveals His "Plan of Loving Goodness"
The Stages of Revelation
Christ Jesus - "Mediator and Fullness of All Revelation"
Article 2: The Transmission of Divine Revelation
(§§ 74-100)
Apostolic Tradition
2. The Relationship between Tradition & Sacred Scripture
3. The Interpretation of the Heritage of Faith
Article 3: Sacred Scripture (§§ 101-141)
1. Christ - The Unique Word of Sacred Scripture
2. Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture
3. The Holy Spirit, Interpreter of Scripture
4. The Canon of Scripture
5. Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church
1.
FJ
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 1, Par. 2-6
“Revelation Itself”

God reveals HIMSELF to us, in deeds & words

Four Main Stages of GOD’s SELF-Revelation:
1) God’s Revelation through all of Creation
2) God’s Revelation to / through the Human Race
3) God’s Revelation to / through the Chosen People
4) God’s Revelation in / through Jesus of Nazareth
 Obedience of Faith  Understand Truth  Salvation
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 2, Par. 7-10
“Transmission of Divine Revelation”
 Stages
in the TRANSMISSION of God’s Self-Revelation:
1) Historical Events (Jesus’ words & deeds)
2) Oral Traditions (apostles preach, hand on; Lat. traditio)
3) Written Accounts (scriptures composed; Lat. scriptus)
4) Biblical Collections gradually canonized, interpreted,
translated, taught, preached, applied…
 Unity
of Tradition & Scripture & Magisterium
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 3
“Sacred Scripture…”

Sacred = holy, dedicated, “set apart”
– “Inspired” by God; religious purpose: goal of salvation

Scripture = “writings” (esp. religious)
– Broader term than “Bible” (for Jews & Christians)
– Other religions have other “scriptures”

Sacred Scripture = foundational religious documents
– Hebrew Bible = Tanak, Old Testament
– Christian Bible = OT + NT
Scripture < Tradition < Revelation
 Not
separate or opposed to each other
Revelation  Tradition  Scripture
 Bible
contains Rev., but not all Rev. is in the Bible !
– Bible is “core” revelation; so no conflicts with other revs.
– We don’t need more “public” revs. (but “private” revs. OK)
 What
is the “Word of God” ?
– Not just the Bible, but primarily Jesus himself !
 Community
(Church) preceded Scriptures (Bible)
Revelation
Tradition
Scripture
Scripture
Alone?
Scripture
and
Tradition?
Tradition
and
Scripture
Scripture vs. Tradition?
 Not
really separate or next to each other:
– Scripture on one side?
– Tradition on the other?
 Rather,
–
–
–
–
Scripture is a part of Tradition:
“Tradition” existed before the Bible was written
“Tradition” continued after the Bible was written
The Bible is an important “Core” of Tradition
Scripture & Tradition interact with each other
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 3,
Par. 11-13
Biblical “Inspiration”
 Application
of “BOTH / AND” Approach:
– Bible is both “Word of God” and written in human language
– God is the author and human writers were “true authors”
 Implications
of “Human” Language:
– Limitations of all language; difficulties of translations
– Note literary forms; characteristic modes of expression
 “Inspired
by the Holy Spirit”
(not mere dictation)
– Purpose: Truth for the sake of our salvation
– Inspiration at multiple historical stages
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 4, Par. 14-16
“The Old Testament”

14: For Salvation of ALL, God chose a special people
–
–
–
–

Covenant with Abraham
Covenant, thru Moses, with people of Israel
God speaks thru Prophets
OT remains permanently valuable
15: Purpose of OT: to prepare for the coming of Christ
– OT books “contain some things which are incomplete and temporary”
– Divine Pedagogy: sense of God, teachings, wisdom, prayers, mystery

16: God is inspirer and author of BOTH Testaments
– NT is hidden in the OT; OT is made manifest in the NT
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 5, Par. 17-20
“The New Testament”

17: Word of God = Word made Flesh
– Jesus’ words and deeds; death, resurrection, ascension, Holy Spirit

18: Within Bible, the Gospels have a special preeminence
– Four Gospels are of “apostolic origin”
– Four-fold Gospel (sg.!), according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

19: Historical Character of the Gospels
– Gospels “faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ… really did and taught”
– After Ascension, Apostles gain “clearer understanding”
– Evangelist’s Role: select, reduce, explain, preserve

20: NT Canon: Epistles of Paul & other Apostolic Writings
– Christ’s teachings are confirmed, more fully stated, preached, etc.
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 6, Par. 21-26
“Scripture in the Life of the Church”
 21:
Church venerates Scriptures just as she venerates
the Lord’s body (!); she receives & offers “bread of life
from the table both of God’s word & of Christ’s body”
 22: Provide “easy access” thru translations:
Greek LXX; Latin Vulgate; modern langs.
 23: Deeper understanding; study; exegesis
 24: Scripture is foundation for all theology,
preaching, catechesis, etc.
 25-26: All Christians must read, study, & pray scripture!
Dei Verbum (Vatican II) – Chap. 6, Par. 21-26
“Scripture in the Life of the Church”
 Communal
/ Liturgical:
– Esp. Eucharist; other sacraments, “Liturgy of the Hours”
– Preaching, Theology, Religious Ed, Group Prayer
 Lectionary
for Mass: Three-year Sunday cycle:
– A: Matthew; B: Mark; C: Luke; ? John ?
 Individual:
– Study, Reading, Prayer, Meditation
– Lectio Divina
DEI VERBUM: Summary / Review
1) GOD’s Self-REVELATION (in many ways)
2) TRADITION: Transmission of Divine Revelation
3) SCRIPTURE, Inspiration, Interpretation
4) The Old Testament
5) The New Testament
6) Scripture in the Life of the Church
Biblical References: Caution!

Book Names &
Abbreviations







Ex vs. Ez vs. Ezr
Hb vs. Heb
Jon vs. Jn
Phil vs. Phlm
Ti vs. Tim
Jn 1 vs. 1 Jn
1 Cor vs. Cor 1 ?

Chapter & Verse
Numbers







John 9:12
John 9, 12
John 9:1, 12
John 9:1-12
John 9:1; 12:36
John 9:1-12, 36
John 9:1—12:36
Official Catholic Documents
on Biblical Interpretation:
PBC: “The Interpretation
of the Bible in the Church”
Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
http://catholic-resources.org
“The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”
Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1993
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Preface
Introduction
I. Methods and Approaches for Interpretation
II. Hermeneutical Questions
III. Characteristics of Catholic Interpretation
IV. Interpretation of the Bible in the Life of the Church
Conclusion
“The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”
PBC, 1993
Part I – “Methods and Approaches for Interpretation”
A) The Historical-Critical Method
B) New Methods for Literary Analysis
C) Approaches Based on Tradition
D) Approaches That Use Human Sciences
E) Contextual Approaches
F) Fundamentalist Approach
Methods of Exegesis (in PBC-IBC)
A) The Historical-Critical Method
• Composition Historical Questions
• Traditional Literary Criticism
• Comparison of Translations
• Textual Criticism
• Source Criticism
• Form Criticism
• Redaction Criticism
• Socio-Historical Criticism
Methods of Exegesis (in PBC-IBC)
B) New Methods of Literary Analysis
• Rhetorical Analysis
• Narrative Analysis
• Semiotic Analysis
C) Approaches Based on Tradition
• Canonical Approach
• Using Jewish Interpretative Traditions
• History of Interpretation (Wirkungsgeschichte)
Methods of Exegesis (in PBC-IBC)
D) Approaches Using the Human Sciences
• Sociological Approach
• Cultural Anthropology Approach
• Psychological/Psychoanalytical Apps.
E) Contextual Approaches
• Liberationist Approach
• Feminist Approach
Methods of Exegesis
• Question:
– Which of these Methods is the “Catholic” Approach?
• Answer:
– All of them, but none of them exclusively
– Each approach has advantages & benefits
– Each approach has drawbacks, esp. if used in isolation
• One Exception:
– The Fundamentalist Approach: But WHY?
F) Critique of Fundamentalism
• It’s not really an “exegetical method”
– but basically the rejection of any historical-critical exegesis
• Critique in PBC’s “Interp. of the Bible in the Church”
– surprisingly strong language: “intellectual suicide”
• Other critiques by U.S. Bishops
– USCCB, 1987
– Mississippi & Alabama, 1989
– For texts, see http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/
Response to Fundamentalism
• Useless to argue about specific texts
– Fundamentalism has lots of seemingly easy answers
• Rather, address the foundational principles:
– Both/and approach, vs. fundamentalism’s one-sidedness
– Acceptance of mystery, ambiguity, complexity
– Basis in faith / trust in God (vs. desire for absolute “proof”)
• Or else, agree to disagree, but with mutual respect
Questions? Discussion?
• Reminder / Caution:
– Not: Catholic vs. Protestant!
– But: Historical-Critical Study vs. Fundamentalism!
• Questions from Participants?
– Your experiences with Fundamentalists?
• For more information:
– Ronald D. Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism: What Every
Catholic Should Know (Liturgical Press, 2001).
– Also available in Spanish: Fundamentalismo Biblico
Biblical Interpretation:
Fundamentalism vs.
Scientific / Historical / Catholic
Approaches to the Bible
Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Institute for Spirituality – Orange, CA
http://catholic-resources.org
Fundamentalist Biblical Interpretation
• Sola Scriptura – Bible is the sole authority
–
–
–
–
–
Bible contains all we need for life
Bible plainly says what it means, and means what it says
Bible is inerrant: it contains no errors of any kind
Bible authority remains valid for all time, for all people
Bible prophecy is intended primarily for our own time
• Critique: Is “sola scriptura” a biblical doctrine?
– Where in the Bible itself does it say that all life, all religion,
everything should be based only on the Bible?
Fundamentalism vs. Catholicism:
Ronald D. Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism (p. 47)
Fundamentalist Perspective:
The Bible is the Word of God
Scripture alone
Catholic Perspective:
The Bible is God’s Word in
human words
Scripture and Tradition
Emphasis on literalist reading
of the Bible
Tends to view inspiration
narrowly
Emphasis on literal (not literalist)
reading and deeper meanings
Tends to take a broad view of
inspiration
Fundamentalism vs. Catholicism:
Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism (p. 47) – cont.
Fundamentalist Perspective:
Inerrancy of the Bible in all
matters
Lack of historical perspective in
interpretation
Frequent interpretations out of
context
Direct & immediate applicability
of most biblical passages
Catholic Perspective:
No errors in the Bible only on
matters of faith & morals
Historical perspective is
essential for interpretation
Need interpretations in context,
esp. the context of the canon
Mostly indirect applicability of
biblical passages
Fundamentalism vs. Catholicism:
Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism (p. 47) – cont.
Fundamentalist Perspective:
Denies role of the Church in
canonization of Scripture
Tends to ignore history of
interpretation
Narrow & precise prophetic
eschatology, linked to a timeline
Rejects scientific historicalcritical methods of interpretation
Catholic Perspective:
Recognizes role of Church in
canonization process
History of interpretation is
essential
Broad & imprecise eschatology
not linked to a specific timeline
Accepts scientific historicalcritical methods of interpretation
(among others)
Caution: -isms vs. -ists
• Fundamental-ISM is not compatible with Catholicism
– Fundamentalism uses the Sola/Only/One-Sided Approach
– Catholicism stresses the Both/And Approach
• BUT: Fundamental-ISTS can still be good people!
– Not all Fundamentalists adopt strict Fundamentalism
– Just like not all Catholics embody Catholicism 100%
– Some Fundamentalists are quite “reasonable”
Responding to Fundamentalists
Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism (pp. 65-73)
• Some suggested DO’s and DON’Ts
• First the DO’s
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
DO educate yourself on the Bible
DO always read the Bible in context
DO recognize the limitations of talking with fundamentalists
DO capitalize on the Catholic tradition
DO encourage good preaching from the Bible
DO promote a good community spirit in your parish
DO become comfortable with expressing your faith in
personal terms
Responding to Fundamentalists
Witherup, Biblical Fundamentalism (pp. 65-73)
• DON’Ts
1. DO NOT succumb to the temptation to make apologetics the
answer (i.e., not the main or only response)
2. DO NOT make your interpretation THE interpretation
(i.e., not the one and only interpretation)
3. DO NOT ridicule fundamentalism
4. DO NOT take fundamentalism lightly
5. DO NOT give up hope
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