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SHOULD EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE BE TAKEN LITERALLY?

Although the Bible is the book of God’s truth, this does not mean that everything in the Bible is literally true. Some groups teach that the words of the Bible should be taken at their face value; I doing so, they misinterpret the meaning of many passages. On the other hand, the Catholic Church teaches that it is important to consider a number of things when trying to understand the Bible.The first thing we need to keep in mind is the intention of the writer. What was he trying to say about God or about the community to whom he was writing? What were their customs? What did the words written mean to them at that time in history? After we understand what the writer was trying to say, then we are in a position to apply these words to our own lives.

Another thing to keep in mind is the many types of writings found in the Bible. The Bible contains poems, prayers, wise sayings or proverbs, accounts of Jewish and Christian history, letters or epistles, parables or stories, prophecies, gospels, and apocalypses or visions of the end of times. Each of these types of writing expresses truth, but in a different way, and it would be wrong to take some of them literally. For example, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, "If your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away." Certainly, He is not encouraging us to abuse our bodies, but to discipline our passions. In doing so, Jesus is using an exaggerated manner of speaking. We do this ourselves, for instance, when we say "I am starving to death."The Second Vatican Council’s document on Divine Revelation also states that we should consider the content of all of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church if we want to understand the Bible properly. In other words, we should not take a passage out of the context of God’s total revelation. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless." Some Christians claim that Jesus’ statement about the flesh being useless means that He is not really present I the Eucharist. Yet the passages that came before this one, and in many other places in the New Testament, speak of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. Other writings fro the time of the early Church also indicate that the first Christians believed that Jesus was truly present, in a real and mysterious way, when they broke bread and shared the cup of wine with one another. So we see that it is unwise to interpret Scripture and the teachings of the Church.

The Bible is a great and wonderful book which we should all read and study. We should make an effort to understand properly the meaning of the Scriptures, and not simply give passages our own interpretation. To avoid this, many of today’s Bibles include explanations and footnotes to help us learn Bible study groups, lectures, and books about the Bible can also help us to grow in our understanding of Scripture.Catholics should consult with their priests and bishops for guidance to the meaning of the Bible. In this way, the Bible can be a source of unity I the Church, rather than the division which follows when we interpret Scripture contrary to Church teaching.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission