The Catholic way to read the Bible


-by Trent Horn

Rule 1: The Bible’s human authors were not divine stenographers. Everything asserted in Scripture is asserted by the Holy Spirit, but God allowed the human authors of Scripture to incorporate their own words, ideas, and worldviews into the sacred texts.

Rule 2: The Bible’s human authors were not writing scientific textbooks. Scripture does not assert a scientific description of the world, so details in the Bible that utilize “the language of appearances” are not erroneous.

Rule 3: The Bible contains many different literary styles. The Bible contains many different genres, some of which communicate true, historical facts through the use of poetic, nonliteral language.

Rule 4: Check the original language. Some Scripture passages are only difficult because they have been mistranslated. Examining the original language can help us better understand the sacred author’s intended meaning.

Rule 5: The Bible is allowed to be a sole witness to history. Ancient nonbiblical historians could make mistakes or fail to record events. Therefore, it is not necessary to require biblical events to be corroborated by nonbiblical sources.

Rule 6: Read it in context! Sometimes biblical passages only sound bad because they are isolated from their original context. Find the context and you’ll usually find the explanation of the passage.

Rule 7: Consult a reliable commentary. Commentaries provide details or facts not found in Scripture that can help explain Bible difficulties.

Rule 8: Evaluate Scripture against the whole of divine revelation. Interpret Scripture in light of what God has revealed in natural law as well as through His Church in the form of Sacred Tradition and the teaching office of the Magisterium.

Rule 9: Differing descriptions do not equal contradictions. The authors of Scripture may have differed in their descriptions of an event’s details, but not in the essential truths they were asserting about those events.

Rule 10: Incomplete is not inaccurate. Just because the sacred author did not record something another author recorded does not mean his text is in error.

Rule 11: Only the original texts are inspired, not their copies. Errors that came about through the copying process do not fall under the doctrine of inerrancy and can usually be located and corrected with ease.

Rule 12: The burden of proof is on the critic, not the believer. If a critic alleges that Scripture is in error, he has the burden of proving that is the case. If the believer even shows a possible way of resolving the text, then the critic’s objection that there is an intractable contradiction is refuted.

Rule 13: When the Bible talks about God, it does so in a nonliteral way. Because God is so unlike us, Scripture must speak about Him with anthropomorphic language that should not be taken literally.

Rule 14: Just because the Bible records it doesn’t mean God recommends it. The Bible is not an instruction book for how we should live, though sometimes it teaches us life lessons through stories that show us what not to do.

Rule 15: Just because the Bible regulates it doesn’t mean God recommends it. God progressively revealed Himself to mankind over several centuries. During this progression, the authors of Scripture regulated sinful practices in order to help God’s people eventually reject them in the future.

Rule 16: Life is a gift from God and He has complete authority over it. It is not morally impermissible for God to take away the mortal life He freely gave us.

As our discussion draws to a close, I’d like to leave you with one last rule: Give God’s word the benefit of the doubt.

In “Hard Sayings”, we’ve learned that even if we can’t resolve a difficulty at the present moment, it doesn’t mean that the Bible is in error or that it is uninspired. It just means we don’t know how to resolve the difficulty in question. This attitude is seen in early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, who told critics in the second century, “[Since] I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself.”