If you ask people what the Bible is, most of them will be able to tell you that the Bible is the Sacred Scripture for the Christian faith. This is true. But if you ask people what Catholics believe about the Bible, you will probably hear a lot of different answers. Many people may not even have an answer. So what do Catholics believe about the Bible? Let’s take a look!
Who Wrote the Bible?
Who wrote the Bible? Was it God? Or was it human beings? The answer for Catholics is a resounding “Yes!” The Bible is the word of God in the words of human beings. God is the primary author of the Bible, so we know that whatever Scripture asserts to be true is in fact true. When we understand it correctly, the Bible will never lead us astray.
The Old and New Testaments
The Bible is divided into two main parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written before Jesus’ life, and the New Testament was written after. There are many different kinds of books in the Old Testament, including history, poetry, and prophecy. The Old Testament contains wisdom and knowledge about God and about ourselves. It also foreshadows and points to Christ. Even though it was written before Jesus came, the Old Testament is important, and Catholics don’t ignore it.
The Gospels (the four books that focus specifically on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) are the heart of the New Testament. The rest of the New Testament is mostly epistles (letters) written by Paul or other Apostles.
The Old and New Testaments are closely related to each other. Catholics read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and see how the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament. The events in the Old Testament are not less valuable even though they are foreshadowings of a later reality. Instead, they are vitally important evidence of God’s loving care for humanity throughout history. Catholics must read New Testament in light of the Old Testament, which prepared God’s people to understand who Jesus was when he came.
St. Augustine once described the unity of the Old and the New Testament this way:
The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.
The Bible is Inspired
God inspired human beings to write the Bible. These men used their own abilities and perspectives to write the books that became part of the Bible. For example, Luke says he did research into the sources of the information he put into the Bible. Luke was also a skilled storyteller, and he tells the life of Christ in a very engaging way. God did not dictate the Gospel word-for-word to Luke. Instead, he allowed Luke to use his own unique talents in writing his Gospel.
Luke is truly the author of the Gospel of Luke, but because he was inspired by God, God is still the primary author. When Catholics say Scripture is inspired, it means that God worked in a very special way in the writing of the Bible. The human authors of the Bible wrote whatever God wanted written, no more and no less. If someone today says that God inspired them to write a book, this is a different use of the word “inspired.”
Interpreting the Bible
Catholics believe that whatever the Bible asserts to be true is actually true. Does this mean that God must have created the world in seven 24-hour days, or that Jesus wants us to cut off body parts if they lead us to sin? No! Not everything stated in Scripture is asserted. The truth the author of Genesis wanted to convey was that God created the world out of love with a plan. When Jesus said that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (Matt 5:30), he was using hyperbole to tell us how important it is that we avoid whatever causes us to sin.
When interpreting the Bible, it is important to understand the authors’ intentions in writing the books. A book like 1 Kings is historical; a book like the Song of Solomon is poetic; a book like Revelation relies heavily on symbolism. Therefore, when interpreting 1 Kings, the Song of Solomon, and Revelation, Catholics use different standards in figuring out what the books are trying to tell us about God and about ourselves.
The Church and the Bible
Because God inspired the Bible, Catholics need to interpret the Bible in the light of the Holy Spirit. At heart, the Bible has one author, so when Catholics interpret the Bible they understand that the Bible will never contradict itself.
The Holy Spirit guides the Church in a special way. He guided the Church in its process of discerning which books belonged in the Bible, and he continues to guide the Church in its interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, Catholics do not interpret the Bible for themselves but rely on the wisdom of the Church in understanding what God is saying through the Scriptures. St. Augustine once said,
I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.
Every Catholic Should Know the Bible
Even though the Church is the primary interpreter of the Bible, every Catholic should make the Bible a part of his or her life. Even for those who cannot read, whether because they are too young or are in a country where literacy is uncommon, the Church proclaims the Bible at every Mass. The Church says that Catholics should read the Bible frequently. Catholics know this is vitally important because, in the words of St. Jerome,
Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Catholics (and others) can see in the Bible God’s love letter to human beings, and his love letter to each person. Catholics should always be grateful for the Bible. this wonderful way not only to know about God, but also to form a deeper relationship with God.
Image: By James Chan – https://pixabay.com/en/bible-rosary-prayer-pray-holy-706658/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41861793