Question Hannah Education
Catholicism - Bible Interpretation.
Catholics believe the bible is the divinely inspired Word of God? Please discuss?
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Answer Internal Staff
To begin, an assumption is being made that the question refers to Roman Catholicism, the congregants of which are commonly referred to as Catholics.
Roman Catholics consider the bible to be directly inspired by God, according the ex-leader of the Catholic church, Pope Saint John Paul II (1980). The Pope being the head of the Catholic Church is considered its decisive authority, as Catholics believe Popes to be direct successors of St. Peter (Second Vatican Council, 2005), the first anointed head of the faith. Although commonly decisions are made collectively with the Pope and other bodies of religious significance, such as other prominent Bishops.
Inspiration is the key word to emphasise. God according to the Catholic faith, did not dictate nor write the bible (Second Vatican Council, 1965). God accordingly is believed to have inspired human instruments to create the bible and as such, humans are the physical authors.
This has caused issues however with the bibles interpretation. Namely, that both the authors and the readers are fallible and therefore held at the whim of subjective influence (catholiceducation.org, 1996). The Church, although the central pillar of the Catholic Faith, does not provide a concrete interpretation of all the bibles’ passages. Considering the bibles’ importance to Catholics, as its interpretation is supposed to aid in guiding the method in which they live their lives, this is a serious issue. If interpretations of such an important document have the ability to vary so drastically that no consensus can be achieved, then can the group really be considered to be one Faith?
To control the potential for Catholic opinion of the bible to be rampantly variable, the Church provides strict guidelines in which any interpretation must conform, these guidelines are known as Roman Catholic dogma (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, no date).
Unlike fundamentalist Christians who believe that the bible contains all the necessary information for its interpretation within, also known as the sola scriptura doctrine. Catholics believe that the issues with subjective influence can only be dealt with by the divinely inspired word of the Church (Second Vatican Council, 2005).
Essentially, for a subjective person to read the bible in the way God intended, a Catholic needs guidelines inspired by God, which in turn Catholics believe are provided by the Church.
These guidelines were only a fairly recent introduction, that arose given the wants of individuals to discuss the bible themselves. However, to explain this a large amount of history concerning the methods in which the bibles’ teachings were sought would need to be analysed.
Referencescatholiceducation.org (1996) Catholics and the bible. Available at: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/catholics-and-the-bible.html (Accessed: 4 September 2016).
Pope Saint John Paul II (1980) Patres Ecclesiae (2 de enero de 1980). Available at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/es/apost_letters/1980/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_02011980_patres-ecclesiae.html (Accessed: 4 September 2016).
Second Vatican Council (1965) Dei verbum. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html (Accessed: 4 September 2016).
Second Vatican Council (2005) Compendium of the catechism of the Catholic church. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html#MOTU%20PROPRIO (Accessed: 4 September 2016).
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (no date) ‘Second Vatican council | Roman Catholic history [1962-1965]’, in Encyclopædia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Second-Vatican-Council (Accessed: 4 September 2016).