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Bible Facts: Q & A

Return to Scripture / Parables

Bible with Crucifix

Bible Facts: Q & A

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Click Here For Question Summary (By Topic)

Q. What is the Bible?

A. The Bible is the word of God in written form. "[The Holy Bible:] A collection of writings divided into the Old Testament, consisting of 46 books written before the Incarnation of our Lord, and the New Testament, 27 books written since that time. These form the Sacred Scriptures which, says the Council of Trent (session iv), the Church 'receives with piety and reverence...since the one God is the author of each [testament].' " (Catholic Dictionary) Note that these Sacred Books were inspired by the Holy Spirit and collected, attested to, and preserved by the Catholic Church. The word "bible" is derived from the Greek, meaning "books". It has been said that "The Bible has had more influence in human affairs than any other work ever written" (Lafarge)

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Q. Is the word "bible" in the Bible?

A. Like the words "Catholic" and "Trinity", the word "Bible" does not actually appear in the Bible.

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Q. What are some other words for Holy Scripture?

A. The following words may be used as synonyms: Bible, Scripture, Scriptures, Sacred Scriptures, Holy Writ, Holy Scriptures, word of God, Sacred Writings, etc.

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Q. Does the "word of God" always refer to Scripture?

A. No. "Word of God" (capital "W") refers to Christ, whereas "word of God" (small "w") may refer to the Holy Scripture.

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Q. Has God only spoken through Holy Scripture?

A. No. Although the Holy Scripture is the only public, authentic written compilation of God's word, we know that God has also spoken directly to certain persons (e.g. Moses, Abraham). We know that "By the LORD'S word the heavens were made" (Ps. 33:6). Furthermore, it may also be said that "God has spoken" through divine, unwritten tradition.

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Q. Where did the Bible come from?

A. The books of the Bible have been handed down to us by inspired writers and collected, attested to, and preserved by the Church. "After God had granted the gift of inspiration to the sacred writers, He entrusted the Bible to the Church, which His only begotten Son founded, for its safekeeping and authentic interpretation." (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Salutem", 1930 A.D.)

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Q. When was the Bible written?

A. The Bible was written over the course of many years. The Old Testament was written before the coming of Christ. The New Testament was written in the first century A.D. It is estimated that the first word of New Testament Scripture was not authored until around 1-2 decades after Jesus' death and that the last word (in the Apocalypse) was written around 100 A.D. It was not until the fourth century that the Catholic Church officially determined the list of inspired books of the Bible and formally placed all inspired books under one cover.

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Q. When was the Old Testament written?

A. The Old Testament was written over the course of many years, before the coming of Christ.

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Q. When was the New Testament written?

The New Testament was written in the first century A.D. It is estimated that the first word of New Testament Scripture was not authored until around 1-2 decades after Jesus' death and that the last word (in the Apocalypse) was written around 100 A.D.

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Q. Who were Old Testament writings directed at?

A. Old Testament writings were primarily directed at the ancient Jews. However, they may be said to be addressed to all persons, since they were ultimately written with a view to Christ's future Church.

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Q. Who was the New Testament written for?

A. The books of the New Testament were written for Christ's Church, the Catholic Church, which already existed for years before a single word of the New Testament was ever written.

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Q. What has been called the "purpose of the Bible"?

A. It has been said that the purpose of Bible is "to lead all persons to Christ and into His Church, the Holy Catholic Church."

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Q. What is the "fulfillment and end of Scripture"?

A. "The fulfillment and end of Scripture is the love of God and our neighbor.. Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this two-fold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church) As Kempis states, "If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it all profit thee without the love of God and His grace?"

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Q. Is the purpose of the Bible to comfort you or make you "feel good"?

A. No. The Bible does not exist to comfort people or make people "feel" any certain way. Remember that the Bible is concerned with expressing truths, not feelings. As indicated above, it has been said that the purpose of Bible is "to lead all persons to Christ and into His Church, the Holy Catholic Church." Note, however, that this does not mean that the Bible cannot be comforting or make one "feel good", but that this is not the purpose of Holy Scripture.

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Q. Who is the author of Holy Scripture?

A. All Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Although human authors, chosen by God, actually wrote the words, it may be said that God is the principal author and the human authors were the "living instruments" used by God. As St. Justin said, "The authors of the sacred books wrote what God inspired them to do and they chose the manner of expression, that is the style or form of expressing the thoughts."

Note: For 'Authorship of Scripture' Reflections, click here.

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Q. What does "Inspiration" of Holy Scripture refer to?

"Inspiration is a direct divine charismatic influence on the mind, will and executive faculties of the human writer which he mentally conceives, freely wills to write, and actually writes correctly all that God intends him to write and nothing else, so that God is truly author of the book produced. This divine influence does not demand awareness in its recipient and is of necessity hidden from other persons. It is only known through divine revelation given to the Church, which is the sole guarantor of the fact. It carries with it absolute absence of error, God's infinite veracity being incompatible with error of any kind. This does not necessarily involve revelation or the bestowal of truths hitherto unknown, therefore facts of natural science and history can be expressed subject to the limitations of human knowledge, so long as such expression excludes all statement of error. Inspiration does not vary in degree; it is equal in all books and in all parts thereof, and it guarantees absolute inerrancy and divine authorship throughout. As inspiration is no mechanical force, but acts through the mind and will of the human writer in a human way, the human author's style, diction and mental outlook naturally remain in the book produced, though God is the author of all that is written and man only the instrument of his hand." (Catholic Dictionary)

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Q. Is the authorship of all Biblical books certain?

A. The authorship of some books of the Bible may be uncertain with regard to their human authors, but all books of the Bible are certainly authored by the Holy Spirit.

Note: Click here for 'Authorship of Scripture' Reflections

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Q. Was any of the Bible written by Jesus?

A. Not a single word of the Bible was written by Jesus. After His death, however, the Evangelists (the Gospel writers) documented Jesus' words in the Gospels.

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Q. How much of the Bible was written by the original twelve Apostles?

A. A relatively small portion of New Testament Scripture was written by the original twelve Apostles (i.e. two gospels, a few epistles, and the Apocalypse). Remember that the Apostles were commissioned by Jesus to preach, not to write Scripture.

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Q. Was any part of the Bible written by women?

A. Although several books of the Bible are named after women, it is not known that any books of the Bible were written by women.

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Q. Who determined which books were part of Scripture?

A. As has been pointed out by apologists, there is no "inspired table of contents", therefore it was up to the Church to determine which books were truly inspired. Remember that in the beginning of the Church there were numerous spurious writings that some considered as Scripture (cf. 2 Thes. 2:2). Therefore, it was necessary that the Catholic Church use her divine authority to settle the matter once and for all. She did this for the first time in the fourth century, formally enumerating the list of inspired books. Despite the arguings of non-Catholics, her list of inspired books has remained unchanged for 16 centuries.

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Q. How were the books of the Bible determined?

A. The 'canon' of the Bible (list of inspired books) was determined solely by the authority of the Catholic Church.

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Q. Is it true that there would be no Bible without the Catholic Church?

A. Yes, it is true that there would be no New Testament if not for the Catholic Church who received, determined, and preserved Holy Scripture.

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Q. How was the Bible preserved?

A. The Bible was preserved by the painstaking efforts of the Catholic Church. Remember that the early Church suffered much persecution and that today's materials and tools were unavailable. Instead, her members (e.g. monks) laboriously hand copied the Bible in order to preserve and propagate it.

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Q. What language was the Bible originally written in?

A. The books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The Old Testament was mostly written in Hebrew and the New Testament was mostly written in Greek.

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Q. Was the Catholic Church the first to translate the Bible into the native language of the people?

A. Yes. The Catholic Church translated the Bible into many languages before heretics appeared on the scene accusing her of "keeping the Bible from people". 

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Q. In what languages are Bible translations available today?

A. Bible translations may appear today in just about any language. 

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Q. What are the two main parts of the Bible?

A. The two main parts of the bible are the Old Testament (written before Jesus' Incarnation) and the New Testament (written after Jesus' death).

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Q. Besides the New and Old Testaments, is anything else comparable to Holy Scripture?

A. No. No other items, even papal pronouncements are comparable to Holy Scripture, which has God as its principal author.

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Q. What is taught in the Bible?

A. The Bible contains various teachings regarding proper morals and behavior. It teaches us about God and His love for us. It instructs us regarding what is necessary for salvation. It contains prophecies, prayers, commandments, instructions, historical information, etc. It covers the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. Note: For more specific information, refer to an appropriate Catholic bible, Catholic bible index, Catholic bible dictionary, Catholic bible commentary, etc. You may also consider the various resources on this site (click here).

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Q. Do any original manuscripts of the Bible still exist?

A. No. No original manuscripts of the Bible exist. Remember that the ancient writings were written on perishable material and that the early Church suffered much persecution.

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Q. Were the titles/headers, footnotes, and numbering part of the original Bible?

A. No. The titles/headers, footnotes, and numbering were added later.

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Q. Are the titles/headers, footnotes, and numbering inspired / infallible?

A. No.

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Q. Who is responsible for the chapter divisions and numbering of the Bible?

A. The Chapter divisions of the Bible are attributed to a thirteenth century Catholic, Stephen Langton, a professor at University of Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury. The numbering of Bible verses is attributed to a Catholic friar, Santes Pagnini.

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Q. What is the "canon" of Scripture?

A. "[The Canon is the] list of inspired books of the Old and New Testaments." (Catholic Dictionary) It is the list of books that the Church, by her own authority, has declared to be inspired by God.

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Q. What does it mean that a book is 'canonical'?

A. If a book is 'canonical', it means it is part of the canon of the Bible (e.g. it is an inspired book, it is part of Holy Scripture).

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Q. What are deuterocanonical books?

A. Deuterocanonical books are "Those books of the O.T. whose place in the canon was not admitted till after that of the other books. They are Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Machabees, ver. 4 of chap. x to the end of Esther, and Daniel, ver. 24 of chap. iii to ver. 3 of chap. iv and chaps. xiii and xiv. Their authority is equal with that of the other books of the Bible" (Catholic Dictionary). It should be noted the canon of the Old Testament was not fully settled by the Jews before Jesus' Incarnation. While some Jews accepted the deuterocanoncial books as inspired, other Jews did not. After Jesus' death, Jews rejected these books. Therefore, those who reject the deuterocanonical books (e.g. typically Protestants) actually use a canon of Scripture devised by Jews who reject Christ. It should be noted that Jesus and the Apostles accepted the deuterocanonical books since they quoted from a translation of Scripture that contained these books (see "Septuagint" below).

Also note that there are so called 'deuterocanonical' books of the New Testament, simply meaning books that were accepted as inspired at a later time [e.g. various epistles (Hebrews, James, John, Jude, Peter) and the Apocalypse].

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Q. How do you know that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament should be included in the Bible?

A. We know that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament should be included in the Bible (1) because they were determined to be inspired by the authority of the Church, and (2) because we know that Jesus and the Apostles accepted the deuterocanonical books [they quoted from a translation of Scripture that contained these books (see "Septuagint" below) - therefore Scripture itself validates these books].

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Q. Is it true that the deuterocanonical books were added to scripture by the Council of Trent?

A. No. This is an error propagated by Protestants. It is easily disproved by pointing to the Church's official lists of inspired books of the Bible dating back from the fourth century A.D. The Council of Trent did list the deuterocanonical books, however, it was merely affirming / confirming the same list that the Catholic Church established in fourth century (and had maintained since then). Unbiased research should prove beyond doubt that the Catholic Church accepted these books from the beginning (when she first listed the books which comprise Scripture). In fact, she is known to have enumerated all of the books of the Bible - including the deuterocanonical books - as early as 382 A.D. [see the "Decree of (Pope St) Damasus" from the acts of the Roman Synod, 382 A.D.] and has done so consistently since then. 

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Q. How do you know which books comprise Holy Scripture?

A. The only way to know which books comprise Holy Scripture is by trusting in the authority of the Catholic Church. All those who reject the Church but accept her list of inspired books are acting in contradiction to their own principles. Note: Click here for more on this topic [Non-Catholics Section/Apologetics].

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Q. How many books of the Bible are there?

A. The Bible contains 73 books (46 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament).

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Q. What books make up the Bible?

A. Click here for a list of Books of the Bible

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Q. Did everyone always know which books belong to the Bible?

A. No. Prior to the Catholic Church's formal determination in the fourth century, it was impossible to know for certain which books made up the Bible.

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Q. How do I know the books of the Bible are truly inspired?

A. The only way to know that the books of the Bible are truly inspired is by trusting in the authority of the Catholic Church.

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Q. What does "Apocrypha" refer to?

A. Apocrypha are "Books erroneously held to be inspired and to be included in the canon of Scripture, but rejected as such by the Church" (Catholic Dictionary). Before the Church settled the matter of the Canon of Scripture, various apocryphal books existed. Protestants wrongly use this term to describe the deuterocanonical books of the Bible.

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Q. What are "missing books" referred to in the Bible?

A. References to "missing books" may refer to those writings that Scripture refers to which are not contained anywhere in the Bible. For example, 1 Chron. 29:29 refers to the "deeds of King David... [which] can be found written in the history of Samuel the seer, the history of Nathan the prophet, and the history of Gad the seer". There are a number of such references to "missing books" in the Old Testament.

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Q. What is the relation of the Old Testament to the New Testament?

A. "God provided the Old Testament in the first place for the instruction of the Jewish church which, precisely because Christ had not yet come, was not fit or able to receive the full content of God's revelation for the faith and conduct of man." (Catholic Dictionary) Note that the Old Testament is considered to be a "preparation of Christianity" (or a "foreshadowing of the New Testament") and it prepared the way for the Gospel. The New Testament shows the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent states, "As to the Prophets, how many there were who foretold Christ's Passion and death is too well known to require development here. Not to speak of David, whose Psalms embrace all the principal mysteries of Redemption, the oracles of Isaias in particular are so clear and graphic that he might be said rather to have recorded a past than predicted a future event." As St. Bede states, "[A]ll the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a constant prophecy of Christ." (St. Bede the Venerable, Doctor of the Church). As the Second Vatican Council states, "The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12)."

Note: Also see 'Old / New Testament' Reflections

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Q. Is the Old Testament no longer relevant?

A. While various Old Testament practices are no longer binding under the New Covenant, this does not mean the Old Testament is no longer relevant. Not only must one be familiar with Old Testament events and promises to understand the New Testament, but the Old Testament also has much instruction for living a good Christian life. Furthermore, the Old Testament may be considered a precious "first stage" in God's revelation to man. Once again, the Second Vatican Council states, "Now the books of the Old Testament, in accordance with the state of mankind before the time of salvation established by Christ, reveal to all men the knowledge of God and of man and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with men. These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. These same books, then, give expression to a lively sense of God, contain a store of sublime teachings about God, sound wisdom about human life, and a wonderful treasury of prayers, and in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way. Christians should receive them with reverence."

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Q. Do the Old and New Testaments have the same Author?

A. Although different human authors were used for various books of the Bible, all books of the Bible have the same principal author, the Holy Spirit. The continuity of teachings in Scripture helps to prove that Holy Scripture - both Old and New Testaments - were authored by God. As St. Irenaeus stated, "Inasmuch as in the Law and in the Gospel the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God whole-heartedly, and then there is another like it, to love one's neighbor as oneself, it is shown that the Law and the Gospel have one and the same Author. The precepts of the perfect life, since they are the same in both Testaments, point out the same God, who certainly has prescribed particular precepts adapted to each, while for the more prominent and greatest commandments, without which it is not possible to be saved, He recommends the same in both." (St. Irenaeus, 2nd century A.D.)

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Q. Is the Old Testament harsh?

A. While parts of the Old Testament may seem harsh, one should remember that various Old Testament precepts may have actually prevented even harsher penalties that the people of that time would have inflicted. Also, the people showed time and again that they were 'stiff-necked' (cf. Deut. 9:13) and therefore provoked severity of treatment. Further, remember that God's plan wasn't fully revealed at that time and that the people had to be prepared for it over time.

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Q. How is the Old Testament divided?

A. The Old Testament may be divided as follows: The Pentateuch (The Law), the Historical Books, the Wisdom Books (Didactic / Poetical / Doctrinal Books), and the Prophetic Books (Greater & Lesser).

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Q. What is the Torah?

A. The Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). It may also be called the Pentateuch or "The Law".

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Q. What is the Pentateuch?

A. The Pentateuch refers to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). It may also be called the Torah or "The Law".

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Q. What is the Decalogue?

A. The Decalogue refers to the 10 Commandments issued by God and recorded in the Bible (see Ex. 20:1-17, Deut. 5:6-21).

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Q. Is the Talmud the same as the Torah?

A. No The Talmud dates after Christ's death and contains blasphemous statements about Christ and Our Blessed Mother Mary.

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Q. What are the Wisdom Books?

A. The Wisdom Books are: The Book of Job, The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (The Book of Ecclesiastes), Canticle of Canticles (The Song of Songs), The Book of Wisdom, and The Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach).

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Q. What are the Psalms?

A. The Psalms may be referred to as "a catechesis of prayer". They appear in the Old Testament and are traditionally counted at 150. The book of psalms (or the Psalter) is sometimes collected into five books. The subject matter of the psalms varies and includes pleas for God's assistance, laments, thanksgiving, praise, expressions of trust, and other items. Many of the psalms are attributed to King David, while the rest are attributed other writers (all under the influence of the Holy Spirit). As Pope Pius XII states, "The Psalms recall to mind the truths revealed by God to the chosen people, which were at one time frightening and at another filled with wonderful tenderness; they keep repeating and fostering the hope of the promised Liberator which in ancient times was kept alive with song, either around the hearth or in the stately temple; they show forth in splendid light the prophesied glory of Jesus Christ: first, His supreme and eternal power, then His lowly coming to this terrestrial exile, His kingly dignity and priestly power and, finally, His beneficent labors, and the shedding of His blood for our redemption. In a similar way they express the joy, the bitterness, the hope and fear of our hearts and our desire of loving God and hoping in Him alone, and our mystic ascent to divine tabernacles. 'The psalm is...a blessing for the people, it is the praise of God, the tribute of the nation, the common language and acclamation of all, it is the voice of the Church, the harmonious confession of faith, signifying deep attachment to authority; it is the joy of freedom, the expression of happiness, an echo of bliss.'" (Pope Pius XII, "Mediator Dei", 1947) Note that Latin names for the Psalms may be taken from the first few words of the Psalms in Latin. For information on the Psalms, click here.

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Q. Who are the Major and Minor prophets of the Old Testament?

A. The "Major" Prophets are: Isaias (Isaiah), Jeremias (Jeremiah), Lamentations/Jeremias, Baruch, Ezechiel (Ezekiel), Daniel. The "Minor" Prophets are: Osee (Hosea), Joel, Amos, Abdias (Obadiah), Jonas (Jonah), Micheas (Micah), Nahum, Habacuc (Habakkuk), Sophonias (Zephaniah), Aggeus (Haggai), Zacharias (Zechariah), Malachias (Malachi)

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Q. How is the New Testament divided?

A. The New Testament may be divided as follows: Historical Books (4 Gospels, Acts of the Apostles), Epistles [Fourteen Epistles of St. Paul (Pauline Epistles, The New Testament Epistles), Seven Catholic (General, Universal) Epistles], Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John.

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Q. What does "gospel" mean? What is a "Gospel"?

A. "The word 'Evangelium' (Gospel), is rendered in Latin 'bonus nuntius,' or 'bona annuntiatio' (good news). It may indeed be used on all occasions whenever any good is announced; but it has come to be appropriated to the announcement of the Savior." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church) A "Gospel" with regard to the Bible is an inspired book. "The life and teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded by the Evangelists, and the books wherein it is set down, namely the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." (Catholic Dictionary)

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Q. Do the Gospels all teach the same things?

A. As St. Bede the Venerable has stated, "But though there were four Evangelists, yet what they wrote is not so much four Gospels, as one true harmony of four books. For as two verses having the same substance, [but use] different words and different meter, yet contain one and the same matter, so the books of the Evangelists, though four in number, yet contain one Gospel, teaching one doctrine of the Catholic faith." (St. Bede the Venerable, Doctor of the Church)

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Q. What are Synoptic Gospels?

A. Synoptic Gospels refer to the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark and Luke. These Gospels cover the life of Jesus and tend to parallel each other.

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Q. Who does "Evangelist" refer to?

A. "One of the authors of a canonical gospel, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John." (Catholic Dictionary)

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Q. What is the protoevangelium?

A. The protoevangelium is the "first gospel", or first annunciation of our Savior. It occurred in Genesis (see Gen. 3:15).

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Q. What are the Epistles?

A. The Epistles are "One of the twenty one books of the New Testament written as, or in the form of, letters to individuals or [Catholic] churches. Those of St. Paul (fourteen) are called by the name of the group or person to whom they were addressed; the others, by the name of the writer. These last are called Catholic or General Epistles because they were intended for the Church at large, though in fact 2 and 3 John are addressed to individuals. The Pastoral Epistles are those to Timothy and Titus in which they are instructed in the duties of the Episcopal office." (Catholic Dictionary)

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Q. How are the Epistles named?

A. St. Paul's Epistles are named after the person or group of people to whom they were addressed. The other epistles are named after their authors.

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Q. Does the Bible give a complete history of Jesus' life on earth and His teachings?

A. No. They contain only a taste of Jesus' actions and teachings. As St. Theophylact has stated, "Now the Evangelists are silent as to the greater part of Christ's teaching; for whereas He preached for the space nearly of three years, all the teaching which they have written down would scarcely, one might say, suffice for the discourse of a single day. For out of a great many things extracting a few, they have given only a taste as it were of the sweetness of His teaching."

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Q. Is the Didache part of the Bible?

A. No. The Didache (or "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles") is not an inspired book and is therefore not part of the Bible. It is, however, important in understanding more about the early Church.

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Q. What is the Septuagint?

A. "[The Septuagint:] (Lat. Septuaginta, seventy). The first Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), made at Alexandria in the 3rd century B.C., traditionally by 70 translators. New Testament quotations from the O.T. are mostly taken from it and not from the Hebrew. It is often referred to as the LXX." (Catholic Dictionary) It includes the deuterocanonical books.

Note: Click here for Bible apologetics (Non-Catholics Section)

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Q. What is the "Vulgate"?

A. "The Latin version of the Bible in common use in the Catholic Church and declared authentic or authoritative by the Council of Trent." (Catholic Dictionary) The Vulgate is the only formally 'canonized' translation of the Bible. The Vulgate was prepared by St. Jerome at the command of Pope Damasus in the fourth century. As Pope Benedict XV has stated, "[St. Jerome's] unceasing reading of the Bible and his painstaking study of each book - nay, of every phrase and word - gave him a knowledge of the text such as no other ecclesiastical writer of old possessed. It is due to this familiarity with the text and to his own acute judgment that the Vulgate version Jerome made is, in the judgment of all capable men, preferable to any other ancient version, since it appears to give us the sense of the original more accurately and with greater elegance than they. The said Vulgate, 'approved by so many centuries of use in the Church' was pronounced by the Council of Trent 'authentic,' and the same Council insisted that it was to be used in teaching and in the liturgy" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.) As the Council of Trent stated, "Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod taking into consideration that no small benefit can accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which one of all the Latin editions of the sacred books which are in circulation is to be considered authentic, has decided and declares that the said old Vulgate edition, which has been approved by the Church itself through long usage for so many centuries in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, be considered authentic, and that no one under any pretext whatsoever dare or presume to reject it." (Council of Trent, 1546 A.D.)

Note: For more 'Vulgate' Reflections, click here.

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Q. What is the Douay Rheims edition?

A. The Douay Rheims is a very popular translation of the Vulgate edition of the Bible into English.

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Q. What is a "red letter bible"?

A. A "red letter bible" highlights Jesus' words in red text. Not only might such a publication be issued Protestants, but there is also the concern that it may make the other words of the Bible (the words not highlighted in red) - all of which were inspired by the Holy Spirit - tend to seem less important.

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Q. What is a concordance?

A. A concordance is "An index to the Bible arranged alphabetically under the principal words used therein, enabling a wanted text or reference to be quickly found. They were invented in the 13th century by the Friars Preachers, friars John of Darlington, Hugh of Croydon and Richard Stavensby being three of the most prominent editors." (Catholic Dictionary)

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Q. What is a doctrinal index?

A. A doctrinal index is a bible index which is arranged by topic. They may appear independently or appear in the front or back of a Bible. 

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Q. Is there more than one type of Catholic Bible?

A. There are various types of Catholic Bibles [e.g. study bibles, heirloom bibles, picture bibles (e.g. for children and the illiterate), etc.)]

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Q. What other biblical tools are available?

A. In addition to the various types of Bibles, there are a number of tools to assist Catholics in reading the bible. For example there are Bible Dictionaries, Bible Encyclopedias, Bible Commentaries, Bible Concordances. There are Bibles on tape (or CD/DVD) and searchable Bibles (e.g. computer software). There are Bible Atlases, Bible tabs, biblical calendars, etc. Important: You should only use Catholic versions.

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Q. Is Holy Scripture free from error?

A. Yes, Holy Scripture is free from error. [Note that this refers to Holy Scripture in general and not to any particular translation of it. Furthermore, it refers to what the writer was intending to convey and not to any interpretation of what was written.] Some relevant quotations appear below.

"Brethren, be contentious and zealous for the things which lead to salvation! You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true and are of the Holy Spirit. You well know that nothing unjust or fraudulent is written in them." (Pope St. Clement of Rome, 1st century A.D.)

"We must neither doubt nor hesitate with respect to the words of the Lord; rather, we must be fully persuaded that every word of God is true and possible, even if our nature should rebel against the idea - for in this lies the test of faith." (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church)

"[I hold Scripture] in such reverence and honor that I do most firmly believe that none of their authors has erred in anything that he has written therein. If I find anything in those writings which seems to be contrary to the truth, I presume that either the codex is inaccurate, or the translator has not followed what was said, or I have not properly understood it" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 406 A.D.)

"St. Jerome's teaching on this point serves to confirm and illustrate what our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, declared to be the ancient and traditional belief of the Church touching the absolute immunity of Scripture from error: So far is it from being the case that error can be compatible with inspiration, that, on the contrary, it not only of its very nature precludes the presence of error, but as necessarily excludes it and forbids it as God, the Supreme Truth, necessarily cannot be the Author of error." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"There can be no falsehood anywhere in the literal sense of Holy Scripture." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures - and...therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

"I think it is dangerous to believe that anything in the Sacred Books is a lie... For if we should admit in that supreme monument of authority even one 'polite' lie, no shred of those books will remain. Whenever anyone finds anything therein that is difficult to practice or hard to believe, he will refer to this most pernicious precedent and explain it as the idea or practice of a lying author." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "Divine inspiration does not so extend to all Sacred Scripture that it fortifies each and every part of it against all error." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "In many narratives the Evangelists related not so much what is true, as what they thought to be more profitable for the reader, although false." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope St. Pius X in "Lamentabili": "The narrations of John are not properly history, but the mystical contemplation of the Gospel; the discourses contained in his Gospel are theological meditations on the mystery of salvation, devoid of historical truth." (Pope St. Pius X, This proposition was condemned in "Lamentabili", 1907 A.D.)

"[W]hen some propose by way of rebuke that the Sacred Authors have strayed away from historical truth, or have not reported events accurately, it is found to be a question of nothing other than the customary natural methods of the ancients in speaking and narrating, which in the mutual intercourse among men were regularly employed, and in fact were employed in accord with a permissible and common practice. Therefore, intellectual honesty requires that when these matters are found in divine speech which is expressed for man in human words, they be not charged more with error than when they are uttered in the daily use of life. By this knowledge and exact appreciation of the modes of speaking and writing in use among the ancients can be solved many difficulties, which are raised against the veracity and historical value of the Divine Scriptures, and no less efficaciously does this study contribute to a fuller and more luminous understanding of the mind of the Sacred Writer." (Pope Pius XII, "Divino afflante Spiritu", 1943 A.D.)

"Yet no one can pretend that certain recent writers really adhere to these limitations. For while conceding that inspiration extends to every phrase - and, indeed, to every single word of Scripture - yet, by endeavoring to distinguish between what they style the primary or religious and the secondary or profane element in the Bible, they claim that the effect of inspiration - namely, absolute truth and immunity from error - are to be restricted to that primary or religious element. Their notion is that only what concerns religion is intended and taught by God in Scripture, and that all the rest - things concerning 'profane [secular] knowledge,' the garments in which Divine truth is presented - God merely permits, and even leaves to the individual author's greater or less knowledge. Small wonder, then, that in their view a considerable number of things occur in the Bible touching physical science, history and the like, which cannot be reconciled with modern progress in science! Some even maintain that these views do not conflict with what our predecessor laid down since - so they claim - he said that the sacred writers spoke in accordance with the external - and thus deceptive - appearance of things in nature. But the Pontiff's own words show that this is a rash and false deduction. For sound philosophy teaches that the senses can never be deceived as regards their own proper and immediate object. Therefore, from the merely external appearance of things - of which, of course, we have always to take account as Leo XIII, following in the footsteps of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, most wisely remarks - we can never conclude that there is any error in Sacred Scripture. Moreover, our predecessor, sweeping aside all such distinctions between what these critics are pleased to call primary and secondary elements, says in no ambiguous fashion that 'those who fancy that when it is a question of the truth of certain expressions we have not got to consider so much what God said as why He said it,' are very far indeed from the truth. He also teaches that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: 'It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.' Those, too, who hold that the historical portions of Scripture do not rest on the absolute truth of the facts but merely upon what they are pleased to term their relative truth, namely, what people then commonly thought, are - no less than are the aforementioned critics - out of harmony with the Church's teaching, which is endorsed by the testimony of [St.] Jerome and other Fathers." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"It can happen, indeed, that transcribers in copying manuscripts do so incorrectly. This is to be considered carefully and is not to be admitted readily, except in those passages where it has been properly demonstrated; it can also happen that the true sense of some passage remains ambiguous; the best rules of interpretation will contribute much toward the solution of this problem; but it would be entirely wrong either to confine inspiration only to some parts of Sacred Scripture, or to concede that the sacred author himself has erred. For the method of those is not to be tolerated, who extricated themselves from these difficulties by readily granting that divine inspiration pertains to matters of faith and morals, and nothing more. The books, all and entire, which the Church accepts as sacred and canonical, with all their parts, have been written at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; so far is it from the possibility of any error being present to divine inspiration, that it itself of itself not only excludes all error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and uniform faith of the Church, defined also by solemn opinion at the Councils of Florence and of Trent, finally confirmed and more expressly declared at the [First] Vatican Council, by which it was absolutely declared: 'The books of the Old and New Testament ... have God as their author'. Therefore, it matters not at all that the Holy Spirit took men as instruments for the writing, as if anything false might have slipped, not indeed from the first Author, but from the inspired writers. For, by supernatural power He so roused and moved them to write, He stood so near them, that they rightly grasped in mind all those things, and those only, which He Himself ordered, and willed faithfully to write them down, and expressed them properly with infallible truth; otherwise, He Himself would not be the author of all Sacred Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. 'Therefore,' says St. Augustine, 'since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated.' And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: 'Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things - we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution.. It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error. And so utterly convinced were all the Fathers and Doctors that the holy works, which were published by the hagiographers, are free of every error, that they were very eager, no less skillfully than reverently, to arrange and reconcile those not infrequent passages which seemed to offer something contrary and at variance (they are almost the very passages which are now thrown up to us under the name of the new science); and they professed unanimously that these books, both in whole and in part, were equally of divine inspiration, and that God Himself, speaking through the sacred authors, could have set down nothing at all at variance with the truth. Let what the same [St.] Augustine wrote to [St.] Jerome sum this up: '... If I shall meet anything in these works which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to believe anything other than that the text is faulty, or that the translator has net expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.' ... For many objections from every kind of teaching have for long been persistently hurled against Scripture, which now, quite dead, have fallen into disuse; likewise, at times not a few interpretations have been placed on certain passages of Scripture (not properly pertinent to the rule of faith and morals) in which a more careful investigation has seen the meaning more accurately. For, surely, time destroys the falsities of opinions, but 'truth remaineth and groweth stronger forever and ever.'" (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893 A.D.)

"When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the 'entire books with all their parts' as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as 'obiter dicta' and - as they contended - in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules... This teaching, which Our Predecessor Leo XIII set forth with such solemnity, We also proclaim with Our authority and We urge all to adhere to it religiously." (Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943 A.D.)

Note: For more 'Inerrancy of Scripture' Reflections, click here.

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Q. Do certain passages in the Bible contradict other passages?

A. As St. Justin has said, "I will not have the effrontery at any time either to suppose or to say such a thing [that the Scriptures contradict each other]. If a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and there be a pretext for regarding it as contradictory, since I am totally convinced that no Scripture is contradictory to another, I shall admit instead that I do not understand what is spoken of, and shall strive to persuade those who assume that the Scriptures are contradictory to be rather of the same opinion as myself." (St. Justin the Martyr, c. 155 A.D.) As Pope Benedict XV has pointed out, "What [the eminent Biblical scholar St. Jerome] has said here of the Gospels he applies in his Commentaries to the rest of the Lord's words; he regards it as the very rule and foundation of Catholic interpretation; indeed, for Jerome, a true prophet was to be distinguished from a false by this very note of truth: 'The Lord's words are true; for Him to say it, means that it is.' Again, 'Scripture cannot lie'; it is wrong to say Scripture lies, nay, it is impious even to admit the very notion of error where the Bible is concerned. 'The Apostles,' he says, 'are one thing; other writers' - that is, profane [secular] writers - 'are another;' 'the former always tell the truth; the latter - as being mere men - sometimes err,' and though many things are said in the Bible which seem incredible, yet they are true; in this 'word of truth' you cannot find things or statements which are contradictory, 'there is nothing discordant nor conflicting'; consequently, 'when Scripture seems to be in conflict with itself both passages are true despite their diversity.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.) Note that those who carefully investigate passages which may appear contradictory, are wont to find that they may be reconciled if interpreted properly. There have been various writings which show how difficult passages may be reconciled.

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Q. Are all parts of the Bible free from error?

A. The inerrancy of the Bible does not extend to any particular translation or to any item which is not part of the original text (e.g. footnotes, titles/headers, referencing, etc.).

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Q. Does an imprimatur guarantee that a particular Bible translation is free from error?

A. No. It simply means that nothing was found to contradict faith or morals. Unfortunately, an imprimatur is only as good as the issuer. Sadly, recent history has shown that imprimaturs may sometimes be attached to translations which contain not only errors, but even items which may be judged heretical by the standard of the perennial Magisterium.

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Q. Is the Bible easy to understand / translate / interpret?

A. The Bible is not easy to understand, translate or interpret. Not only does the Bible contain mysteries above the human intellect, but it also uses various literary forms and must be interpreted according to the proper sense. St. Peter himself, in Holy Scripture, speaks of the difficulty of Scripture: "And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." (St. Peter, 2 Pt. 3:15-16) As even a liberal admits, "Is the Bible a book intelligible to all? Far from it; it is full of obscurities and difficulties not only for the illiterate, but even for the learned." The great St. Augustine admitted he was unable to understand all of Scripture: "Wherefore, as no one should be so presumptuous as to think that he understands the whole of the Scripture, in which St. Augustine himself confessed that there was more that he did not know, than that he knew, so, if he should come upon anything that seems incapable of solution, he must take to heart the cautious rule of the same holy Doctor: 'It is better even to be oppressed by unknown but useful signs, than to interpret them uselessly and thus to throw off the yoke only to be caught in the trap of error.'" (Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus) Of the difficulty in translation, the great St. Jerome states, "It is difficult in following lines laid down by others not sometimes to diverge from them, and it is hard to preserve in a translation the charm of expressions which in another language are most felicitous. Each particular word conveys a meaning of its own, and possibly I have no equivalent by which to render it, and if I make a circuit to reach my goal, I have to go many miles to cover a short distance. To these difficulties must be added the windings of hyperbata, differences in the use of cases, divergences of metaphor; and last of all the peculiar and if I may so call it, inbred character of the language. If I render word for word, the result will sound uncouth, and if compelled by necessity I alter anything in the order or wording, I shall seem to have departed from the function of a translator." (St. Jerome, "the Church's eminent bible translator", Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

Clearly, to really be an expert on the Bible, you would have to be an expert on ancient languages, ancient practices, archeology, history, etc. You would have to look at who writings were directed at, what the circumstances were, what local customs were, and at all the subtleties involved. You would also have to bear in mind that words used in Scripture may mean different things - and that they may have meant altogether different things in their original languages. And further, you would have to deal with the fact that Scripture may be obscure, subtle, and hard to grasp.

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Q. Should the Bible be subject to private interpretation?

The Bible should not be subject to private interpretation, as it itself states: "Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God." (St. Peter, 2 Pt. 1:20-21)

Scripture itself shows us that it requires an authorized instructor: "Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, 'Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.' So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, 'Go and join up with that chariot.' Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?' So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him... Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him." (Acts 8:26-31,35)

We see this also confirmed in the Old Testament: "Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it (for he was standing higher up than any of the people); and, as he opened it, all the people rose. Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, 'Amen, amen!' Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground. Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read." (Neh. 8:5-6,8)

Also, Jesus had to open the minds of His Apostles regarding the Scriptures (see Lk. 24:27, Lk. 24:45)

And again, we are reminded that Scripture may be distorted to our own destruction: "And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." (St. Peter, 2 Pt. 3:15-16)

Additional relevant quotations appear below.

"[H]uman reason...has neither the power to fathom the word of God, nor the right to sit in judgement over it." (Gueranger)

"For so great is the depth of Divine Scripture that not only the simple and the unlettered, but even the learned and prudent are not fully able to explore the understanding of it. Therefore, Scripture says that many 'searching have failed in their search'." (Pope Pius VII, 1816 A.D.)

"In the case of those who profess to take reason as their sole guide, there would hardly be found, if, indeed, there ever could be found, unity of doctrine. Indeed, the art of knowing things as they really are is exceedingly difficult; moreover, the mind of man is by nature feeble and drawn this way and that by a variety of opinions, and not seldom led astray by impressions coming from without; and, furthermore, the influence of the passions oftentimes takes away, or certainly at least diminishes, the capacity for grasping the truth." (Pope Leo XIII, "Sapientiae Christianae", 1890 A.D.)

"If a man should doubt the knowledge and understanding of anything written in Scripture, he is not wise then to take upon himself the authority to interpret, boldly depending on his own mind. Instead, he should depend on the interpretation of the holy teachers an the saints of old, and on the interpretation that has been received and allowed by the universal Church. For it was the Church through which the Scripture has come into our hands and been delivered to us in the first place, and without the Church, as St. Augustine says, we could not know which books were Holy Scripture." (St. Thomas More)

"Wherefore, let the faithful also be on their guard against the overrated independence of private judgment and that false autonomy of human reason. For it is quite foreign to everyone bearing the name of a Christian to trust his own mental powers with such pride as to agree only with those things which he can examine from their inner nature, and to imagine that the Church, sent by God to teach and guide all nations, is not conversant with present affairs and circumstances... Quite to the contrary, a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord." (Pope Pius XI, "Casti Connubii", 1930 A.D.)

"[W]e may address the following words of St. Augustine to all who have not deliberately closed their minds to the truth: 'When we see the great help of God, such manifest progress and such abundant fruit, shall we hesitate to take refuge in the bosom of that Church, which, as is evident to all, possesses the supreme authority of the Apostolic See through the Episcopal succession? In vain do heretics rage round it; they are condemned partly by the judgment of the people themselves, partly by the weight of councils, partly by the splendid evidence of miracles. To refuse to the Church the primacy is most impious and above measure arrogant. And if all learning, no matter how easy and common it may be, in order to be fully understood requires a teacher and master, what can be greater evidence of pride and rashness than to be unwilling to learn about the books of the divine mysteries from the proper interpreter, and to wish to condemn them unknown?' (De Unitate Credendi, cap. xvii., n. 35)." (Pope Leo XIII, "Satis Cognitum", 1896 A.D.)

Click here for more Private Interpretation Reflections

Note: For more on private interpretation, click here [Private Interpretation (Apologetics) / Non-Catholics Section]

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Q. Who has the authority to interpret Holy Scripture?

A. The Catholic Church alone has the authority to interpret Holy Scripture. As the Second Vatican Council states, "For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God." (Second Vatican Council)

Note for more on this topic, click here (apologetics/Non-Catholics Section).

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Q. How should the Bible be interpreted?

A. Holy Scripture must be "interpreted with the mind of the Church". One should seek what the writer was intending to express / what his intentions were / who the audience was / what forms of speech were common / etc. Additional relevant quotations follow...

"...a humble and devout frame of mind is conducive to the understanding of Holy Scripture." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"[W]hen discussing Holy Scripture it is not words we want so much as the meaning of words." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together, for 'we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying'." (Second Vatican Council)

"The whole series of the divine Scriptures is interpreted in a fourfold way. In all holy books one should ascertain what everlasting truths are therein intimated, what deeds are narrated, what future events are foretold, and what commands or counsels are there contained." (St. Bede the Venerable, Doctor of the Church)

"I earnestly warn the prudent reader not to pay attention to superstitious interpretations such as are given cut and dried according to some interpreter's fancy. He should study the beginning, middle, and end, and so form a connected idea of the whole of what he finds written." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"As for methods of expounding Holy Scripture - 'for amongst the dispensers of the mysteries of God it is required that a man be found faithful' - St. Jerome lays down that we have got to keep to the 'true interpretation, and that the real function of a commentator is to set forth not what he himself would like his author to mean, but what he really does mean.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"[T]he rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine - not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

"Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, - in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, - wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, - whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures, - hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the [Church] Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established." (Council of Trent)

"But, since the rules which the holy Synod of Trent salutarily decreed concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture in order to restrain impetuous minds, are wrongly explained by certain men, We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention: that, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the instruction of Christian Doctrine, that must be considered as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church has held and holds, whose office it is to judge concerning the true understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; and, for that reason, no one is permitted to interpret Sacred Scripture itself contrary to this sense, or even contrary to the unanimous agreement of the [Church] Fathers." (Vatican Council I, 1870 A.D.)

"To return, however, to the question of the formation of Biblical students. We must lay the foundations in piety and humility of mind; only when we have done that does St. Jerome invite us to study the Bible. In the first place, he insists, in season and out, on daily reading of the text. 'Provided,' he says, 'our bodies are not the slaves of sin, wisdom will come to us; but exercise your mind, feed it daily with Holy Scripture.' And again: 'We have got, then, to read Holy Scripture assiduously; we have got to meditate on the Law of God day and night so that, as expert money-changers, we may be able to detect false coin from true.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to 'literary forms.' For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another." (Second Vatican Council)

"[St.] Jerome then goes on to say that all interpretation rests on the literal sense, and that we are not to think that there is no literal sense merely because a thing is said metaphorically, for 'the history itself is often presented in metaphorical dress and described figuratively.' Indeed, he himself affords the best refutation of those who maintain that he says that certain passages have no historical meaning: 'We are not rejecting the history, we are merely giving a spiritual interpretation of it.' Once, however, he has firmly established the literal or historical meaning, Jerome goes on to seek our deeper and hidden meanings, as to nourish his mind with more delicate food. Thus he says of the Book of Proverbs - and he makes the same remark about other parts of the Bible - that we must not stop at the simple literal sense: 'Just as we have to seek gold in the earth, for the kernel in the shell, for the chestnut's hidden fruit beneath its hairy coverings, so in Holy Scripture we have to dig deep for its divine meaning.' When teaching Paulinus 'how to make true progress in the Bible,' he says: 'Everything we read in the Sacred Books shines and glitters even in its outer shell; but the marrow of it is sweeter. If you want the kernel you must break the shell.' At the same time, he insists that in searching for this deeper meaning we must proceed in due order, 'lest in our search for spiritual riches we seem to despise the history as poverty-stricken.' Consequently he repudiates many mystical interpretations alleged by ancient writers; for he feels that they are not sufficiently based on the literal meaning: When all these promises of which the Prophets sang are regarded not merely as empty sounds or idle tropological expressions, but as established on earth and having solid historical foundations, then, can we put on them the coping-stone of a spiritual interpretation." (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920)

"For it escapes no one that the highest norm of interpretation is that by which what the writer intends to say is perceived and defined, as St. Athanasius advises: 'Here, as it is fitting to do in all other passages of divine Scripture, we observe that it must be accurately and faithfully considered on what occasion the Apostle has spoken; what is the person and what is the subject on which he has written, lest anyone ignorant of these things, or understanding something else besides them, wander from the true meaning.' But what the literal sense is in the words and writings of the old oriental authors is very often not as clear as it is among the writers of our age. For what they wish to signify by words is not determined by the laws of grammar or philology alone, nor by the context of the passage alone; the interpreter should by all means return mentally, as it were, to those remote ages of the Orient, in order that rightly assisted by the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and of other disciplines, he may discern and perceive what so-called literary genres the writers of that age sought to employ and in fact did employ. For the old Orientals, to express what they had in mind, did not always use the same forms and the same modes of speaking as we do today, but rather those which were accepted for use among men of their own times and localities... Indeed, let no one who has a right understanding of Biblical inspiration, be surprised that among the Sacred Writers, as among the other ancients, certain definite ways of explaining and narrating are found; certain kinds of idioms especially appropriate to Semitic languages, so called approximations, and certain hyperbolic methods of speaking, yes, sometimes even paradoxes by which events are more firmly impressed upon the mind. For none of those methods of speaking is foreign to the Sacred Scriptures which among ancient peoples, especially among Orientals, human speech customarily used to express its thought, yet on this condition, that the kind of speaking employed be not at odds with the sanctity and truth of God, just as with his usual perspicacity the Angelic Doctor has noted in the following words: 'In Scripture divine matters are made known to us in the manner we customarily employ.' For just as the substantial Word of God was made like man in all things 'without sin,' so also the words of God, expressed in human language, in all things have been made like human speech, without error, which Saint John Chrysostom has already extolled with highest praise as the...condescension of a provident God; and which he has asserted again and again is the case in the Sacred Scriptures. Therefore, let the Catholic exegete, in order to satisfy the present day needs of Biblical matters, in explaining Sacred Scripture, and in showing and proving it free of all error, prudently use this aid, to inquire how the form of expression and the kind of literature employed by the Sacred writer, contribute to a true and genuine interpretation; and let him be convinced that this part of his office cannot be neglected without great harm to Catholic exegesis. For not uncommonly - to touch upon one thing only - when some propose by way of rebuke that the Sacred Authors have strayed away from historical truth, or have not reported events accurately, it is found to be a question of nothing other than the customary natural methods of the ancients in speaking and narrating, which in the mutual intercourse among men were regularly employed, and in fact were employed in accord with a permissible and common practice. Therefore, intellectual honesty requires that when these matters are found in divine speech which is expressed for man in human words, they be not charged more with error than when they are uttered in the daily use of life." (Pope Pius XII, "Divino afflante Spiritu", September 30, 1943 A.D.)

Reminder: Interpretation and application of Scripture should not be contrary to the perennial, official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Do not take Scripture passages out of context. Do not inflict harm on yourself or others, break laws, take unsuitable/incautious or inappropriate/drastic actions, or take figurative items literally. 

Top | Question Summary

Q. Is everything in the Bible literal?

A. Not everything in Holy Scripture is meant to be taken literally. Additional relevant quotations appear below...

"Holy Writ expresses truth in two ways, first, through the literal sense, when things are signified by words; secondly, through the spiritual sense, when things are signified through other things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"All the senses of Holy Scripture are built on the literal sense, from which alone, and not from allegorical passages, can arguments be drawn. The spiritual sense brings nothing needful to the faith which is not elsewhere clearly conveyed by the literal sense." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man - that is to say, divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality." (Pope Leo XIII)

"The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one - the literal - from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as [St.] Augustine says (Ep. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Note: Click here for more 'Literal / Spiritual Interpretation' Reflections

Top | Question Summary

Q. What are Scripture 'senses'?

A. "In the interpretation of the Bible the Church recognizes two senses: (a) the literal sense, which is the objective, actual and immediate truth which God prompted the writer to convey; (b) the typical sense (also called mystical or spiritual, which is the truth intended by God to be expressed by means of a figure or type) which itself must be a matter of historical fact; this must be distinguished from any subjective or symbolical sense. It is the office of the Church to declare the sense of any given scriptural passage; according to St. Thomas [Aquinas], the literal sense alone can be used for purpose of argument from the Scriptures." (Catholic Dictionary) An "accommodated sense" refers to the sense "given to a scriptural text other than that originally intended" (Catholic Dictionary). Also, note that when persons speak of "four senses of Scripture", they are actually referring to the two senses (literal and spiritual), but have subdivided the spiritual sense into the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense.

Top | Question Summary

Q. Does each passage of Scripture have just one meaning?

A. Passages of Scripture may have more than one meaning. As St. Thomas Aquinas states, "It is one of the glories of the Scripture that it can embrace many meanings in a single passage." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Top | Question Summary

Q. How should I read the Bible?

A. Those reading the Bible should read it "with the mind of the Church". They should read it prayerfully and humbly. And, of course, they should steer clear of Protestant 'bibles' and offensive 'modernist Catholic' translations and instead read a good, traditional Catholic translation [ideally, the translation will contain footnotes which explain passages in light of the Church's traditional teachings - e.g. those of the Church Fathers, Popes, etc.]. Some recommend starting with the Gospels. In any event, remember that you should not fall into the trap of personal interpretation, but rather "yield to the teaching authority of the perennial Magisterium".

Top | Question Summary

Q. Is misinterpretation of Scripture a concern of the Church?

A. Misinterpretation of Holy Scripture is always a concern for the Church. It can it lead to one's destruction ["And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." (St. Peter, 2 Pt. 3:15-16)], and it can (and has) also lead to heresy ["For heresies are not born except when the true Scriptures are not well understood and when what is not well understood in them is rashly and boldly asserted.'' (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)]. In the past, misinterpretation of Scripture has also resulted in loss of life.

Note: Click here for more 'Misinterpretation of Scripture' Reflections

Top | Question Summary

Q. What is the role of the Early Church Fathers in interpreting Scripture?

A. The writings of the Early Church Fathers have generally been given much weight in the interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Top | Question Summary

Q. Are the Church Fathers authoritative in Scripture interpretation? Are they infallible in Scripture interpretation?

A. The Early Church Fathers have been considered authoritative, but not infallible, with regard to Scripture interpretation. Some relevant quotations appear below.

"Now, the authority of the Fathers, by whom after the apostles, the growing Church was disseminated, watered, built, protected, and nurtured, is the highest authority, as often as they all in one and the same way interpret a Biblical text, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith and morals." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893 A.D.)

"In things of faith and morals belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture, which has been held and is held by our holy mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; and, therefore... it is permitted to no one to interpret holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the [Church] fathers." (Council of Trent)

"But, since the rules which the holy Synod of Trent salutarily decreed concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture in order to restrain impetuous minds, are wrongly explained by certain men, We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention: that, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the instruction of Christian Doctrine, that must be considered as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church has held and holds, whose office it is to judge concerning the true understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; and, for that reason, no one is permitted to interpret Sacred Scripture itself contrary to this sense, or even contrary to the unanimous agreement of the Fathers." (Vatican Council I, 1870 A.D.)

"[T]he Holy Fathers, We say, are of supreme authority, whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith or morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith. The opinion of the Fathers is also of very great weight when they treat of these matters in their capacity of doctors, unofficially; not only because they excel in their knowledge of revealed doctrine and in their acquaintance with many things which are useful in understanding the apostolic Books, but because they are men of eminent sanctity and of ardent zeal for the truth, on whom God has bestowed a more ample measure of His light. Wherefore the expositor should make it his duty to follow their footsteps with all reverence, and to use their labors with intelligent appreciation." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 1893)

Top | Question Summary

Continued On Next Page


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