The Word of God
Today, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, is also known as the Sunday of the Word of God when we meditate upon God’s great gift to us of His Word in the Sacred Scriptures. The word Bible comes from a Greek word meaning book, but it’s not just one book, but a collection of many books written over many centuries for different audiences in many different styles. There are 46 books of the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Church teaches us many things about the Bible. Here are some of them.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God: God is the author of the Bible. He inspired certain human writers to write down what He wanted them to write and no more. This is why we call the Bible the ‘Word of God’. The first Christians knew that the Old Testament was inspired because St Paul wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16).
Inspiration does not mean dictation. God did not dictate His Word to the authors in the way a boss would dictate to his or her secretary. Although they were God’s instruments, having done their own research, the authors wrote in their own manner, using their own free will and intelligence, but at the same time they wrote only what God wanted them to write.
There is no error in the Bible. There cannot be, because God is the author and He cannot make a mistake or lie. The Second Vatican Council taught, “everything which the sacred writers declare must be held as declared by the Holy Spirit” (Dei verbum, 11). This doesn’t mean we have to take everything literally. The Bible is a collection of many different genres of writing, so you cannot read them all in the same way. It consists of history, poetry, parable and allegory and they can have literal or spiritual meanings. There are many difficult passages to which the Church has not given a definite interpretation or meaning and they may remain a mystery until the end of time. St Augustine in the fourth century said that God may have put difficulties there purposely to stimulate us to study, and also so that we may know the limitations of our minds and thus learn humility.
What about apparent contradictions? St Augustine also wrote a letter to St Jerome saying, “If I come across anything in those Scriptures which troubles me because it seems contrary to the truth, I will unhesitatingly lay the blame elsewhere: perhaps the manuscript is untrue to the original, or the translator has not rendered the passage faithfully, or perhaps I have not understood it.”
The Church desires that we should read the Scriptures often, even daily, and from what has been said above it is clear we need guidance in interpretation. Since the Bible contains “some things that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their destruction” (2 Peter 3:16), it is to the Church and not the individual that God has entrusted the two sources of revelation: Scripture and Tradition. And so we must always read the Bible in union with the Church’s tradition and understanding. To go against this would be to lead ourselves astray. This is evidenced by the emergence of thousands of different sects since the sixteenth century with their theory of “private interpretation” all claiming to be based on the Bible yet teaching contradictory things.
The Catholic Church gives us through Scripture and Tradition the whole of God’s teaching, it’s correct meaning, and also a guarantee of its authenticity. May God be praised!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC