The Sacred Scriptures are Inspired by God
This Sunday, the Third in Ordinary Time, is observed as a day devoted especially to the Word of God or the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible consists of 72 books which were written by men who were inspired by God. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) put it like this: “In composing the sacred books, God chose men, and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (Dei Verbum, #11). So these human authors, although they were moved by God, wrote in their own styles and with their own thoughts, but only what God wanted them to write. The Second Vatican Council confirmed all previous teaching on this topic by saying, “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit” and goes on to say that since the Holy Spirit obviously cannot confirm error, there is no error in the Bible.
However, there can sometimes be difficulties in the text, but we have to have humility and recognise our own limitations. St Augustine in a letter to St Jerome in the Fourth Century wrote, “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.” In seeking to understand difficult passages, it is important we look at the human limitations of the authors and their cultures, their languages and the literary genres they used. Sometimes we have to ask if a particular book or passage is meant to be historical or whether it is an allegory or a parable or even a combination of both. Our Lord Himself spoke very directly to people but He also used parables. The sacred authors do the same.
It is clear then that in reading the Bible we need guidance. That guidance comes from the Catholic Church which Christ gave authority to teach in His Name (Luke 10:16). The theory of “private interpretation” which emerged during the sixteenth century Reformation has caused thousands of different sects to arise with different beliefs and practices, all claiming to be based on the Bible. This is just one reason why from the earliest days of the Church Scripture has been read aloud in the Sacred Liturgy and then explained by the bishop or the priest.
One of the best ways to read Scripture is to read daily what has been selected by the Church to be read at Mass. In this way we read what is appropriate for the time of year and thus we grow in the spiritual life within the framework of the Sacred Liturgy.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC