Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible

-By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

" The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

The document shows how far the Catholic Church has come since the 17th century, when Galileo was condemned as a heretic for flouting a near-universal belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible by advocating the Copernican view of the solar system. Only a century ago, Pope Pius X condemned Modernist Catholic scholars who adapted historical-critical methods of analysing ancient literature to the Bible.

In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars. They say the Bible must be approached in the knowledge that it is “God’s word expressed in human language” and that proper acknowledgement should be given both to the word of God and its human dimensions.

They say the Church must offer the gospel in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries”.

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

Of the notorious anti-Jewish curse in Matthew 27:25, “His blood be on us and on our children”, a passage used to justify centuries of anti-Semitism, the bishops say these and other words must never be used again as a pretext to treat Jewish people with contempt. Describing this passage as an example of dramatic exaggeration, the bishops say they have had “tragic consequences” in encouraging hatred and persecution. “The attitudes and language of first-century quarrels between Jews and Jewish Christians should never again be emulated in relations between Jews and Christians.”

As examples of passages not to be taken literally, the bishops cite the early chapters of Genesis, comparing them with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East. The bishops say it is clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and that they could not be described as historical writing.

Similarly, they refute the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, in which the writer describes the work of the risen Jesus, the death of the Beast and the wedding feast of Christ the Lamb.

The bishops say: “Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.”

In their foreword to the teaching document, the two most senior Catholics of the land, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, explain its context.

They say people today are searching for what is worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted and what is really true.

The new teaching has been issued as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council document explaining the place of Scripture in revelation. In the past 40 years, Catholics have learnt more than ever before to cherish the Bible. “We have rediscovered the Bible as a precious treasure, both ancient and ever new.”

A Christian charity is sending a film about the Christmas story to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a young boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph had named their baby after a swear word. The Breakout Trust raised £200,000 to make the 30-minute animated film, It’s a Boy. Steve Legg, head of the charity, said: “There are over 12 million children in the UK and only 756,000 of them go to church regularly.

That leaves a staggering number who are probably not receiving basic Christian teaching.”


Catholics believe UNTRUE

Genesis ii, 21-22

'So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.'

Genesis iii, 16

'God said to the woman [after she was beguiled by the serpent]: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Matthew xxvii, 25

'The words of the crowd: “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Revelation xix,20

'And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone.”

Catholics believe TRUE:

Exodus iii, 14:

'God reveals himself to Moses as: “I am who I am.”

Leviticus xxvi,12:

“I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

Exodus xx,1-17:

The Ten Commandments

Matthew v,7:

The Sermon on the Mount

Mark viii,29:

Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ

Luke i:

The Virgin Birth

John xx,28:

Proof of bodily resurrection"


  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:31 AM  

  • Ohhh boy....might have to run this past Jon...or Jess....see what defense they crack up...Of course, it is worthy of note that only the Catholics on the British isle said this...Brits are all (mostly) liberals anyway... :P

    By Blogger David Ketter, at 5:54 PM  

  • Yeah, I'm sure this isn't the belief of all Catholics... just the more liberal ones...

    By Blogger MVB, at 6:20 PM  

  • That is appalling.
    Thank you for your post, as I had never heard or read this before.

    By Blogger Hannah Beth, at 3:02 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:14 PM  

  • Hi Hannah, thanks for posting. I agree, it is appalling though I don't think this is the view of the entire Catholic church.

    By Blogger MVB, at 2:06 PM  

  • Very appalling... As the truth often is.

    I must say I'm surprised you haven't gotten a lengthy response from Jonathan Knox yet, to tell the truth... He's a strong defender of Catholicism and you'll have your hands full if he reads this! :)

    By Blogger pete, at 9:22 PM  

  • Well, this isn't Vatican teaching...just "incorrect" teaching from the underlings. I think we would essentially agree that these Brits are nuts!

    By Blogger David Ketter, at 5:28 PM  

  • Hey guys, I finally made it over here. Let me start with a quote from Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum:

    "holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles,holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

    Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore '[2 Tim 3:16]'"

    Dei Verbum goes on to talk about how the Bible was written in the language of men, and that Scripture must be carefully examined and interpreted "in the sacred spirit in which it was written". Scripture interpretation must be in accord with the unanimous teaching of the Fathers. The chapter on the inspiration of Scripture concludes with this:

    In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous "condescension" of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, "that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature." (11) For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.

    Now, as for the place of the bishops: "It devolves on sacred bishops "who have the apostolic teaching"(7) to give the faithful entrusted to them suitable instruction in the right use of the divine books"

    The Church considers some things in Scripture as literal, others are symbolic. In regards to the Gospels, however, "Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven"

    Let me see if I can clarify the position of most theologians on the cited passages:

    Genesis 2:21-22 (and all creation): The Church does not hold Her members to evolution or a literal reading of the creation story. For a Christian to believe in evolution, though, he or she must believe in the direct role of God in the process, that the soul did not evolve, and that we all came from the two parents- Adam and Eve. That these bishops 'insist' that they cannot be historical... they are the pastors of their flock but if they are denying the idea of direct creation, they could be infringing on a scientific argument, which the Church does not like to do.

    Matthew 27:25- see the historicity of the Gospels

    Revelation 19:20- CCC 1035 and the Church teaching as a whole accepts the reality of eternal hell fire.

    To sum it up, even the symbolic and apocalyptic passages of the Bible ARE TRUE. It is a sorry choice of words to say that the Bible is 'inaccurate', even there are 'inconsistencies' or things that don't make sense. Jess is busy today, I'm sure, so I commented. She might want to add more and I'd especially like to know about the actual authority of these bishops in this matter.

    By Blogger Jonathan Knox, at 10:43 AM  

  • Thanks for posting, Jonathan..

    "To sum it up, even the symbolic and apocalyptic passages of the Bible ARE TRUE. It is a sorry choice of words to say that the Bible is 'inaccurate', even there are 'inconsistencies' or things that don't make sense."

    Yeah, I figured thats what most Catholics believe, some of the more liberal Catholics have branched out into stages of disbelief. But ok, I understand your point.

    By Blogger MVB, at 3:49 PM  

  • Jon here- working off of a neighbor's WebTV and the username/password fields don't show up.

    I'd like to believe that it's what most Catholics believe, but I've seen some polls taken out of all of Christianity, and there seems to be a widespread disbelief in the inspiration or accuracy of Scripture.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:11 PM  

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