The Church and the BibleEkklesia reports:
Roman Catholic bishops have published a teaching document which points out that sections of the bible can not be taken literally, and challenges many ideas held by some Evangelicals about both creation and the end of the world.
“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.
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 stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”.
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.
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.
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, reports the Times newspaper.
Similarly, they refute popular interpretations of the book of Revelation, which see it as predicting contemporary events.
(I've tried to find a copy of the document online, but so far all I can find are offers from the Catholic Truth Society to sell it to me for four quid.)
Naturally, the media's knowledge of religion being what it is, The Times has given this story the inflammatory headline 'Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible'. (Check out the list of 'true' vs. 'untrue' passages. Are journalists actually required to hand over their brains when they sell out to Murdoch?)
In fact, the bishops are merely reiterating the Church's long-held position on scripture. The Catholic Church has never believed in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible; that is a Protestant idea, and a relatively recent one. St Augustine read the first chapters of Genesis as an allegory.
I for one am very glad to see this document. I've recently been disturbed to find fundamentalist tendencies creeping into individual Catholics' reading of the Bible. I remember one Scripture group where a couple of us were discussing factors in the Johannine community that might have caused the author of John to write about the washing of feet rather than the institution of the Eucharist. We were interrupted by horrified cries of 'But John wrote this! It's an eyewitness account! Maybe he was just distracted when Jesus broke the bread!'
For too long, the Church has failed to provide guidance to lay Catholics reading the Bible. Meanwhile, fundamentalists have loudly proclaimed themselves to have the only true interpretation of Scripture. The lack of an effective response by churches with more liberal interpretations has led to Christians far outside the fundamentalist tradition being influenced by fundamentalist ideas, and has even affected the reputation of Christianity as a whole. (It's very frustrating and painful to hear people speak disdainfully of 'Christians,' when what they really mean is 'Pat Robertson.') I hope that this document is just the start of a new trend.