Article 16: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Truth of Sacred Scripture
Father John G. Hillier
When we hear about a popular book, especially one that is a bestseller, we naturally inquire about the author. With regard to the Bible, most of us know that it is the bestselling book of all time, having been translated into more than 1,200 languages. But what can we say about the author.
I guess the matter of authorship regarding the Bible depends on how the question is asked. I vividly recall my mom telling me as a small child that God wrote the Bible. As I grew older and pressed the matter of authorship by naming Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the writers of the gospels, my mom explained that God used the four evangelists and others to put the words on paper but what they wrote was inspired by the Holy Spirit and they only wrote what God had intended them to write.
I often wondered how my mom was able to answer such questions intelligently without having formally studied biblical theology. Somehow, she knew what the Catechism would later state a few decades later that “God is the author of Sacred Scripture” (ccc 105) and the Church “accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments” (73 books in all, 46 from the Old Testament and 27 from the New Testament).
The Catechism explains that “God is the author of Sacred Scripture” in the sense that the divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of the Bible, were written down “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 105). To compose the sacred texts
God not only “inspired the human authors” but chose individuals while taking into consideration their personal competencies and limitations. “It was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever God wanted written, and no more” (ccc 106).
Quoting from the documents of the Second Vatican Council, paragraph 107 of the Catechism affirms that all the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments “firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures” (ccc 107).
Does this mean that everything in the Bible is factually true? The answer is “no”. We know that certain things in Sacred Scripture are not factually true. For example, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 27:9-10 we read: “The words of the prophet Jeremiah were then fulfilled.” In actual fact, the prophecy noted here by Saint Matthew is found in the book of Zechariah, not in Jeremiah. Another example is the account of creation in the Book of Genesis which states that God’s creation took 7 days.
The important point is not that everything in the Bible is factually true. Rather, the more important thing being communicated in Scripture is “salvific truth” (the truth about salvation). Using the examples above, the important salvific truth is that the prophecies of the Old Covenant are fulfilled in the new, not the small detail naming Jeremiah as the prophet. Regarding the Genesis account of creation, the important salvific truth is that God is the Creator, not that creation took 7 days.
The truth which is present in Scripture is the truth which God intended to be there. Incidentals are not so important. What matters is that we read the passages of the Bible within the context of the entire Bible and ask the question: “What is relevant or pertinent in this text regarding our salvation? After all, the truth which is present in Scripture is, as the Second Vatican Council points out, “that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” (DV 11). As indicated above, the Catechism declares this teaching succinctly in paragraph 107.
Having explained how the Sacred Scriptures are used in the life of the Church, the Catechism then goes on to explain that our Christian faith “is not a religion of the book” (ccc 108), meaning that our faith is not based exclusively on the Bible. Rather, the Catechism teaches, “Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God” (ccc 108), (meaning the living Word of Sacred Scripture and the living Word of Sacred Tradition). The Catechism further explains that the “Word of God” also refers to Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, “incarnate and living” (ccc 108). The Catechism concludes that “Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open (our) minds to understand the Scriptures” (ccc 108).
Next time you reach for your family Bible, be mindful that you are reaching, not just for any book but for the true Word of God. Through the words of the sacred writers, Christ Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, reaches out to you.