This volume identifies the key principles of Catholic biblical interpretation proposed in the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. The meaning of each of these twenty principles is explained and their significance is explored in light of commentary on Scripture and contemporary scholarly discussion. Featuring a preface by Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission Albert Vanhoye, the volume also includes a glossary and a bibliography of works about the Commission’s document and of works cited.
Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture is split into six parts. Part I considers the foundational principle, that Sacred Scripture is “The word of God expressed in human language.” Part II addresses the “human language” dimension and the use of “scientific” or scholarly means to interpret it. Part III presents principles which consider Scripture as “the word of God” and relates the interpretation of Scripture to Christian faith. Part IV treats the literal, spiritual, and fuller senses of Scripture. Part V discusses the methods and approaches used by exegesis and the ways in which their use is conditioned by the unique object of their study. Part VI treats the role of the exegete and the theoretical and practical principles that guide actualization, enculturation, and the use of the Bible in the life of the Church. The study concludes with an evaluation of the Biblical Commission’s achievement, an agenda for further discussion, and remarks on the challenge ahead for Catholic exegesis.
The interpretation of Sacred Scripture is of paramount importance for Christian life. Every age of the Church has found it necessary to develop a way of interpreting the Bible that corresponds to the needs and mentality of the time while remaining faithful to the Word of God. As stated in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, "The Scriptures belong to the entire Church…and all of the members of the Church have a role in the interpretation of Scripture." Regardless of your denomination, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture will help you take on that role competently and responsibly.
“‘The ultimate purpose of Catholic exegesis is to nourish and build up the body of Christ with the word of God’ (p. 149).” (Page viii)
“Obviously, the first ‘principle’ is the most important of all. It is described as ‘foundational’ and it functions as the basis of all the others. It expresses the conviction of the Church’s faith regarding the nature of the Bible: it is ‘the word of God expressed in human language’ and must, therefore, be interpreted as such. The immensity and the complexity of the task of the believing exegete immediately become apparent. The exegete finds himself or herself before a paradoxical reality: human words that are at the same time Words of God. These two aspects of Scripture can be distinguished, but they must not be separated.” (Page viii)
“Just as Jesus is fully God and fully human, so Scripture is, at the same time, entirely God’s Word and entirely the words of the human authors. Just as the eternal Word took on the limitations of our human nature to reveal God to us, so God has chosen to communicate with the human race through the limitations of human writing and human language. Just as we come to know the Eternal Word through his human existence in a ‘determinate historical life’ (Address 7), so we come to know the divine communication in Scripture through the written words of human authors (Address 6; Conclusion b).” (Page 30)
“The various modes in which the concept of the ‘literal sense’ has been understood through the history of exegesis are explained in a very helpful way. In particular it is noted that when Thomas Aquinas says that the literal sense is that intended by the author, he immediately adds that the author of Scripture is God, who understands all things at once (p. 173), in such a way that the literal sense of a text from Scripture can encompass a plurality of meanings. This is a markedly different concept of the literal sense than is commonly accepted in our day and it is also proposed by the document (II.B.1).” (Page ix)
Peter S. Williamson received his M.A. in theology from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and his S.T.B., S.T.L. and S.T.D. in biblical theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is a married layman who has been involved for nearly 30 years in evangelization and pastoral ministry in the United States, and more recently in Lithuania and Kazakhstan. He presently serves as a mission associate of Renewal Ministries and teaches Scripture at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan and St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ontario.