Catholic Bishops warn against literal interpretations of the Bible
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.
As reported by Ekklesia, three weeks ago the document from the Catholic Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland was presented in Rome.
Now the document has been published in the UK, reports the Times newspaper.
'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.
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.'
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.
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.'