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
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
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
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
"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
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Fwd: Catholic Church no longer swears by the truth of the Bible