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Austin Cline

Catholic Church Doesn't Swear By Truth of the Bible

By October 7, 2005

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The Catholic Church has never, or at least not for a very long time, insisted that the Bible must be read literally. Allegorical and metaphorical readings have long been standard, in contrast to fundamentalist approaches. Now, however, Catholic leaders are being even more honest in acknowledging that the Bible contains out-right errors.

The Times reports:

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 Scripture.

[T]he 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”.

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.”

This will especially annoy American Christians who are such devout adherents to the ideology of rapture:

[T]hey 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.”

Other passages singled out for criticism include the creation stories in Genesis and the anti-Jewish curse in Matthew 27:25, “His blood be on us and on our children,” which is described as dramatic exaggeration. It's unlikely that many conservative evangelicals will take this document very seriously, but it can be used by religious skeptics to demonstrate that a Christian need not take everything literally in the Bible.


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