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1.20 How can you know what is literally true in the Bible, and what is not?

Reading the Bible

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit as a helper to his Apostles, so that they could understand and proclaim the Gospel. The Holy Spirit still helps the Church to explain the Bible correctly.

For example, there are many commentaries on the Bible written by saints, popes, and church Councils. Together with the assistance given by the Church, these texts can help us understand the Bible. In this way we can see which parts are meant to be taken literally, and which parts were written in a poetic or metaphorical way to explain a deeper truth.

The Church, aided by the Holy Spirit, helps us to read the Bible well and to comprehend it in its entirety within the Tradition.
The Wisdom of the Church

How is Sacred Scripture to be read?

Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Magisterium of the Church according to three criteria:

  1. it must be read with attention to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture;
  2. it must be read within the living Tradition of the Church;
  3. it must be read with attention to the analogy of faith, that is, the inner harmony which exists among the truths of the faith themselves.

[CCCC 19]

What is the right way to read the Bible?

The right way to read Sacred Scripture is to read it prayerfully, in other words, with the help of the Holy Spirit, under whose influence it came into being. It is God’s Word and contains God’s essential communication to us.   

The Bible is like a long letter written by God to each one of us. For this reason I should accept the Sacred Scriptures with great love and reverence. First of all, it is important really to read God’s letter, in other words, not to pick out details while paying no attention to the whole message. Then I must interpret the whole message with a view to its heart and mystery: Jesus Christ, of whom the whole Bible speaks, even the Old Testament. Therefore I should read the Sacred Scriptures in the faith that gave rise to them, the same living faith of the Church. [Youcat 16]

This is what the Church Fathers say

Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another... Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. [St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chap. 2 (ML 50, 639)]