Dei Verbum The Word of God
Through Revelation, God reveals Himselfand His planfor man’s salvation. He does this through concrete Words and Deeds; speaking to humanity in a language we can understand. This Revelation is interpreted through Scripture and Tradition.
Scripture is the Word of God written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (dual authorship). Scripture is inerrant in matters concerning man’s salvation.
Because of the authority given by Christ through Apostolic Succession, the Magisterium (teaching office of the Church)compiled the books that are presently part of the Canon we consider the Bible today. They also have the authority to interpret the Scripture to ensure that it is read and understood correctly. The Magisterium ensure that the Scripture is read with the inspiration of the same Spirit who wrote it!
During the Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium put forth these guidelines to assist the Church in the interpretation of Scripture: 1. Be attentive to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture. Scripture verses can be a very powerful part of one’s prayer life, however, there is a danger when a verse is taken out of context to read from it something that the text does not support…
A word is a part of a verse… …a verse is a part of a chapter… …a chapter is a part of a book… …a book is a part of the canon… The canon of Scripture with all the books, chapters and verses combined tells the story of God’s Revelation. It must be read as a whole!
For example… Matt 23:9 “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” With this verse, one might try to claim that when Catholics address priests as “Father,” they are engaging in an unbiblical practice that Jesus forbade…it could also nullify the position of the Pope as the “Holy Father.”
When the Bible is read as a whole, one can see that the term “father” is used in many other places as a sign of respect: In the Old Testament… “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land in Egypt” Gen 45:8 “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah…and I will clothe him with a robe, and will bind a girdle on him, and will commit…authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” Is 22:20-21
In the New Testament… In Acts 7:2, St. Stephen refers to “our father Abraham,” and Paul speaks of “our father Isaac” in Romans 9:10. A careful examination of the context of Matthew 23 shows that Jesus did not intend for his words here to be understood literally… “But you are not to be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ.” Matt 23:8-10
What did Jesus mean? When read in context, we can clearly see that Jesus was using a hyperbole – an exaggeration to make a point. Jesus did this often in Scripture…see Matt 5:29, 18:9 Mark 9:47 In this context, he is criticizing the Jewish leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Mat 23:6-7) By using a hyperbole, Jesus is trying to show the Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority, fatherhood and teaching.
2. Read Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church. Because of Apostolic Succession, we believe that God blesses the Magisterium with the authority to interpret Scripture correctly. Further, the doctrine that is taught by the Magisterium in matters of Faith and Morals is done so with the guarantee of INFALLIBILITY.
Reading Scripture within the “living Tradition” of the Church means taking into account the fact that this text has been read by a community of believers for centuries. Even before it was a written text, Christians lived and prayed the Gospel they heard in sermons, through prayer and meditation, through Christian art, through liturgical celebrations and through oral traditions. Keeping this in mind when reading Scripture reminds us to stick to the original intention of the author and read from Scripture what God wants to express.
Luke 22:19-20 Then, taking bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying: “This is my body to be given for you. Do this as a remembrance of me.” When this text is read according to the living Tradition of the Church, we see this as the heart of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The bread and the wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. The Analogy of Faith is the coherence of those Truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition that pertain to our eternal salvation Truth does not contradict Truth! For example, one could never say… “There is a God” and “There is no God” The statements contradict each other. Logic dictates that it is either one or the other, but not both at the same time. The same thing holds true for Scripture. God has revealed Truth; Truth cannot contradict itself. Revelation interpreted through Scripture must support Revelation interpreted through Tradition and visa versa.
John 10:30 “The Father and I are One” The interpretation of Scripture must cohere with other things believed by faith. The Church proclaims that there are three distinct persons in the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three distinct persons, however, are all made of the same divine substance…they are all God. In this verse, one can see both the distinction and the unity believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. It agrees with and supports the analogy of faith.
Because Scripture is the inspired Word of God, we can interpret two senses as we read to understand more fully what God has revealed. 1. The Literal Sense This sense involves reading the text very carefully to understand exactly what is being said. Read Ex 14:26-31 Literally, the Scripture is telling the story of how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and how the Egyptians were drowned when they tried to cross. All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal!!!
2. The Spiritual Sense Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. A sign is something that points to something else. St. Augustine uses the example of smoke and fire…one points to the other. Three distinctions can be made within the Spiritual Sense a. The Allegorical Sense b. The Tropological or Moral Sense c. The Anagogical Sense
A. The Allegorical Sense When we read Scripture in the allegorical sense, we see that the events that occur in the stories of Scripture have a greater significance when seen in light of the story of Christ. Example: The Israelites crossing the Red Sea to be delivered from slavery in Egypt is a sign or type of the Christians’ Baptism and conformation to Christ as they are freed from slavery to sin.
B. The Tropological/ Moral Sense When we read Scripture in the tropological sense, we see that the events that occur in the stories of Scripture teach us to live justly. Scripture is meant for our instruction and spiritual transformation of the soul. The words reveal lessons that teach us how to act in accordance with God’s will. Example: Ps 61
C. The Anagogical Sense When we read Scripture in the anagogical sense, we see the events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us to Heaven. Example: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers.” Genesis 3:15
Putting it all together… Context: This verse is part of the curse God gives the snake after the fall of man. Literally, God is speaking to the serpent, Adam and Eve. Spiritually under the category of the anagogical sense, we can see a reference to the end of time when evil will ultimately be conquered. Read as part of the whole of Scripture and within the living Tradition of the Church, we can see that this could be interpreted as a reference to Mary being born without original sin and to Jesus’ victory over sin and death. For centuries, the Magisterium has interpreted this as the Protoevangelium or the first Gospel. Even in the moments following the fall, God was beginning to reveal His plan for man’s salvation!
Exegesis Catholic exegesis is the careful study of Scripture according to these rules of interpretation. Exegetes attempt to delve deeper into the Sacred Deposit of Faith entrusted to us by Christ. That is why the Bishops say that study of Sacred Scripture is the very Soul of Theology.