Rules for Catholic Biblical Interpretation

St. Peter, in his first epistle, teaches us that "no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation" (1 Pet 1:20) He then goes on, in the same letter, to warn us that in Scripture there "certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet 3:16)

Clearly interpreting Scripture is not something any Catholic should take lightly. At the very same time the regular reading of Scripture IS something recommended for Catholics. In fact there are even indulgences attached to the reading of Scripture for even only a short amount of time (S.C. Ind., Dec 13, 1898)(Enchiridion Indulgentiarum n.50)

How then are Catholics to properly interpret Scripture without falling into pitfalls mentioned by St. Peter?

The answer can be found in the encyclicals of the great Roman Pontiffs. Denzinger points out that we ought to follow the "principles and norms of interpretation rightly established by Our predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter “Providentissimus,” Benedict XV in the Encyclical Letter, “Spiritus Paraclitus,” and also by us in the Encyclical Letter, “Divino Efflante Spiritu.” [DS 3889]

Fr. Laux, in his ʻIntroduction to the Bibleʻ (1932) summarizes Leo XIIIʻs rules for Catholic Interpretation:

"1. No sense or meaning may be attributed to any part or passage of the Bible which would be contrary to the solemn or ordinary teaching of the Church. This rule is known as the "Analogy of Faith"

2. Where the Church has defined the meaning of a certain passage in the Scriptures, it must be accepted as the true meaning intended by the Holy Ghost. The meaning of very few passages in Holy Writ has been thus defined by the Church.

3. Whenever all the Fathers interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible as pertaining to the doctrine of faith and morals, they must be faithfully followed.

4. The opinion of other Catholic writers is not as great as that of the Fathers; still, the opinion commonly accepted by them is a safe guide

5. If the results of Biblical criticism or exegesis are inconsistent with the teaching of the Church, it argues a positive defect or mistake in the critical investigation, due to the critic himself or to insufficient data"

Interpreting Scripture without the ʻAnalogy of Faithʻ will inevitably lead us to our ʻown destructionʻ. However,with the guidance of Holy Mother Church, we can engage Scripture and allow it to deepen our understanding of the Catholic Faith.

image used with permission. By Kris A.