Q: Thanks for your beautiful and informative answer regarding my question that started off your November column (“When Prayers Are Answered No”). Now I am wondering: When are we to take Scripture literally and when should we not?
A: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work,” we read in 2 Timothy 3:16–17.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work,” we read in 2 Timothy 3:16–17.
Because all Scripture is inspired by God and is part of God’s selfrevelation, we need to read it as a whole and within the faith community to which it is addressed.
One biblical book may develop another section as, for example, the Book of Job moves beyond the theology found in the Book of Proverbs. Because the Bible is a collection of books, recognizing the diversity of literary genres there is also important.
The New Testament’s little-known Letter to Philemon is a better guide to St. Paul’s views on slavery than are his short references to slaves in other letters. In the early 19th century, some US Christians cited those references to support their belief that human bondage was the inevitable result of sin. Genuine religion can be twisted for nonreligious purposes, but the whole of Scripture will be needed to sort this out—for Catholics, with the assistance of the Church’s teaching authority.
It is literally true, for example, that God has created all things, that the Son of God became human in Jesus with no loss of his divinity, and that each person is created in the divine image and intended to share life with God.
Just as Mary, the mother of Jesus, pondered and prayed over the events of her life (Lk 2:19, 51), so we need to be open to God’s revelation given through the Scriptures.