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My friends tell me that because the Bible is the word of God, we have to believe it all. Is that true? If so, how can that be?
As you know, when we read from the Bible in a liturgical setting, we end the proclamation with “The word of the Lord” or “The Gospel of the Lord.” This is an affirmation that we indeed believe the Word proclaimed to be the word of God. Does that mean that God wrote every single word of the Bible down or maybe dictated the Bible to a human scribe? We can be pretty sure that he did not.
As Catholics we honor the Bible as the word of God for two reasons. First, it tells the story of the relationship between God and the people from the time of creation to the time of salvation with all its ups and downs and all its human progress and setbacks. The Bible, then, is first of all the book that narrates not as much the history but more so the relationship between God and the people and the people’s experience of God speaking to them in many different situations.
Second, the Bible is considered the word of God because its very existence is divinely inspired. As such the Bible contains God’s word conceived in human language, written by and for specific people but with a deep meaning for all generations since.
What, then, about those people who insist that since the Bible is the word of God, we should interpret it literally? Even if we thought we should, certain biblical passages literally prevent us from doing so. I suggest that you and your friends read the Bible cover to cover and try to insist on its literal interpretation. You might be surprised, if not shocked, by the things you would find yourselves doing if interpreting the text literally. Theoretically, of course, the literal interpretation seems to be a more respectful approach to the word of God. In reality, it is not.
Thankfully, God’s intent for the Bible is spiritual, rather than literal. Thus, a spiritual interpretation of the Bible is even better than a literal interpretation. In order to do that, we need to know the context in which each passage has been written. This is not always easy. That is why homilies are of the utmost importance. They are intended to break open the Word that was just proclaimed and to assure that we understand what God’s plan is for us, today.
I don’t suspect this will convince your friend. However, I do hope it confirmed you in your beliefs.
© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.
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