“Ask a Priest: Could We Disregard Some of Those Biblical Stories?”

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Q: Are Catholics allowed to believe that events in the Bible did not actually happen, and take them more as metaphors? For example, can a Catholic believe that there weren’t actual people named Adam and Eve and that Noah did not actually build a boat and put every animal on earth on it, or that God did not command Moses to smear blood on doors so that he wouldn’t kill babies? Are we allowed to believe that these events did not happen? – J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: A basic principle is that we need to accept what the biblical writer intended to communicate. This requires that we understand the genre and context of various parts of Scripture.

Some parts are highly symbolic, such as the Book of Revelation, while its underlying themes, such as the dangers that confront the Church, and the Church’s ultimate triumph, are of perennial value.

But there are times when passages are basically historical, such as the cases you ask about, though some of the details might be enhanced or symbolic.

The Catechism, for instance, in Nos. 58, 71, 845, 1094, 1219 treats Noah as a historical person.

Likewise, the Catechism seems to affirm the belief that Adam and Eve were not mere symbols but literally our first parents. It teaches that Eve in some way was created from Adam (No. 371) and contrasts the first Adam with Christ (No. 359).

The Catechism also refers to Adam and Eve as our “first parents” created in an original state of justice and holiness (No. 375), which they lost when they sinned (Nos. 399-400).

Moses and the Passover (blood on the doorposts included) were precursors to Christ (“the second Moses”) and his sacrifice on Calvary (where the Lamb of God is led to slaughter), which is re-presented at each Mass.

Whether the flood in Genesis was a worldwide event or a local occurrence is a secondary matter. Likewise, the number of animals on the ark is secondary.

Significantly, Jesus himself refers to the flood (Matthew 24:37ff), further supporting its historical reality.

So, the short answer is no, a Catholic shouldn’t disbelieve that these biblical figures existed or that the basic events happened.

If they seem hard to accept, that is a good reason to pray for faith and to delve into Scripture more. For related reading, see this post of Karlo Broussard’s.

I hope some of this helps.


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