“Ask a Priest: Does the Bible Contradict Itself?”

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Q: Does the Catholic Church teach that the Bible contradicts itself? Do you believe that the Church’s teachings contradict the Bible? – H.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You raise very good questions. Let me try to answer the second question first.

The Church believes that Revelation comes down to us in Scripture and Tradition. Tradition, with a capital T, is the oral transmission of Christ’s teaching that was passed down through the apostles. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God,” says Dei Verbum, the Church’s dogmatic constitution on divine Revelation.

Before the New Testament was written, it was Tradition that passed along Jesus’ teaching. On Pentecost morning, for instance, when Peter preached and saw the baptism of 3,000 people, he didn’t hand out copies of the New Testament. That polished collection of texts wouldn’t exist as such for several hundred years. Rather, Peter preached from Tradition — what he had heard from Jesus.

The Church relies on Tradition to help her interpret the Bible correctly. The Bible, like any text, needs to be interpreted. It is the correct interpretation of Scripture that forms a basis for Church teaching.

So, there is a kind of chicken-and-egg answer here. Church teaching doesn’t contradict the Bible because Church teaching by nature involves the correct interpretation of Scripture.

By now you might have figured out the answer to the first question: No, the Bible doesn’t contradict itself if it is interpreted correctly.

A common misconception about the Bible is that it is a handbook of moral dos and don’ts. It is much more complex than that. It is a collection of books that include the good, the bad and the ugly. And while on the surface the Bible contains a range of views and perspectives that seem to differ wildly at times, the God who inspired the whole of Scripture is one and the same deity.

Suffice it to say that the Bible is a work that needs to be interpreted well. And who decides whether an interpretation of Scripture is correct? The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

For more reading see “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” I hope some of this helps.

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