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Ask the Register: errors in the Bible?

Q. I’m taught that Scripture is free from error. But obviously, there are historical details or facts that don’t seem plausible, or consistent. How can Scripture be free from error if it seems to contain many factual errors?

A. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Sacred Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit has worked through human authors, using their full power and ability, but writing, as Vatican II says, “what God wanted written, and no more.” God is the author of all Scripture because it is written exactly the way God intended to it to be.

Because God is the author of Scripture, we hold and teach that that every single part of the Bible is without error, not only in terms of faith and morals, but in terms of its entire content.

However, the Church does teach that we should understand inerrancy in terms of what the authors of Scripture— God included—intended to teach, reveal, and affirm.  The sacred writers used metaphors and images from the natural sciences and historical details available to them in order to teach about God’s saving plan, not about all elements of astronomy or physics. 

Moreover, elements of Scripture are written in different genres of literature: Scripture contains poetry, myth, narrative, parable, saga, and many other literary forms to reveal God’s plan. Understanding these forms, and the rules by which they operate, is essential to understanding what the authors of Scripture intended to convey, and by what means. Understanding the way in which Scripture is written and intended takes serious and careful study.

Scripture is inspired by God, and inerrant in the revelation of salvation history and the Christian mystery. And the Lord wishes to speak to each one of us through his holy word. If we open Sacred Scripture with humility, prayer, and with the full use of our minds, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will reveal the mystery of God’s love to us in new and profound ways.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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