Benedict XVI reflects on the truth and inspiration of the Bible

The annual meeting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission this year was devoted to the topic of “the inspiration and truth of the Bible.” The Holy Father gave a brief comment to the commission members on April 18. This theme of inspiration and truth is needed for a correct interpretation of the Bibles’s message. The Bible itself is a product of the Church and Tradition; it was not first written and then the Church appeared. The Church appeared in an organized way. It subsequently recalled and recorded the essential teaching of the Christ and the apostles. The ultimate origin of the Bible is not human but is found in the Logos, in the Word of God. But this origin does not prevent God also from using human instruments. This is what Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul are about.

Inspiration is an “act of God” in such a manner that the human words express the words of God. Inspiration is decisive in any adequate approach to Holy Scripture. More is found here than simply the words of men, though human words are there. If we only look at the human words, we do not see what is most important and precious about them. We do not see that they “come from God.” They teach us about the beginning and the end and the ways inbetween.

In Verbum Domini, the Pope remarked that the Council fathers placed the idea of inspiration in the context of truth in Scripture. The latter is not just a series of stories or disparate texts. It is a whole. If we attend to inspiration, we will also pay more attention to the truth found in Scripture. The notion that we can have a Scripture that is in opposition to truth undermines the very notion of what Scripture if about.

Through the charism of inspiration, the books of the Bible have a direct and forceful appeal to us. Yet, the word of God is not confined to what is written. If revelation had concluded with the death of the last apostle, the revealed words continue to be announced and interpreted in the tradition of the Church. Scripture is not a dead text to be investigated as something solely of the past, of the time in which it was written—as something antiquarian.

For this reason, the word of God fixed in the sacred texts is not an inert deposit within the Church. It becomes the supreme rule of its faith and the power of life. Tradition that draws its origin from the apostles progresses with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and increases with the reflection and the study of believers, with the experience of spiritual life, and the preaching of the bishops.

In the study of the theme of inspiration and truth, the commission is called to offer its own specific and qualified contribution to this necessary deepening. In fact, this endeavor is essential and fundamental for the life and mission of the Church. Sacred texts need to be interpreted according to their nature. Inspiration and truth are constitutive characteristics of this nature. The word of God needs to be welcomed, known, and studied.

The brief comment of the Pope on inspiration and truth does not range widely over the whole area of biblical studies and their limits. What it does do—and this is characteristic of Benedict XVI—is to insist that we are given Scripture for one reason: to know the truth. Scripture is not mere myth, or piety, or poetry, or historical record. It is the locus of the truth of our being, its ultimate origin and end. If we do not see this truth there, we will find its fullness in no other source. The purpose of inspiration is not inspiration itself. It is that we may know the truth about God, the cosmos, and ourselves.

About James V. Schall, S.J. 157 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, "Another Sort of Learning", for more about his writings and work.