How Catholics Read Scripture

Strange Notions (the place to be online for Catholic-Atheist dialogue) is running a super series on how Catholics approach Sacred Scripture. I’ve written on this briefly before, but if you want more detail but not a whole book, Mark Shea is your man.  Continue reading


The True Interpreters of Scripture: the Saints

Currently working my way through the first volume of BXVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, and came across this beauty, on the interpretation of Scripture:

The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Interpretation of Scripture can never be a purely academic affair, and it cannot be relegated to the purely historical. Scripture is full of potential for the future, a potential that can only be opened up when someone “lives through” and “suffers through” the sacred text.

As they Incarnate the Word, by living it, and conform themselves to Christ (the Word), the saints thus provide us with the most intense, vivid illustrations of the meaning of Sacred Scripture.

Awesome, no?


Scott Hahn on Typology

I’m currently reading Scott Hahn’s Consuming the Word, and I came across a rather wonderfully succinct account of typology. It’s a bit of an elusive concept to pin down well, so good on him. Also I never knew why things were called types, but it makes so much sense! Here ‘tis:

“In the Old Testament Scriptures the entire New Testament was foreshadowed. In the New Testament dispensation, all the Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled. As Saint Augustine put it: ”The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”

The manner of fulfilment follows a discernible pattern. God has a characteristic way of dealing with humanity, and humanity has a fairly predictable way of responding to God. The pattern is, roughly, this: creation, fall and redemption.

  • God created Adam and Eve; they sinned; yet God let them live and even promised them a redeemer.
  • God spared humanity and let it fill the earth. Yet humanity sinned again. So god punished the entire race, sparing the righteous Noah and his family.
  • God called forth a people in Abraham. Yet the allowed themselves to become enslaved in Egypt. He redeemed them through the ministry of Moses.
  • God gave His tribes a kingdom. Their kings neglected true worship and social justice, meriting invasion and exile. God anointed foreigners to bring a humbled people back to the land.

For God’s chosen people, the wages of sin had precedents in Eden, in Egypt, in Babylon. The early Christians, like the prophets before them, discerned these patterns in the history of salvation. God’s touches were like a recognizable watermark or trademark. The ancients called these foreshadowings “types”- in Greek, typoi– after the uniform mark left on an emperor’s coin or on a wax seal. On a coin or a seal, a type symbolises a ruler’s authority. In the Scriptures, a type is itself a historical reality, but it is also representative of something greater. Moses prefigured Christ, though Moses was himself a man. The manna prefigured the Eucharist, though the manna itself was a miracle. In the New Testament, fulfilment was far greater than the sum of Old Testament types. Fulfilment was the abiding presence of God Himself: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14). In the Church, the study and prayerful consideration of biblical types is called typology.

Human authors use words to symbolise realities. In salvation history, God uses temporal realities- even kings and kingdoms, laws and wards- to symbolise far greater realities, truths that are spiritual and eternal.”

For more on how Catholics read the Word of God, see the post “On the literal interpretation of Scripture”.