Leah Libresco …

is an interesting and thoughtful atheist who writes a blog called “Unequally Yoked” where she “picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend”. She’s gotten to be pals with Jen Fulweiler, a former atheist who blogs at Conversion Diary and now for the Register. Anyway, she writes:

I was wondering if you could share the below with your readers. My blog has a motley mix of atheist and Christian readers and a question about Catholic practice has come up that’s above my pay grade. I’d like to fill in the gap with some interesting guest posts.

I really appreciated Jen Fulwiler’s post at NCR listing mistakes Catholics make about atheists. I wrote a vice versa post on the mistakes atheists make about Catholics to try and help people avoid offense/confusion in discussion. One of the myths I was debunking is the idea that Catholics interpret the Bible (particularly the OT) literally. It’s good to clear that up, but my atheist commenters and I are still at a bit of a loss as to how Catholic exegesis works.

I’d love to put up some guest posts where people apply Sacred Tradition to a particular verse, explain how a historical controversy was settled, etc. Anything that offers a case study of or a window onto bible study. I’m glad to reprint something people have written for their own blog, I’m just looking for a couple Catholic perspectives to share. It’s a big plus if you stick around to answer some questions in the comment section. I posted a call for posts here, and I hope people get in touch!


Short of reading my Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did, the quickest precis I can give you is to recommend a little series I wrote on the four senses of scripture that was occasioned by the shallow sneer stylings of Bill Maher. You can find the series here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Two points: It’s not really accurate to says Catholic don’t read the OT literally. It depends on which part. Catholics don’t read the text of Gen 1-3 literally, but there’s lots of the Old Testament that is quite obviously meant to be read as historical chronicle (albeit theologically informed historical chronicle). At the same time, much of the OT is not meant to be read literally (in the sense of “as a newspaper account”) because it is parabolic, poetic, metaphorical, vision literature, or is making all sorts of rich allusive references to other parts of scripture. So, for instance, if you are not familiar with the culture of temple worship, you aren’t even in the same ball park as the author of Genesis when he describes the creation of the world in terms of a Macrocosmic Temple being erected and an image of the God (i.e. Man) being placed in the Holy of Holies. Most moderns come at that text and think he’s trying to do either inspired or crappy science. He’s not interested in science. He’s interested in Subverting the Dominant Paradigm of ancient Near Eastern paganism. If you want to read an *incredibly* insightful introduction to the Old Testament, I *strongly* urge you to read Tim Gray’s and Jeff Cavin’s marvelous Walking with God. You’ll never think aboiut the Old Testament the same way again.

Second: I’m afraid you won’t find what you are looking for in terms of a micromanaged guide from the Magisterium on how to interpret individual verses or words as a general rule. On extremely rare occasions, the Magisterium will guide us on how *not* to read a passage (so, for instance, the fact of the deity of Christ means that certain passages such as “The Father is greater than I” or “Why do you call me good? No one is good, but the Father only” *cannot* be contrued as denials of deity by Christ. But as a general rule, the Church provide broad guidelines about how to read Scripture within the Tradition and then says, “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend.” She is, in fact, extremely *dis*inclined to define the Tradition unless extremely necessary.

A better approach is to look at a competent biblical scholar at work with the tools the Tradition provides. One place you might check out is Scott Hahn’s Salvation History.com site, which has gobs of resources for beginning to extremely sophisticated Scripture scholarship. Also, as I mentioned, the Pope’s two Jesus of Nazareth books are an excellent model of how first rate Catholic biblical scholarship is done.

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  • Dear Leah:

    Congratulations on your conversion. Welcome to the Catholic family of faith. We would very much like to contact you. Could you send me an email address or a postal mailing address.

    Many blessings,

    Catherine Kolpak, Managing Editor of Magnificat