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Anonymous Tobias wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have a question about Dei Verbum No. 10, paragraph 2.

It is said that

"the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church."

  • What does the term authentically interpreting imply?
  • Does it mean that only the Magisterium can interpret Scriptures (as in knowing what the Scriptures mean)?
  • If so, what does that mean for the lay Catholic?
  • Can Scriptures be understood without the need of the Magisterium if She hasn't given an interpretation for a certain passage in Scriptures yet?


  { What does "authentically interpreting" mean?; does it mean only the Church can interpret the Scriptures? }

Eric replied:

Dear Tobias,

It means the Magisterium has the final say on scriptural interpretation. There are actually very few passages of Scripture that the Magisterium has authoritatively ruled on, so there is a lot of latitude for lay interpretation. Still, secondarily, this means we should interpret Scripture in light of the Tradition of the Church and not promote inharmonious interpretations.

For example, the Church has always seen John 3:6 as a reference to Baptism, so we shouldn't run around arguing that instead it refers to an emotional experience. But in general, what the book of Revelation means is up to you, as long as you don't confess a literal 1,000-year reign.

The Magisterium lays down certain generous boundaries within which we can play.


Bob replied:

Dear Tobias,

Thanks for the question. 

The clause simply points to the authority of the Church to be the final arbiter in matters of interpretation.  Think about how many times in history heretics have distorted and misinterpreted Scripture, bending it to their own destruction.  If they had listened to the Church, who can correct those errors, we wouldn't be so divided.  So basically we need a referee to settle matters when interpretations seems to contradict the Deposit of Faith.

All that being said, that does not mean we are unable to read scripture and unpack its many layers of meaning.  We just need to have some guard rails so we don't drive off the road.  Even the founders of this country knew that their needed to be a Supreme Court to ensure that the constitution would be interpreted properly.  Jesus is even more savvy to the potential for distortion and therefore gave His Church the infallible power to guard His Teaching in its Magisterium.


Bob Kirby

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