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Granted that further research has been made in collecting a greater amount of old manuscripts of Scripture, certain realizations have been made about the bible that we currently use; there are some excerpts and passages that are not in older manuscripts, but rather are later add-ons (the two major examples being Mark 16 and John 5:7-8). The validity of these verses and the reliability of the Gospels is not to be discussed here. What is to be discussed is the Church's statement that the canonized Scripture used today is inerrant. What is truly meant by this word, and how is it reconciled with what scholars have shown us regarding these later additions to original manuscripts? Are there any specific thoughts from Catholic thinkers regarding this matter?

It should also be noted that I make it sound as though there are thousands of such meaningful and stunning additions to Scripture throughout the years, but such could not be further from the truth. The two major examples I listed are among the few meaningful additions that appear to have been intentionally added, but the additions themselves do not in themselves deter any accepted doctrine of the Church.

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    Where precisely do you find the statement that the Catholic Church considers the scriptures infallible and inerrant? – lonesomeday Jul 25 '15 at 17:09
  • The Catehcism speaks of inerrancy here... scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s1c2a3.htm – Manwe Elder Jul 25 '15 at 19:01
  • I could be wrong about it teaching infallibility, in which case I'll edit the question. – Manwe Elder Jul 25 '15 at 19:02
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    Why did you remove the request for Catholic teaching? By doing so, you changed this from a good question to one which is too broad. Asking for all teachings or allowing any teaching makes the question either opinion-based or unanswerable. If you want multiple perspectives, you should ask multiple questions - one each for each perspective. – ThaddeusB Jul 26 '15 at 22:52
  • I rolled this back to the previous edit. This last one made this too broad. If you want to see other views, please try the site search. For example, From a Fundamentalist standpoint, what does the phrase “Inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God” mean? has already been asked. – David Stratton Jul 27 '15 at 0:25
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According to the Catholic Catechism,

we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.

This statement is purposely ambiguous, as there is debate among Catholic theologians about what inerrancy entails. By saying the text is inerrant on matters God desired to communicate for our salvation, it opens up the possibility that the text contains incidental details that are not inerrant. However, the ambiguity also allows that it is possible all details are also correct. It just depends on what God chose to do, which humans can't know for sure.

  • Catholics United is a good example of a more strict interpretation within the Catholic Church:

Some have taught that the Scripture’s inerrancy is restricted only to “religious matters,” arguing that the Bible is without error only when it deals with matters of faith and morals. However, when it comes to non-religious matters of history or “background details,” these critics argue that God may have permitted human errors to exist alongside more important religious truths.

But this position has been refuted repeatedly by the Church because it necessarily limits God’s inspiration of the sacred texts.

...

When it comes to matters of natural science, the Church teaches that the sacred authors did not necessarily intend to teach physics, astronomy, or chemistry. For example, when the Scriptures describe the sun as moving around the earth (cf. Ps. 19: 4-6; Eccles. 1:5), the sacred writer was not intending to give astronomy lessons. A literalistic approach would have to deny the modern scientific data showing that the earth revolves around the sun.

However, the writers were intending to report what appeared to their senses, and did so accurately.

  • While David Bennett offers a good defense of a less strict interpretation:

The early Fathers held that the Bible was inerrant... However, this is the case only when the Bible is properly understood, interpreted by the Church. This is inerrancy by ancient standards and not modern, fundamentalist standards. The early Fathers did not think that minor contradictions rendered the Bible errant, nor did they insist all stories were meant to be interpreted literally. For instance, the creation stories were often allegorized, interpreted in ways so as to prefigure Christ, or interpreted through the lens of the science of the day (or all three!). Thus St. Augustine could say each day in the Genesis creation story was equal to a thousand years, or that the science of the day should shape our understanding of the creation stories, without ever denying the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

...

Thus the view of the early Church is that the Bible is an accurate, God-inspired testimony, the written document accurately reporting the foundations of the faith, but not necessarily inerrant as defined by modern criteria, and the Old Testament is certainly not inerrant when exclusively interpreted literally.

...

In conclusion, Catholics believe that the Bible is God-inspired, inerrant when interpreted correctly by the Church (and this is fluid to a degree, as science and other observations help us with this task), but not necessarily inerrant by the Protestant definition.

  • Thank you for the well thought out response. It looks as though this question will go down as a 'dud' though. – Manwe Elder Aug 1 '15 at 21:45
  • @Mamwe I think its a good question and have upvoted - the down votes were probably due to the initial confusion over the scope, but restricting it Catholic teaching solved that... Regardless of how the community feels about the question, there is no reason you can't accept the answer (by clicking the check mark) if it fully addressed your question. :) – ThaddeusB Aug 2 '15 at 20:20
  • I'm catching your 'help you-help me' game :D It does address the question so I'll check it. – Manwe Elder Aug 2 '15 at 21:08
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[Bl. Pope] Pius IX, condemned the following notion: “The prophecies and miracles set forth and recorded in the Sacred Scriptures are the fiction of poets, and the mysteries of the Christian faith the result of philosophical investigations. In the books of the Old and the New Testament there are contained mythical inventions...”37

Pope Leo XIII: “It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.”38

Pope Pius X, condemned the notion: “Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.”39

Pope Benedict XV: “...the divine inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture without distinction, and that no error could occur in the inspired text.”40

Pope Pius XII, repeats Leo XIII decree: “It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.”41

Pope Pius XII, condemns the notion: “...immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters.”42

1964 Pontifical Biblical Commission: “...that the Gospels were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who preserved their authors from every error.”

1998 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “...the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts...”43

Pope Leo XIII: “For the sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Spirit, it contains things of the deepest importance, which, in many instances, are most difficult andobscure....For all the books in their entirety...with all their parts, have been written under the dictation of the Holy Spirit.”44

Council of Trent: “...the purity itself of the Gospel is preserved in the Church, which promised before through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures...and [the Synod] clearly perceiving that this truth and instruction are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which have been received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the apostles themselves, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit, have come down even to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand, [the Synod] following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and holds in veneration with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament, since one God is the author or both, and also the traditions themselves, those that appertain both to faith and to morals, as having been dictated either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Spirit, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession”.”45

Vatican Council 1: “If anyone shall not accept the entire books of Sacred Scripture with all their divisions, just as the sacred Synod of Trent has enumerated them, as canonical and sacred, or denies that they have been inspired by God: let him be anathema.” [source]

1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” .... “God inspired the human authors of the sacred books...it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”46

Pope Leo XIII: “It is futile to argue that the Holy Spirit took human beings as his instruments in writing, implying that some error could slip in...For by his supernatural power he so stimulated and moved them to write, and so assisted them while they were writing, that they properly conceived in their mind, wished to write down faithfully, and expressed aptly with infallible truth all those things, and only those things, which He himself ordered; otherwise He could not Himself be the author of the whole of Sacred Scripture.”47

Code of Canon Law (1983): “Even after ordination to the priesthood, clerics are to pursue sacred studies and are to strive after that solid doctrine founded in sacred scripture, handed on by their predecessors, and commonly accepted by the Church, as set out especially in the documents of councils and of the Roman Pontiffs. They are to avoid profane novelties and pseudo-science.48

Quotes collected from pp. 28-38 of Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right (vol. 3: The Evidence from Church History)


Notes:

  1. Syllabus of Errors

  2. Providentissimus Deus

  3. Lamentabili Sani

  4. Spiritus Paraclitus

  5. Divino Afflante Spiritu

  6. Humani Generis

  7. Professio Fidei

  8. Providentissimus Deus

  9. Denz., 783 [original source]

  10. ¶¶ 81, 106.

  11. Providentissimus Deus

  12. Canon 279.1

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