Catholicism teaches that Scripture is inspired by God and that the bible is free from error "in matters of faith and morals".

I'm wondering what the Church means when it says that the scripture is "inspired by God". Does it mean

  1. Physical Inspiration. The individual physical penstrokes in the original manuscripts were inspired by God. In other words the way in which the molecules of ink were physically arranged on the original manuscripts was determined/inspired by God.
    Implications: no one really has a copy of the true "word of God" because only the original manuscripts are the true "word of God". Copies and translations are not "inspired". The best we can get are "uninspired" copies of the inspired originals.
  2. Verbal Plenary Inspiration. The Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic words were directly determined and inspired by God, word for word. Every individual word and it's position in the sentence is important, chosen by God, and can't be ignored.
    Implications: Translations of scripture will be inherently inferior to the bible in the original languages because translation always leads to a loss of information and context. There is no perfect translation. Copies of the original manuscripts are considered just as inspired as the originals, however translations of the originals are not considered inspired.
  3. Kerygmatic Inspiration. It's not the original/individual words themselves which are inspired, but the message that the words convey.
    Implications: Different translations of the original texts can be considered equally as valid as the original texts so long as they convey the same message (This would seem to legitimise the "Dynamic equivalence" school of translation). In this way an English translation of the bible can be considered equally valid to the original manuscripts, so long as the message they convey is the same. We could also potentially feel free to muck with the original manuscripts (if we had access to them) and change the wording in some places that are unclear and confusing so as to clarify the meaning, or add entirely new words as elaborations (the Comma Johanneum is a historical precedent for this). Translations and copies of the original manuscripts are considered to be just as inspired as the original manuscripts.

What is the Catholic position?

  • What in articles 101-141 of the CCC does not cover your concerns? Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 14:09
  • It doesn't go into the level of detail requested by the question. Doesn't say whether the individual words are inspired or just the message Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


From the Catechism (emphasis mine):

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."DV 11

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."

Considering that the human authors are true authors, the Catholic position most closely approaches "Kerygmatic Inspiration". That being said, the Church places an importance in understanding the context of the original authors and how they conceived the word to better understand what they meant in each passage. Quoting Dei Verbum (emphasis, again, mine):

  1. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion--, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, **should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.

In other words, the Inspiration isn't in the particular words used, but there might be Inspiration in the way that the sacred author employs metaphors and similes, which a given translator might miss and leave out of the translated text.

This means that it is often fruitful to study the original languages and compare the Greek and Hebrew versions of Scripture to the modern translations, at least for priests and higher-level scholars. There might be some insight which is more obscure in English or other modern languages, but clear in the Greek — as an example, the difference in verbs when Jesus asks St. Peter "Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" and St. Peter's answer in Jn 21:15–17.

In summary, we do believe that translations can be Inspired and fruitful, but that Inspiration can only be certified through long and continued use, so the Greek and Hebrew originals are still important.

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