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Our readers asked:

If the bible is not historical fact, how can we discern what actually happened in history as opposed to what is “mythic” religious revelation?

Joe Paprocki Answers:

First of all, we know that the Bible contains enormous amounts of historical facts, many of which have been verified by historians and archaeologists. What we can say about the Bible is that it was not primarily concerned with facts. The human authors, guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, set forth to relate a story of faith that took place within a historical context. This means that their focus was on the faith experience and the revealing of God’s saving grace in human history. For them, facts were secondary. As a result, there are some historical incongruities in the Bible. Despite this, Catholics confidently say that we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. This means that, when it comes to truth about God, the Bible contains no error. It does not mean that we take every detail as historical fact. To help us better understand the nuances of historical details in Scripture, we need to rely on Scripture scholars and we are blessed to have many Catholic Scripture scholars included as some of the best in the world. Their work is made available to us in footnotes, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and concordances. We simply cannot read the Bible without their help. To do so is folly and arrogance. Instead, as we read passages of the Bible, we can and should pause to consult such resources, to help us understand with our head, before we proceed to read again so that our heart can come to know God in his saving Word.

The Author : Joe Paprocki
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
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  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    It simply is not possible to know what actually happened. All we can do is extrapolate from verifiable data, and give a best guess. But really, why is it even necessary to really know? It doesn’t even matter! We live our lives according to our best understanding of how to be good people. Whatever may or may not have happened in the past doesn’t change that.

  • Steve

    If I could add something, I think it is also important to first realize that “the Bible” should first be considered a library or 73 different books written by over 60 different authors, each with a different style of writing and purpose.

    In some cases, the inspired author clearly is attempting to record a history of events (e.g. Ezra or the Gospel of Luke). However, in others, the author is trying to convey truth in a different way (e.g. Daniel or Revelations).

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