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Joe Paprocki Answers:
The story is true but not necessarily fact. Huh? Catholic Scripture scholars tell us that some parts of the Bible use figurative language to express God’s truth. Figurative language can express truth without relying on fact. We use figurative language all the time. For example, if it’s raining very hard, we say that it’s “raining cats and dogs.” That statement is true but not fact. In the same way, we know now that some parts of the Bible employed figurative language. Why? Because the illiterate culture that the Bible came out of did not have the kind of science that we have today. They were concerned more with truth than they were with facts. Does this make the creation story and certain other Biblical passages mere “fairy tales?” Absolutely not. Everything in the Bible is true. In other words, everything in the Bible is the revealed Word of God that teaches us the truth about God and our relationship with him. The creation story (by the way, there are two creation stories! Take a look at Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25), and the entire Bible, is primarily concerned with religious truth. Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory are concerned with scientific truth. There is no conflict between the two (Pope Benedict XVI said as much not long ago: http://www.americancatholic.org/news/newsreport.aspx?id=355).
As Catholics, we don’t have to choose between creationism and science. Now, having said all that, the Bible is indeed filled with many historical facts, many of them quite accurate. It is important to read good Catholic commentaries to guide us when it comes to determining the historicity of an event we encounter in the Bible. To get a good understanding of how Catholics are to interpret the Bible, take a look at a very helpful document published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission titled The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.