Catechism 101 – Lesson 8: Scripture – Interpretation

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Reading Material: Catechism of the Catholic Church 109-119

Objective: Students will understand the nature and importance of the Church’s role in interpreting Scripture.

Main Ideas:

  1. When reading Scripture, the reader must discover the author’s intention in order to understand what God reveals to us through the Scriptures.
  2. Scripture must be interpreted in light of the Holy Spirit, who inspired it.
  3. Criteria for interpretation: keep in mind the unity of Scripture, read Scripture according to the living Tradition of the Church, and remember that all truths of Scripture are coherent amongst themselves and within the plan of Salvation.
  4. Scripture has both a literal and a spiritual (allegorical, moral, analogical) sense.
  5. The interpretation of Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church, which has been entrusted with its interpretation by God.

Learning Activities:

Ages 6-8

Focus: We need someone to help us understand what God tells us.

Discussion: In our last lesson on inspiration, we talked about how God sometimes speaks to men through their hearts. For example, he speaks to us through our conscience, telling us what is right and wrong. He spoke to some of our grandfathers in the faith by telling them what he wanted us to know about him. But even with God’s voice in our heart, we don’t always completely understand what he is telling us. Sometimes, we aren’t sure whether something is right or wrong, or we don’t know what to do. So God sends us people to help us know what he is telling us. As children, we turn to our parents. God has given them the task of helping us know what God wants of us. Regarding the Scriptures, we turn to the Holy Spirit, and to the Church. God has given the Church the task of helping us understand what he is telling us through the Scriptures.

Activity #1: Read a Bible story together. Discuss how we interpret it. For example, you could read the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, and then discuss how this is interpreted as foreshadowing salvation through Jesus (even though the story doesn’t directly speak about Jesus).

Activity #2: Show your child a picture of the current pope. If you can, find a child friendly biography of the pope to help your child learn a little more about him. Explain to your child that the Pope has been entrusted with the care of the Church. It is his responsibility, guided by the Holy Spirit, to make sure the Church interprets Revelation correctly.

Ages 9-11

Focus: Interpretation – What did the author mean?

Activity:

Read a short children’s story with your child (or they can read it on your own). Then talk about who the author is, and why they might have written the book.  Ask your child to make a list of questions they have about the book. Then discuss ways they could find answers, like talking to someone else that has read the book, reading things other people have written about the book, or asking the author directly. You can get answers from many places, but the only definitive way to know you are interpreting the book correctly is to talk to the author and find out what they intended.

The same is true of the Bible. The Bible has many authors that God inspired to write about him. Even individual books often had more than one author. They were written in different times and places, and even in different languages. But God inspired them all. We can learn about the scriptures by talking to other people and reading what other people have written about them, but in the end, there is only one definitive way of knowing how to interpret them – but turning to the Church, which has been given the authority to interpret the Scriptures in the light of the Holy Spirit.

Ages 11-13

Focus:

Activity 1: Look at your Bible. Many Bibles have a brief explanation of each book at the beginning of each book, as well as footnotes within the text. Read a passage of the Bible, and go to the references given in the footnotes. How do these references help you understand the passage better? Read the explanation of at the beginning of one of the books. How does it help you understand the Scriptures better? Both the explanation at the beginning of each book and the footnotes throughout the Bible are tools to help us in interpreting Scripture. Some publications of the Bible, including the Navarre Bible, give us even more information regarding each passage and how to interpret it.

Activity 2: Interpretation – the human authors.

Read a passage of Shakespeare. What are some things you need to know in order to correctly interpret the script? (Language, time period, culture, type of drama, etc.)

This is true of Sacred Scripture as well. We need to gather information about the human author, his intention, the time period, the type of text, etc. to properly interpret Scripture. But with Scripture, there’s more to it than that, because God is the Divine Author and was revealing one united message through all of Scripture. This is why we also need to interpret Scripture with the light of the Holy Spirit.

Activity #3:  Interpretation – Intention of the Holy Spirit.

Read Dei Verbum #12-13 and this explanation of interpretation based on The Intention of the Holy Spirit (pages 54-57 within the document).

Then respond to the following questions, orally or in writing:

  1. Why do you think God choose to speak through many human authors instead of one?
  2. Why do we need the Church as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture? Why isn’t Scripture alone self-sufficient?
  3. Explain in your own words the importance of interpreting Scripture in the context of the unity of the Bible.
  4. What do we mean by interpreting Scripture using the “analogy of faith”?
  5. If you were asked to give an explanation of a Scripture passage, what are some things you would consider and look into when learning about the passage? Why?

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