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Catholic Bishops Offer Guide to Symbolic Passages in Bible

A friend directed me to a Yahoo news article (October 6, 2005) from The Scotsman entitled â??Church stops believing in the Bibleâ? by Stephen McGinty. As I read further, it became apparent that there was no way the Catholic Church in Scotland was ending belief in the Bible. The Church had simply published a guide explaining that not all Bible passages were literally true.

The idea of symbolic language in the Bible is nothing new. But an official guide from the Church in Scotland could help combat what the bishops say are "significant dangers" involved in taking a fundamentalist approach to the Bible.

In the United States there is a debate among some Christians who wish the story of creation as told in the Book of Genesis to be taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution as explained by Charles Darwin.

However, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which gives two differing stories of creation, cannot be considered as "historical" according to Scotland's Bishops.


Father Michael McMahon, a lecturer in scripture and a priest of the Paisley Diocese, who co-wrote the report, said: "In order to believe that every passage of the Bible is the literal truth, you have to suspend your critical faculties. You have to suspend the God-given ability to reason."

I wholeheartedly am glad to see some official views expressing dangers of a fundamentalist approach. However, there remains the possibility that if the bishops were to succumb to critical reason entirely, they might also question why they accept as factual some tenets like The Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection. If they indeed have given this some thought, there still comes a point when decisions to interpret some passages metaphorically and not others can create some confusion in the total doctrinal picture.

For instance, if the Genesis creation stories are to be considered symbolic, are we to assume that Adam and Eve are not historical figures? If so, what about Adamâ??s â??original sinâ? that has implicated all of humanity? St. Augustine claimed that transmission of original sin occurred in the semen of the male. This very material doctrine of original sin required Maryâ??s immaculate conception so as to be conceived free from all stain of original sin.

Regardless of symbolic creation stories, the Virgin Birth is still considered factually correct by the Catholic Church in Scotland. I donâ??t have a copy of their newly published guide. Perhaps the bishops explain further how symbolic the figure of Adam is, the one, according to doctrine, whose stain literally inherited by mankind required a literal immaculate conception of Mary, not to mention the doctrine that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary without agency of a "stained" human father.

The mystery continues...

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