Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why must the Bible be read in the context of Sacred Tradition?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

The fundamental teaching of the Church regarding Divine revelation is that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition ultimately come from the same source. As Dei Verbum states, “Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” (DV 9). We recognize that Christ, in scripture, did not guarantee that Sacred Scripture would be protected and guided by the Holy Spirit but that the Church would be (Matthew 16:18–19; John 14:16). Our trust in scripture arises through our trust in the Church and Sacred Tradition. St. Augustine himself said in his response Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental: “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” The biblical canon as Christians know it is dependent upon the authority of the early Church, hence, upon Sacred Tradition. The development of the New Testament scripture depends upon the Apostolic Tradition if it is to have any authority whatsoever as the message persisted for the first twenty to thirty years with no written texts but by word of mouth. One of the notable elements of Raymond Brown’s text is his deference to the judgment of the Church where scripture is either silent or ambiguous.

In addition, the Church has taught consistently that sacred Scripture must be understood in light of its literal sense—that is, the sense in which its human author intended. In order to adequately understand the literal sense, one must understand the cultural context and language. For the New Testament, at very least, this context is the very sacred Tradition that gave rise to the text. In addition, these texts present the teachings of Christ in light of His authority over the Law as the fulfillment of it. The sacred Tradition to which we refer is the tradition that preserved this teaching and passed it on with the Magisterium as its servant (DV 10). To read scripture outside of tradition is to expose it to the vicissitudes of contemporary whim.

i. Augustine. “Against the Title of the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 8 February 2010
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 1—Lesson Two,” International Catholic University, 5 February 2010,
ii. Raymond Brown, 101 Questions & Answers on the Bible, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 24–26.
iii. Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” 23 April 1993. Catholic Resources for Bible, Liturgy, Art, and Theology, 21 January 2010,
iv. Ashley,
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