Bible Study: 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Biblical Interpretation

7 Essential Principles for Catholic Study
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Listers, “what does a Catholic approach to Scripture study look like?” This is the question Dr. Steven C. Smith takes up in his work 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study: The Word of the Lord. The book strikes an excellent balance between academic insights and a tone/format that is easily accessible to the everyday Catholic. His Eminence Cardinal George comments, “this is a helpful book at a time when the relations between Scripture and Tradition and Scripture and Divine Revelation are background for many other conversations in the Church today.” In the Foreward by Dr. Scott Hahn, the Scripture scholar states, “most importantly, readers are guided step by step through seven principles of Catholic biblical interpretation by a veteran teacher of Sacred Scripture at Mount St. Mary’s seminary, one of the oldest and most respected houses of formation in the United States. From years of experience in the classroom and parish, Dr. Smith is able to communicate clearly for a wide range of readers, from seminarians and clergy to young adults and professionals.” The following are the principle titles and descriptions as written in Dr. Smith’s work. SPL highly suggests 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study as a proper introduction to reading Holy Scripture as a Catholic.1




Principle 1: God’s Word: Divine Words in Human Language

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is governed by the firm belief that Scripture is the inspired word of God, expressed in human language. God’s Word was written under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and – at the same time – was written by true human authors with their intellectual capacities and limitations The thought and the words belong both to God and to human beings in such a way that the whole Bible comes simultaneously from God and from the inspired human authors.2


Principle 2: God’s Word is Revealed in History

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is profoundly concerned with history because of the nature of biblical revelation and the Living Word who revealed himself to humanity in history (John 1:14). Yet, Scripture can never be reduced to the natural order but fully affirms the supernatural and God’s intervention in history. Interpretation of a biblical text must be consistent with the meaning expressed by the human authors. Thus, Catholic exegetes must place biblical texts in their ancient contexts, helping to clarify the meaning of the biblical authors’ message for their original audience and for the contemporary reader.3


Principle 3: God’s Word is Revealed in History

Catholic Biblical Interpretation is grounded in the firm belief that there is one source of Divine revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The living presence of God’s Word in the Church’s life through time “flow from the same one divine wellspring” (DV, 9) and “form one sacred deposit of the word of God” (DV, 10). It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the biblical canon (DV, 8) and it is above all Sacred Tradition that helps us to truly and properly understand the Word of God.4


Principle 4: God’s Word: Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture

Catholic biblical interpretation insists upon the unity and coherence of the whole canon of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. This unitive dimension of the word of God is evident in many ways; Catholic exegetes should be particularly aware of three:

The Theme of Covenant
Biblical Typology
Recapitulation in Christ

In these and other ways, we affirm Augustine’s conclusion: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”5


Principle 5: God’s Word Has Meanings(s)

Catholic Biblical interpretation affirms that God’s Word is rich in meaning and a multiplicity of approaches can assist the exegete in explaining texts. No one method of interpretation is adequate in itself to plumb the depths of Scripture. Catholic exegetes thus benefit from exploration of various methods, including ancient, medieval, and modern biblical scholarship. Such an array of approaches can cast valuable light on the Sacred Page, provided one “reads” them within the tradition of the Church and according to the hermeneutics faith.6


Principle 6: God’s Word Requires Sound, Balanced, Methodological Analysis

Catholic biblical interpretation requires sound and balanced analysis. In the end, all analysis should be based upon excellence in scholarship, encountered from a robust Christian faith, and reflect pastoral concern and the needs of God’s people. Three essential criteria for ensuring such control in one’s exegesis of Sacred Scripture:

1. Attention to the content and unity of the Bible
2. Reading all of Scripture within the living Tradition of the Church
3. Reference to the analogy (or rule) of faith.7


Principle 7: God’s Word is Life-giving and Active!

God’s inspired word fulfills a life-giving, foundational, and authoritative role in the life of the Church. Thus, Catholic biblical interpretation does not conclude with an understanding of words, concepts and events. It must seek to arrive at the reality of which the language speaks, a transcendent reality, communication with God. The Church is called to continually actualize the ancient texts as the Word for today, and embody it in all situations and cultures. To this end, the Catholic student of Scripture must have competence in all of the previous principles so that he/she can read, study, pray and proclaim Scripture faithfully and clearly with full confidence in their transformative power.8


Once again, please visit Dr. Smith’s personal website and check out his 7 Essential Principles for Catholic Scripture Study.



New list coming soon on how to read Scripture as a Catholic – or just how to read it correctly. #catholic #catholicism #bible

A photo posted by St. Peter’s List (@stpeterslist) on


More Lists on Holy Scripture


  1. Dr. Smith’s personal website is The God Who Speaks. []
  2. Id. 17. []
  3. Id. 61. []
  4. Id. 85. []
  5. Id. 109. []
  6. Id. 161. []
  7. Id. 199. []
  8. Id. 215. []

You Do Not Stand Alone: 14 Photos from the Lister Community

They come from all walks of life. Whether its discussing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist over a hearty Trappist ale or soaking in the ancient wisdom of our Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas whilst managing five small children, the lister seeks to live the good life, the Catholic life, and share that wondrous existence with others.

Listers, the Catholic life is the good life. Thank you to all those who have recently sent in photographs of how you stand for Holy Mother Church. What is a lister, you ask? Well, listers seek to live the good and virtuous life by pursuing the riches of Christ and his Church. They come from all walks of life. Whether its discussing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist over a hearty Trappist ale or soaking in the ancient wisdom of our Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas whilst managing five small children, the lister seeks to live the good life, the Catholic life, and share that wondrous existence with others.

“Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.”
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas

Have a photo to share? Send it to us and we’ll add it to the next list of photos from the lister community.1 SPL cannot thank the listers enough. We are a small group of volunteers that bring you daily news, original graphics, and articles cataloguing the Catholic faith. We could not do this without all the support you’ve given us. Please follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page. Be sure to also check out the SPL Store for all our Catholic products and the list of Catholic graphics that started it all – I Stand with the Catholic Church: 10 Graphics in Defense of the Church.


Christmastide! Thanks to Leslie.


More evidence of Leslie’s excellent taste in coffee mugs.


Deo Gratias! Thanks to Erik and his support of Holy Mother Church.


Thanks to our Canadian lister Joe!


Thanks to Maggie and her family who used SPL graphics to protest the Obama Administration.


Thanks to our listers in Atlanta.


Listers at the Summer 2012 Religious Liberty Rally in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.


His Excellency Bishop Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma standing in front of an SPL graphic at a religious liberty rally. We’re counting him as a lister.


With love from Pittsburgh.


Thanks to Michele who’s fighting the good fight in Wisconsin.


A lister who knows an “unjust law is no law.”


Once again Maggie’s family representing the listers – this time with Scott Hahn.


Catholic evangelist Steve Ray having the opportunity to meet a lister.


No one needs to tell this man that the Catholic life is the good life. He has it figured out.


  1. Lister Photos: Please send photos to – please know your photo may be used in a list, on our online store, etc. We will block out license plates and respect personal information. Thank you so much to those who have already sent in photographs. SPL is appreciative of your support. []