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Miracles and the Bible
Posted By Eric Sammons On September 14, 2009 @ 10:15 am In Scripture | Comments Disabled
A great question from the mailbag:
When I am reading what may be a historical passage of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) but it seems to me to not be “something that really happened” how do I know if it is something that the Church expects me to consider factual as a matter of faith?
Things that come to mind are the the flood, the miracles of Moses and the pharoah’s magicians, and the crossing of the Red Sea but there are many more.
I do believe all of the truths that our Church teaches. I’m just not sure where the line is drawn. I realize that this may be a very big question, but perhaps you can point me down the right path.
Thank you in advance for any help you can give me.
This is a really good question and one that many people struggle with.
If we look at the guidelines to Biblical interpretation the Church proposes we find that, unlike fundamentalist churches, the Catholic Church actually allows a pretty wide latitude in Biblical interpretations. Obviously, any interpretation that contradicts the Catholic Faith is not allowed, as the same Spirit which inspired the Bible has led the Church in her definition of dogma. But the doctrines of the Church are not a straight jacket in reading the Bible; they are more like road markers which keep us on the correct path. But the truth is that this path is actually quite broad, allowing many flavors of interpretation under one umbrella of faith.
The subtitle of my article on Scripture interpretation is “Resting on Fundamentals, Resisting Fundamentalism”, which reflects the fine line that Catholics should maintain when reading the Bible. On the one hand, we cannot subscribe to the prevalent liberal interpretations which discount any possibility of the supernatural and therefore see the stories of the miraculous in the Bible as fanciful and mythological. To do so is to reject the power of God to intervene in our world in a supernatural way. However, we also are not to be fundamentalists, reading the Bible as a direct account of the events they describe. None of the biblical books, even the historical books, were written in the fashion of a modern newspaper, simply reporting the facts and remaining unbiased in its reporting (at least, that is what newspaper articles are supposed to be). They are intended to be theological reflections of actual events, focusing on the work of God in the activities of our world.
So how are we to understand the accounts of the miraculous in the Bible? Are we to reject them out of hand or accept them all on face value? The answer is neither. We are to look at each story in the context and culture in which it was written. Sometimes a biblical author will write about a natural occurrence and give it a supernatural meaning. This is completely legitimate, as often God will work through our ordinary circumstances to work His Will in our lives. Sometimes the natural convergence of events will lead to a “miraculous” result. Also, sometimes we are reading about an event from a very specific point of view, which might leave out all the details of the event to bring about a theological message. For example, many believe that the Flood was a localized event (not world-wide), and there is nothing in the Catholic Faith against this interpretation.
But we also must be willing to accept that sometimes God does work in our world in a truly miraculous fashion. The crossing of the Red Sea is a fantastical story, but when we study it more in-depth, we find that a miraculous intervention by God is the only explanation that really fits all the facts. An enslaved people is able to escape from a supremely powerful nation intact and then passes down the details of that story for generations. Purely natural explanations actually take more faith than the supernatural one in this case. Simply rejecting the miraculous from the Bible makes it a meaningless book.
So did the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracles of Moses, etc. actually happen exactly the way they are describe in the Bible? I cannot answer that question directly, but instead just give the guidelines the Church gives us:
I hope that these are helpful guidelines for you as you continue to read the Sacred Scriptures. May God bless your reading abundantly!
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