Gospel Matters: Inspired Books (March 2017)

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Gospel Matters: Inspired Books (March 2017)
Courtesy Guido Reni - Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Christine Wood, Director, Office of Evangelisation & Catechesis

God is the author of Sacred Scripture. We cannot say this of any other document inside or outside the Church. The Second Vatican Council teaches, “Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit” (Dei Verbum 9). The Council continues, “the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself” (DV, 11). 

While the Council clearly teaches Scripture as inspired by God, it never speaks of Tradition as inspired, even though the Holy Spirit is at work guiding the Apostles and their successors in their transmission and interpretation of the Word of God.

Scripture is set apart from any other document of the Church. Unlike other documents, Scripture is venerated in the Church (DV, 21), which is why the priest kisses the book of the Gospels after proclaiming the Word at Mass. 

What does St Paul mean in writing: “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16)? The Greek term here for “inspired by God” is literally “God-breathed.” The Church understands this to mean that, “In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (DV, 11). As a result, everything the human authors of Scripture assert to be true, is also asserted to be true by the Holy Spirit. Only those things that God wishes to be written are found in Scripture, nothing more, nothing less. This is because of the gift of divine inspiration.

What about other documents of the Church like encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, or papal homilies? Although these are not inspired by God, the Holy Spirit guides the Pope in his interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, ensuring he passes on the deposit of faith without error. This doesn’t mean that all the Pope’s words are unambiguous or timely. But it does mean he is protected from error when teaching the whole Church on matters of faith and morals. This protection comes through the gift of infallibility, which differs from divine inspiration. At times a pope may speak or write ambiguously, but if interpreted correctly in light of the Church’s Tradition, his words are protected from error. Hence the rules of proper interpretation are required even when listening to the Pope.

Which, then, are the God-inspired books? The Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only books inspired by God.