What does the Catholic Church teach about Inerrancy in the Bible?
The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, issued by the bishops at Vatican II, says, “[S]ince everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that (emphasis mine).
This means, for instance, that when the Bible ascribes a miracle to Jesus, he really performed the miracle. We are not to conclude that overzealous Christians of later years inserted the account the text because the story seemed pleasing to pious ears. In short, the Bible is trustworthy. Of course, passages must be read in context, and for a proper understanding we must perceive the literary forms. We must take poetry as poetry, not history, and history as history, not poetry.
The Council Fathers reminded us that, “For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of perceiving, speaking, and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer.”
Common sense can take us a long way. When a sacred writer says “the sun rose,” we don’t have to conclude the Bible is teaching us that the earth is the center of the solar system and the sun orbits the earth. When Genesis tells us that everything was created in six days, we don’t have to conclude these were six days of twenty-four hours, since Genesis is using a certain literary form, akin to poetry, to convey the truth that God created everything out of nothing and gave order to his creation.
Many Fundamentalists go overboard on literalness because they have no recourse to an infallible interpreter (that is, the Catholic Church) and must fall back on their own interpretive powers, and many self-styled moderns go overboard by claiming we have to “demythologize” the Bible.
We should avoid both extremes. We don’t need to collapse into either a crass literalism which makes no use of literary forms or into an anti-miraculism which tosses out everything smacking of the supernatural.