“For the Sake of Our Salvation”: Interpreting Dei Verbum, Art. 11, Fifty Years Later

Robert P. Miller
Mount St. Mary College


The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, known by its Latin title Dei Verbum (DV), is the shortest of the four constitutions to be ratified at the Second Vatican Council.  While it is the shortest of the constitutions, the debates that surrounded its composition explain why it took the longest to write.  It was the question of biblical inerrancy that saw some of the most intense discussions among the authors of DV.  As it was one of the purposes of the council to extend good will toward those Christians of Protestant denominations, as well as the Jewish people and other non-Christian religions, the council fathers sought to explain the Catholic Church’s position on divine revelation in sacred scripture.  This debate, in which the council fathers found themselves regarding biblical inerrancy, also existed among Protestant denominations and led to increasing divisions among them regarding the infallibility of scripture.  We are now at the fiftieth anniversary of the approval of this document, which was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 18 November 1965, and debate still exists regarding the intention of the council fathers and the interpretation of key passages.  While much of the debate today has focused on the matters discussed in article 10 (dealing with scripture, tradition, and the magisterium) and article 12 (instructions for interpreters of scripture) of DV, this discussion will focus on the objective of the council fathers regarding article 11 concerning the relationship of inerrancy to the inspiration of scripture and, specifically, the meaning of the phrase “for the sake of our salvation.” 

Stating the Problem

Article 11 consists of two paragraphs emphasizing the inspired nature of scripture. In the first paragraph, the council fathers indicate that this charism of inspiration is something that pertains to all the books of scripture, both the Old and the New Testament with all their parts.  This paragraph concludes by echoing the teaching of St. Augustine, who speaks of the dual authorship of scripture, with God as the primary author and the human as the instrumental author.

The second paragraph of article 11 provides the basis for our discussion.  The authoritative Latin text reads:

Cum ergo omne id, quod auctores inspirati seu hagiographi asserunt, retineri debeat assertum a Spiritu Sancto, inde Scripturae libri veritatem, quam Deus nostrae salutis causa Litteris sacris consignari voluit, firmiter, fideliter et sine errore docere profitendi sunt.

The controversy regarding the meaning of the phrase nostrae salutis causa becomes evident by comparing the two most common English translations of this passage.  The first translation is that of Austin Flannery, which was implemented as the official English translation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It reads:

Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.

The second is a popular translation provided by Walter Abbott in his English edition of the documents of Vatican II:

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.

The placement of the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” can change the meaning and the intent of the passage based on whether the phrase is placed in the middle of the paragraph or at the end of the sentence.  A common interpretation of the statement based upon the placement of the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” at the end of the sentence is that scripture is inerrant only in matters that pertain to salvation.  This so-called “minimalist” view of inerrancy is not only found among those scholars who might be considered liberal in their approach to scripture, but it is found even among scripture scholars who might be considered orthodox in their beliefs.  Placing the phrase in the middle of the sentence can broaden the scope of inerrancy to include matters beyond faith and morals.  So, the question with which we are faced concerns whether the council fathers intended to teach that scripture is inerrant only in matters that deal with salvation, faith, and morals, or whether they continued to uphold prior Church teaching that inerrancy applies to scripture on a broader scale.

Commentary on Dei Verbum

Aloys Grillmeier’s commentary on Chapter III of DV demonstrates that there was a lively debate that ensued over the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” at the council.  Grillmeier points out that there was much support for Cardinal König among his colleagues who endorsed a restricted view of inerrancy, but Grillmeier also notes that the council firmly rejected “any limitation of inspiration to particular truths or particular parts of Scripture.”[1]  The council was faced with the question of how inerrancy fit into the understanding of unlimited inspiration in scripture.  In the earlier drafts of DV, there were various phrases included that claimed scripture to be “completely free of all error” (draft 2), and that scripture taught the truth “without any error” (draft 3).  The fourth and penultimate draft caused significant controversy because the word “any” prior to “error” was removed from the text, and the word “saving” (salutarem) was added to qualify “truth.”  Because this phrase veritas salutarem (saving truth) seemed to limit inerrancy, objections were raised in the subsequent discussion.  In order to avoid contradicting any previous magisterial teaching, the Theological Commission, after some dialogue with concerned bishops, eventually referred the matter to Paul VI.[2]  The pope requested that the word salutarem be removed, and this allowed for the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” to be introduced.  But while Grillmeier indicates that the reason for the change in wording was to prevent any implication that the council was advocating limited inerrancy, he goes on to make a more nuanced argument that inerrancy is limited to statements regarding salvation.  He writes:

There are direct statements and accounts of salvation in which this formal object salutis causa is clearly verifiable.  But there are also parts of Scripture which have only an auxiliary function in relation to these direct truths of salvation.  Here, from the point of view of the secular sciences, somewhat less than the truth can be expressed….What secular science regards as the material mistakes and inaccuracies in Scripture should not be considered in isolation and simply described as “error.”  It should all be seen within the total framework of Scripture and judged in terms of its service for the word of salvation.[3]

It is curious that Grillmeier’s commentary, when speaking about the inspiration of scripture, comments on the principle authorship of God as well as the instrumental authorship of the human writers.  It is unfortunate, however, that Grillmeier never speaks about the mutual assertion of the human and divine authors.  This, in my view, is critical because the question of inerrancy is linked to this question of mutual assertion.  If the human author asserts something in error, it must be held to be an assertion of the Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Bea, who was a scholar at the council, provides a different interpretation of DV’s meaning.  Bea has written several works regarding the council’s intention regarding inspiration and inerrancy.[4]  Bea understands the sentence “Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation” as the conclusion to a “self-evident truth – that God surely obtains what he desires, and that he cannot make a mistake or cause a mistake to be made.”[5]  In support of this, Bea cites DV 13, which reads, “For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.”

Be a notes that in schema four of DV that the text read that the scriptures taught “firmly, faithfully, wholly and without error the saving truth”:

In the voting which followed, one hundred and eighty-four council fathers asked for the adjective ‘saving’ to be removed, because they feared it might lead to misunderstandings, as if the inerrancy of Scripture referred only to matters of faith and morality, whereas there might be error in the treatment of other matters.[6]

Bea concludes that the inerrancy asserted in a sacred text refers not only to events where God reveals himself, but also to the historical context in which these events occur.[7] So, Bea’s interpretation is that there is no limit to inerrancy in its historical assertions since any assertions of the human author must be an assertion of the Holy Spirit.  He concludes, therefore, that DV never intended to teach a restricted form of inerrancy by citing the Theological Commissions explanation that “saving truth” did not imply limited inerrancy.  In the end, the wording of the phrase for Bea does not allow for a restricted view of inerrancy, “because the idea of salvation is no longer directly linked with the noun ‘truth,’ but with the verbal expression ‘wanted put into the writings.’”[8]

Some Modern Interpretations

Perhaps one of the most famous Catholic biblical scholars of the 20th century, and a strong proponent of limited inerrancy, is Fr. Raymond Brown.  Brown writes in The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus:

In the last one hundred years we have moved from an understanding wherein inspiration guaranteed that the Bible was totally inerrant to an understanding wherein inerrancy is limited to the Bible’s teaching of “that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”  In this long journey of thought the concept of inerrancy was not rejected but was seriously modified to fit the evidence of biblical criticism which showed that the Bible was not inerrant in questions of science, of history, and even of time-conditioned religious beliefs.[9]

Here Brown suggests that the council not only changed its position on inspiration and inerrancy, but that the council actually went beyond the scope of the arguments that were being suggested at that time since it was never proposed, to my knowledge, that scripture might err in what Brown calls “time-conditioned religious beliefs.”  It is well documented, however, that several progressive bishops, led by Franz Cardinal Kӧnig of Vienna, advanced the idea that scripture could err in historical and scientific matters.

In the same vein, Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer has commented on the distinction and relationship between inspiration and inerrancy.  He correctly notes that “inerrancy…has to be understood as a consequence of inspiration, but one that is not coterminous with it. It is restricted to inspired statements in the Bible, and not to its questions, exclamations, or prayers.”[10]  In support of this statement he cites the passage from DV with which we are concerned: “Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers should be regarded as asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that we must acknowledge the Books of Scripture as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error the truth that God wished to be recorded in the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” (DV 11b)  His interpretation of this statement is that “inerrancy is the quality of all assertions in the Bible that pertain to human salvation.”[11]

An analysis of Fitzmyer’s statement that inerrancy “is restricted to inspired statements in the Bible” can present a problem.  The difficulty with this statement is that DV went to great lengths, in the paragraph just prior to the one that Fitzmyer quotes, to teach that inspiration applies to the totality of scripture without exception.  The council wrote in DV 11a:

Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles, holds that 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. 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.

The first part of this quotation emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring all of the books of scripture “with all their parts” and stresses the position of God as the principal author.  The second part of this quotation introduces the human authors as the instrumental authors, but it indicates that because God acted in and through them, they wrote “everything and only those things which He wanted.”  Stating that the human author wrote “only those things” which God wanted is significant because the fathers of the council could have simply stated that the human authors wrote everything that God wanted and stopped without further comment.  However, the fact that they continued and included the statement “and only those things” indicates that what God wanted written and what the human author wrote are coterminous.  So, there is a certain unity of thought between the principal and instrumental authors since every assertion of the human author must be held to be an assertion of the Holy Spirit.  If the council had stopped and said simply that the human author wrote “everything that God wanted,” one could separate statements and “errors” made by the human author and those of God.  But since the human author wrote “only those things” which God wanted, one could argue that no separation can be made between the principal and instrumental authors of scripture because of their common assertions.

Footnote Five

Historical accounts indicate that there was considerable debate surrounding the kind of truth that is revealed in scripture.  In order to clarify what the council’s intended meaning was in writing this paragraph, the fathers of the council placed a footnote in the hopes that any confusion would be avoided.  The footnote contains citations from Augustine, Aquinas, the Council of Trent, Leo XIII, and Pius XII.

The first reference to St. Augustine is a lengthy comment from his work on the literal interpretation of Genesis.[12]  Given Augustine’s belief in the historical accuracy of Genesis, one would expect him to give a defense of this in his work, but instead of defending a scientific position, Augustine goes on to explain that the meaning of a text is more important than scientific questions.  This quotation demonstrates that Augustine’s major concern was to distinguish what was important and what was not important.  He is not interested in the shape of the earth even though he believes that the sacred writers knew the truth about such matters, for the Holy Spirit spoke to them only what was profitable for their salvation.  Here, Augustine makes no distinction about what is or is not profitable for salvation.  For him, all of scripture was profitable for salvation.

A second reference to St. Augustine is from Epistle 82.3.  Here Augustine is replying to a letter from Jerome. After discussing how they might engage each other in a “friendlier” discussion, Augustine writes:

For I confess to your charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.  And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

Prior to this quotation, Augustine compares scripture to writings of other more “holy and learned” scholars than himself.  He insists that in non-sacred texts, as opposed to scripture, he must be convinced of their truth either by referring to the canonical writings themselves or by arguments of reason.  So, in this text, Augustine indicates that the authors of scripture were “completely free from error.”  Likewise, he indicates that difficult passages of scripture can only “appear” to be opposed to the truth, and this would be due either to errors in the transmission of the manuscript or mistranslation.

The council also quotes Thomas Aquinas’ work “Disputed Questions on Truth.”  In this text, Aquinas draws directly on Augustine when addressing the question: “Does Prophecy Deal with Conclusions which Can Be Known Scientifically?”

In his answer, Aquinas says that “All those things the knowledge of which can be useful for salvation are the matter of prophecy, whether they are past, or future, or even eternal, or necessary, or contingent. But those things which cannot pertain to salvation are outside the matter of prophecy.” However, he immediately goes on to add that by “necessary for salvation,” he means “necessary for the instruction in the faith or the formation of morals.”  Strikingly, he asserts that “many things which are proved in the sciences can be useful for this [that is, salvation].”…For this reason, Aquinas ultimately answers the question in the affirmative: “Conclusions which are demonstrated in the sciences can belong to prophecy.”[13]

Here, one must determine what the author of scripture is intending to assert.  The fact that the council would include a quote that indicates that even the natural sciences could be part of prophecy indicates that some matters beyond faith and morals, but which support the teaching of faith and morals, can be necessary for salvation.  This would include, however, only those matters which are found in scripture and asserted by the human author, since that assertion is of the Holy Spirit as well.

The next note is a reference to the Council of Trent, which wrote on the controversy surrounding the canonical scriptures:

This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct; It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.[14]

Here, the “saving truth and rules of conduct” (or moral discipline) is not set in opposition with truths not pertaining to salvation. While those who subscribe to the limited inerrancy of scripture could admit that the passage does not address the subject of historical or scientific truth, neither can he cite this silent witness in his favor.

The note also refers to what Leo XIII wrote in Providentissimus Deus regarding the extent of inspiration and the incompatibility of inspiration with error.  His emphatic insistence on the inerrancy of scripture is evident in several passages.  He writes:

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; and so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes it and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.[15] (emphasis added)

Leo continues speaking about the incompatibility of inspiration with error saying:

It follows that those who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration or make God the author of such error.  And so emphatically were all the Fathers and Doctors agreed that the divine writings…are free from all error…[16]

Several points may be made about Leo’s thoughts in these passages.  First, Leo subscribed to the “divine dictation” theory of inspiration, a theory that DV itself seems to reject in stressing that the human authors are true authors in that they utilize their gifts and talents in composing the sacred writings.[17]

The final citation in footnote five refers to Divino Afflante Spiritu (DAS) by Pius XII who comments on the work of Leo XIII.  Pius begins by declaring that the purpose for which Leo wrote was to “set forth the teaching on the truth” of scripture and “to defend it from attack.”  Pius then states:

Finally it is absolutely wrong and forbidden “either to narrow inspiration to certain passages of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred,” since divine inspiration “not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.  This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church.[18]

In addition, Pius went further in DAS by making the connection between the inerrancy of scripture and the incarnation of Christ.  He writes: “For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things ‘except sin’ (Heb 4:15), so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect except error.”[19]  This connection between the incarnation and scripture is important in that it speaks to the nature of any possible deficiency in scripture.  For just as Christ, the incarnate Word, suffered deficiency as a result of his humanity yet still remained sinless, so too scripture may be wanting in matters concerning human knowledge but not in areas where the human author asserts what the Holy Spirit is asserting.

An analysis of the footnotes sheds light on the question with which we are dealing regarding the relationship between inspiration and inerrancy as it was intended by Vatican II.  The phrase “for the sake of our salvation,” along with the many difficulties in the biblical text itself and the embracing of the historical-critical method, leads one to believe that the church has indeed “turned the corner,” in Raymond Brown’s words, and accepted the inerrancy of scripture solely in the area of faith and morals.  This would allow for much “wiggle room” in historical, geographical, and, of course, scientific areas.

The references in footnote five present a problem regarding the intention of the council.  If the council truly intended to shift the church’s teaching on the relationship between inspiration and inerrancy, why would it supply a footnote with references that argue against the very change it was trying to make?  Based on the referenced quotations, one would have to assume that the council’s intention was not to reject the past teaching on inerrancy and inspiration, but to make it its own.  Furthermore, this analysis shows that it is possible to say that the council believed that the church’s teaching on inerrancy is part of the sacred deposit of faith and, therefore, not subject to change.

Did the Council Change the Teaching?

However, many scholars argue that DV is consistent with previous church teaching on the relationship of inspiration and inerrancy. Scott Hahn, for example, has written:

The Church herself has never endorsed this new methodology or its consequences.  Holding firm the doctrinal stance of Leo XIII, subsequent popes have taught that “we can never conclude that there is any error in Sacred Scripture”[20] and that even its historical texts must be said to “rest on the absolute truth of the facts.”  More than once the Church has been forced to correct the mistaken view that biblical inerrancy extends only to matters of “faith and morals.”[21]

In support of this view, it is noteworthy that in 1964, the year just prior to the council’s ratification of DV, the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC) stated that the inspiration of the Gospels by the Holy Spirit “preserved their authors from all error.  So the PBC, even up to the time of the council and throughout the discussions regarding DV, continued the past and consistent teaching of the Church regarding inerrancy.  Here, Hahn would argue against Brown that the council did not “turn a corner,” to use Brown’s term, but that the phrase “without error” is “little more than a faithful restatement of the Church’s established teaching on Scripture’s unrestricted inerrancy.”[22]

Hahn also argues the inerrancy of scripture can be seen by an incarnational analogy.  This is an analogy that DV expresses in article 13 quoted above: “For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men.”  This statement by the council recalls the words of Pius XII in DAS, which reads, “For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things ‘except sin’ (Heb. 4:15), so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect except error.”[23]  For Hahn, this christological analogy demonstrates that just as the Word of God became flesh, with all its deficiencies such as fatigue and hunger, and yet remained “the truth,” so does the Word of God become enfleshed in human language. Though it may be deficient, it “does not cease to be “the divine discourse of God.”[24]  He concludes:

The Word incarnate was intensely human, yet he never sinned.  So too, the Word inspired is intensely human, yet it never errs.  Once again, it is Jesus who is the key to understanding the mystery of Scripture as simultaneously human and divine, as imperfect in appearance but perfect in reality.  In this respect, the Church’s belief in inspiration and inerrancy is simply an extension of her faith in the incarnation.[25]

The doctrine of the incarnation teaches the truth that Christ is “one like us in all things but sin.”  But if Christ is subject to human deficiencies, such as hunger and fatigue, does his humanness extend to making human, yet purely innocent, mistakes that are not in themselves sinful?  If the analogy can be drawn to the extent that the human Christ could err in a human way, then one could argue that scripture itself could bear that same type of human deficiency which allows for the certainty of its truthfulness, yet be flawed in secular assertions.

Finally, several scholars, including Michael Waldstein, cite Benedict the XVI who noted that the Second Vatican Council, specifically DV, should be read within a hermeneutic of continuity.  In other words, DV should be read in harmony with the tradition cited in footnote five.  Waldstein points to the controversial discussion that took place at the 2008 Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”  It was at this synod that Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) was presented.  This was not greeted favorably by Peter Cardinal Turkson who argued that the Instrumentum “turns the text of DV 11 on its head by adding the word ‘only,’ so as to limit the inerrancy of scripture.”[26]  A comparison of the Instrumentum and DV highlights the controversy.

Instrumentum Laboris, Pt. 1, Chap. 2, A Dei Verbum, 11
Although, all parts of sacred Scripture are divinely inspired, Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm is to be held as affirmed by the Holy Spirit,
Nevertheless, its inerrancy applies only to Therefore, one must profess that the books of Scripture teach
The truth that God, for the sake of our salvation, wanted to be recorded in the sacred letters The truth, which God, for the sake of our salvation, wanted to be recorded in the sacred letters, firmly, faithfully, and without error

One can see in the chart that the word “all” has a different meaning than the way in which is used in the Instrumentum. In DV, the word “all” refers to the assertions of the human and the divine authors.  In the Instrumentum, however, the word “all” refers to all the parts of scripture being inspired, but it is qualified by the words “nevertheless” and “only.”  The argument of the Instrumentum does not flow logically.  If all parts of scripture are inspired, but only those parts that deal with salvation are inerrant, that would mean that the Holy Spirit has inspired those parts that do not deal with salvation and could be in error.

Conclusion: What Did the Council Say?

Several points may be made by looking at the text of DV.  First, the emphasis on divine action in the writing of sacred scripture is present in each step of the argument, both in the actions of the Holy Spirit and in the human author.  Second, the church emphasizes that inspiration is a charism that pertains to each and every part of scripture in both the Old and New Testaments.  Third, the charism of inspiration applies both to the work of the primary author, God, and to the work of the instrumental or human author.  But the fathers of the council emphasized that the human author not only wrote everything that God wanted, but only those things that God wanted.  So, one cannot distinguish between the intentions of the human author and those of the divine author.  This thought is expressed in the statement “all that the inspired authors… affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit.”  Since all of scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit in all parts of the Old and New Testaments, with the human author writing only what God wanted, it would be illogical to conclude that only those parts of scripture that deal with salvation are inerrant.

We can conclude that everything in the Bible is inspired and everything is for the sake of our salvation.  We can also conclude that everything in the Bible is inerrant, but it is inerrant in one particular way, that is, in all those matters that are asserted by the human authors since those matters must be held to be an assertion of the Holy Spirit.

This raises questions regarding the relationship between the natural sciences and scripture.  This relationship was addressed by Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus and is important for understanding DV 11.  Leo quotes St. Augustine who wrote on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis and is cited in footnote five of DV:

The Holy Spirit…“did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable to salvation.”  Hence they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time and that in many instances are in daily use at this day.[27]

The same can be said for history in the Bible.  There is an historical framework in which the picture of salvation is presented that is intended by the human author.  However, Leo also explained that the principle that he set forth regarding the natural sciences applies also to history as well.  For Augustine and Aquinas, the historical and scientific matter was irrelevant because truth neither rests upon nor is dependent on historicity.  What matters is what God and the biblical author are teaching.  But to put God and the human author at odds is to claim that it is possible for the human and divine authors to assert opposing ideas.

The text of DV teaches that, since biblical truth was given to us “for the sake of our salvation,” and not in order to teach us natural science or history for their own sakes, sacred scripture cannot fairly be judged to be in error when it sometimes makes historical or scientific statements in an incomplete or imprecise manner according to modern standards in those disciplines.


[1] Aloys Grillmeier, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, New York: Herder and Herder, 1969.  3:234.  Grillmeier was a theologian and advisor at Vatican II and was influential in the discussion and writing of several documents including Dei Verbum.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 236.
[4] See, for example, Augustin Cardinal Bea, The Word of God and Mankind (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1967); “Vatican II and the Truth of Sacred Scripture,” in Letter & Spirit 6 (2010) 377-82.
[5] Bea, “Vatican II,” 377.
[6] Ibid, 380.
[7] Ibid., 380-81.
[8] Ibid., 382.
[9] Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist, 1973) 8-9.
[10] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Interpretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical-Critical Method (Mahwah: Paulist, 2008), 8.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Gen ad Lit 2, 9.20.  The full quotation reads: “It is frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture.  Many scholars engage in lengthy discussions on these matters, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them.  Such objects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up very precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial.  What concern is it of mine whether heaven is like a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disc above the earth covers it over on one side?…But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations.  Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation.”
[13] This paragraph is substantially taken from Brant Pitre, “The Mystery of God’s Word,” Letter and Spirit 6 (2010): 47-66, here 58 n. 52.
[14] Council of Trent, Session IV.  Scriptural Canons, Denzinger 783 (1501).
[15] Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus 3a; EB 121, 124, 126-127.
[16] Ibid., 3b; EB 121, 124, 126-127.
[17] “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 11a).
[18] DAS, 3; EB 539.
[19] DAS, 37.
[20] Scott W. Hahn, “For the Sake of Our Salvation: The Truth and Humility of God’s Word,” Letter & Spirit 6 (2010): 21-45, here 34.  Here, Hahn quotes Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus, 5-6.
[21] Hahn, “For the Sake of Our Salvation,” 34.
[22] Hahn, “For the Sake of Our Salvation,” 35.
[23] DAS, 20.
[24] Hahn, “For the Sake of Our Salvation,” 39.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Michael Maria Waldstein, “Analogia Verbi: The Truth of Scripture in Rudolf Bultmann and Raymond Brown,” Letter and Spirit 6 (2010): 93-140, here 96.
[27] Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, 39 (EB 121); St. Augustine, Gen ad Litt., 2. 9:20.

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