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Is Scripture historically accurate?

© DR

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 03/13/13 - updated on 06/08/17

Context, genre, and other literary features must be taken into account

Many mistakenly believe that the truth of Scripture pertains only to matters of faith and morals and not to historical facts. The truth, however, is that the Church has consistently taught that the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures and, therefore, with proper understanding of context and literary intent, we can affirm the accuracy of Scripture.
In the era of the Enlightenment and thereafter, the emphasis on reason caused many to dissect the Scriptures and to dispute the accuracy of every detail. Pope Leo XIII responded in his 1893 encyclical, Providentissimus Deus, that if God inspired the Scriptures, then it was not possible for there to be any error because God Himself could not err. Pope Leo recognized that the sciences brought up legitimate questions, but maintained that with study and an understanding of the true meaning of scriptural texts, there would not be a true contradiction. 
Blogger Jimmy Akin uses the example of the Gospel account of Creation to explain how something that is seemingly inaccurate (the world being created in six days) is not wrong, simply misunderstood out of context. Akin writes, “Throughout history many have taken the six days of creation in Genesis as six literal twenty-four-hour periods, but there are clues that this may not be what is meant. For example, the sun is not created until day four, though day and night were already in existence on day one. The ancients knew that it’s the sun that causes it to be day as well as we do, and so this may mean that the passage is not to be understood literally.” 
It is also the case that certain books were not written as histories, but rather as allegories or morality stories. Tobit, Judith and Jonah, unlike many other books in the canon, were all written as folklore tales to provide religious instruction. So one would not say that they are inaccurate, but rather that they are part of a literary genre that teaches truth through stories. 
In the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI affirmed the Catholic Church’s position on Scriptural accuracy in Dei Verbum: “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 salvation.”
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