Are the stories in the Bible true?

 

Tower of Babel, Joos de Momper II
Tower of Babel, Joos de Momper II

 

This question has been adapted from the book, “Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?” by Matthew Pinto

Yes, all the stories in the Bible are true. This does not mean, however, that each and every biblical story is intended to be read as history. The parables of Jesus, for example, are “true” in that they contain life-changing truths that can lead us to a deeper understanding of God and the life of repentance and love he is calling us to live. But this does not imply that the events described in the parables actually occurred. The disciples of Jesus, upon hearing these stories firsthand, likely would not have been confused on this point; they understood he was conveying profound truths through a hypothetical or fictional narrative.

That said, there are many events described in the Bible that are clearly intended to be understood historically—i.e., they really happened. The Bible should not be seen as a single book written in a single literary style; rather, it is as a collection of writings of various genres. Whether a particular story or passage is history in the true sense, then, depends on the context and the style employed by the writer. Ultimately, we must always read the Bible in accordance with Sacred Tradition, as both form “a single deposit of faith” and with the guidance of the Magisterium (see CCC 85).

About the Author

Matthew Pinto

Matt is the founder and president of Ascension Press and the author or co-author of a variety of best-selling works, including the teen question-and-answer books Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?, Did Jesus Have a Last Name?, and Do I Have to Go: 101 Questions about the Mass, the Eucharist, and Your Spiritual Life. He is also the co-creator of the Friendly Defenders Catholic Flash Cards and the Amazing Grace Series. Matt also co-authored A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About the Passion of the Christ, which went on to sell more than a million copies and hit #6 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. His most recent book is Freedom: 12 Lives Transformed by the Theology of the Body. Matt has appeared on numerous television and radio programs explaining and defending the Catholic Faith, and he has conducted seminars on a variety of Catholic issues throughout the country. He was also a recipient of the Catholic Leadership Institute's 2004 Award for Outstanding Catholic Leadership. Matt sits on the board of directors at the Theology of the Body Institute and the Board of Regents at John Paul the Great University. Matt and his wife, Maryanne, live in Pennsylvania, and are the parents of six children.

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  • Maria

    I understand the stories in the Bible can be true or hypothetical. Jesus & his family in Mark 3:31-35. Jesus love his mother dearly and would certainly respect her. The story goes that Jesus says: who ever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother. Here Jesus pointed to us that Mary always do the will of God and is honor as [Mother of God]. As an Asian myself,the children of my uncles on my father side are call brothers and sisters and this culture still practice these days.

  • pnkyB4brain

    I have always believed that the Bible was the first history book written for all to ponder, hope and learn from. Not only was it our book of scripture, it was the first historical account of man throughout the ages. Some historical events contained in the Old Testament could have happened when God allowed nature to take its own course. Two instances come to mind; 1. Noah’s ark; and 2. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
    In the New Testament the parables that Jesus, Our Savior, spoke about were lessons the people could understand. What happened to our Redeemer in real life is written down as fact.
    I could spend years researching this question and yet, not have a definitive answer.
    That is where Faith steps in. Faith is such an endearing and remarkable gift given to us from God. Faith affirms a person’s belief in God. There are so many people in our vast world that have not received or accepted this gift. They only need to acquiesce to God’s open arms and unrequited love.

  • http://www.recoveredthroughchrist.com/ Christian 12 Steps

    “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (Catechism no. 86) I love this because it says it all. That no person, not even the Magisterium is superior to the Word of God, we are all God’s servants. The Church in its Bible teachings includes the “traditions” passed down from St. Peter, St. Paul and others and that the Bible is “Divinely” written. The Church seeks (as we all need) the help of the Holy Spirit in prayerful, devotional, meditative application, understanding, revelation and interpretation of God’s Holy Word. All of these mentioned by the Church comprise the “single deposit of faith”. As I understand this to mean.

  • fritzpatrick

    The parables of Jesus are clearly not intended to be heard as history. AND there are many stories in the Bible that are intended to be heard as history. That leaves a wide area open for discussion. There are many stories in the Bible that seem to a modern reader to be history but would not have seemed that way to a first century Christian or, earlier, to a Jew. What about the first 11 chapters of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, Noah, and the Tower of Babel? What about the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, the apocalyptic passages in both testaments? They seem to be history or predictions of future history, but are they? Is a biblical story that really is based on a meory of a historical event necessarily as historically accurate as we would expect modern history to be? One answer is that, to a person’s faith, it doesn’t have to make any difference; but if God really acted in history, as we believe, then there must be some point in trying to figure out what that history actually was.

  • http://www.recoveredthroughchrist.com/ Christian 12 Steps

    I have never seen the Bible as a history book. Yes, there is much history all throughout, but I just never saw it as being a source to prove or disprove history. A source to prove God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! A source that can be seen as in instruction book on how we should live our lives. Absolutely!
    And how I honestly and truly see the Bible and as I have always ever since my first reading, that it is the Best Love Story ever written. It is all about God creating us because He loved us. Giving us free will because He loved us. Showing what, when, and how we need to do this or that in order to live peaceful, productive, and loving lives. Forgiving us over and over again whenever we stumbled. And then if all that is not enough, He shows us how much He loves us again by sending down His only begotten to die for our sins. What a great God we serve! And of course before the Book ends He again shows us how much He loves us by coming again and wiping away all evil forever!

  • pnkyB4brain

    I understand what you are saying and perhaps my statement that the Bible was the first history book written for all was too broad a statement. There is certainly history in both the OT and the NT and scholars from as early as the first century looked upon the Bible as holy and sacred scripture. But I would gather that these factual accounts about past civilizations initiated some sort of dialog between each other during their lives.

  • http://www.recoveredthroughchrist.com/ Christian 12 Steps

    I would like to know how many have actually read the Bible. I know most Catholics and non have never read it and so I am just curious how many people who are making comments have actually read it.

  • Pat Nelson

    I have read the Bible. As a Catechist since 1973, and a Lector. I also have been in many Bible Studies and each and every time I read a passage, or chapter again I understand more.

  • Marianne

    I agree Pat! Having read the bible from cover to cover countless times, and I am always “discovering” something “new”. Years ago, I used to “speed read” through the bible. Now I take my time, read only a chapter or two at a time, and really try to focus and absorb what I’m reading. And it’s amazing how much more I get out of it. I almost always see connections to my personal life as well as other things I’m reading (like the Magnificat and other inspirational sources).
    If we open our hearts to His Holy Spirit, we will find that God communicates to us all the time through the Scriptures.

    Pat, as a Lector, how many times has the reading been directed right at you? It has been speaking to me since the very first time I did the reading! I wasn’t supposed to read that day, but they needed a sub so I volunteered. I’ll never forget, it was 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, and earlier in the day, I was reading that very same passage in the
    bible, and again in another devotional book I happened to be reading.

    “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” These words sustained me through some very difficult moments…

  • Madzi

    I’ve read it many times over but only recently decided to take my time and study it. And I’ll do it again and again.

  • Madzi

    I understand what you mean; literal history, no but even today, history books of modern times are skewed to tell a story and are not —perhaps CANNOT be— strictly factual.

  • Thomas Aq

    The Old Testament is certainly intended to serve as the source of the law(s) and an explanation for the Jews where they are coming from, how the world was created and evil was introduced into the world as well as a history book. Is the history in fact historical? Some events can be verified others can not or have been “rewritten” as it happens throughout history. Other events may have a symbolic character, other writings serve as a warning (such as the prophetic writings) to present and future generations. Apocalyptic writing are problematic since they are prophecies which in hindsight can be verified as being true in the sense that they were fulfilled or can serve as an explanation of events past and the meaning of those for the future. The latter is true also of the Revelation of John the divine in the NT – I wholeheartedly disagree with Jeff Cavins in his interpretation that they describe the events in the year 70 CE as a future event but agree with most scholars that they written well after 70 CE and either try to deal with the devastation they caused for the early Christians or are indeed indications of what lies ahead (or both).
    The NT gospels were written in the same spirit (note: this does not include the Pauline letters) and should not be treated as history in the sense that all events happened as they were described. This is especially true for the non-synoptic Gospel of John (the Evangelist) which being written around 100 CE is more “theological” than Mark, Matthew and Luke. One good example of historical distortion is the role of Pontius Pilate who is portrayed as willing accomplice of the Jews (John does not distinguish between the Jews and the Jewish leadership) instead of the more historical truth that in fact he had a good reason to condemn Jesus to death because of treason (the real crime). An exception of course is Acts which probably more historic than the other books.
    The infancy narratives can only be as accurate as the source. If we are to believe what Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger pointed out in his most recent book, than Mary might be the source of Luke’s account. Matthews account however differs from Luke and one has to ask why didn’t Matthew used Mary as a source, if Luke had access to her own story? Luke also places the infancy narrative into a historical context which did not exist or at least occurred slightly different. Any census taken would have not required a journey to one’s place of birth but to the place of residence. Otherwise a whole economy would have come to a standstill for months as people were traveling. Also any census would have been limited to Palestine and not to the whole empire at once (a local census probably took place so Rome was able to introduce a tax system).