Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture: Pontifical Biblical Commission's Statement

I just found out that the PBC's statement on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture has been published in German (likely the original language in which it was written). The publication of an English translation is pending. It is a bit wishy-washy, taking some tortuous paths to avoid saying directly that everything the inspired Scripture says, when understood correctly, is true. Still, a lot of it so far seems pretty sound and good. I'll try to post on a few parts of particular interest as I get to them.

The document is divided into three parts: the first considers the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, its origin from God; the second the truth of Sacred Scripture; and the third examines the exegesis of passages that present particular problems, either historical, or ethical and social.

First, my translation of the preface.


"The foundation for the Church's life is the Word of God. It is handed down to us in the Sacred Scripture in the Old and New Testament. According to the Church's faith all its writings are inspired, have God as their author (Urheber), who chose and employed men to write them. Because they are inspired by God, the Bible's writings communicate truth. All their value for the life and mission of the church depends upon their inspiration and truth. Writings which do not come from God cannot communicate God's Word, and writings that are not true, cannot establish and animate the Church's life and mission. Scripture's truth is not, however, always easy to recognize. Sometimes, at least apparently, the biblical accounts and the results of the natural sciences and that of history stand in opposition. The latter seem to contradict what the biblical writings maintain, and seem to put their truth in question. It is clear that this situation affects biblical inspiration as well. If what the Bible communicates is not true, how can it have God as its author?

Beginning from these questions the Pontifical Biblical Commission has applied itself to examining the relationship between inspiration and truth and to determining what the biblical writings themselves say about it. Very rarely do they speak directly about inspiration (cf. 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), but they constantly refer to the relationship between their human composers (Verfasser) and God, and thus indicate their origin from God. In the Old Testament this relationship shows itself in various ways; in the New Testament every relationship to God is mediated through the person of Jesus, who is the Christ and the Son of God. He, who is the Word of God in person (cf. John 1:1, 14), is the Mediator for all that comes from God.

The Bible treats of many and diverse themes. A careful reading shows, however, that it's main theme is God and his plan for man's salvation. The truth that we find in Sacred Scripture concerns principally (im Wesentlichen) God and his relationship to men. The clearest expression of this are the words of Jesus: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). As the Word of God become man (cf. John 1:14) Jesus is the complete truth about God, reveals God as Father and opens access to him who is the source of all life. The other statements about God in the biblical writings are ordered to the Word of God that in Jesus became man, and the key to their understanding lies in him.

Having taken up how the biblical writings testify inspiration, the relationship between their human authors and God, and what truth they communicate, the Commission examines, by way of example, some texts that appear problematic from a historical and from an ethical and social point of view. In order to respond to the difficulties that present themselves here, it is necessary to read and understand the texts in an appropriate manner, and to that end to respect the findings of the modern sciences and at the same time take into account that the principal theme of the Bible is God and his saving plan for men. With this approach one finds that the doubts that arise against the truth [of Scripture] and its origin from God, can be overcome.

This document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission is not an official declaration of the Church's Magisterium on these themes and does not intend to present a complete teaching on the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. It intends to present the findings made through a careful exegetical study of the witness of the biblical texts concerning their origin from God and their truth. These findings may be complemented and deepened by the other theological disciplines from their respective points of view.

I thank the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission for their patient and competent study and express my wish: may this work contribute to bringing about in the Church ever more attention, thankfulness and joy for Sacred Scripture, for the Word that comes from God and speaks of God, to save the world.

Rome, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22 2014

Gerhard Cardinal Müller


Scripture Memorization Journal

This entry journals my memorization of Hebrews – as far as possible on a day-to-day basis.

For the first time I am memorizing a passage with verse numbers. When repeating verses mentally or out loud, I include chapter and verse number for each verse. In learning them, I've found it easiest to remember especially the verse numbers of certain verses that have a number easy to recall (e.g., 7, 10, 12, 14, 20), and/or begin a new section of the text. Knowing those and knowing where verse divisions are, I can usually reconstruct the remaining verse numbers with enough accuracy to achieve my purpose in memorizing them, which is (1) to ensure that in reciting passages to myself from memory, I don´t skip over sections, (2) and to readily recall in which chapter and part of chapter a given text is in.

  • Chapters 1-7 I memorized 4-8 weeks ago, partly while travelling by train and partly while hiking in the mountains.
  • Oct 26: 45 minutes while signing letters (1000 to sign altogether, only part of that time did I use for memorization); learning chapter 8, and starting to get familiar with chapter 9, 1-4.
  • Oct 27: 30 minutes while biking; reviewed chapter 7 multiple times (chapter 7 being still quite new, and not very well fixed in my memory)
  • 30 minutes while cleaning bathroom; reviewed chapter 8, chapter 9:1-2.
  • Oct 28: 30 minutes while biking and climbing uphill; review chapters 1-8.

In the following days a number of reviews of chapters 1-8 mostly while underway, and have been refreshing other books of St. Paul as well. In a few cases I realized I needed to check one or another verse when I had an opportunity.

November 11, Monday: 45 Minutes in train and subway. Learned Heb 9:5-20 well enough to recite the whole passage twice stumbling at only two places and making only a couple very minor mistakes (substituting expressions that convey basically the same sense as the actual passage for the exact wording of the passage).

Note: I find it more efficient to learn a longer passage imperfectly on the first day than to learn a shorter passage perfectly on the first day. After a night's sleep it becomes clearer which verses or parts of verses are troublesome and need the most attention and repetition, so that I can apportion time specifically to those, rather than taking more time on every verse.

November 12, Tuesday: 20 minutes review of 9:5-20 in train and waiting on train platform (in this case I needed to look at the text often enough that I couldn't have done the review while engaged in anything that needed attention). Finished this review by reciting the whole passage three times. Status: most of the text is fairly firm, but certain conjugations and linking adverbs are not; for example, Heb 9:15, "Therefore he is the mediator", I could easily slip to remembering "Thus he is the mediator." In principle I try to learn the English text (RSV) as it stands, but don't care very much about the substitution of such synonyms when learning a translation rather than the original Greek text.

Another 10 minutes in another train and walking to the place where I have a course making a beginning of learning the last few verses of chapter 9.

November 13, Wednesday: in a 20 minutes short walk after lunch a review of 9:1-9:28 (at 9:15 and 9:23-end I had to look at the text). The second half of this period I spent working though the text backwards verse by verse, or in some cases in blocks of two verses, in order to strengthen the connection of each part with the preceding passage (without doing this, one ends up knowing a text well in relation to the following context, but not quite so well in relation to the context that precedes it.) 20 minutes walking to train station and while changing trains, reviewing chapters 8-9.

November 14, Thursday: 5-10 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 while showering and getting dressed; 12 minutes reciting chapters 6-9 while biking to Trumau. When reciting in the afternoon, I couldn't remember the second half of verse 26, though I knew there was a second part I couldn't remember.

November 15: 7 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 between church and home.

November 17: 7 minutes reciting chapters 7-9 between church and home.

November 18: 30 minutes learning chapter 10:1-11 (while on a bike path, so without being able to give full attention to memorization). Recited once again in the early evening.

November 19: 1 minute reviewing chapter 10:1-11, 8 minutes reciting it while showering and getting dressed.

20 minutes reciting chapter 5-10:11 while biking from Trumau to the train station

November 21: 3 minutes reciting chapter 10:1-11 while showering.

November 22: 5 minutes reciting chapters 9-10:11 while biking from Church.

November 23: 5 minutes reviewing chapter 10:1-11 and correcting some mistakes that arose in the course of reciting it the previous days without checking the text.

November 25: 20 minutes learning chapter 10:11-21

November 26-30: a couple times reciting chapter 10:1-14 (all I could remember without looking at the text)

December 1: 10 minutes relearning Heb 10:15-20 (There is a certain difficulty in remembering correctly Heb 8:10 "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts" and Heb 10:16 "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds" — this will always remain a difficulty, unless I can figure out a logical reason in the epistle for the change in order, or use a mnemonic trick to remember in which case "minds" comes first, and in which case "hearts" comes first.) Postscript: it works to remember that the second occurrence is the "strange" one, i.e., since the first meaning of heart is something physical, it is more normal to speak about writing on hearts than on minds.

From December to March: four times reciting Heb 1:1-10:18.

March 3: 15 minutes learning Heb 10:15-27.

March 9: 40 minutes learning Heb 10:15-39.

March 10: 40 minutes learning Heb 11:1-16.

March 13: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16.

March 17: 1 hour 30 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16 and learning heb 11:17-end (while biking on bike trails).

March 24: 1 hour reviewing Heb 11 (15 minutes in train, 45 minutes biking and hiking).

March 31: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

April 3: 5 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

(This post will be updated on an ongoing basis).


How to Memorize Scripture

In 2003, over a period of 9 months I learned the Gospel of John and the Epistles of St. Paul from Romans through 1 Thessalonians by heart. During the first four years after entering the seminary in Austria, I did very little review of these passages, and so some of them became a bit hazy. The amount of review to regain familiarity with the texts, is, however relatively small compared to learning them originally.

In the past weeks I have begun memorizing the Epistle to the Hebrews, and am keeping a journal of the time spent learning and of progress, so as to give an estimate of how much time it takes to learn a certain portion of Scripture by heart, and a more detailed account of techniques.

Here is a brief summary of some techniques I have found helpful for memorizing Scripture. I´ll write in more detail about some of these in individual posts.

Methods and techniques to memorize Scripture passages

  • Logical and poetic patterns: look for the flow of thought, logical divisions, for rhetorical techniques, for poetic patterns (parallel structures, chiasms [pyramid structure], etc.) This techniques has a long tradition. Fortunatianus writes in the 4th century: "What helps our memory the most? Division and composition: for order especially aids memory." Artis rhetoricae libri III.
  • Active recall: actively recalling something to memory fixes it more firmly in the mind than merely rereading or rehearing a passage.
    • When first learning, divide a passage or even larger verses into parts small enough that one can very quickly recite from memory without looking at the text. "The memory always rejoices in both brevity of length and paucity of number, and therefore it is necessary, when the sequence of your reading tends toward length, that it first be divided into a few units, so that what the mind could not comprehend in a single expanse it can comprehend at least in a number, and again, when later the more moderate number of items is subdivided into many, it may be aided in each case by the principle of paucity or brevity." (Hugh of St. Victor, De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, written in 1130 A.D., translated in The Medieval Craft of Memory, 37-38)
    • Once you can recite a verse or a passage with confidence, do so three to five times.
    • When first memorizing a passage and when making the first refresher on a subsequent day, aim to be able to recall the text 85-95% of the time by the end of a study session.
    • Utilize time that is otherwise unused: memorize at a slow enough pace that you can keep up with reviewing passages in the time periods while walking to the store, while jogging or biking, while waiting in line, etc.
  • Sleep: sleep consolidates the memory;
    • don't attempt to permanently learn any passage in a single day; it is more efficient to study 15 minutes on one day and 15 minutes the following day than 30 minutes all on one day
    • After learning a passage on one day, in most cases after a night's sleep some parts will be more firmly fixed in the mind, and it will actually be easier to recall them, while other parts will be harder to recall. Rememorize the whole passage – you'll know which parts are difficult and need particular attention, and these parts will usually now also become more firmly fixed.
  • Spaced review: after having learned a passage firmly enough that you can recite it without needing to look at the text, continue to recite it every few days for the next few weeks — frequently enough that you can recite most or all of it accurately without needing to look at the text to remind yourself of it, and so that if you forget a verse or two while reciting it to yourself, you know while reciting what parts you have forgot, and can look them up, either immediately or sometime afterwards.
  • Utilize visual memory
    • Using the same edition of layout of a text, learning a passage in a fixed layout in the page, rather than using different editions, will allow the visual memory of where words are on the page to aid the oral memory of the heard and spoken words. Hugh of St. Victor advises using the same copy of a text when memorizing something, because one memorizes not “only the number and order of verses or ideas, but at the same time the color, shape, position, and placement of the letters, where we have seen this or that written, in what part, in what location (at the top, the middle, or the bottom) we saw it positioned, in what color we observed the trace of the letter” (De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, ibid. p. 38) (I don't use this technique so much, as the convenience of having the Scripture text always with me, as for example on my cell phone, for me outweighs the value of the consistent layout of the text. – JFB)
    • A textual passage can be associated with a journey through a familiar place. (I have't used this technique myself.  – JFB)
  • Utilize music: singing a passage with a consistent melody aids the memory. (The passage may, however, remain difficult to remember without recalling the melody to one's imagination, which in turn can mean a slower rate of recall)
  • Analyze difficulties: When there is a particular difficult getting a passage right, look for the reason: is there a parallel passage elsewhere with which you are familiar, which brings confusion between the two passages? If so, make a specific mental note of the parallel passages and the differences between them.