Does biblical scholarship benefit the church? Such a question seems ridiculous at first glance, yet it has often given me pause. While the church has placed a premium on learning, and the work of Catholic philosophers and theologians over the centuries has yielded rich insights into our relationships with God, nature, and one another, the value of biblical scholarship is not so immediately apparent. Certainly the church’s moral and social teachings are based on Scripture, yet the import of biblical scholarship per se is generally not apparent to people in the pews. Why?
Scripture scholars research and write, but too often they seem to write only for one another. This is unfortunate because the achievements of Catholic biblical scholarship in the past century are one of the church’s great success stories. A hundred years ago, Catholic Scripture scholars lagged far behind their Protestant counterparts. That began to change in 1909 with the establishment of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. It was founded to advance Catholic participation in the burgeoning study of ancient Near Eastern languages. By 1942, Pius XII’s Divino aflante spiritu officially endorsed advances in biblical scholarship. Subsequent church decrees-Dei verbum (Vatican II’s 1963 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) and, more recently, the virtually unknown but important The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993)-have broadened...
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About the Author
William L. Burton, OFM, holds a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University.