Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Does the Catholic Church Discourage Bible Reading?

For Catholic readers, or for non-Catholic readers that have a basic knowledge of Catholicism, this question seems ridiculous. However, I've been asked this question enough times (for example, by my Father) that I think a post answering the question is warranted.

It should first be established, as a matter of historical fact, that the Catholic Church compiled the Canon of Scripture at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). The Douay–Rheims was translated before the King James Version, and the Gutenberg Bible (the first printed Bible) was Catholic. And we can't forget the very important work of Stephen Langton, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury, who created the first Bible with chapters and numbered verses. I think it was best summed up by Martin Luther himself, who wrote in his Commentary on St. John: "We are compelled to concede to the Papists that they have the Word of God, that we received it from them, and that without them we should have no knowledge of it at all."

If the Catholic Church discourages Bible reading, then there are millions of Catholics that aren't aware of it. In fact, there would be over 1 billion Catholics that aren't aware of it, because Catholics read more Scripture than most Protestant ecclesial communities. For example, every Catholic Church in the world will be reading the following for Sunday, March 6th: Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32; Psalms 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25; Romans 3:21-25, 28; Matthew 7:21-27. These are the readings that every Catholic Church will read this Sunday During the Liturgy of the Word. This does not include the various Biblical phrases found littered throughout the Mass, such as "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and [I shall] be healed" (Matthew 8:8); The Lord's Prayer (our Father); or the Holy, Holy, Holy (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). Those three are just a few examples of Scripture versus that are sprinkled within the Mass. So, from a purely numerical point-of-view, the Catholic Church encourages the reading of the Bible. So much so, in fact, that she has incorporated Scripture as an integral part of her Mass and Liturgy.

Catholic devotions are also Gospel centered. The Rosary comes largely from the Bible. The Hail Mary comes from Luke 1:28 and 1:42. Each decade of the Rosary begins with an Our Father (Lord's Prayer). All but 2 of the 15 traditional Mysteries (2 of the 20 in regards to all the Mysteries) are solidly based on Scripture. The Bible doesn't just have to be presented in word format, though. The Catholic Church has constantly proclaimed Scripture through the use of artwork and stained glass windows. Previous to wide-spread literacy, these would have been the second most common means of learning Scripture.

The question of why the Catholic Church discourages Bible reading is a baseless one. We hear Scripture read every Sunday, we see the Bible presented in dozens of ways in every Church building, and the Catholic Church has always stressed the importance of personal Bible reading and of personal interpretation (as long as that interpretation is not heretical... like any Church would do).

Well, what are your thoughts?


  1. Don't forget that the Douay–Rheims is superior to the King James in accuracy and prose.

  2. I have heard this question is a result of a misunderstanding. The Church discouraged the reading of bad translations of the Bible and therefore people now think that meant that the Church discouraged reading from the Bible altogether. Obviously, as you point out, the Church does encourage Bible reading. During my confirmation, the Bishop pressed upon us to read the Bible 5 minutes a day. I admit I haven't been that dutiful until recently, but why would a Bishop tell us to read the Bible if the Church was saying otherwise?

  3. @Deltaflute:

    You're right! I didn't address that fact in my post, but it is a source of this myth about the Church and the Bible. Thank you for pointing that out.

  4. Landon for chapters, but credit for the versification apparently goes to Parisian printers on the suggestion of their cleric proofreaders who worked from numbered line proof sheets.

  5. Well I believe from what I have heard that the catholic church discourages personal interpretation of bible passages, that priests are neccesary for understanding, which is different than protestant beliefs

  6. @Tom:
    Thank you for your comment. However, the Catholic Church allows for personal interpretation of Scripture, and does not rely on priests alone for understanding Scripture.

  7. Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold; [Page 20] or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.

    Council of Trent - Fourth Session. The priests (mother church) is necessary for interpration according to rome and the laity is not allowed to interpret on their own.

  8. @Anonymous:
    Please see my reply to your comment

  9. Vesna Primorac January16,2014 As i understand,Catholic Church encourages Bible reading.Teaching of the Church is guided byThe Holy Spirit (as Jesus promissed) and church magisterium makes sure the same interpretation of the Bible is correct,thoroughly studied all over the world in catholic seminaries and colleges to prevent "personal" interpretations which would bring confussion,missunderstanding,heresy,and unfortunate divisions of the Church(sects) as direct products of unwise "personal" interpretations.Sects would multiply by geometric progression and oldough they all would share some thruth, at the same time they would all contradict each other in the interpretions.Then, people will look for the catholic churches( sects) that fits their needs,wishes,moral standards etc....So,I think Catholic Church is doing it wisely by following tradition,knowlege and experience.It doesn't matter where are you going to the church,which city, country or continent' there is always same teaching .Since Jesus apostoles times.Amaizing!