The site requires hermeneutic answers not doctrinal ones. From my interaction with Eastern and Western Catholics, a good Catholic answer is one which quotes Church authority. There are some groups I know well enough that I can state their position, though I may not agree with it. If I were trying to state the Catholic position, it would always be dogma.

Do we eliminate them from the conversation by not permitting doctrinal answers?

Doesn't a doctrinal answer become a hermeneutic one when the hermeneutic presupposition is that the Church has the authority to dictate dogma and the method is identified as being submissive to the teaching of the Church? The ultimate answers would be pronouncements by a Vatican council or Ecumenical council, or a statement that no such pronouncement has been given with an answer given that is non-contradictory to such pronouncements.

Our academic scholars are given a voice as though their opinions were doctrine, why not Eastern and Western Church authorities?

Do we have Catholics who are successful here?

  • 3
    I would actually take issue with your assessment of Catholic hermeneutics. Most Catholic theology is not done by decree or pronouncement, but the same way as protestant theology: by way of commentaries and articles. Even church decrees tend to defend their position on scriptural foundations. A good answer here can cite those documents as an evangelical might cite a JETS article: as a recognized source for to help validate an interpretation.
    – Ray
    Jul 9, 2012 at 17:03
  • @Monica Yes. The Catholic church is more dogmatic. The question is not one of toleration, it is one of eliciting participation. SP says that the hidden will speak of Christ and be consistent with the literal. It does not dictate the perpetual virginity of Mary, or any particular doctrine. So as such, it is not a doctrinal statement, but a hermeneutical presupposition. It is like looking at the box cover of a jigsaw puzzle and seeing Jesus before trying to put the puzzle together. If you try to assemble the puzzle into anything but the picture of Jesus it doesn't work.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 6:07
  • @Monica along those lines the presumption that it doesn't is just as doctrinal. Actually, it is more so. The statement that it speaks of him is based in NT scripture and derived hermeneutically, whereas the negative statement is based only in belief. Since you do not accept the NT, I can see where you would disagree.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 13:54
  • Since Ginsburg says that the Sod of scripture speaks of Meshiach, in his opionion I have merely identified the wrong one, but he agrees with me that it does speak of A messiah. He derived it without the aid of the NT.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 13:57
  • Also the description of Adam Kadmon, as the one who reveals Divinity to creation, who is both Divine and Man sounds like the claims of Christ, all derived without beneift of teh NT.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 13:59
  • So I am not the one who made it up.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 13:59
  • Joh 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. It is the claim of Jesus himself. He is the one who set the standard I follow.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 19:29
  • @monica I am happy to discuss it in chat if you wish, but this topic is about making Catholics welcome.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 19:50

4 Answers 4


I'm not Catholic, myself, but do have this bit on anecdotal evidence:

The reason I'm not on Biblical Hermeneutics is because the site attracts the kinds of questions a lay Catholic ought not venture to guess upon and has no business asking non-Catholics their opinion upon. I very much care about being faithful to the original meaning and intent of the text, it's just for a Catholic we believe we already have taken everything into account and have a consistent and impenetrable doctrine, which is what all my questions are about.—Peter Turner Nov 11 '11 at 17:40

I deeply respect Peter and appreciate his contributions on Christianity.SE, so it saddens me that he feels that way. I'd love to read more of his work and I think he would have some wonderful insights, but I don't think that's in the cards. The problem, as I see it, is that Catholicism has:

A consistent and impenetrable doctrine.

This is a perfect illustration of the Hermeneutical Circle. For instance, was Mary always a virgin—both before and after the birth of Jesus? Many Christians say "no" because the Bible seems pretty clear that Jesus had brothers. Starting with the text, the doctrine of Mary's Perpetual Virginity would never come up. It came from somewhere else. So when a Catholic looks at the text of, say, Matthew 13:55, they will apply the following logic:

  1. The text seems to mean that Mary had other sons besides Jesus.

  2. Therefore, the text seems to mean she must have ceased to be a virgin.

  3. The doctrine of the church says that she never ceased to be a virgin.

  4. Therefore, the text does not mean that Mary had other sons.

Now that's a valid argument, but it starts to break down around step 3 if the goal is to be:

Faithful to the original meaning and intent of the text.

Peter isn't interested in breaking out of his hermeneutical circle; he wants to understand it. That's a very acceptable position in the game of life, but it doesn't work on Biblical Hermeneutics. On this site, we must sacrifice all else on the altar of the text. Yes, we rely on scholarship, but we also don't hesitate to call out scholars who have lost their way. For the purposes of this site, I must even consider the possibility that the Bible shows my deepest beliefs are wrong. In fact, it does. All the time.

Ultimately, when I read the Bible, I'm setting foot on a journey that will result in a consistent doctrine. With any luck, it will converge on an orthodox position. That's just a bonus, however. More importantly, it will be a penetrable doctrine to anyone who follows the path that begins with the text. We must be open to the possibility that our a priori doctrinal position is wrong lest:

Sectarianism ruins our site.

When two sides of an argument disagree because one person believes A and the other believes ¬A and the reason is because each holds to some impenetrable doctrine, the results are painful. On a site dedicated to understanding doctrine, the challenge of keeping interactions between opposing factions civil remains constant. Without exception, every conflict is because some people hold A and others hold ¬A and neither side will back down. We can sidestep some of these issues by simply requiring that questions be about the text and not heavily related to doctrine. We require a level playing field, so to speak, when it comes to examining our texts.

Of course answers can and do contain doctrinal biases. But that's ok because we ask two things of answers:

  1. Document your sources.

  2. Be persuasive.

The first helps us understand the bias of other's answers and the second helps us evaluate each answer in relation to the rest. Consider these two answers to a question on Matthew 1:25:

It means that Mary never had sex. End of story.

Compared to:

St. Jerome argued that the point of the passage was to indicate that Mary did not have sex before Jesus was born, but it says nothing about whether she did after Jesus was born. To argue the opposite is to argue from the absence of evidence.

The first would be deleted as a non-answer (or converted to a comment). But the later could be voted up even by people who disagree with it. Using argument similar to the second, there's no reason a Catholic contributor couldn't thrive here.

  • I think this episode of Phineas and Ferb should be required for participation on the site. (Just kidding, but our site eliminates doctrinal bickering by cutting the shaft in the middle. Guess what my son was watching when I left for work this morning?) Jul 9, 2012 at 19:00
  • your example is a good one. It is simplistic whereas real questions are sometimes more difficult. If one is doing hermeneutics or exegesis, it is more difficult than quoting someone who did it already.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 10, 2012 at 5:50

I am Catholic and I ask questions and look up stuff occasionally here. I don't think there's a problem with Catholicism vs Hermeneutics, but there is a problem with Traditional Catholicism vs The Higher Criticism. This makes a Catholic who believes, rather fixedly, that the Church is the mother of the Bible and not the other way around cringe when someone makes broad assumptions based on evidence that the Bible is all backwards and John didn't write John, Matthew didn't write Matthew etc... Then, getting down to a micro-level, considering missing words and translation and vowels, etc.

It's just safer, if not more beneficent, for an average Catholic to read the Bible with a Catechism or a priest nearby to answer questions than to really try to engage in dialogue from non-Catholics. But, we don't need to be safe and not everything we embark on needs to be beneficent, so long as we know what we're getting in to.

However, I listened to a podcast not long ago, from Christendom College about the "Hermeneutics of John Paul II" and I was pretty astounded because they were talking about the Theology of the Body. Which is an awesome subject that one could literally ask thousands of questions about, but I think there'd be more interest in answering the questions on the Christianity site than here.

  • I hope I didn't quote you out of context too much in my answer. I find the quote very useful to understanding the gap between BH and C.SE, but if you'd like I can remove references to you and/or paraphrase it instead. Jul 9, 2012 at 20:01
  • Thanks for answering and participating from time to time. I'm glad you find the site useful. Jul 9, 2012 at 20:02
  • 3
    Nope, that's fine to quote it, but I did write that before I warmed up to BH, I certainly don't mind its existence now. The site appears to be doing a lot of good! Jul 9, 2012 at 20:03

I’m Catholic and began attending a Bible study with some Protestant friends. One was a Baptist and the other a Presbyterian. Frankly, that’s what led me to searching the Internet and finding BH.

The more we shared our views with each other, the more open-minded we became, the more we appreciated each others’ opinions/thoughts/views, the more we learned with and from each other. In the meantime, we realized that while the three of us were helping each other, God was watching over and helping all of us.

There are some major misunderstandings between Catholics and Protestants. I'm reading some here, so I'm open to discussion and willing to talk with anyone.

Note 1: As a Catholic, the biggest misunderstanding I've had with some others is regarding Mary. We simply honor her as the mother of Jesus, so I'll gladly talk about her with anyone. Thanks.

Note 2 (after a recent discussion & questions in the Library): Let me add some clarification. Catholics give the mother of Jesus honor, but adoration and worship are for God alone. Otherwise, we’d simply be breaking the 1st Commandment. Mary is not a goddess or someone we idolize. We simply see her as the mother of Jesus whom God obviously thought very highly of and loved; personally I just try to treat her the way I believe Jesus would have. Thanks.

  • I'm delighted to have you on board John and it'd be nice to chat some time in The Library some time :) I'm a protestant but interested in Catholic thought, especially on issues like sola fide. Nov 5, 2013 at 21:46
  • Thanks, Jack. I'm really enjoying this after registering last week. I look forward to meeting you. Long live the Catholics too. Nov 5, 2013 at 21:51
  • Jack, I don't want to stir up conflict on BH. What I would like to discuss, one way or another, is how others interpret parts of James 5. Q: Should you & I talk first, or should I just go ahead and post my question regarding confession; I wouldn't be saying "I'm right and your wrong". That isn't my goal. I as a Catholic interpret that a certain way (i.e. confessing to God with another human present vs. confessing only to God) and others interpret that differently. Please give me your suggestion. I appreciate your help. Thanks, John Nov 9, 2013 at 3:51
  • Hi John, it's fine to go ahead and ask your question (and even to answer it as well). If there is a problem we'll edit or comment to let you know. The main thing is to make sure the question focuses on the text and clearly arises from it rather than being 'about' the doctrine directly. The whole point of the site is for the logical steps between the text and any conclusions anyone draws to all be clear an understandable (it doesn't matter at all if folk agree, but very much that we can follow your logic from the text upwards!) Nov 9, 2013 at 9:44

@Jon What is clear to protestants, is not so clear to Catholics.

"For instance, was Mary always a virgin—both before and after the birth of Jesus? Many Christians say "no" because the Bible seems pretty clear that Jesus had brothers."

The Catholic argument is partly based in the meaning of 'brothers' where they identify that it might mean 'cousins'.

The sons of Tamar together are a type of Christ, and it specifically says that Judah knew her no more, as a shadow that Jesus would be the only begotten son. It might be argued that since Tamar is a shadow of Mary, she had no other husband. (I don't think I would make the argument)

Hannah as a shadow of Mary had no other children.

Though it is not my position, I can see how Christians of integrity can have a position different from mine.

So the 'pretty clear' test is not very reliable, it often means nothing more than "pretty accepted".

  1. The passage uses the term brethren, which can mean, full brother, half brother, cousin, tribal member, those from the same town or nation. In which way is it used here?

  2. They were traveling with Mary so they were probably more intimate than mere tribal members. This leaves full brothers, half brothers, and cousins as plausible meaning. (placing reason above the text since the text is ambiguous)

  3. The ark of Moses (figuratively Mary) only contained Moses. The ark of the covenant (figuratively Mary) only contained the tablets representing the living Word of God). Tamar only bore the twins as a representation of the dual-natured Christ. Many other prophecies of his birth indicate he was an only child.

  4. The imagery of the Tamar story is that Judah took the bride which was betrothed to Shelah, just as God took the bride that was betrothed to Joseph. So Mary is married to God. God hates divorce and so did not divorce her, and she did not commit adultery by going to Joseph. Therefore if Joseph had other sons, it was by a second wife.

  5. Since the reliable and authoritative apostles have left us a clear testimony through competing traditions (Eastern and Western) that Mary remained a virgin, (as a Protestant would quote his favorite theologian which he considers authoritative), there are still two plausible meanings which do not violate that source.

  6. Jesus must have been there with half-brothers or cousins.

  7. The answer that Jesus had full brothers is only clear if one imposes an anti-perpetual virginity doctrine on the text, and does not study the usage of the word brethren in it's fullest sense, nor the prophecies of his birth.

How many answers are accepted that use evidence from recent interpretations of archeological finds, or minority documents, or other sources which may not be as reliable as the tradition handed down from apostles?. How many answers are acceptable when they use early church fathers as sources, when these men also argued for perpetual virginity?

Again. the purpose of this question is not to discuss perpetual virginity, but to make the atmosphere more conducive to Catholic participation.

  • Apropos of this discussion, there are Jewish traditions that directly contradict several points above. For example, there is a tradition of Hanna having other sons after Samuel, that the Ark also had a Torah scroll that Moses wrote, and even a surprising interpretation of “he knew her no more” to mean Judah continued a relationship with Tamar. Sep 10, 2012 at 21:36
  • You are definitely wrong. Greek, Latin, Hebrew have words for "cousin", in fact separate words for "paternal cousin" and "maternal cousin". As for English.... surely you realise that there is no record of English until at least 800 years after the time when the NT was written?
    – fdb
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:14
  • @fdb I surely made a mistake regarding my wording in November. Thanks for catching that. I apologize. Nevertheless, as I said, this re: "cousins" (vs. "brother" being more inclusive, etc.) has always been interesting to me. Thanks. Aug 6, 2014 at 17:41

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