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Are the stories in the Bible true?


Q: Are the stories in the Bible true?

A: Yes, all stories in the Bible are true, but not all the stories are intended to be read as history. The parables of Jesus contain life-changing truths that can lead us to a deeper understanding of God and His message of repentance, love and truth. But that does not mean things described in the parables necessarily really happened (Lk. 8:910). We do not have to think there really was a prodigal son, for example (Lk. 15:11-32), although it may very well have happened as it is written.

On the other hand, when the biblical author intended to say that something really did happen, then it really did happen. The gospel writers intended to say that Jesus Christ really lived, suffered, died and literally rose from the dead. That is not a parable, and they did not intend it to be viewed as one (1 Cor. 15:14, CCC 137).

This requires a bit of common sense. Many think "the Bible" is one big book and that the whole thing is written the same. It is not. There were many different writers using several different styles or "genres" of writing. We are used to this in our own experience. The news anchor on CNN is telling truth (we hope) in a different way than a play by Shakespeare or a song by a poet or a sermon by a saint. Their "styles" are different and the way they speak the truth is different. You do not expect Shakespeare to deliver the truth via a stock market quote and you do not expect the anchorman to burst into a sonnet to deliver the weather report. But both speak the truth in their own ways.

The same applies to the Scriptures. The Bible sometimes aims to give an historical chronicle of actual events that really occurred. At other times, it employs poetry, myth, or fiction, in order to convey truth according to one of these genres. Nobody should have thought, for example, that Jesus was lying in the event that there was no prodigal son. They would (or should) have concluded that he was telling a story. Likewise, nobody should think that because Jesus used parables or stories to teach a moral truth, it must therefore follow that nothing in the Bible is historical.

Whether a given story is history, then, depends on the intent of the author in telling it. How do we know what the writer intended? This requires properly interpreting the Bible in accordance with the Tradition of the Church. It is the responsibility of the Magisterium (i.e., the pope and the bishops), with the assistance of trained biblical scholars, to guide us in our understanding of Scripture.


Matthew Pinto "Are the stories in the Bible true?" Apologetics: "Question of the Week" Ascension Press.

Reprinted with permission of Matthew Pinto and Ascension Press.


Matthew Pinto is a co-founder of, a premiere Internet portal for Catholics. He is also a co-founder and former president of Envoy Magazine, which received the 1st Place award for General Interest Catholic magazines in 1998 and 1999 from the Catholic Press Association. The co-author of Amazing Grace for Those Who Suffer (Ascension Press, 2002) and Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons? and 199 other questions from Catholic Teenagers (Ascension Press, 1998) and creator and co-author of the Friendly Defenders Catholic Flash Cards, Matt is a well-known speaker whose work has focused primarily on youth and young adults.

Copyright 2003 Ascension Press



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