THE Catholic Church in Scotland has published a new guide to the Bible which explains that some passages are not literally true.
Worshippers are being warned not to expect "total accuracy" from the Bible, according to a new teaching document published by the Catholic Bishops of Scotland in collaboration with the Bishops' Conference in England and Wales.
While basic tenets such as the Virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are still deemed to be factually correct, areas such as the Garden of Eden and the creation of a woman from Adam's rib are dismissed as simply "symbolic language".
"We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision," explains the Church in The Gift of Scripture, which is designed to assist those embarking on a course of Bible study.
In the United States there is a debate among some Christians who wish the story of creation as told in the Book of Genesis to be taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution as explained by Charles Darwin.
However, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which gives two differing stories of creation, cannot be considered as "historical" according to Scotland's Bishops.
While the Bible is considered to be true in those passages which relate to human salvation, other areas are questionable. "We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters."
In fact the bishops go as far as to say that there are "significant dangers" involved in taking a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. "Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others."
The document also warns against the use of certain passages for antisemitic purposes. In Matthew 27:35, the gospel reads: "His blood be on us and on our children", which, for centuries, was used to justify anti-Jewish behaviour. The passage is described as an example of dramatic exaggeration which has had "tragic consequences".
The bishops said: "The attitudes and language of first century quarrels between Jews and Jewish Christians should never again be emulated in relations between Jews and Christians."
Other examples of passages which are not to be taken literally are the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation, the final book in the Bible, which details the end of the world. In the US many fundamentalist Christians believe in the literal truth of Revelation and sales of the Left Behind series of novels, which detail the final battle between good and evil, have sold millions of copies.
However, the bishops said: "Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come."
Father Michael McMahon, a lecturer in scripture and a priest of the Paisley Diocese, who co-wrote the report, said: "In order to believe that every passage of the Bible is the literal truth, you have to suspend your critical faculties. You have to suspend the God-given ability to reason."
Truth and fiction in the good book
UNTRUE: Genesis 2:21-22 "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man."
Genesis 3:16 "God said to the woman: 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'"
Matthew 27:25 The words of the crowd: "His blood be on us and on our children."
Revelation 19:20 "And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone."
TRUE: Exodus 3:14 "God reveals himself to Moses as: 'I am who I am'."
Leviticus 26:12 "I will be your God, and you shall be my people."
Luke 1 The Virgin Birth.
John 20:28 Proof of bodily resurrection.