Catholic Biblical Exegesis: A Layman’s Guide


Reading the Bible can be a life-changing experience, but many find it difficult to understand what the ancient texts mean and how they apply to modern life. Enter Catholic biblical exegesis, the practice of interpreting these sacred texts to uncover their significance. Don’t worry, you don’t need a theology degree to appreciate the depths of the Bible. This guide aims to explain Catholic biblical exegesis in terms that anyone can understand. It will cover what it is, why it’s important, and how you can dive into it as a layperson.

What is Catholic Biblical Exegesis?

The word “exegesis” might sound academic, but it simply refers to the process of interpreting and explaining something, often a piece of text. In the context of Catholicism, biblical exegesis is the interpretation and understanding of the Bible according to the teachings and tradition of the Catholic Church.

Catholic biblical exegesis is not just an intellectual exercise. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is “to know Christ” (CCC 2653). The Church also teaches that Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted “in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (CCC 111).

Why is it Important?

The Bible isn’t just any book; for Catholics, it is the inspired Word of God. Understanding its meaning can have profound impacts on your faith and life. Saint Jerome, an early Church Father and translator of the Bible, famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This notion is reiterated in the Catechism, which tells us that “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful” (CCC 131).

Interpreting the Bible is not merely an individual endeavor. We interpret it within the context of the Church’s teachings. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) asserts that “it is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement.”

Levels of Interpretation

The Literal Sense

The literal sense of a biblical text refers to the meaning conveyed by the words themselves at the time when they were written. According to the Catechism, “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation” (CCC 116). This involves looking at things like history, culture, and language.

The Spiritual Sense

The spiritual sense goes beyond the literal sense to look at how the realities and events of Scripture can signify Christ and his actions. The Catechism outlines three subdivisions of the spiritual sense:

  1. Allegorical Sense: Understanding scripture in light of Christ. For example, the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign of Christ’s victory and our liberation through Baptism (CCC 117).
  2. Moral Sense: How scripture ought to lead us to act more justly. “So every good tree bears good fruit,” as the Gospel of Matthew says (Matthew 7:17).
  3. Anagogical Sense: Viewing the events of Scripture in terms of their eternal significance. This can involve seeing life’s journey in light of our heavenly destiny.

How To Start


The Church strongly emphasizes that reading Scripture should begin with prayer. The Catechism tells us that we should invoke the Holy Spirit before diving into the Bible, asking Him to “open our hearts” (CCC 2653).


Having a good Catholic Bible is the first step, but other resources can also be helpful:

  1. Commentaries: These are written by scholars and contain explanations and historical context for various passages.
  2. The Catechism: The Catechism often references biblical passages and can provide insights into their meanings.
  3. Guides and Workbooks: There are various beginner-friendly workbooks that offer step-by-step guides to biblical exegesis.


It’s also crucial to discuss your insights and questions with others. This can be in a formal Bible study group or simply in casual conversations with friends and family.


Catholic biblical exegesis is not just for theologians and scholars; it is an enriching practice that can deepen anyone’s faith. By combining prayer, research, and community discussion, you can begin to uncover the rich spiritual tapestry that the Bible offers. As Saint Augustine said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” Happy reading and God bless!

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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