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John Voltarelli wrote:

Hi, guys —

I was having a discussion with a Biblical literalist. He stated that God will always give you what you want as long as you abide in Him. He quoted a verse in James or John in which it is stated (and I am paraphrasing) if you abide in God and ask for anything, He will give it to you.

  • Are we to take this passage literally as Catholics?
  • If not, how do we defend not doing so?

There are other passages in the Bible that seem to give the same message. My question is:

  • How do Catholics justify not believing that God gives us whatever we ask for — assuming Catholics don't believe this?


  { As Catholics, are we to take this passage literally and, if not, how do we defend not doing so? }

Mike replied:

Hi John,

Thanks for the question.

You have hit upon the main problem Fundamentalists have when using the Bible. They rely on their own personal interpretation and through their own personal interpretation say the Bible is self-interpretating or perspicuous when it is not.

John 6:52-71 is a perfect example. Anyone who claims to be a Bible literalist should take these verses literally and believe what the Catholic Church teachings on this subject. St. Peter and his follower did! Other disciples (up-to-then: followers of Jesus) left Him over this issue.

This section from the Catechism will spell things out on the topic of how the Catholic Church views Scriptural interpretation. The key is we have a teaching authority Jesus left us in St. Peter and his successors, while Protestant Christians and Bible literalists only have their personal view of what they personally think any one set of Scripture passages say.

Out of pride for their own personal opinion they end up calling the Scriptures perspicuous when it is not.

III. The Holy Spirit, Interpreter Of Scripture

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words. (cf. Vatican II, Dei Verbum 12 § 1)

110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current.

"For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression." (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 12 § 2)

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter.

"Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written." (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 12 § 3)

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it. (cf. Vatican II, Dei Verbum 12 § 4)

112 1. Be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover. (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-46)

The phrase heart of Christ can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in Psalm 21,11; cf. Psalm 22:14)

113 2. Read the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church (Origen, Homily on Leviticus 5,5:PG 12,454D.)).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. (cf. Romans 12:6) By analogy of faith we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation:

"All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

(St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 1, 10, ad I.)

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:2)

  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written for our instruction. (1 Corinthians 10:11; cf. Hebrews 3:1-4:11.)

  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, leading). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:5)

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;

The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.

119 "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 judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God." (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 12 § 3)

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.

St. Augustine, Contra epistolam Manichaei, 5,6:PL 42,176.

You said:

  • How do Catholics justify not believing that God gives us whatever we ask for — assuming Catholics don't believe this?

Let’s make it simple: Faithful Catholics are just obedient Christians. They are obedient to the Written and Oral Tradition that has been passed down by Jesus and the Church He established on St. Peter and his successor.

You should be asking your friend this:

  • Hey Thomas, if you are a Bible literalist why don’t you believe what we believe as Catholics about the Eucharist in John 6:52-71? and
  • If you are a Bible literalist, why don’t you pluck your eye out as Jesus told you to do when you sin in Matthew 5:29.

As Catholic Christians we are blessed to have an icon of unity for understanding what Jesus would want us to believe . . . even in these confusing times.

I hope this helps,


John replied:

John —

The Lord in Gospel repeatedly does say things like if you ask according to My Will, it shall be done. In this particular case, Jesus puts a different twist by qualifying it saying If you abide in me, I abide in you and ask what you will . . .

Well, that's a pretty heavy duty qualifier. If you truly abide in Christ and He in you, you will be asking for those things which are according to His Will, and He's the one whose put the desire in you to ask for it.

It's the same principle that we, as Catholics, apply when we ask for the Intercession of the Saints, in particularly, the Blessed Mother.

  • Why are their prayers so powerful?

Well because, being in the presence of the Lord and having been perfected by grace, they pray according to God's Will. It's not like Mary is going to twist Jesus's Arm in to doing something He's already not predisposed to doing. She doesn't get extra brownie points. It's that she knows the Will of her Son and asks accordingly.

Christ Himself asked to be delivered from the suffering that He knew He was about to undergo. Certainly Jesus abides in Himself! yet He said You're Will, not Mine be done to His Heavenly Father.

Hence that must be our example when we pray.

We ultimately must trust in God's perfect will for us because His Will is ultimately what is best for us.

  • Yes, God wants us to prosper but what is prosperity?

Prosperity for the Christian is knowing God's Will and following it. When one is doing the Will of God, God will supply our needs according to His riches and Glory. There is nothing that God calls us to do, that He won't supply for us.

Yes, God wants us to live an abundant life but that doesn't necessarily mean He gives us every thing we want, if:

  • it's not good or right for us to have or
  • if it doesn't serve the greater and more eternal purpose He may have.

God is our Father and, as such it, would be irresponsible for Him to give us our whims . . . especially if they are wrong for us.

So yes, the verse is true and literal but these folks aren't interpreting it literally because they are simply ignoring what it means to abide in Christ and to have Him abide in them.

I hope this helps,


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