Definition: Historical-Critical Method

A way of reading Scripture that makes use of historical research, literary analysis and the findings of anthropology, archaeology and other sciences. It is historical inasmuch as scholars seek to discover the social, economic, political and cultural setting of biblical times. It is critical in that experts judge and evaluate the text and its narrative in light of literary analysis and scientific information. Through this kind of scholarly detective work, modern Bible readers are interpreting what the ancient Bible writers had to say.

Most serious scholars today believe that the Bible is God's Word in human terms. They do not reject inspiration, but neither do they believe that God dictated the words of sacred Scripture to secretaries or mere human tape recorders. Rather, God's people experienced God's holy presence, learned God's divine will and then found the means appropriate to them to express, under God's inspiration, the truths of this revelation.

The historical-critical method uses several types of criticism or analysis; the chief types are textual criticism, form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, and historical criticism (see other entries about these terms). Through the historical-critical method, we have come to see that the Bible in no way contradicts the truths of reason or the facts of science.
Catholic 411