VATICAN CITY - While Catholics believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it is true, one cannot take individual biblical quotes or passages and say each one is literally true, Pope Benedict said.
"It is possible to perceive the Sacred Scriptures as the word of God" only by looking at the Bible as a whole, the pope wrote in a message to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
The Bible is "a totality in which the individual elements enlighten each other and open the way to understanding.
"It is not possible to apply the criterion of inspiration or of absolute truth in a mechanical way, extrapolating a single phrase or expression."
The commission of biblical scholars, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, met at the Vatican May 2-6.
In his message, the pope said clearer explanations about the Catholic position on the divine inspiration and truth of the Bible are important because some people seem to treat the Scriptures simply as literature.
Others, however, believe that each line was dictated by the Holy Spirit and is literally true. Neither position is Catholic, the pope said.
The Catholic position is that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers so that "human words express the word of God," he said.
"An interpretation of the sacred writings that disregards or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and precious characteristic, that they come from God," he said.
"Through his word God wants to communicate to us the whole truth about himself and his plan of salvation for humanity," the pope wrote.
"A commitment to discovering ever more the truth of the sacred books, therefore, is a commitment to seeking to better know God and the mystery of his saving will."