Bible Study

“I am an ecclesiastical historian by training and a Bible software guy by trade. Which, I think, puts me in the unique position to write about the history of the intersection of technology and Scripture study in a series of posts.”

glossbibleWritten by my friend Andrew Jones PhD:

“We might start with a description of the Bible we are all used to. It is a stand-alone, printed volume of 73 books (give or take a few), with a more or less fixed text translated from the earliest and best manuscripts. Because of its size, its mass production, and the fact that nearly all of us are literate, we tend to think of the Bible as a self-contained work that is readily available and can be read by anyone and anywhere.

The Bible was a very different thing in the Middle Ages. That may seem like a bold statement, but let me explain.

Medieval Christianity was profoundly sacramental, focusing on an encounter with Christ that was both spiritual and physical.

As the theologians of the period frequently remarked, Christ was the Word of God in both His “doing and teaching” (Acts 1:1). For the medieval Christian engagement with the spoken Word of God was not divorced from physical engagement with Christ’s Body, and so the Bible was, above all else, a liturgical book.

GC.SCR_.000769.a-CopyIn the liturgy, the priest read the Scripture, brought the text to life through preaching, and then confected the Eucharist on the altar, introducing Christ’s physical presence. The Word of God in its totality was made present and the encounter with it was total: intellectual, physical, and social.

In the liturgy the Christian was understood as united vertically with God and horizontally with his fellow man—all together, the Body of Christ.

This was the context in which medieval Christians studied the Scripture. Indeed, they often evoked Eucharistic imagery. They “chewed” the Word and “swallowed” it. This was an act of deep reading and meditation on the text that culminated in memorization.

But they did not understand memorization as do we. We tend to think of the memory as a hard drive, and memorization as an act of rote drilling that leads to data retention. To the people of the Middle Ages, however, the act of memorization was that of “digesting” the Scripture so that it became a part of who they were.

Like how the Eucharist became a part of the body, the Scripture became a part of the mind. Amazing feats of memory are documented, such as being able to recite the Bible backwards……..

For the whole article, visit HERE.

For a very funny video on Scripture study in the Middle Ages, watch this. Switching technology from scrolls to codex (books). I had tears in my eyes I laughed so hard.

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Every day, Catholics are invited by coworkers, neighbors, and even family members to “ecumenical” Bible studies. Should they go? Certainly all of us would benefit from more study of Scripture, but as someone who has been a part of a number of Protestant Bible studies—I’ve even taught them—I discourage Catholics from attending them because of the foundational premises and principles in operation at these studies.

Protestants are delighted to have Catholics attend their Bible studies, but it is often not because they want to hear and discuss the Catholic perspective on Scritpure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to bring them to the “true Gospel”—to evangelize them, to get them saved.

In many cases, though certainly not all, the non-denominational Bible study is the Trojan Horse that infiltrates the Catholic’s mind and succeeds in drawing him away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—to join a Protestant group. Most of us have a family member or friend who has been affected in this way.

An unwary Catholic who steps into the Protestant Bible study usually does so with no intention of leaving the Catholic Church. They just want to study the Bible. The Catholic usually has a hard time finding a good and welcoming Bible study in Catholic circles—but this is changing.

First, while the Bible study may call itself “non-denominational,” Catholics and Orthodox are not usually included under this umbrella. While they may be invited, you’ll rarely find them in leadership.

Protestants think of themselves as people of the Book, not hampered by human tradition. They think of Catholics as, at best, followers of traditions for whom the Bible is secondary.

That is a huge misconception: Protestants are also people of tradition. No one reads the Bible objectively. People who claim to “just read the Bible” really read it through the eyes of a tradition they’ve already accepted, whether that be Fundamentalist, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Baptist or one of many others. Everyone depends upon tradition, but not everyone recognizes it.

“Bible Christians,” based on their tradition, study the Bible with these premises:

  • There is no binding authority but the Bible alone.
  • There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter.
  • The Bible is perspicuous (i.e., easy to understand) and can be interpreted and understood by anyone.
  • An individual can and should read the Bible and interpret it for himself.

Catholics, based on their Tradition, study the Bible with different premises:

  • The authority of the apostles and the Church preceded the Bible, and the Tradition of the Church is an equally infallible authority (2 Thess. 2:15; CCC 80–83). The Bible is part of the apostolic Tradition.
  • The authoritative interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 18:17; CCC 85-88).
  • The Bible is not always easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and needs to be understood within its historical and contextual framework and interpreted within the community to which it belongs.
  • Individuals can and should read the Bible and interpret it for themselves—but within the framework of the Church’s authoritative teaching and not based on their own private interpretation (2 Pet 1:20-21).

These basic differences place the Catholic and Protestant worlds apart even though they are opening the pages of the same book and accepting it as an authoritative revelation from God. The Catholic position is biblical and has been espoused from the first days of the Church. The Protestant position is unbiblical and is of recent origin. The Catholic is in full continuity with historical Christianity; Protestants are in discontinuity.

Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study need to be aware of these differences and be ready not only to filter out false conclusions but also to guard themselves against the false underlying assumptions (e.g., that everything has to be found and proven explicitly in the Bible).

Catholics who are unaware often begin to adopt a Protestant mentality without knowing they are doing so, gradually learning to suspect the Catholic Church and trying to prove everything from the Bible.

Let’s Take Just One Example: Baptism

But what difference do these premises make? Let’s take the example of 1 Peter 3:18-21:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Notice the words in italics. What does it say? To Catholics it makes perfect sense because Christians have always taught (until the Reformation) that baptism is essential for salvation. As Catholics, we can draw from a wealth of other biblical and patristic passages that consistently and continuously teach a seamless garment of doctrine—the constant teaching of the Church, of all Christians.

A few examples:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

This has always been understood to mean water baptism, until descendants of the Reformation denied it and came up with new interpretations, such as that the water refers to the water in the womb, the word of God, or even a synonym for the Spirit (as in “water, even the Spirit”). There is no consensus among Protestants.

Other examples are Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. The first says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The second one says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

These verses agree with the words of Jesus, Titus 3:5, and the rest of the New Testament about the necessity and importance of baptism. But many Evangelicals will offer in reply a list of verses that say salvation is by faith (e.g., John 3:16) and argue that since he can find twenty-five verses that say salvation is by faith, it can’t be by baptism.

Can we cut two verses out of the Bible because we find ten others that seem to contradict? Heavens, no! We have to find a way to explain and accept both and harmonize them into a cogent theology. That is what Catholics have been doing well for two millenia.

One of the great reliefs for me as a Catholic was to read the Bible without having to set aside verses that didn’t agree with my preconceived assumptions. Catholics do not have this problem.

A Figure of a Figure? Go Figure.

Now, back to 1 Peter 3:18-21. Protestant commentaries on Scripture admit it is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. Here is a quote from my book Crossing the Tiber:

In his recent anti-Catholic book The Gospel according to Rome, James McCarthy says that “when Peter says that ‘baptism now saves you,’ he is speaking of the typological, or symbolic, significance of baptism. . . . It [the word figure] tells us that what follows, ‘baptism now saves you,’ is a figurative illustration that complements the symbolism of a preceding figure” (331-332).

It seems he is saying that baptism is a figure of a figure instead of the fulfillment of a figure. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature offers a different and more straightforward interpretation: “Baptism, which is a fulfillment (of the type), now saves you, i.e., the saving of Noah from the flood is a . . . ‘foreshadowing’ and baptism corresponds to it [fulfills it]” (75).

McCarthy does go on to say: “This verse is part of one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Nevertheless, this much is clear: it does not support the Roman Catholic doctrine” (331-332). (Crossing the Tiber, p. 130, note 56)

The Catholic interpretation explains the passage quite comfortably without twisting the text from its clear meaning, accepting the literal meaning of the text, and complementing the rest of New Testament teaching. It is difficult for McCarthy to interpret because he comes to the passage with a handicap: his Fundamentalist preconceptions.

Catholics: Seen but Not Heard

Baptism is just one example, and we have only scratched the surface. Other examples of passages that are difficult for Evangelicals—and where unwary Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study can be misled—are John 20:23, Colossians 1:24, James 2:24, Matthew 16:18-19, and John 5:28-29.

Catholics often find non-denominational Bible studies appealing because of the warm, serious, loving, and family-like environment. Being used to reverence and quiet devotion, Catholics find the welcoming and chatty nature of these gatherings refreshing and new.

But there is such a thing as an ecumenical Bible study that doesn’t allow knowledgeable Catholics to participate in leadership or where the Catholic perspective is not equally presented and discussed with respect. In a truly ecumenical Bible study, the Catholic interpretation and teaching is not treated as substandard or heretical.

Also, the Catholic Church is not a “denomination” (which means “to take a new name”); it is the Church. Those who are in schism, who break away or subsist apart from it are denominations or sects. The Church is not. It is the Church.

There’s still a long way to go to get Catholics to the point of scriptural study that Protestants have achieved. But it is happening, and you can help. For more information, see my article “Starting a Parish Bible Study” at www.catholicconvert.com.

SIDEBARS

Before Chapter and Verse

Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are quite recent. They have proven quite helpful in biblical study and finding our way around. But they can also be a great hindrance if people begin to see the Bible as an unrelated collection of wise maxims listed numerically. It becomes quite easy to pluck a numbered statement (a verse) out of its context and quote it as in independent entity. For the first 1,600 years of Christianity, biblical study was conducted without verse numbers, forcing the reader to see whole texts and not simply lists of unrelated sentences randomly compiled.

Bible Resources

Sites to help you find a Bible study, start a Bible study, or get Bible study materials:

www.catholicscripturestudy.com

www.greatadventureonline.com

A Catholic Answers booklet to help you get started reading the Bible:

Beginning Apologetics 7: How to Read the Bible by Jim Burnham and Fr. Frank Chacon (San Juan Catholic Seminars, 2003)

Books available at www.catholic.com to help your understanding of Scripture:

A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes (Four Courts Press, 1987)

Inside the Bible by Kenneth Baker, S.J. (Ignatius Press, 1998)

You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius, 2005)

How to Read the Bible Every Day by Carmen Rojas (Servant Books, 1988)

Books that answer common Protestant questions:

Where Is That in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999)

Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham (Catholic Answers, 1997)

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Which Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

by Steve Ray on April 7, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 6.06.07 PMNo translation is perfect. Translating ancient and foreign languages into English is not as easy as it would seem. There are ambiguities and linguistic hurtles. Picture a sliding scale from left to right. Every translation fits somewhere along that scale.

At one end of the scale are literal translations and on the other extreme are dynamic translations.

Literal translations relay the actual words used in the original language without being overly concerned with ease of reading or conveying the authors’ meaning. Emphasis: what did the original author say word-for-word verbatim.

Dynamic translations try to relay the authors’ meaning without being overly literal—they express what the author means, not what he actually said. Emphasis: what does the author mean without concern for using their actual words.

Here is a good example. A man speaking English says, “I shot myself in the foot.” What did he mean? For those who understand English “figures of speech” will know he was saying he made fool of himself or did something stupid. For a non-English speaker, they will look down at your foot and ask, “Is your foot OK?”

If you are translating the English into Russian literally you will render it “I shot myself in the foot.” But if you do, the Russian gets the completely wrong message They think we are talking about a medical condition.

For my whole article, click HERE.

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“Ecumenical” Bible Studies

April 4, 2018

Without a teaching authority or the tradition of the historic Church, this cartoon shows what many Bible studies are really like. I remember Bible Studies that started out with “What does this passage mean to you?”  To keep from arguing or fighting, many just avoid difficult passages. There are many studies that exclude Catholic ideas […]

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Sherlock Holmes: Is this a Real Bible Study?

April 3, 2018

The Case for you – Sherlock Holmes: Stan filled the fireplace and lit the oak logs to make the living room cozy for the arriving guests. The Bible Study had been announced at Mass, and now suddenly it was here. Stan and Suzie had been Catholics all their lives, but they had never really studied […]

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Dangerous Playground or Safe Bible Study?

March 29, 2018

Imagine children running and tussling unsupervised in a playground. Now imagine the playground surrounded by deadly dangers: a sharp cliff dropping down a thousand feet to one side, a field of land mines, poisonous snakes in the sand, and a bog of quicksand on the other sides. With anguish you watch the children decimated as […]

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Great New Didache Bible from Ignatius Press

February 12, 2018

The Didache Bible Is Here, By Dr. Jeff Mirus [Steve’s Comment]: I posted this a while ago, but want to make sure new readers are aware of this excellent new Bible with the right footnotes, maps, etc. This is my choice. [Miras’ article]: This Bible uses the Second Edition of the Catholic Edition of the […]

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Differences Between Catholic and Protestant Approaches to the Bible

February 8, 2018

“Bible Christians” (a misnomer, since Catholics are the real and original Bible Christians), based on their recently devised “Reformation” principle of sola Scriptura, study the Bible with the following premises: 1. There is no binding authority but the Bible alone; 2. There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter; each person ultimately is their own […]

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Did the Bible Always have Chapters & Verses?

January 8, 2018

No! The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are relatively recent additions to the Bible. Originally it was written in Hebrew and Greek and there were NO chapter and verse divisions–in fact, most of the time there was not even spaces between the words! Interestingly, in the book of Hebrews the writer is quoting […]

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Verbum – Couldn’t Live without It! Now Updated and Free!

December 20, 2017

I have been using Logos Bible Software since 1990. It is now light years better and with separate CATHOLIC software called Verbum. It works off the internet, on a desktop or laptop (Mac or PC), tablets or smartphones – both Android and Apple. It seamlessly syncs between all your platforms. Catholics should be the best at Bible Study […]

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7 Reasons to Study the Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible

November 24, 2017

7 Reasons to Study the Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible Posted by Cierra Klatt on 09/06/2017 in Olive Tree Blog 1. Understand the audience: Grasping the original audience’s perspective helps us understand the setting to which the inspired authors communicated their message. 2. Understand how the text communicates: A text is ideas linked by threads of writing. Each phrase and each […]

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Bible Study: Playground or Minefield?

October 10, 2017

Imagine children running and tussling unsupervised in a playground. Now imagine the playground surrounded by deadly dangers: a sharp cliff dropping down a thousand feet to one side, a field of land mines, poisonous snakes in the sand, and a bog of quicksand on the other sides. With anguish you watch the children decimated as […]

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Jesus Was A Jew and Why You Can’t Understand the Bible without Knowing That

September 27, 2017

Jesus was a Jew. This fact may escape the casual reader of the New Testament, but it is crucial to understanding Jesus and the book written about him—the Bible. Unhappily, in 21st century America we are far removed from the land of Israel and the ancient culture of Jesus and his Jewish ancestors. Let me […]

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Verbum for FREE

September 25, 2017

LIf you’ve followed my blog for long you know I love the planet’s best and only Catholic and Bible Software called VERBUM. I have been using this since 1990 and it is loaded on my desktop, laptop and iPhone all the time. I live on this program. I’ve used it to write all my books, […]

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Why Do I Love Logos (Verbum) So Much? Watch this…

July 13, 2017

This is only ONE way to use Logo’s Verbum for Catholics. After watching this you can visit the site to learn more at www.Verbum.com/SteveRay, Use Promo Code STEVERAY10 for a 10% discount. You will LOVE this program for computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones or even just on the internet. Nothing else on the planet like […]

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The Bible out of Context: “Saved by Faith Alone”?

July 4, 2017

When reading the Bible devoid of its historical and textual context, there is no context except the context which any person might supply for it. or put otherwise, A text without a context is a pretext. I always get frustrated when self-proclaimed Bible students or teachers start pontificating about the meaning of the Bible and […]

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