Bible Study

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 12.50.42 PM7 Reasons to Study the Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible

Posted by  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 word communicates by the ideas and thoughts that they will trigger in the reader or hearer.

3. Biblical writers made assumptions: Biblical writers normally could take for granted that their audiences shared their language and culture; some matters, therefore, they assumed rather than stated. Think about what happens when later audiences from different cultures read the text without the same un-stated understandings as the original audience.

2006AA75524. Understand the differences: We can see the differences between [ancient people] and us. To better understand how they would have interpreted what was being shared to them.

5. Understand what issues were being addressed: When we hear the message in its authentic, original cultural setting we can reapply it afresh for our own different setting most fully, because we understand what issues were really being addressed.

6. Prevent imposing your own culture: If we know nothing of the ancient world, we will be inclined to impose our own culture and worldview on the Biblical text. This will always be detrimental to our understanding.

7. Fill in the gaps: As each person hears or reads the text, the message takes for granted underlying gaps that need to be filled with meaning by the audience. It is theologically essential that we fill [the gaps] appropriately.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this beautifully as follows:

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.

needle110 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.”\

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 32.

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Bible Study: Playground or Minefield?

by Steve Ray on 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 they fall prey to the dangers around them. They plunge from the cliff to the rocks below, are screaming from the bite of vipers and are gasping for air as they sink in the quicksand.

playground-service-play-structures-2013Now imagine the same children playing in the same playground, but now they are carefully supervised and the area is surrounded by a chain-link fence. To be in danger now a child would have to disregard all the rules, disobey the supervisors and climb over the fence. You relax, a sigh of relief passes your lips, and you begin to chuckle at the children’s antics.

This is an analogy of Bible study. Two recent misconceptions have plagued Catholics. Ask around and find out for yourself. The average Catholic in the average parish frequently accepts two unhappy fallacies. First, that Catholics aren’t supposed to read the Bible since it is not important or they fear they will invariably misinterpret it and end up confused. Second, they may associate Bible study with Protestantism.

Well, isn’t the Bible hard to understand? Aren’t Catholics forbidden to read the Bible? Shouldn’t we leave Scripture study to priests and religious? If laymen study the Bible, don’t they interpret it incorrectly and go off the deep end?

I had just written the above paragraph and mentioned “Bible Study” when a parish priest visiting our home lamented, “Oh, if I could only get my parishioners over the deep-seated fear that if they study the Bible they will somehow become Fundamentalist Protestants!”

This sounds strange to us ex-Fundamentalists because it was the love and study of the Bible that brought us into the Catholic Church. Yet, this subtle fear prevents many Catholics from dusting off the family Bible and making a go at personal study.

Our imagined playground, fraught with dangers, illustrates the situation nicely. Are there real dangers associated with studying the Bible? Do pitfalls lie to the left and right? Yes, of course. The fear is not without foundation. Survey the landscape of Christian history and you will see well-meaning individuals and groups strewn in every direction. The carnage and division brought about by the “Bible-only” theology is apparent for everyone to see.

Yet we also see many who have loved the Bible deeply, studied it studiously, and have done so without casualties. They have reached the dizzying heights of biblical study and through it have grown to love Jesus and the Catholic Church with ever deepening ardor. What differentiates the two? Why do some stumble and fall by the wayside, while others “play” with a joyful, utter abandon—almost carefree in their study of Scriptures—and, seemingly, with no fear of falling?

The fence and the supervision make all the difference. They provide a barrier between the children and destruction. They allow the child to frolic with carefree abandon. What do the fence and the supervision represent in our illustration?

The fence is the Sacred Tradition preserved in the Church and the supervision is the magisterium of the Catholic Church. These two things—readily available to any who desire them—are what makes the difference. The dangers are real, but the protections and guidance provided by Jesus in his Church are just as real. Those who stay within the fence and yield to the supervision will study the Scriptures with great benefit, and I may add, with deep joy and pleasure.

The Catholic Church has provided the most wonderful resource to combine the fence and the supervision. It is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the Bible with an open Catechism which is a wealth of wisdom and a compilation of the Church’s tradition, the teaching of the Popes and Fathers and councils. It is also an excellent summary of the teaching of the Church’s magisterium—which simply means “office of teacher.”

It is high time that Catholics wake up and discover the riches that have been deposited in their account. The Bible is a gift from God. The treasure is ready for withdrawal! Dust off the Bibles, cast aside paralyzing fears, learn the basic rules of biblical interpretation, observe the protective parameters of Church teaching, and frolic to your heart’s content!

St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is an ignorance of Christ.”

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For Self Study to Investigate Further:

What does the Church teach about personal Bible study (CCC 133)? What kind of access or restriction should be placed on Catholics regarding the Bible (CCC 131)? How does the Bible speak of itself and its use by God’s people (Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:14–17)? Read Psalm 119. What is the Psalmist’s theme and passion? What value does the Psalmist place on the Scriptures in Psalm 19:7–11? Is the Bible the only source of God’s revelation (1 Thes 2:13; 2 Thes 2:15; CCC 80–82)?

Even though the Sadducees studied the Scriptures assiduously, what did Jesus say of them (Mk 12:24)? Do the Scriptures always have a plain meaning and are they always easy to understand (2 Pet 3:15–17; Acts 8:29–31)? Based on these verses, is everyone’s understanding of Scripture equally valid? Does everyone have the same ability to understand the Scriptures (Heb 5:11)?

Should individuals research the Scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:11)? Is the interpretation of the Bible ultimately left up to each individual and what place does “private interpretation” have in the interpretation of Scripture (2 Pet 1:20)? Where does authoritative interpretation of Scripture have its source (CCC 84, 85, 95)? Who has the ultimate right to protect and interpret the Bible (CCC 119; Acts 20:27–31; Titus 1:9)? What is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14–15)? Who or what has judicial authority over a believer (Mt 18:17)? How are the faithful to respond to the protective teaching authority of the Church (CCC 87, 88).

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QUOTES FROM SAINTS, POPES AND COUNCILS

St. John Chrysostom

” ‘I am not,’ you will say, ‘one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.’ Why, this is what hath ruined all, your supposing that the reading of the divine Scriptures appertains to those only, when ye need it much more than they. For they that dwell in the world, and each day receive wounds, these have most need of medicines. So that it is far worse than not reading, to account the thing even ‘superfluous:’ for these are the words of diabolical invention. Hear ye not Paul saying, ‘that all these things are written for our admonition’?”

Pope Gregory I

“The Emperor of Heaven, the Lord of men and angels, has sent thee his epistles for thy life’s behoof; and yet, glorious son, thou neglectest to read these epistles ardently. Study then, I beseech thee, and daily meditate on the words of thy Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that thou mayest sigh more ardently for the things that are eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.”

Second Vatican Council

“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord….Easy access to sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful…Since the Word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with the maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 113)

“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’).”

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Jewish JesusJesus 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 ask you a few questions. Were you born and raised in Israel? Did you study the Torah with the rabbis from an early age? Have you traversed the rocky hills and dusty paths to celebrate the mandatory feasts in Jerusalem? Do you speak Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic? I havn’t found anyone in my Catholic parish who has these credentials.

Without this background, we are at a great disadvantage when studying the Bible and its central character. 

Jesus in SynagogueWhen we open the pages of our English Bible, we find a Jewish book! The setting revolves around Israel and the worship of Yahweh.

With one exception, the more than forty biblical writers were all Jews, and the exception was most likely a Jewish proselyte. (Do you know who the only non-Jewish author in the Bible is? I’ll give you a few hints: he was a physician, one of St. Paul’s co-workers, and he wrote the first history of the Church.)   

The point is, how can we understand the Bible and the teaching surrounding our Lord Jesus and salvation without understanding his people, his culture, and his Jewish identity?

To read the whole article, click here.

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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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Meet St. Paul as he Writes to the Romans; A Brief Study to Make it Easy

June 23, 2017

I love St. Paul and love to write about him and his epistles. I also enjoyed traveling through six countries filming his life story and theology. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is often seen as impossible to understand except by theologians — and most skip right over this masterpiece. With hopes that you will […]

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Two of my Books 1/2 off on Verbum until Wednesday (links fixed)

May 30, 2017

The banner says, How influential can Verbum be? Steve Ray used to have a library 20,000 physical books, but after immersing himself in the usefulness of Verbum, he made the decision to downsize his collection to 10,000 physical books. If you are using the software regularly, you understand how amazing is the ability to search deeply […]

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Should Catholics Attend Non-denominational or Ecumenical Bible Studies?

May 18, 2017

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 […]

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A Talk with 2 Purposes: Teach Foundations of our Faith & Demonstrate Verbum Catholic Software

February 18, 2017

A while ago I gave a talk in Ann Arbor entitled “The Foundations of our Faith: Scripture, Tradition & Magisterium.” (Watch the video below.) As I love to do, I tied the Old and New Testaments together and showed the continuity that lays the foundation for who and what we are as Catholics today. But my […]

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“Ecumenical” Bible Studies

February 12, 2017

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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Looking for Christmas Gift for a Bible-lover? Look what Verbum Can Do!

December 19, 2016

This is so impressive I just had to give folks an opportunity to see this. There is a reason that thousands of Catholics are buying Verbum. I’ve used it for over a decade! What would Sts. Augustine and Aquinas think?! This is a short video that gives shows you how you can study the Immaculate […]

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Why I Never Open a Bible Anymore … and it’s not because I’m a Catholic :-)

November 17, 2016

It’s simple. Since Verbum Catholic Software was released there is no need for heavy, cumbersome books and Bibles. Everything is now on my laptop and synced with my iPad and iPhone as well as in the cloud on the Verbum website. I literally have thousands of Bibles, books, resources, maps, atlases, Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, […]

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Did the Bible Always have Chapters & Verses?

October 11, 2016

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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Should Catholics Study the Bible? An Interview with the National Catholic Register

October 1, 2016

“Why Study the Bible” and interview with Steve Ray and Edward Sri Posted by Joseph Pronechen on Sunday Sep 25th, 2016 at 8:22 AM Experts Urge Catholics to Explore Scripture Mary Kee knows the benefits of Bible study groups, which she has participated in for upwards of 20 years, usually at her home parish of […]

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Catholic Church: “Don’t Read the Bible!”

September 9, 2016

We often hear that the Catholic Church has forbidden the reading of the Bible! Have you heard this? Yeah, me too! But, this is another one of those big myths which has worked its way into the popular dialog but one that has not been proved from Church teaching and documents. There are two good […]

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