Welcome!

Welcome to Enjoying the Bible Part 1, the first Scripture Course I taught in Cloyne Diocese, (Co Cork), Ireland. I hope you enjoy this course and find these course transcripts helpful and beneficial. I wish you a pleasant reading and discovery of God’s Word in the Bible. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading the Bible. These course transcripts are only to guide your reading of the Bible and reading these is not a substitute for reading the Bible.

You already have knowledge of the scriptures, but if this is your first time to seriously read the Bible I want to say ‘Welcome’ to you. I am sure that you will find the Word of God in the Scriptures immensely rewarding. If this is your first time doing any serious study of the Bible, naturally it would be much easier for you to do so if you had the support of a group so you need to go slowly and be patient and gentle with yourself.

This Course

After this introductory chapter you will notice that there are simultaneous lessons on both the Old Testament and New Testament. I have deliberately structured the course in this way to ensure that you do not read only the New Testament, as this would be missing out on half of God’s Word to you! To avoid confusion you will see at the bottom of each page what section you are reading and its page number. This will enable you to keep this course in order, especially when you receive later installments.

The course is structured as follows

FIRST HALF

Old Testament:

  • Psalms

New Testament

  • Mark

  • Luke

  • Matthew

  • Infancy Narratives

  • Humanity of Jesus

  • Parables

 

SECOND HALF

Old Testament

  • Wisdom Literature

New Testament

  • Miracles

  • Sermon on the Mount

  • Passion Narratives

  • Resurrection Narratives

  • Acts of the Apostles

In this course, therefore, you will cover approximately one third of the Old Testament and one third of the New Testament.

There are three things we can do with the Bible

  1. We can read the Bible

  2. We can study the Bible

  3. We can use the Bible to help us pray.

In this course we will do all three.

  1. BibleDuring each lesson you will see a Bible to tell you the Scripture reading for that lesson or part of a lesson which you should read before continuing. Usually this occurs at the beginning of the lesson.

  2. QuestionYou are then ready to use these transcripts. Hopefully you can complete one lesson each week but if necessary take longer. Read as many of the Scripture references as possible during each lesson. Sometimes I will ask you a question during the lesson or ask you to work out something or reflect on something. You will see a question mark. I also suggest further reading.

  3. QuestionFinally each lesson helps you use some of the Scripture passages for prayer or gives suggestions for prayer

 

If this is your first time to read, study and pray the Bible, you may be surprised at the amount of detail I give in this course. You may find more information here than you require, but as you get to know the Bible better these lessons will take on much more meaning for you. At the end of the course hopefully you will reread these transcripts again and they should mean a lot more to you then. I am trying to make this course as spiritual and meaningful as possible for you and I ask you not to make any premature judgment on the course. Please bear with course. I am continually updating and improving this course as well as working on future courses. This is the best that I can offer you at this moment.

If you are not already familiar with the Bible you will need to become familiar with where the various books are in the Bible. The method I use is to learn the books off by heart as one does the alphabet, and it is as quick to find a book as any other way. Another method is to purchase sticky cellophane tabs in a religious bookshop with the name of the book already printed. There is one tab for each book and you stick it on the first page of that book. The name of the book then stands out clearly at the edge of your Bible. As you will be checking my references you should quickly become familiar with many books.

 

The Bible, Your Life and Prayer

The emergence of so many Lectio Divina groups in the Church in recent years and other Bible Study groups and prayer groups using the Bible has drawn attention to the desire in the heart of all of us that the Bible speak directly to our own heart. The Bible is not a dead word but a living word that can speak to every generation and person (Isa 55:10-11). It is God’s gift to the Church in every age. This is so personal that obviously only you will appreciate fully God touching you in this way. The most important part of the course I give is using the Bible for prayer. I always tell students that while the Bible is meant to be read and studied, it is above all a book to help us to pray, to draw us closer to God, to feed our spiritual lives. Therefore I lead a guided biblical prayer session each week as part of the course. That has proved to be the most popular part of the course and due to many requests I have recorded samples on CD and cassette. The biblical meditations are accompanied by specially commissioned soothing background music. They are for private prayer at home but would also be useful for group prayer, in school, for holy hours. They may be ordered from me by post or through my website at www.frtommylane.com/prayingbible.htm I encourage you to consider using these recordings with this course as this study of the Bible is not really complete without praying the Bible.

Which Bible?

Most people regard the RSV i.e. the Revised Standard Version (not the New RSV) as the most accurate translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. However, it never became very popular because it uses ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and its print looks like a newspaper, with no headings, so it is difficult to find passages. Also it is not the easiest translation to use for prayer. The translation of the Bible that is used for the Mass Lectionary in Ireland the UK is the Jerusalem Bible and the Grail translation of the Psalms. Although the RSV is considered most accurate, for Scripture courses until now I have recommended students to purchase the New Jerusalem Bible Readers Edition since it has headings that make it easier to find a particular text you may be looking for and it is a translation that is much easier to use for personal prayer. In the shops you will also see the larger edition called the Standard Edition, which is the one that I use myself in class. Students always ask what extras it contains. There are three things:

  1. an introduction to each book or section of the Bible and its interpretation

  2. notes on the bottom right-hand page on any verse that is difficult and

  3. references in the margins to other verses in the Bible similar to, alluding to or quoting the verse you are reading.

Since that Standard Edition of the New Jerusalem Bible is very expensive you should purchase it only for very serious study of the Bible. During this past year many of my students began to use the Catholic Edition of the Good News Bible and I may in the future recommend that instead. One of the advantages of that Bible is that it is one of the cheapest you can purchase. On occasions I am disappointed with the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible and I often find the Jerusalem Bible much more conducive to prayer. So that would also be a Bible worth considering. I have not used the Christian Community Bible but I heard that some have found its notes helpful.

The Book of the Psalms is naturally included in your Bible, but for prayer and beauty of translation, I recommend students to purchase The Grail Psalms Inclusive Language Version. A version of the Grail Psalms is on the Internet at http://www.angelfire.com/il/psalter/

If you have an old Bible from the first half of the last century, it is probably the Douay-Rheims Bible. Look inside the cover to verify. I do not recommend the Douay or Douay-Rheims Bible since it is not a direct translation from the Hebrew Old Testament. Sometimes you would notice major differences between it and other present day translations. Please invest in an inspired translation, such as the Good News or New Jerusalem Bible.

Chapters, Verses and Abbreviations

When I refer you to chapters and verses I use the following method:

Luke 3 = chapter 3 of Luke Luke 3:2 = chapter 3 verse 2
Luke 3:2-3 = chapter 3 verses 2-3 Luke 3:2,6 = chapter 3 verses 2 and 6
Luke 3:2-4:1 = chapter 3 verse 2 to chapter 4 verse 1 3:1ff = Chapter3, verses 1 and following
If a verse is long, so that you know what part of a verse I am referring to, I will refer to the first half as ‘a’ and the second half as ‘b’. If it is very long it might even be divided into three sections, a,b,c. So Luke 3:7b = 2nd half of verse 7 in chapter 3
In dates c 80 AD = around 80 AD NJB = New Jerusalem Bible
OT = Old Testament NT = New Testament
v = verse vv = verses
NJBC = New Jerome Biblical Commentary CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church
Books of the Bible are usually abbreviated to the first three or four letters, e.g. Isa = Isaiah

Do I Need to Purchase Books?

I find the Catechism of the Catholic Church a most beautiful book and therefore I will refer you to read sections of it occasionally linking this course with it. If you do not already have a Catechism of the Catholic Church I encourage you to purchase one now. There is a very small book published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church and I would be pleased if you thought fit to purchase it.

Apart from the Catechism there is no absolute need to purchase books, just make sure you have a good Bible. However the more you read, naturally the better your knowledge of the Bible will be so I will list some further reading at the end of each chapter. If you need to check up on items in the Bible that you do not understand a dictionary that I find helpful is Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie. The best one-volume commentary on the whole Bible is undoubtedly the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Since its publication in paperback it is much more affordable for a wider range of audience and is now considered a standard reference work.

If you are surfing the net to aid your Bible study, and I have links in my website to help you, I would like to suggest one word of caution. Many of the commentaries online are literal interpretations that do not take account of what the author intended to say, so you should use internet material with caution comparing it against, for example, what is mentioned in the books mentioned above or indeed comparing it against this course.

As you embark on this wonderful voyage of discovery of the Word of God I wish you well and I am very happy that you have chosen to do so using my course. I would be happy to hear any suggestions for improvement or notifications of misprints which you can send by post or email. I ask you to please pray for me and my ministry as I pray for you.

Wishing you God’s Blessing,

Fr Tommy Lane


PART A: INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE

SCRIPTURE READING

Bible

As this is an introductory chapter there is very little to be read. The references will be given to you in the course of the chapter. But to begin, read 2 Tim 3:16-17.

 

While not everything in this first lesson is essential for you to understand the Bible, it is good for you to know the main points of this lesson and you can refer to it later when you need to. I will also refer you back to parts of this chapter as the course progresses.

We read the Bible in English, in France they read it in French, in Germany they read it in German, so what is the original? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, just a small part of it was written in Aramaic. You see an example of Hebrew below and it is read from right to left, the opposite to English. Aramaic is similar to Hebrew. What you see below is the beginning of the book of Genesis, the first words of the Old Testament. The dots above and below the letters are the vowels. The large letters are the consonants. When reading Hebrew, as well as reading from right to left, you also have to read above and below! The first thing any aspiring Bible scholar needs to do is to study Hebrew and Greek, and be able to read them like his/her native language!

Example of Hebrew

The New Testament was written in Greek. Greek is read from left to right as we read English, and the first half of the Our Father in Matthew 6 looks like this.

 

Example of Greek

 

Question No translation is ever a perfect translation because it doesn’t reflect the nuances of the original language. As an exercise now with your group, pick one verse of the Bible and compare the different ways this is translated in different Bibles in your group. As I already said, the translation that most accurately reflects the original languages is considered by many to be the Revised Standard Version.

 

The Development of the Bible

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek biblia meaning “the books”. There was a time when there was no Bible. The Bible has a history and a beginning just like other books. The Bible grew into its present form over a considerable period of time. The process by which books were accepted into the Scriptures is called canonization. (One of the meanings of the word ‘canon’ is ‘measure’ or ‘rule’. A canon is a collection of books functioning as the rule/measure for a people in explaining who they are and what they must do etc, i.e. it reflects who they are.) Canonization, accepting a book into the body of the Sacred Scriptures, occurs only after a book has been read and has served the believing community for some time.

By the time of Jesus the canon of the Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament) was not yet fixed. Before the end of the first century, c 90 AD, the Hebrew canon (OT) was fixed. Obviously Jesus and his contemporaries would not have called their Bible the Old Testament. It only became known as the Old Testament when the New Testament began to emerge. The books of the NT grew up gradually in the time following Jesus. The letters of Paul were the first documents of the NT to be written. The Gospels followed these. What we call the Second Letter of Peter was not written until the second century (it was not in fact written by Peter but somebody else). In the early centuries there was discussion about what should or should not be regarded as authoritative. The discussion continued for longer about the Book of Revelation so that it was not until the fifth century that a consensus emerged about the 27 books of the NT.

Manuscripts of the New Testament

People think we have exactly what the evangelists wrote. But in fact, we do not have the original manuscripts that the authors of the NT wrote. We have only copies, and not perfect copies unfortunately. The manuscripts are often named after the library in which they are retained. The three oldest copies are, beginning with the oldest:

  1. the Rylands Fragment of John 18:31-33 (in the Rylands Library in Manchester and hence its name) dating from c 130 AD. Thus oldest manuscript of the NT that we have contains only three verses and that was written c 130 AD. You can see an interesting photograph of this on page 98 of Path Through Scripture by Mark Link.

  2. the Bodmer II papyrus (at Cologny near Geneva) dating from c 200 AD containing most of John and

  3. the Chester Beatty papyrus (Dublin) dating from c 300 AD containing most of the NT.

When we compare the interval between these copies and their originals with the interval between author and manuscripts in other writings it becomes so small as to be almost negligible. For example, the oldest copy of Thucydides’ History which he wrote c 400 BC dates from c 900 AD, the oldest copy of Aristotle’s Poetics which he wrote c 400 BC dates from 1100 AD and the oldest copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars which he wrote c 50 BC dates from c 1000 AD. The earliest copy of Horace is 900 years after his death, the oldest copy of Plato 1300 years after his death and the oldest copy of Euripides 1600 years after his death. The following table gives us the gap between original and copy.

Horace 900 years
Caesar Gallic Wars 1050 years
Thucydides History 1300 years
Plato 1300 years
Aristotle Poetics 1500 years
Euripedes 1600 years

Why do we not have better manuscripts? When the Roman Empire was crumbling under the barbarian invasion of wild tribes literature of all kinds suffered. The great libraries of antiquity perished. Christian literature was more likely than secular to be destroyed by pagans or sometimes by Christians to keep it out of pagan hands. Yet it also had the advantage because people loved it more dearly. Christians would safeguard a fragment of Scripture. Copies of Scripture to be used in the liturgy were kept at the residence of bishops and priests and under their supervision “readers” took care of them and had to guard them with their lives if necessary. St. Augustine says that anyone who handed over the sacred books to the pagans was considered an apostate and excluded from the Church.

 

Manuscripts of the Old Testament

In the spring of 1947 two shepherds discovered by accident some jars containing scrolls in a cave at Qumran in the cliffs near the Dead Sea. Exploration of the area was begun and thousands of fragments of scrolls were discovered. These are commonly called the Dead Sea Scrolls or sometimes the Qumran scrolls. Among the items discovered were texts of the OT dating from the end of the third century BC. The community of Essenes, whose library these caves housed, lived there from 150 BC - 68 AD so they have to be earlier than the latter date and account must be taken of the fact that they would have had manuscripts there that were older than the foundation of their monastery. Palaeography (study of handwriting) indicates that some of the manuscripts are older than 150 BC. These are the oldest texts of the OT in existence, more than a thousand years older than the next oldest copy of the OT in existence.

 

Copying Manuscripts

In the early centuries personal reading was fairly unusual because few were educated enough to read. Reading material was scarce. The process of copying a manuscript was long. Parchment and ink had to be prepared and every word of the text copied. In today’s terms, the whole process would have amounted to thousands of pounds. But the monasteries regarded reading the Bible so important that they were prepared to invest the resources and time necessary. The printing press was invented in 1456 and before the days of printing, professional scribes earned their living by copying and writing at quick speed. But minor mistakes could be made while copying, especially if writing quickly. It could easily happen that a scribe could leave out one line if the same word occurred at the beginning of two lines. Another scribe who would copy from this later would also leave it out. It could also happen that something could be added by mistake. Therefore those who translate the Bible from its original languages must firstly try to reconstruct the most perfect text. About 80% of the text of the Bible in manuscripts is fine, the remaining 20% unfortunately has to be re-constructed. However it is not as alarming as it sounds. In most cases it is pretty clear what the author intended. We will meet an example of a probable scribal error later in Gospels in Lesson 6 (Matt 1:11)

 

The Authority of the Bible as Word of God

Not all the Bible has the same authority for us. Before the New Testament was complete, Christians called the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament because its authority for them was primarily as a preparation for the Gospel, a promise fulfilled in Jesus. (Naturally the Jews do not call the Hebrew Bible the OT since they do not have a NT; they call the OT the Tanak. Tanak comes from three Hebrew words that designate the entire Old Testament, Torah i.e. the Law, Nebhiim, the Prophets and Kokabhim the Writings, i.e. the Wisdom Literature). Since Jesus, Christians have read the OT in the light of the NT. Even within the NT Christians give pride of place to the Gospel in the liturgy. A priest or deacon proclaims the Gospel and it is incensed on special occasions.

As individuals we also favour some parts of the Bible more than others. This is natural. God speaks to us more through some parts of the Bible than others. Not every part of the Bible demands the same attention from us. Otherwise we would be like the man who randomly opened the Bible and put his finger on a verse and this would be his command for the day. One day he chanced upon Matt 27:5 where it was said of Judas “and he went and hanged himself”. Not being happy with this he tried again and landed on Luke 10:37 where Jesus said, “Go and do likewise”. Some parts of the Bible demand more authority than others, and the original Hebrew OT and Greek NT have an authority superior to modern translations, i.e. they are more inspired than our English translations.

 

Why Do Catholic Bibles Have Seven Extra Books In The Old Testament?

If you find this explanation too complicated simply skip it for now. I will refer you to it in later lessons. All you need to know is which are the seven books. Jews travelled and settled in many places, especially after the Jewish Exile in 587 BC when Jerusalem was captured by Babylon and they took their books with them and established synagogues. One of the largest colonies of Jews in the Diaspora was in Alexandria in Egypt where Jewish scribes produced a Greek Old Testament - later known as the Septuagint - that was eventually the favoured version of the Old Testament by many Christians as well as Greek-speaking Jews. (Greek was the language of the Mediterranean basin at that time). This Greek version is called the Septuagint (from the Latin ‘Septuaginta’ meaning 70 and therefore designated as LXX, in Latin L=50 and X=10). The Septuagint included books and chapters not found in the Hebrew Old Testament. These additions are the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach), Baruch, 1 & 2 Maccabees, additions to Esther, additions to Daniel (part of chapter 3; chapters 13 and 14) and the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6).

Why is the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint? Its name derives from a legend. The Letter of Aristeas, a 2nd century BC Jewish scholar, asserts that the king of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 BC) wished to have a translation of the OT for his library which he founded in Alexandria. This amount of what Aristeas states can be accepted, that it is before 250 BC and that it was translated in Alexandria. However Aristeas then adds the following explanation which, naturally, is not to be regarded as historical. He states that 72 men, 6 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, came from Jerusalem to translate. Each was put into a separate cell on the island of Pharos. Each took 72 days to complete his translation and upon checking afterwards each was found to be identical.

The difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles starts with the Septuagint. St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible from the Hebrew OT was made c 400 AD. This Latin translation, later called the Vulgate, originally contained Jerome’s prefatory notes marking the seven books not found in the Hebrew but somehow in subsequent editions these notes were omitted and the distinction Jerome had made was soon forgotten. (Remember what I said earlier about scribal errors when copying manuscripts) The gradual acceptance of the Latin Vulgate as the approved Bible of the Western Church meant the adoption of the seven extra books into its OT canon. Thus unlike the remainder of the OT, these seven extra books were written in Greek and not in Hebrew.

Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century called into question the accuracy of the Latin translations and books not written in Hebrew. They rejected the Greek OT in favour of the Hebrew OT. In recent years their Bibles once again print the seven books, between OT and NT and call them “Apocrypha”. The Catholic Church during the Council of Trent in 1546 reaffirmed the seven books. A few years later the Pope called them “deutero-canonical”. They fill in gaps or throw new light on biblical history and enrich our understanding of Jewish piety in the years prior to Jesus.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament is no longer regarded as inspired by the Catholic Church because of mistranslations and variants of the Hebrew inspired text (although still considered inspired by the Eastern Churches) (see NJBC 65:39). Not all of the differences with our OT are due to mistranslations. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has given us the text of the OT that the translators were working with at that time and it is different in parts from our Hebrew OT text.

Researching the Bible

A question I am sometimes asked is, “Where does one find so much information on the Bible for research?” Although you see only a fairly select number of books on the Bible in your local religious bookshop there are thousands of publications on the Bible every year. Bookshops are market orientated and cannot afford to stock every book. A library attached to a university or institute which has a theological faculty will have a section on Scripture but even that will not contain every book because of financial limitations. The two best libraries on Scripture near us here in Europe are probably the Biblical Institute in Rome and the École Biblique in Jerusalem. “With so many thousands of books how do you find what you need for your research?” A list of all the publications on Scripture and Theology is published each year in a book called an Elenchus. ‘Elenchus’ simply means list. There are different Elenchi published by different universities. The most complete is published by the Biblical Institute in Rome but there is also a very good one published by the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain) every year. As I write now I have before me the Elenchus published in Leuven in 1993 containing the list of publications for 1992. The pages containing the publications on Scripture begin at page 126 and run until page 315. Each of those 189 pages lists about 22 books or articles in Scripture and Theology journals published on the Bible in 1992. That is well over 4000 publications during 1992! So there is an abundance of material for research. The publications in the Elenchus are listed by theme and by biblical book, ensuring that you can quickly find a publication relevant to your research. In case you want to look at this in your local theological library, the Elenchus I mentioned is published each year as part of a theological journal called Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses. As there are more and more scholars researching the Bible each year, the number of publications grows each year. For example, looking at the Elenchus for 1969 published in 1970 you would see that there are 72 pages on Scripture. See how much the research has increased since then, from 72 pages to 189 pages in 1993. A question I am also asked is “How much does one need to read for a doctorate?” Generally you read everything written about your theme during the last 25 years, not everything written about the Bible, but what is written about your particular area of research.

 

Why Did Catholics Begin To Read The Bible In Recent Years?

The Protestant Reformation decided that the Bible contained all that one needed to know for salvation. It excluded all the beliefs that were deduced from what was said in the Bible. Catholics believed the target of the reformers’ attack was the papacy and so the Catholic Church over-reacted and said one didn’t need to read the Bible because its contents were in the Church’s teaching. This closed the Bible to Catholics. Therefore modern biblical approaches used by Protestant scholars were rejected. Protestant scholarship and understanding of the Bible far outstripped the Catholic growth in understanding of the Bible.

The Pontificate of Pius XII marked a complete turn-around and inaugurated the greatest renewal of interest in the Bible that the Roman Catholic Church has ever seen. His encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943 was a Magna Charta for biblical studies. The Pope announced that the time for fear was over and that Catholic scholars should use modern methods in their exegesis (Exegesis is the technical term to describe the research of biblical scholars). In other words they were free to catch up with Protestant scholarship that had greatly outdistanced them during the preceding years.

Among Catholics generally it has been through the Charismatic Renewal Movement and other prayer groups that people began to read the Bible again. In recent years Lectio Divina has been growing in popularity as a way of reading and praying the Sunday Gospels.

Vatican II in Dei Verbum paragraph 25 encouraged people to study the Sacred Scriptures; “The sacred Synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” [Quotation from St Jerome, the patron saint of Scripture Study] Therefore let them go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember however that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scriptures, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man.”

The same Vatican II document, Dei Verbum 21, writes beautifully on the importance of the Scriptures: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” This is repeated in CCC 104.

 

The Church venerates the Scriptures as She Venerates the Lord’s Body

In our Catholic tradition we have been accustomed to giving devotion to the Eucharist a privileged position. Vatican II calls us to give equal reverence to the presence of God in his Word and in the Eucharist. Dei Verbum 21 states that the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerated the Lord’s Body. This is repeated in CCC 103. This may be a new way of looking at the Scriptures for you.  I cherish the following quotation from Origen, a third century preacher, “You receive the body of the Lord with special care and reverence lest the smallest crumb of the consecrated gift fall to the floor. You should receive the word of God with equal care and reverence lest the smallest word of it fall to the floor and be lost.”

Praying HandsHave you venerated the presence of God in the Scriptures as much as you have venerated the presence of God in the Eucharist? Can you set aside time every day to read the Scriptures and allow the Lord to speak to you?


Correct Interpretation of the Bible depends on our understanding of Inspiration and the types of literature it contains

How do we avoid misinterpreting the Scriptures? If you find the following somewhat abstract I will give you examples as the course proceeds and refer you back to here. Dei Verbum 12 gives a guideline: to ‘carefully search out the meaning which the sacred writers really had in mind’. Applying this to the first chapters of Gen, we would say that what Gen intends us to understand by people living such long lives (e.g. Noah 950 years in Gen 9:29) and progressively living shorter lives (Abraham lived only 175 years, Ishmael shorter again, dying at 137 years in Gen 25:17 and so on) is that the spread of sin in the world has shortened our lives.

Another guideline given us by Dei Verbum is to pay attention to the literary forms in which the Bible is written and also “due attention must be paid both to the customary and characteristic patterns of perception, speech and narrative which prevailed at the age of the sacred writer...”. The different types of literature we need to take account of in reading the Bible are narrative, poetry, proverbs, parables, laws, history, myth, legend as well as figures of speech such as hyperbole and idiom. That does not mean they are not inspired, they are inspired, but inspired narrative, inspired poetry, inspired parables, inspired myths or legends, etc. For example, Jonah is often described as a parable because it is almost certainly not historical, but it is an inspired parable because it teaches about God’s mercy. The book of Job is a legend, meaning that it has a historical core (a person named Job probably existed) but the rest of the story is fictitious. Nevertheless it is an inspired legend to teach us that the mystery of human suffering is too much for our small finite minds to understand and asking us to trust in God who has the world in his care. The last sentence of Dei Verbum 13 sums up, “Indeed, the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”

The community of faith, according to the recent theory of inspiration was inspired in one way or another in having given rise to the book. The community of faith is also the correct context for interpreting the Bible, another guideline which Dei Verbum 12 gives for correct interpretation of the Bible. We need the help of the Body of Christ to correctly understand the Word of God, because none of us is yet fully Christ. See CCC 113.

The most recent ecclesiastical guidelines for interpreting sacred Scripture were issued in 1993 by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Section II Part B). This allows three senses of Scripture: the literal sense, the spiritual sense, and the fuller sense.

  1. The literal sense is really following the guidelines described above, to arrive at the understanding of Scripture as the author intended.

  2. The spiritual sense is re-reading the Old Testament in the light of Jesus, now understanding texts as referring to Jesus. In Old Testament times these would have been understood as hyperbole (eg Ps 2:7-8; 110:4). “The paschal event, the death and resurrection of Jesus, has established a radically new historical context, which sheds fresh light upon the ancient texts and causes them to undergo a change in meaning” (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church II B 2).

  3. The fuller sense (sensus plenior), is “a deeper meaning of the text, intended by God but not clearly expressed by the human author. Its existence in the biblical text comes to be known when one studies the text in the light of other biblical texts which utilize it or in its relationship with the internal development of revelation”. Matt 1:23 quoting Isa 7:14 is a well-known example. The spiritual and fuller sense clearly show that the books of Scripture were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and have God as their author, to use the definition of Vat I and II.

See CCC 115-119

 

FURTHER READING

The Vatican II document Dei Verbum

CCC 101-141

Pontifical Biblical Commission The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church

Milton P Brown To Hear the Word: Invitation to Serious Study of the Bible

Joseph A. Fitzmyer Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Some of chapters 65-68 in the NJBC may be of interest to you.

 

PRAYER

Before you pray, close your eyes and relax. Keep both feet on the ground. Become aware of the presence of God with you. If it helps, light a candle or look at a sacred picture. Imagine Jesus coming to you, giving you the Bible and asking you read and pray with your Bible. The following is only to get you started. Continue praising God for the Scriptures. Pray using the words of Scripture as your own as I do below. Praying Hands

 

 

Father in heaven, we thank you for the most wonderful gift of the Sacred Scriptures which you have given to us. We thank you for Vatican II reminding us to venerate the Scriptures as we do the Eucharist. We thank you for inspiring these writings and making them useful for refuting error, for guiding our lives and teaching us how to be upright (2 Tim 3:16). Your word is indeed a lamp for our steps and a light for our path (Ps 119:105). We ask your pardon that we have neglected your holy Word to us in the past and we ask your help to keep us faithful to reading, studying and praying with your Holy Scriptures.

 

Part C: Maps and Diagrams for the Course

Click on a map below to view its full size.  Please return to these maps and diagrams often to become familiar with the geography of the Ancient Near East and Palestine.

The Ancient Near East

The Ancient Near East

The Route of the Exodus

The Route of the Exodus

Jerusalem and the Temple at the time of Jesus

Jerusalem and the Temple at the time of Jesus

 

Palestine at the time of Jesus

Palestine at the Time of Jesus