Bible Study

Bible Study: Playground or Minefield?

by Steve Ray on January 10, 2019

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 JesusSince we are at the Western Wall today, where the Temple stood in Jesus’ day, it is appropriate to discuss this. Jesus loved the Jewish Temple and called it his Father’s house.

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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 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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Catholic Scripture Study International

Since I was 17 years old, studying the Bible has been my passion. Now as a Catholic it has increased 100%. Back in my youth, I could never have anticipated the wealth of materials for study that I now have at my fingertips.

I recommend two great Catholic resources:

FIRST, Catholic Scripture Study International. I have written many of the studies for this program and I highly recommend it. Use it for a group study, family study or individual study. It has everything you need in the box — all you need to do is add water :-)  But really, it can be used by and veteran student of Scripture or by a complete novice.

Verbum Catholic Bible Study Software

SECOND, I recommend Verbum Catholic and Bible Study Software. This works on all computers and sync’s with tablets, smart phones or any other device. Take a whole Catholic library with you wherever you go. It is an incredible resource which I have used since 1990. Enter STEVERAY10 in the Promo Code for 10% discount.

Make new resolutions to study God’s word this next year, or give someone else the gift of Bible Study.

 

 

PREVIEW AND OVERVIEW OF THE POWER OF VERBUM

 

PREVIEW AND OVERVIEW OF CATHOLIC SCRIPTURE STUDY INTERNATIONAL: For groups or individual study

 

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

December 1, 2018

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

November 13, 2018

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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Can Peter Walk on Water? Can Sinful Men be Infallible?

June 21, 2018

Is it possible for a sinful, fallible man to give an infallible interpretation of Scripture or an infallible definition of doctrine? If he is fallible and sinful, doesn’t that preclude his ability to be infallible when it comes to things of God? No. In fact while many Protestants would say the Pope cannot be infallible […]

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Bias in Bible Translations

May 22, 2018

Translating Holy Scripture is a necessary process by which the sacred text is provided in various languages, usually rendered from the original languages. Not all translations are created equal. Some result from one scholar’s work, others the work of a committee of scholars. Some are literal while others tend toward paraphrase. Translation resembles a sliding […]

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The Technology of Scripture Study: The Middle Ages (and a hilarious video at the end)

April 16, 2018

“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.” Written by my friend Andrew Jones PhD: “We might start with a description of […]

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Should Catholics Attend Non-denominational or Ecumenical Bible Studies?

April 10, 2018

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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Which Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

April 7, 2018

No 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 […]

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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 […]

Read the full article →

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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