Bible Study

“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 pope;
3. The Bible is perspicuous (i.e., easy to understand) and it can be interpreted and understood by anyone.
4. An individual can/should read the Bible and interpret the Bible for themselves.

Catholics have a different set of premises that direct their study of the Bible.

1. The authority of the Apostles and the Church preceded the Bible and the Sacred Tradition of the Church is an equally infallible authority (2 Thes 2:15; CCC 80-83). The Bible is part of the Apostolic Tradition.
2. The authoritative interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church (1 Tim 3:15; Mt 18:17; CCC 85-88).
3. The Bible is not always easy to understand (2 Pet 3:15-16) and needs to understood within its historical and contextual framework and interpreted within the community to which it belongs.
4. Individuals can/should read the Bible and interpret the Bible 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 (assumed from their newly devised tradition) and is of recent origin. The Catholic is in full continuity with historical Christianity; Protestants are in discontinuity.

For the best Catholic Bible software, visit www.Verbum.com/SteveRay

My article “Bible Study: Playground or Minefield? Why We Need the Church”

My article: “How to Start a Parish Bible Study”

“Questions for ‘Bible Christians'”

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Why Steve Ray Loves Verbum Software

by Steve Ray on September 15, 2019

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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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Did the Bible Always have Chapters & Verses?

August 23, 2019

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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Bias in Bible Translations

August 22, 2019

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 Cross & the Crucifix: Letter to a Fundamentalist

August 21, 2019

The Cross & the Crucifix (From a letter Steve wrote to a Evangelical Protestant who asked about the Catholic Crucifix) Dear Evangelical Friend: You display a bare cross in your home; we display the cross and the crucifix. What is the difference and why? The cross is an upright post with a crossbeam in the […]

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Reading the Bible

August 18, 2019

A Little Poem about Bible Context I supposed I knew my Bible, Reading piecemeal, hit or miss, Now a bit of John or Matthew, Now a snatch of Genesis, Certain chapters of Isaiah, Certain Psalms (the twenty-third), Twelfth of Romans, first of Proverbs — Yes, I thought I knew the Word! But I found that […]

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Sympathy for Cradle Catholics Who Can’t Explain or Defend the Faith

July 5, 2019

I thought of a helpful illustration to explain why “cradle Catholics” are often unable to explain and defend the Catholic faith. The example has its weaknesses, but it does help get the point across. As an American I asked myself this question: if some one trained to attack America intellectually approached me on the street […]

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

June 2, 2019

I use Verbum every day – on my iPhone, my laptop, my computer and on the web. After watching this short video demonstration 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 […]

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Great New Didache Bible from Ignatius Press

May 18, 2019

The Didache Bible Is Here, Article 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 […]

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7 Reasons to Study the Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible

May 17, 2019

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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How We REALLY Got the Bible – the Facts Simply Presented (print this out, hand it out)

May 16, 2019

This is just one page of Bob Sullivan’s excellent little tri-fold handout to explain how we got the Bible. It is from the Catholic and historical perspective without all the Protestant biases and twisting of history. I think you enjoy the whole thing which you can see here. You can print this out, fold it […]

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The Eucharist: the Flesh Profits Nothing

May 12, 2019

Since we are in Capernaum today, I decided to share a few words related to the site. I was recently asked a related questions questionic Answers Live. Capernaum is where Jesus said “Eat My Flesh; Drink My Blood.” I thought it would be appropriate to answer an e-mail I received a while ago from a man named […]

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What Translation of the Bible Should You Use?

May 10, 2019

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 literal  translations and on the other extreme are dynamic […]

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

April 30, 2019

“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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Bible Study: Differences between Catholics and Protestants

April 23, 2019

Protestant “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 […]

Read the full article →