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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How to Read the Bible

I just have to preface this by saying that I am NOT an expert in how to read the Bible from any perspective. I've never even gone to a formal Bible Study! I would LOVE to attend the classes put on by Jeff Cavins, but it just hasn't worked out for me...not the time, not the money required to take the class. Such is life. But that said, last summer I DID attend a Bible Conference and the post below is a fruit of that education.

So you see, you don't have to be an expert in order to present information to others which was passed on to you by a solid and well informed source. So in this context, I am really more of a messenger, or a mediator, if you will, rather than a teacher.

I cannot truly take credit for my post on the Wedding at Cana for all the information was given to me. Just as the Catholic Church cannot take credit for her teachings; for they have been passed down from Jesus Christ himself and preserved by the Holy Spirit. I am only a link in the chain, and I must say that if there is anything I present which is against the teachings of the Church, then disregard what I say in favor of what Jesus said. Of course, that should go without saying, but then again, when we consider how many denominations are out there....let's just say that I don't intend to start my own church. Agreed? (Please agree!)

OK, moving on....

I have had a request from a dear, faithful reader to impart some of the knowledge I have with regard to the Bible and how to read it. You likely won't need to take any notes; what I know would fit into a thimble and will do no more than whet your appetite for more. And if that is all I can do, then all Glory to God, for we all have to start somewhere! And please know...every piece of advice on this page is advice that I need to apply to myself.

First of all, how often is it said that "Catholics don't know the Bible"? Come've all heard it. We even joke about it! I have to hand it to our Protestant brothers and sisters, because they do indeed know the Bible chapter and verse. But is that to say that they really understand what is being said, or are they just able to dissect it like an intersting bug and pull out the sections that interest them the most? Aren't we all prone to that if we seek to memorize, versus PENETRATE the Bible?

But consider the fact that in the Catholic liturgy, in three years we will cover the ENTIRE BIBLE! Especially if we attend Daily Mass. Our liturgy is completely biblical; in fact, the order of the Mass is DETAILED in the Bible throughout Revelation as well as Acts! And consider the "Gloria", the "Sanctus" (Holy holy holy), the "Lamb of God"!. And then the readings themselves; we begin with the Old Testament, move on to a Psalm, and on Sundays and Solemnities, we have a second reading from the New Testament...and then we have the Gospel reading.

I have heard people criticize the "ritual" of the Catholic liturgy; they try to say that they don't "need" what they call the "rituals" we carry out. Yet I humbly beg to differ. What we do as Catholics is make a big deal out of God. What Christian, in their right mind would NOT want to make a BIG DEAL out of GOD!

But I digress. So we make a big deal out of everything, we make everything a production. So be it. And it's all Biblical. Really. I refer you to the writings of Scott Hahn for more on this matter.

And so we return to scripture, again. Catholics, believe it or not, you know the Bible just as well as our Protestant counterparts. You have memorized parts of it thorugh the liturgy alone, through the "ritual" that some people condemn so unjustly. And what of the Bible stories we all grew up hearing?

I remember as a child, my Mom had a book called "Bible stories that Live". It was basically a Bible which was re-written into language children could understand, taking the stories and fleshing them into STORIES. When our mother began reading from this book, my brother and I initially rolled our eyes...but it wasn't long before we were rapt with attention to the stories which invited our participation, ignited our imagination, and brought the people of Biblical times to real life. We nearly cried when she closed the book and told us to go to bed. Far from being abstract, we understood Abraham to be our father, we were shocked when Isaac was nearly killed but a ram was provided as a sacrifice in his place, and we were relieved to understand it was only a test of faith. Yes...deep theological truths presented to children, little seeds planted in our spongy minds to sprout later on. I remember after I had become a better reader, sitting down with this book, and I must have read it cover to cover three times in one year.

Catholics, we know the Bible, we know the stories, the lessons, and the theology, even if we can't cite the numbers of the chapters and verses. And when we go to judgment, Jesus is not going to ask us where we will find the words, "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7). No: Jesus is going to ask us why we did not knock when we should have knocked, why we did not seek when we should have sought, and when we did obey the directive, he is going to ask us what we found and who we brought through the door into His light.

So the first lesson is this: realize that you know a lot more that you thought you did. If it helps you, sit down and write out or meditate upon a couple stories you may have learned as a child, or verses you learned as an adult, then look them up and re-read them. The numbers of the chapters and verses are not important; the lessons they contain ARE.

Once you understand this, then you have the confidance to move and and see that the Bible was written not for theologians and scholars, but for everyone. Anyone can read the Bible and get something out of it, and the most learned theologian can plunge into the depths of scripture and never find the bottom, never run out of lessons and truths to be revealed. I have heard it said that anyone who claims they have read and fully understand a particular passage has not gone deep enough for nothing can be read too many times or understood too deeply.

So how are we to learn to go deeper into the revelations contained within scripture? How do we move past the understanding of the stories and learn to see the connections and identify the mysteries left for us to discern?

One method, as promoted by St. Ignatius, is to place ourselves within the scriptures. Read a passage....who are you in that passage? What are you seeing? What is your perspective? If you were to go back and read the Wedding at Cana again, who are you? Are you one of the disciples, there to witness the first miracle, and by your front-row seat, come to believe? How does this affect you? Or are you one of the servants, grumbling at the busy-work of filling stone jars. Are you saying to your cohorts why Jesus didn't just demand that holes be dug in the sand at high-tide? Place yourself and your normal reactions and your personality in the place scripture draws for you, and then consider the miracle taking place. How does that change your perspective? What does it teach you? What is Jesus invting you to understand about Him?

Each and every miracle Jesus performs points not just to the temporal effect, but to something greater. It reveals something about Him and who He is. So place yourself there and see if you can glean what the Lord may be telling you right now.

Another method is to consider the symbols being used. Going back to the Wedding at Cana, the symbols which are recurring throughout scripture are; wine, stone jars, water, servants, disciples, bride, bridegroom, and other words such as "hour". See if you can pick out just a few words, or even just one word. Look it up in a concordance and see where else in scripture the same word can be found. What does it mean in another context? What is THAT passage pointing to? Is it is messaianic prophecy? Is it a lamentation of a sinner seeking forgiveness, as in the psalms? See if you can find that word in other passages and put them together to obtain a contextual understanding...then apply that understanding to the Gospel text that lead you on this journey through scripture.

Another thing I like to do is to follow the scriptural references given at the bottom of the page. One Gospel may refer to another, or to a prophecy or reference in Daniel. Or maybe, when the Pharisees and Sadducees were questioning Jesus about divorce and referenced a woman divorced or widowed seven times? They were trying to trap Jesus by using the book of Tobit, which is a book not accepted by one sect, but which was acceptd by another. Understanding this tidbit gives us a glimpse into Jesus' wisdom, and even his sense of humor! After all...he gave an answer that stopped both sects in their tracks!

And no, I am not going to point out the scripture reference; that is your homework: look it up yourself! Code word: Divorce.

And lastly, don't just rush through scripture. If you find a passage that appeals to you, or if you are prayerfully preparing for the Mass readings, read them over slowly, letting your eyes linger and your mind form itself to the words on the page. What stands out? If a particular verse stops you, then STOP. Re-read it. And again, and just let the Holy Spirit speak to you.

Or perhaps the reading just makes you ask questions and you don't know where to find the answers. In that case, write down your questions and if you can't find the answers, find someone who can answer them; a learned and trusted friend, a priest, a professor...someone who can help you identify not just the answers, but why they are your questions.

As Catholics, we have a lot of lattitude in reading the Bible; we should not fear to tread the depths, and understand what something means to us, for the Lord speaks to us individually just as he teaches us all as a community. Our yardstick, or our boundaries, are subject to the teaching authority of the Church, and within that we have a lot of space to roam. It is entirely possible that we may misinterpret something out of a misunderstanding of a symbol or a particular phrase, but we should not fear making mistakes for then we may, through that, recieve instruction which could take us to the next level.

So pick up your Bible and begin reading, delve into the depths scripture can provide, and open the door to understanding the great mystery and love of Jesus Christ.


HeyJules said...

Great stuff again here, Adoro. I thought I'd mention that if you're looking to read the Bible and don't know where to really begin, Biblegateway has several reading plans at this link:

They can take you through the main points, the parables, or the entire book - your choice. I've started the Comprehensive plan where I read a certain number of chapters a day and at the end of the year I will have read it cover to cover! Thought some of your other readers might want to know those options are out there and you can get your fill of daily reading no matter where you are.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment and the link! Although from what it seems, this is not a Catholic organization?

For Catholics, they will want to check out:


There are others but I'm not where I can access the links. Will try to post later.

I'll add the links to the body of the post later.

God Bless!

~ Adoro

JD said...


I do not think that Catholics do not know the Bible. The biggest issue is that most Catholics are not encouraged to READ the Bible, above and beyond Mass. Being a former Catholic, I understand the issues that arise from this lack of delving into the Word. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten until I graduated College and was not encouraged or challenged to read the Bible but for 2 instances:

1. Attending a Baptist Church for the youth group activities (our local parishes had nothing) and having to defend the Catholic faith.

2. A Catholic Moral Theology class in college.

Other than those 2 times in my life, I did not read the Word regularly. I am glad you are encouraging all to read the Word and really delve into it. There is so much more about the History of Christianity that is shared within the Word that can give anyone a better appreciation for where we have come from and the similarities to what we currently deal with in the Christian church.

A fellow blogger posted this prayer to read before delving into the Word. It was originally written by the Venerable Bede and is actually the picture that The Ironic Catholic uses as her avatar.

May your Spirit, O Christ, lead me in the right way, keeping me safe from all forces of evil and destruction. And, free from all malice, may I search diligently in your Holy Word to discover with the eyes of my mind your commandments. Finally, give me the strength of will to put those commandments into practice through all the days of my life. Amen.

I try to pray this now whenever I open my Bible and begin my studies.