Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish is celebrating the Year of Catechesis from July 2022 – June 2023. The theme of the Year is: Journeying Together in Renewing our Faith. Each month, a new topic is addressed.
January 2023 Topic: The PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
The Bible is the unique and inexhaustible book in which God appears, speaks and acts. A human being also sees himself/herself in the Bible, his/her potentialities, his/her strengths and weaknesses. For a Catholic, it is as vain to claim to understand more the principles of economics, politics than having a basic knowledge of the Bible.
Part I: BASIC ELEMENTS ABOUT THE BIBLE
1.1. DESCRIPTION AND TESTAMENTS IN THE BIBLE
Meaning of bible
The word Bible etymologically comes from the Greek word biblos or biblion meaning a book. The plural form of biblos is biblia, and by the second century a.d. Christians were using this latter word to describe their writings. Biblia gave birth to the Latin word of the same spelling, biblia. The term Bible is often used synonymously with “Scripture” or “Word of God”.
The names Scripture, Holy Books and Bible all correspond to one and the same intention. The Bible is the absolute in books because the message it contains is absolute.
From the Spoken Word to our “Bibles”
The Bible was first the spoken word. How were these books which together form the Bible and which are the foundations of our faith composed and handed down to us? Long before it was a written text, the greater part of the Bible was oral teaching. In ancient Israel transmission by memory and the spoken word was greatly facilitated by the technique applied to it. There was an art of learning by heart that formed part of the art of composition. The prophetic books, Psalms and historical books existed in the oral form before they were written down. The process was the same in the New Testament. The Gospels were certainly spoken before they were written down. The first generation of Christians attached enormous importance to this oral teaching.
However, the need to guide this important and life-giving message and the wish to avoid deviations, errors, exaggerations and distortions eventually made it necessary to have recourse to writing.
Ancient Translations of the Bible.
Today we read the Bible in translation. When the Bible was put down into writing, the original language was Hebrew, the language of God’s people Israel. Aramaic language was also gaining ground at the expense of Hebrew in everyday use. But there are only a few books in Aramaic in the Bible.
From Hebrew as the original language of the text, the Bible was translated into other languages at a very early age. The first in date of these translations and one of the most famous is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible. The first Christian communities used it and almost all the translations into other languages were made from it.
1.2. MEANING OF “TESTAMENT”
Next to the fact that the Bible is a biblos, or a book, the most obvious fact is that it is divided into two parts called testaments. The Hebrew word for testament is berith, meaning a “covenant, or compact, or arrangement between two parties.” It describes a special relationship of God with His people, but it can also refer to the union which God himself sealed with man by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. So, there is an Old Testament/Covenant and a New Testament/Covenant.
The Old Testament
The Bible expresses God’s desire to bring salvation to the entire world. In preparation for this, God chose to reveal himself to a particular people as the one, true, and living God. Through covenant, God gradually disclosed his promises to redeem and sanctify all of humanity. Israel learned of God’s will for creation through their history as God’s chosen people. Through the prophets, kings, and priests of Israel, God disclosed his saving will and merciful love. The inspired writers of the Old Testament recounted and explained God’s saving plan as it gradually unfolded. Their writings appear as the living word of God in the books of the Old Testament. The word “old” is a term of honor and respect for these ancient Scriptures. It does not at all mean that these books are obsolete or outdated. In fact, the covenant God made with Israel has not and cannot be annulled. The Old Testament writings retain a lasting value and are critically important for understanding God’s saving work. As Paul continues, “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). Sometimes Christians beginning to study the Bible place a lesser value on the Old Testament because they consider these books to be less significant than the New Testament books. But for Christians, both the Old Testament and the New Testament together express the inspired word of God. The Old Testament books are essential for understanding the history of salvation, and we cannot properly understand the New without understanding the Old. Only in the light of the Old Testament can the Christian comprehend the significance of the life, death, and glorification of Jesus.
The New Testament
God’s saving plan, manifested in the Old, comes to fulfilment in the New. In this way, the whole Bible demonstrates the complete saving will of God for the world as it came to its fullness in Jesus Christ. In the fifth century, St. Augustine expressed the church’s belief in the unity of the whole Bible: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old becomes clear in the New.” Since God is the inspirer and primary author of both testaments, they fit together in a wonderful unity of promise and fulfillment. In coming to appreciate the value of each part of God’s word in Sacred Scripture, we can grow to understand God’s total plan as it was gradually revealed through the history of Israel and Christ’s church. From Genesis to Revelation, the biblical books reveal the single, overarching plan of God to share his life with the world. “When the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4), God sent his Son among us as the culmination of his saving will.
The Bible is Inspired
Though written by men and in the language of men, the Bible is of divine origin, because it was written by the inspiration of God. According to the testimony of the holy writers, they were not only told by God what to write but were given the very words that they were to record. Thus, Moses declares a hundred times that “the Lord said to Moses.” Every reader of the Bible has seen similar assertions made by the prophets. The same claim is implied in many statements of the apostles; read 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3; and Galatians 1:11, 12 as examples.
The Christian church has never challenged, and cannot challenge, this claim of the holy men. In fact, the church has always understood the human writers of the biblical books as declaring that they received from God not only the thoughts to be expressed but also the words to be used in their expression. This is called the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, a doctrine that is unmistakably enunciated in such texts as John 14:26; 2 Peter 1:20, 21; and 1 Corinthians 2:13 (“expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words”).
This truth does not change the fact that every human writer thus inspired wrote the divine revelation in his own particular style. The Holy Spirit employed the minds of his human instruments as they were and yet spoke his own words through them. Again, it does not affect the reality of inspiration that some of the holy writers certainly made use of previous written records or of human tradition. As the Holy Spirit directed their attention to such sources of information and guided them in the choice of material and of words, all that they wrote became part of the inspired Word of God.
Upon this truth Paul based his assertion that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Were it not for divine inspiration, it would be impossible that the Word as written could effect a total change of human nature (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
Furthermore, verbal inspiration guarantees the lack of error in the Scriptures. Because every word of the Bible is given by the inspiration of God, the Holy Book is altogether without error, even when it makes statements concerning minor facts of history or science. Wherever its statements may seem to contradict one another or to vary from facts otherwise known to us, the reason for this disagreement is to be sought not in the Scriptures, as though they were at fault, but in our own imperfect, fallible knowledge and understanding. In this way verbal inspiration confirms the authenticity of the Scriptures, which depends upon its divine origin.
1.3. THE “CANON”- RULE OF FAITH
In each of the two main parts of the Bible, that is, Old Testament and New Testament, there are a certain number of the books. Why are they there? They are there because the Catholic church declared that these books express authentically and properly the alliance of God with man. This is the idea denoted by the term “Canon”. This term covers the writings that set the rule of faith, rule of tradition or rule of truth. A book was called “canonical” when it fixed rules of belief.
So, the “canon” of Scripture comprises all the books proclaimed by the Catholic church as “regulating faith”. The Catholic Bible has seventy three (73) canonical books. There are forty six (46) books in the Old Testament and there are twenty seven (27) books in the New Testament.
The Canon of the Old Testament
What the Catholic Church calls the Old Testament contains more books than are recognized either among the Jews or the Protestants. The Catholic Church believes, and has so defined, that there are forty six inspired books in the Old Testament. The books of the Old Testament are classified as follows: the Pentateuch/Torah, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, and the Prophets. The books of the Pentateuch also known as the books of Torah or books of Moses are five: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Historical books are sixteen: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, two books of Samuel, two books of Kings, two books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther and two books of Maccabees. Wisdom books are seven: Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach and Wisdom. Books of the Prophets are eighteen and they include the four major prophets who are Isaiah, Jeremiah (with Lamentations), Ezekiel and Daniel and the minor prophets who are Hosea, Amos, Joel, Nahum, Habakkuk, Micah, Jonah, Obadiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. We can draw an important conclusion from the historical sequence of the Old Testament. It shows that the Bible began with the origin of the Chosen People, and that God’s revelation was only gradual. It spanned about two thousand years, from the twentieth to the first century before Christ. As a result, we find a remarkable development in biblical Old Testament revelation. Relatively obscure truths become more clear, general injunctions become more specific, predictions of the Messiah become more detailed. All of this is part of God’s providential plan to prepare His People for the coming of the Savior. This fact of progress in Old Testament revelation with new and distinct truths added to previous ones, tells us many things. Note that there is a need of seeing the Old Testament as a whole, and not depending on any single book as definitive on some doctrine of faith or morals. One passage will shed light on another; one book will add to the preceding. In practice, this calls for a wider and deeper understanding of Old Testament Scriptures than most people, even well-educated Catholics, commonly have.
From the analysis above, it is now obvious that when a Catholic comes across a Bible with thirty nine books of the Old Testament he/she can easily discover that it is not a Catholic Bible. It is a Protestant Bible which they took from the Jewish Old Testament. The Catholics and Jewish/Protestants agree in majority of the books in the Old Testament except for seven books. There are Seven books of the Old Testament which are in the Catholic Canon of Scripture but not in the Jewish/Protestant Canon. These books are called Deuterocanonical books or books of the second canon. When the Bible was originally written down in Hebrew language it contained only thirty nine books in the Old Testament. But when it was translated into Greek, it came out with seven more books in the Old Testament and it raised the number to forty six. The Jews did accept these books but the Catholic church accepted and that is why they are called books of the second canon. These books are Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, Wisdom and First and Second Maccabees.
The Canon of the New Testament
So far as the New Testament is concerned, Protestants are in agreement with Catholics. The number of books is the same for both: twenty seven.
The books of the New Testament are commonly divided into three groups: historical, didactic or instructional, and prophetic. The historical group covers the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles; the didactic are the thirteen epistles written by Paul, the Letter to the Hebrews, the two epistles of Peter, three epistles of John, epistle of James and the epistle of Jude; and there is only one prophetic book, the Apocalypse of St. John.
Christians gave the name Evangelion (Good Tidings) to the account of life everlasting lost through Adam and restored by Christ. The Gospel is, therefore, the news of the Redemption and the Redeemer, which the Apostles were commissioned by Christ to proclaim to the whole world. Since all of Christ’s teaching was oral, the word “Gospel” originally meant oral instruction. Among the four written Gospels, the first three closely resemble one another, while the fourth complements them. The familiar arrangement of the Gospels, with Matthew always first, then Mark and Luke, and finally John, is formed in all the ancient translations and in every list of the canonical Scriptures. It was assumed that Matthew’s Gospel was written first and John’s last. The accounts of the four evangelists can be harmonized to give a lifelike biography of the Saviour.
Acts of the Apostles
Although the author of the Acts of the Apostles does not identify himself by name, tradition has consistently held it was St. Luke, the disciple of St. Paul. This is so true that the Acts could well be considered Luke’s second Gospel. There are three distinguishing parts in the Acts. The first part (Chapters 1-7) deals with the early history of the Church, beginning with Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost, and going on to her propagation among the Jews. Most of the events here described took place in Jerusalem. The second part (Chapters 8-12) treats of the Church’s extension beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. The center of gravity also shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch. But in both these sections, St. Peter is the principal figure. The third part, which is also the longest (Chapters 13-28) explains in detail how the Church spread among the Gentiles. St. Paul also becomes the chief personage and the center of activity becomes Rome. One feature that stands out in the Acts is the dominant position of Peter in the apostolic Church. He directed the choice of Matthias to replace the traitor Judas. He preached the first sermon on Pentecost Sunday. He performed the first miracle by healing the man born lame. He rebuked Ananias and Sapphira for their dishonesty, and it was in his presence that they were struck dead. Peter spoke up to the Sanhedrin in defense of the Apostles’ preaching. Peter was the one who reprimanded Simon the magician. Peter decided that the Gentiles should be baptized and accepted into the fold without being bound by the Jewish dietary laws and circumcision. The Acts of the Apostles also provides a historical framework for the preaching and activities of St. Paul. His faithful disciple, Luke, tells us about Paul’s journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor, his second missionary journey, his activity in Asia Minor and Macedonia, his visit to Athens and Corinth, his third missionary journey and stay in Ephesus, then his journey to Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea, then his journey to Rome, shipwreck at Malta, and finally his arrival in Rome. Paul’s speech to the Roman Jews closes the Acts.
Letters of St. Paul
St. Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was of Jewish ancestry of the tribe of Benjamin. He was born in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia. As an enthusiastic zealot for the Jewish law, he participated in the stoning of St. Stephen, at least by his approval. The letters of St. Paul were an integral part of his missionary zeal. Most of the Fathers of the Church held that St. Paul wrote thirteen letters, since they ascribed the letter to the Hebrews to another author. The letters of St. Paul are: Letter to the Romans, the two letters to the Corinthians, the letter to the Galatians, letter to the Philippians, letter to the Ephesians, letter to the Colossians, two letters to the Thessalonians, two letters to Timothy, the letter to Titus and the letter to Philemon.
The Catholic Epistles
The seven letters of the New Testament by the Apostles Peter, James, John and Jude have been known from the earliest times as the Catholic Epistles. They are Catholic because they have been “recognized by the universal Church”. Their sequence in the Bible is the one found in most of the early manuscripts. James, the younger or less, son of Alpheus, Bishop of Jerusalem and near relative of Christ wrote the epistle that now carries his name. He addressed the letter, as Bishop of Jerusalem, to the Jewish converts to Christianity, who were scattered abroad.
St. Peter wrote two letters. The first was probably written when persecution of the Church was still in prospect. So, Christians were encouraged to remain firm in the faith and virtue. Peter’s second letter is directed against certain false teachers.
The three letters of John are of unequal length. The first is the longest and most doctrinal. There is a constant struggle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. John’s second letter was written to a certain Cyria, which may have been the name of a local Church. His third letter was sent to a person named Caius, who may have presided over the Christian community at Cyria.
The epistle of St. Jude is one chapter large and concerns itself mainly with admonitions about certain false teachers.
This book of revelation (apokalupsis = disclosure) gives us a prophetic insight regarding the future of the Church on earth, the struggles for and against Christ to the end of the world, the first victory of the faithful, and the glories of heaven in the world to come. There are four principal parts to the Apocalypse. In the first, John receives communications and admonitions from Christ about seven churches in the province of Asia (Chapters 1-3). In the second part, John is caught up to heaven and sees God on a throne, holding a book in His hand with seven seals, which symbolizes the future. As one seal after another is broken, a judgment comes on mankind to the purpose of sanctifying the faithful. Before the seventh seal is opened, St. John has three visions, in the last of which Christ and His followers are victorious over their enemies. The third part represents the enemies of Christ as a dragon, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and a beast with two horns. A common interpretation identifies these symbols as the devil, the powers of the world and false prophets, all opposed to Christ and His Church. The struggle of Christ with His enemies ends in the victory of the Savior and His followers. In the final part of the Apocalypse, the dragon is let loose once again and tries to stir up the nations against the saints of God, but he is overthrown and cast into a pool of fire. St. John then sees after the last day a new heaven and a new earth, preceded by the resurrection. In his closing vision, John describes the New Jerusalem, which is the Church of Christ in glory.
1.4. SOME IMAGES AND NUMBERS IN THE BIBLE
A lamb is simply a young and therefore small sheep. Many of the nearly two hundred biblical references to lambs are therefore synonymous with those for the broader category.
Lambs are associated with gentleness, innocence and dependence. Thus, God as shepherd gathers lambs in his arms because they are helpless (Is 40:11). In Nathan’s parable of David’s greed, it is the lamb that stands for helpless innocence. In the coming millennium it is the lamb that will feed and lie down with the wolf (Is 65:25; 11:6). When a prophet wishes to paint a picture of heightened helplessness and innocence, he chooses the lamb that is led to the slaughter (Jer 51:40). The Suffering Servant too is like a lamb led to the slaughter without uttering a sound (Is 53:7). When Jesus paints a picture of the vulnerability of his disciples, he describes himself as sending them out as lambs into the midst of wolves (Lk 10:3).
Even more numerous are passages that associate the lamb with sacrifice. Lambs are specifically mentioned in connection with sacrifices more than eighty times in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. This sacrificial motif reaches its fulfillment in Christ, who is called “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29, 3) and the “paschal lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) whose blood is “like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Pet 1:19). The grand climax is the book of Revelation, where “the Lamb” as an epithet for Christ appears twenty-eight times.
Occurring in the Bible as often as it does, the figure of three is an evocative image, rich with connotations. On the surface it is simply a tidy number; partly due to its prevalence in literature, its familiarity to the reader can make it seem a more natural quantity than two or four. Jonah is stuck in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights (Jon 1:17).
But the significance of three as a literary motif is not purely arbitrary. Three is the minimum number necessary to establish a pattern of occurrences. A single event can be pure chance; a pair can be mere coincidence; but three consecutive occurrences of an event serve as a rhetorical signal indicating special significance. For example, only after the Lord calls to Samuel for the third time does Eli realize that it is the word of the Lord coming to the boy (1 Sam 3:8).
Because the number three conveys a sense of significance, biblical episodes that occur in sequences of three often generate a sense of expectation; once an event has occurred for the third time, something new and unexpected is likely to happen. For instance, the angel of the Lord appears in the path of Balaam’s donkey but is invisible to Balaam; when the donkey turns aside, Balaam beats it. After this episode has occurred three times over, the donkey suddenly speaks to Balaam (Num 22:28). Similarly, Elijah has a sacrifice and altar on Mt. Carmel doused with water a full three times before the fire of the Lord comes down to consume it (1 Kings 18:34). In the New Testament Jesus prays in Gethsemane three times over and each time discovers his disciples sleeping; only then does the mob arrive to arrest him (Mt 26:36–47; Mk 14:32–43). In each of these instances the triple occurrence of an episode generates an expectation in the reader that a new and significant turn of events is about to take place.
Thus an episode occurring in threes is a motif that points to further developments yet to unfold. But three also conveys a sense of completeness or thoroughness to the episode itself; when an event happens three times over, the reality of that event gains emphasis. When Peter denies for the third time that he knows Jesus, it conveys the sense that he has denied Jesus utterly; the denial is seemingly permanent (Mt 26:74; Mk 14:71; Lk 22:60; Jn 18:27). Jesus restores Peter’s relationship to him in a manner that emphasizes the certainty of his restoration as thoroughly as Peter’s earlier denial was emphasized. The threefold occurrence of each episode underscores its reality and significance.
The figure three also establishes a sense of finality and completeness in the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Jesus rises on the third day, the ordeal that he had so dreaded a few nights before in Gethsemane is finished, and his victory over sin and death is complete; three days is enough. Three speaks of the totality and sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ. Here as well, the figure three connotes significance, sufficiency and completeness.
Of the numbers that carry symbolic meaning in biblical usage, seven is the most important. It is used to signify completeness or totality. Underlying all such use of the number seven lies the seven-day week, which, according to Genesis 1:1–2:3 and Exodus 20:11, belongs to the God-given structure of creation. God completed his own work of creation in seven days (Gen 2:2), and seven days constitute a complete cycle of time.
The symbolism of completeness occurs in a wide variety of uses of the number seven. For example, sprinkling the blood of a sacrifice seven times (Lev 16:14, 19) indicates complete purification. The seven “eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth” (Zech 4:10), indicate the completeness of God’s sight of everything in his creation. When the apostle John sees the Lamb, an image of Christ, “having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6), the seven spirits are the fullness of the divine Spirit, going out into the world as the Spirit of Christ with complete power (“seven horns”) and complete knowledge and insight (“seven eyes”). The seven heads of the dragon (Rev 12:3) and the beast (Rev 13:1; 17:3, 9–11) represent the totality of Satanic opposition to God and the complete sequence of rulers opposed to God’s rule. Since seven is the number of completeness, a specific series of seven can function as representative of the whole. The seven “signs” in the Gospel of John, the first two of which are numbered (Jn 2:11; 4:54) to encourage the reader to continue to count up to seven (five other events are called “signs”: Jn 6:2; 6:14, 26; 9:16; 12:18; 2:18–19), are representative of the “many other signs” Jesus did (Jn 20:30). The seven parables in Matthew 13, the seven churches in Revelation 2–3, the seven characteristics of wisdom in James 3:17 and the seven disciples in John 21:2 are in each case representative of all.
Sometimes the number seventy functions like seven. Seventy years are the full human life span (Ps 90:10; Is 23:15). The table of the nations in Genesis 10 lists seventy nations, representing all the nations of the world, and the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus (Lk 10:1) may be symbolically connected with this idea.
As a symbol, twelve is also one of the most important numbers in the Bible. The importance of the number twelve arose, in part, from the culture of the ancient Near East, where there were twelve months in the lunar calendar and twelve was prominent in the number system. However, in the Bible the importance of this number derives from the emergence of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49:28).
Following the exodus, Moses built twelve pillars on Mount Sinai, according to the twelve tribes (Ex 24:4). In anticipation of the conquest of the Promised Land, twelve spies were sent to spy out the land (Num 13:1–16; Deut 1:23). When Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River, twelve men, one from each tribe, were commanded to gather twelve stones as a memorial of the crossing (Josh 3–4). Twelve stones were attached to the breast piece of the priestly vestments, bearing the names of the twelve tribes (Ex 39:8–14).
The significance of twelve carries over into the New Testament. Jesus appointed twelve apostles (Mk 3:14), probably as a symbol of the restoration of Israel. Similar symbolism is probably intended in the gathering up of the twelve baskets of fragments following the feeding of the five thousand (Mk 6:43; 8:19). Jesus’ promise that the Twelve would someday sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30) probably had to do with his desire to restore Israel. James’s reference to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion (Jas 1:1) in all probability reflects similar thinking.
The symbolism of twelve appears frequently in the book of Revelation. Twelve thousand persons from each of the twelve tribes of Israel are sealed, totaling 144,000 in all (Rev 7:5–8). The woman who gives birth to the child is crowned with “twelve stars,” probably an allusion to the twelve tribes (Rev 12:1–2). The new Jerusalem, which will descend from heaven (Rev 21:1–4), is rich with symbolism, much of which revolves around the number twelve. The eschatological city will have twelve gates, twelve angels as gatekeepers, and the names of the twelve tribes written on the gates (Rev 21:12). We are told that these gates are twelve pearls (Rev 21:21). The wall of the city will rest on twelve foundations, on which will be inscribed the names of the twelve apostles (Rev 21:14). The city will be twelve thousand stadia square (Rev 21:16). Finally, the tree of life, an image that surely is meant to recall the tree of life that once stood in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9; 3:22), will stand in the city and bear twelve kinds of fruit every month, for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2).
The NT’s adoption of symbolism of twelve is testimony to the enduring power of this Old Testament image. Underlying this interest in the number twelve is the conviction that ultimately God will fulfill his promises of redemption. It is a number that clearly is associated with the twelve tribes and thus with divine election.
The period of forty days or years is an important one in Scripture and in Jewish tradition. As the church fathers observed, it is most often associated with hardship, affliction and punishment. The flood of judgment in Noah’s day lasts forty days (Gen 7:4). So does the fasting of Moses (Ex 24:18; Deut 9:9) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). The generation in the wilderness wanders for forty years (Ex 16:35; Ps 95:10). Israel is in the hand of the Philistines for forty years (Judg 13:1). Forty days is the length of time Ezekiel lies on his side to symbolize the punishment of Judah (Ezek 4:6). Jonah prophesies that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days-a prophecy which proves to be contingent because the forty days become a period of repentance that nullifies the forecast (Jon 3:4).
In Matthew 4:2 Jesus’ experience of “forty days and forty nights” recapitulates Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. Like Israel he is tempted by hunger (Ex 16:1–8), tempted to put God to the test (Ex 17:1–3) and tempted to idolatry (Ex 32). Furthermore, in his answers to Satan, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13, 16 and 8:3-texts about Israel’s wilderness experience.
In the Bible as elsewhere, the figure of a hundred suggests a quantity of substantial size. This is particularly so when applied to age: Abraham is one hundred years old when Sarah bears Isaac (Gen 17:17). The fact that he is exactly one hundred underscores the magnitude of the miracle and, correspondingly, the magnitude of God’s faithfulness in his promise to Abraham. Similarly, Isaiah describes the vast blessing of life in the new heaven and new earth in terms of great age, such that “he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth” (Is 65:20).
Since a hundred equals ten tens, the figure also conveys an image of a round, complete number. Consequently, units of Israel’s soldiers appear repeatedly in groups of either hundreds or thousands (ten hundreds, 2 Sam 18:4). Likewise, when Jacob buys land from the sons of Hamor at Shechem, the sum is one hundred pieces of silver (Gen 33:19). While Jezebel is killing of the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah hides a hundred of them in two caves, bringing them food and water (1 Kings 18:4).
In the New Testament the figure of one hundred vividly conveys the sense of a complete number. In Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:12–14; Lk 15:4–7), when one sheep out of a hundred wanders off, the number of those remaining seems lacking and incomplete by comparison. Only when the man has found his hundredth sheep is he satisfied. To grasp the power of a hundred as an image of completeness, one need only consider hypothetical variations on the parable. If Jesus had told a story of a man with ninety-nine sheep who loses one and is left with ninety-eight, the sense of completeness in the numbers would be substantially less, as would the rhetorical power of the parable.
Because it conveys the notion of a large, complete number, a hundred is also a significant biblical image describing factors of return. For example, the first season that Isaac plants crops in Gerar, the Lord blesses him with a hundredfold yield (Gen 26:12). Here the image is that of complete blessing, according to God’s promise to Abraham. When God promises the land of Canaan to Israel, he commands their obedience, for which he promises to reward them with astounding victories against their more numerous enemies-first at a ratio of one to twenty, then at a ratio of one to one hundred (Lev 26:8).
In the New Testament this imagery is echoed by Jesus in his parable of the sower (Mt 13:3–8; Mk 4:3–8; Lk 8:5–8). The one who receives the seed of the word of God and keeps it will produce a hundredfold crop (Lk 8:15). More explicitly, Jesus promises a hundredfold return for those who deny themselves the comforts of this world for his sake. Then, to this already monumental promise of reward, Jesus adds a still greater promise-eternal life (Mt 19:29; Mk 10:29–30). As the crown of his promise, the blessing of eternal life towers above even the magnificent blessing of a hundredfold return for one’s sacrifice. In these instances, the image of hundred as a factor of return speaks of the vast and complete blessing that God can produce in and for his people.
Thousand, whether used alone or in some multiple, clearly represents a round number for a large group.
Most often thousand represents the largest round figure that can exist in multiples for counting. The actual number may or may not be intended as precisely literal yet the objective is to convey actual details. The numbers of soldiers in Israel’s and its enemies’ armies, the numbers of those killed in battles, and the numbers of members of the various tribes of Israel are typically given in quantities of thousands
Thousand means “large quantity.” It can indicate some precision- presumably Mark meant to distinguish between five thousand and four thousand who feasted as the result of Jesus’ miracles (Mk 8:19–20). Certainly “twenty-three thousand” deaths in 1 Corinthians 10:8 indicates some specificity. Thousand may indicate relatively large numbers (cf. one king with ten thousand soldiers versus another with twenty thousand; Lk 14:31). Or thousand can simply be “a very big number” with no intention to specify how big.
Part II: APPLICATION OF THE SCRIPTURES IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
The Bible in the Catholic life
“So shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).
The Christians are constantly called and renewed by the Word of God. Christians receive the Bible from the church; they should read it with the church and share its spirit and purpose. In this manner, their aim is the ultimate purpose of every encounter with the Word, taught by Christ, namely, to follow the Master in doing God’s will in the life of faith, hope and charity (Lk. 8:21).
Drawing on the power of the Word should be a constant element in the life of the people of God.
Devotion to Sacred Scripture, a “living and tender love” for the written Word of God. This is a legacy that Saint Jerome, true lover of the Word of God. By his assiduous reading and meditation upon the Word of God, he made his heart a library of Christ.
In order to be true followers of Christ, the Word of God must be our daily bread.
Saint Jerome in his writings says “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”
The place that the Bible has in Catholic life is prominent because Biblical texts speak not only about the past but also to the present and future. All Catholics must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study.
The Second Vatican Council insists that all the faithful should have easy access to Scripture. Prior to Vatican II, many Catholics looked upon the Bible as a “Protestant” book. Now, however, Scripture is at the heart of all levels of Catholic religious education. Catholics have become increasingly familiar with the language and themes of Scripture. While Catholics today may be interested in learning what the Bible meant in its original historical setting, they are probably even more interested in discovering what the Bible might mean in their own lives. This is to actualize Scripture by bringing its meaning into the present time. This is a necessary task of every Catholic to bring the message of the Bible.
While “actualization” concerns expressing the Gospel message in the present time, inculturation refers more to expressing the Gospel in ways and terms that are eligible and attractive to people in a particular place or culture. The phenomenon of inculturation is based on the Christian conviction that the Gospel transcends the historical and cultural circumstances in which it was first revealed and now has lasting significance for peoples in every time and place.
All Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible and gain a strong understanding of and familiarity with Scripture, as this book has always played an essential role in the Catholic Church and prayer. The Bible is the Word of God and helps keep us grounded. This book reminds us God is with us every day, helping us stay strong in the face of challenges.
Reading the Bible can guide us through difficult trials and help us build our faith and live a holier life. Reading the Bible also allows us to pray better, bringing us closer to God. While we can all talk to Him on our own, learning how to pray more effectively is essential, as prayer is our direct connection to God. Scripture can help us pray better and understand His message.
One of the best practices which can help Catholics to read, reflect and benefit from the message of the Word of God is called lectio divina, that is, spiritual reading. By practicing lectio divina the Word of God becomes part of our lives and we are made to grow spiritually.
However, lectio divina needs commitment and so one has to start from a certain level in order to advance to it and remain faithful to it. Before we discuss what is lectio divina and the way it should be practiced, there are some guidelines for those who want to familiarize themselves with the Word of God and in that way advance to lectio divina.
Set a time to read
An important step is to designate a particular time to read the Bible and contemplate the Scripture. If you feel alert and focused early in the morning, you may want to set this time aside. Or, if you have free time each week on a particular day, this period could be a great time to sit and read the Bible. It is more advisable to get time every day to read the Word of God.
Choose what you want to learn about
The Bible is rich with information and advice about numerous topics. While the main Biblical themes include God’s promises, covenant, creation, judgment, and deliverance, there are many other topics discussed throughout Scripture. The Bible covers many areas that can help us develop our spiritual lives, become closer to God, and follow His will for our lives more closely.
For example, the Bible regularly touches on topics of debt, jealousy, investments, and materialism. While all of the Bible can teach us the important messages of God, many passages relate directly to our day-to-day life and can help us strengthen our faith and holiness.
Pray before reading
A helpful tip to keep in mind when reading the Bible is to pray beforehand. You can ask God for guidance and to help you find enlightenment as you read the Bible. You can also share your goals or what you are hoping to learn about when reading, and God will help you and enlighten you. Praying before reading the Bible strengthens your connection to God and His word while helping you understand what He wants you to know as you read.
Another helpful tip is to keep a notebook or piece of paper nearby to quickly write down any thoughts, questions, inspirations, or realizations you may have when reading the Bible.
Understand the context behind the Scripture
A critical aspect of getting the most out of the Bible is understanding the context behind the Scripture. For example, you should consider the author of the text, the history, and the culture that led to this piece of writing. You should try to approach the Bible in different ways, and one of the most effective methods to do this is to put yourself in the scene as an observer.
Picturing yourself watching the scene unfold can help you understand the magnitude and importance of the story. It can be useful to try and fully visualize the scene and fill in details as the story continues. You should also regularly ask yourself what God is trying to tell you in each passage. God delivers important messages in every aspect of the Bible, even if we may not notice them at the time. You should always look for God’s message as you read the Bible.
Reflect on your reading
Reading the Bible is an effective method of strengthening your faith, but there is a way to enhance the experience. You can reflect on each passage and try to determine the messages God may be sending you through the Scripture. The Bible can provide guidance on specific situations or hardships you may be facing or even provide general life advice.
It can be helpful to pause after each verse and briefly reflect on it, helping you unpack and better understand the passage as a whole. While reading the Bible without stopping is okay, frequently pausing to absorb information and think critically about God’s message is helpful.
The steps above are for beginners. When one becomes stable in observing the steps above by becoming familiar with the Word of God, he/she is now ready to advance to the next step. The next step demands commitment and a serious dialogue with the Word of God in order to mature spiritually. Let us now take a look at it:
One proven framework for reading the Bible in the Catholic tradition is lectio divina which is Latin for “spiritual reading”. It is a method for reading and praying on Scripture. It has deep roots in the history of monasticism.
There are four steps in lectio divina:
- Reading- What does the text of the Bible say?
- Meditation- What does this text of the Bible say to me?
- Prayer- What do I want to say to God through this text of the Bible?
- Contemplation and action- What difference might this text make in my relationship to God and in how I live my life?
The text of the Bible to be read can be long or short. And the full process of “reading” could take fifteen minutes or spread over a considerable period of time.
Let us use the famous text from the Gospel of Matthew 11:28 to explain how we can practice lectio divina in our daily lives following the steps mentioned above.
- The first step, reading (lectio) the text of the Bible involves basic literary analysis: that is, looking at its context, words and images, characters and the structure of the Biblical text. In our Biblical text in Mt. 11:28 Jesus issues an invitation to come to him and promises rest to those who respond: “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. The saying is part of the passage of Mt. 11:25-30 that reveals Jesus as the Son of God and incarnate wisdom.
- The second step, meditation (meditatio), takes account of both the content of the passage and the present dispositions of the reader. Many rich theological themes emerge from Mt. 11:25-30: real wisdom as divine revelation, the human search for wisdom, Jesus as a gentle and humble teacher, Jesus as Wisdom incarnate and so on. What Matthew in 11:28 says to me here and now will depend to some extent on my state of body and soul as I read it. I may be tired, discouraged and depressed, and so badly in need of “rest”. Or I may be feeling wonderful, hoping for a new breakthrough on the way of wisdom and more convinced than ever that true wisdom is to be found only in the teaching and example of Jesus.
- The third step, prayer (oratio), flows from reading and meditating on the text of the Bible. This step, of course, is very personal. I may ask God for peace of soul, or I may praise God for the gift of faith and the wisdom from him, or I may thank God for having revealed himself in and through Jesus to little ones.
- The fourth step is contemplation (relishing the spiritual experience and praising God for it) and action (discerning some course of action). For example, through Matthew 11:28 I may decide to devote myself to learning more about the gentleness of Jesus, or I may determine to make a retreat or to pray on a more regular basis or at least try to grasp what the rest that Jesus promises means for how I live and work.
Lectio divina is profoundly simple and eminently flexible. While rooted in monastic practice, it is also part of the heritage of Christian spirituality. It can help greatly to integrate the reading of the Bible and devotional life.
To begin the practice of lectio divina as an individual or as a group, it is wise to follow the four steps faithfully although at the beginning it may seem uninteresting. In a matter of fact, lectio divina fosters an immersion in Scripture. If Catholics are committed to make Scripture part of their lives in order to become a more Biblical church, lectio divina can be an effective tool tested by hundreds of years of experience. It is one of the best ways to bring out of our Biblical treasure “what is new and what is old” (Mt. 13:52). While this practice is old, its use as a pastoral tool for the whole church is new and promising.
Bible study tools
While we can read and interpret the Scripture ourselves, we may have difficulty with some passages or specific verses. Various Bible study tools can be beneficial and provide additional context to a passage. Bible commentaries and annotations offer an interpretative explanation of a Bible passage.
These useful tools can help Catholics learn more about their faith. One of the biggest benefits of the Catholic Church is that, over the past two millennia, there have been intelligent individuals guided by the Holy Spirit who spent their lives studying the Bible. By using the resources and knowledge available to us, we can learn our faith more fully. Interpreting passages of the Bible on your own based on Catholic teachings and traditions is also beneficial for improving your spiritual life.
Some people choose to use a Bible dictionary as a helpful study tool to provide definitions for words or terms they may not be familiar with. With a better understanding of what a specific word means, you are more likely to understand and interpret the passage.
Should you read the Bible alone or with others?
While you can read the Bible alone, which can be a great way to strengthen your personal connection with God and His message, you should also consider reading the Bible with others. There are numerous benefits of communal reading, including:
- Build a community: Reading the Bible with others can build an enriching community and foster positive relationships with other people. While God is always with us throughout life, it can be rewarding to create and strengthen relationships with other people who also love and cherish the Word of God. As Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
- Get a different perspective: You can gain another perspective when you read the Bible with others. While we all can think critically about God’s messages, another person can provide a unique view you may not have thought of, providing you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for His wisdom.
- Align interpretations and applications: Reading and discussing the Bible with others can help align your interpretations, minimizing misinterpretations and misconceptions. A Bible group can also help you understand how to apply God’s teachings in your daily life.
- Share your faith: A Bible group can be the perfect way to share your faith, explain how God gives you hope, and hear how others have used God’s word to improve their lives. Reading the Bible with others allows you to share what Jesus has done for you and how he has helped you.
- Hold ourselves accountable: While we are all children of God and try to lead a life in His light, we are still human, meaning we all sin and make mistakes. The important thing is to grow spiritually, ask for forgiveness in confession, and learn from our mistakes. A Bible group can be the ideal environment to foster positive change and strengthen your understanding of God’s message and everlasting love.
Using the Bible in the Family as a guide for life
THE CHALLENGE: Many a times we are emphasized on the need for individual Bible study for personal growth. However, the emphasis is on the individual and how he or she grows in maturity in Christ. We tend to forget that we are also part of a family or larger extended families. We are also part of the even larger faith community. Studying and using the Bible is therefore not just an individualistic effort but also a family one. Although Christian parents play an extremely important role in helping to nurture the children, we must not forget that the whole faith community needs to play an active role in this task. All members of the Body of Christ have a mutual responsibility to make sure that the Bible becomes central in the life of every Christian family. What exactly is this task for the Christian family? Is it merely to help the next generation know the Bible so that they can use it as a source of proof texts? We are convinced that our task is much more than this. It is to impress the Word of God in our hearts, in the hearts of our children, and in the hearts of the young people. To impress means to imprint or engrave God’s Word on our hearts so that we do not easily forget it or lose it. In teaching the Bible to our children and young people, it is not merely for the purpose of imparting knowledge to them but to imprint the Word on their hearts and minds. Our ultimate aim is to help one another truly to know God and experience Him as the Lord of our lives. Because He is our Lord, we ought to love Him with all our heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:4-5). There is no better way to do this than to understand the Bible which is God’s self revelation to us. Is there an effective approach to achieve our aim? There is a biblical approach as spelt out in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy’s method is intentional, spontaneous and systemic through the use of verbal, visual and written impressions. What this means is that in teaching the Bible to our children and young people, it is something we really want and intend to do and something that comes spontaneously from within our hearts. It should be systemic and coherent. It is something we actively strive to pass on knowing that it is a ‘matter of life and death’ if we fail. But it is more than a mere passing on of knowledge or a closed message. Our children and young people need to be engaged in a fruitful learning experience, using all the five senses. This way of holding together the affective and the cognitive is a more holistic approach. The interactive, participatory and its relational nature of this approach should spur the faith community to take and use the Bible seriously.
Should you read the Bible in chronological order?
Some individuals, especially those who have never read the Bible before, may want to know in which order a Catholic should read the Bible. You can choose to read the Catholic Bible in chronological order, but there is no requirement stating you must do so. Some readers may choose to start with the New Testament because they have heard more about the content there.
Many people may actually benefit from not reading the Bible in order. Instead, it is often best to start with the books that provide a general overview of some of the most important messages of the Bible. It is essential to note there is no one right way to read the Bible as long as you engage with God’s message.
You can always make a mental note of a particular book or passage you are skipping and come back to read it at a later date. If you get stuck on a specific book or have trouble interpreting it correctly, you can change books until you feel more prepared to return to the previous passage. When you return to this passage after reading other sections, you will likely have a stronger understanding of God’s message.
The relationship established between God and the believer by means of the Bible is an extremely personal one. Each word has been addressed to me personally. The Word of God forms the foundation of all true humanism and that without it our conception of the world and of man would not be what it is. If the church in her capacity of teacher advises the faithful to approach in large numbers and on frequent occasions the Word of God, it is because she knows that this Word is laid with the richest foods. There are two tables put within the reach of the faithful by the divine Master, namely, the table of the altar and that of Scripture. Let us approach both of them with due respect.
Blinz, Stephen J. Introduction to the Bible: A Catholic Guide to Studying Scripture, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Hardon, John A. The Catholic Understanding of the Bible, Inter Mirifica, 1997.
Harrington, Daniel J. How Catholics Read the Bible? Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle- Aland, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaf, United Bible Societies, 2012.
The New African Bible, Pocket Edition, (Biblical Text of the New American Bible), Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2011.