How should Catholics read the Bible? Like a novel? Like a science book?
There are a number of ways to read the Bible. One of the first things Catholics should look for is good footnotes at the bottom of the page that are indexed to other similar texts in the Bible. This helps the reader to understand the particular verse in context, rather than in isolation. The Bible is meant to be read in its entirety, and never to be taken out of context. That is what satan tried to do to Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4 – Taking individual verses out of context, trying to use them to mean something they really don’t.
That method is still used today, by well meaning, but misguided, non-Catholics. By using the footnotes at the bottom of the page, you can turn to a similar verse and see how it is used. Another rule to follow is that you must read the bible with a sense of Tradition, what the original author meant to say, not what you think it means. If you were the author of "Gone with the Wind", you surely wouldn't want someone 2000 years from now to come up with an interpretation that Scarlett was a Yankee! Likewise, neither should we come up with interpretations based on what we "think", or what we "feel" today. The third rule to follow is that no interpretation of the bible can contradict Church teaching, since the Bible is a product of the Church. That would be like saying that a government document contradicts the government agency that issued the document.
An important point to remember in reading the Bible is that our salvation is nothing more than Divine sonship with Jesus. So many denominations turn Jesus into some kind of courtroom judge pronouncing us guilty or not guilty, but God is our loving Father, and a loving Father demands a lot from his sons and daughters, much more than a stern courtroom judge does. If we wish to inherit the Kingdom of God in heaven, then we have to work as sons and daughters in the family business here on earth NOW - building up the Kingdom of God on earth that Jesus established ("Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" said Jesus).
In a lot of cases, the New Testament reading is prefigured in the Old Testament. For instance, when one reads that Jesus’ face shone like the sun in Matthew 17, you can flip way back in the Old Testament and see that Moses’ face also shone (Exodus 34). The deeper meaning here is that Moses was a biblical “type”, or foreshadowing of Jesus - Moses was the lawgiver in the Old Testament; Jesus is the lawgiver of the New Testament. Moses went up the mountain and brought down the Word of God to the people for the Old Covenant in Exodus 34; Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, which is the Word of God for the New Covenant.
There are numerous examples of Old Testament types of Jesus. For instance, Jesus is called the Son of David in Matthew 1. David was a Jewish King, Jesus is a Jewish King. The Bible says that David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16) and was 30 years old (2 Samuel 5) when he became the King of the Jews. David was also from
Numerology is also used in the Bible. The number seven (the day God rested from His Creation in Genesis) is the number of perfection. The number 6 is the number of imperfection. We see that Jesus changed the water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana on the seventh day of the story, in John 2. John, who starts his Gospel out with the same 3 words that Genesis started out with “In the beginning” is trying to tell us here that Jesus is God, and that there is now a new Covenant, a new creation. The number 6 is used to imply the name of the beast in Revelation 13 (Caesar Nero). Goliath was 6 cubits high (1 Samuel 17).
There are 4 basic levels of scripture to understand: The literal sense, the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense. The literal sense is what most people stop at when they read the bible. The literal sense when one reads about a temple in the bible is a big building where everyone went to worship. This is what the Pharisee thought that Jesus was talking about in John 2 when Jesus said “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days.” However, Jesus was talking about the allegorical sense (how the text refers to Jesus) and the fact that His Body is the new
The average bible reader will be very enriched if they concentrate on the moral sense – How the bible verse applies to you personally. For example, when Mary presents the Baby Jesus to God the Father in the
And last, we should never put our own personal interpretation on scripture, unless it agrees with the Tradition of the Catholic Church. St. Peter himself warns against this practice in 2 Peter 1 and 2 Peter 3. After over 1600 years of Catholic Biblical history (Pope Damasus I and the Catholic Church approved the canon of the bible in the late fourth Century), the great scholars of the bible like
A good example of why an interpreter of scripture is needed would be the following sentence: "I never said you didn't have to give me lots of money". The intent of the writer could mean that I never said it, but I thought it. It could also mean that I expected you to pay me back with a favor instead of money. It could also mean that I never said it, but he did. It could also mean that I expected a loan of money, rather than a gift. It could also mean that I expected a little money, but not a lot. Without the Magesterium interpreting scripture for us through the lens of Sacred Tradition, there are all kinds of ways to misinterpret what the original authors had in mind. For instance, what would the proper meaning of this sentence be: "You never said not to take the bat down". It would all depend on where the accent is in the sentence - "You never said not to take the bat down" (but your mom did). Or, "You never said not to take the bat down" (but you did write it down for me). Or "You never said not to take the bat down" (but you did say to leave it alone). And what kind of bat is it exactly? A flying rodent, or a baseball bat? Without a proper interpreter of that one sentence, it is impossible to know what the author had in mind. And if someone said "Bob has just come out of the closet", the meaning of that phrase would mean something entirely different 150 years ago versus today. Now multiply that one sentence by the entire Bible!
There are 4 basic things to remember when you read the bible:
First, one must always keep in mind that the Bible is to be read through the lens of "God IS our loving Father."
He is the Father of us ALL - Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, etc., and He will always do what is best for us, even if we view it as being bad. A good father disciplines his children, after all, and does not allow them to have everything they ever want!
Second, Divine Sonship.
Jesus Christ gave His all for you and for me, and is the only begotten Son of God. And if we believe in Him with our whole heart and do His will, then we share in His Divine Sonship!
Covenants are God's way of both revealing Himself to us and how we become part of His family. Unlike a contract where money is exchanged for goods and services, a covenant bond is a family relationship, and that is exactly what God wants us to be, His Family!
Fourth, The Church is the Worldwide Kingdom of God on earth!
Jesus took the Kingdom away from the Jews in Matthew 21:43, and gave it to the Church in Matthew 16:19. "Repent, for the Kingdom of God IS AT HAND!", He said!
So get a good Catholic Bible with great indexed footnotes. Read the Bible like Jesus is talking to you personally. Look for Biblical types of Jesus in the Old Testament like Adam, Moses, and Joseph. Don’t take scripture verses out of context. And if studying the Bible doesn’t make you a more loving, kind, and gentle person, then you are doing something wrong. The end result of your scripture study should not make you into a know-it-all arrogant person. It should make you more like Jesus.