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Learning God's Word: A Catholic Guide to Scripture Study

Learning God's Word: A Catholic Guide to Scripture Study

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Published by stpaulcenter
Most introductions to the Bible are quite large and imposing - thick volumes with many pages of text and fine print.

I have tried to write something much more brief, perhaps surprisingly so; it is meant to be like a little "handmaid" for the reader who wants to have a succinct overview of the major themes in biblical study both past and present - whether as a goal in itself, or as a framework for further, more detailed study.

I have drawn the material from documents of the Magisterium and from reputable Catholic scholarship both past and present, thereby hoping to provide the basic information and knowledge you need to appreciate the sacred texts within the living tradition in which they were written. May His Word always accompany you.

- Fr. Michael Giesler
Most introductions to the Bible are quite large and imposing - thick volumes with many pages of text and fine print.

I have tried to write something much more brief, perhaps surprisingly so; it is meant to be like a little "handmaid" for the reader who wants to have a succinct overview of the major themes in biblical study both past and present - whether as a goal in itself, or as a framework for further, more detailed study.

I have drawn the material from documents of the Magisterium and from reputable Catholic scholarship both past and present, thereby hoping to provide the basic information and knowledge you need to appreciate the sacred texts within the living tradition in which they were written. May His Word always accompany you.

- Fr. Michael Giesler

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Published by: stpaulcenter on Jan 16, 2010
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Learning God's Word: A Catholic Guide to Scripture StudyPreface
Most introductions to the Bible are quite large and imposing - thick volumes with many pages of text and fine print.I have tried to write something much more brief, perhaps surprisingly so; it is meant to be like a little"handmaid" for the reader who wants to have a succinct overview of the major themes in biblical study both past and present - whether as a goal in itself, or as a framework for further, more detailed study.I have drawn the material from documents of the Magisterium and from reputable Catholic scholarship both past and present, thereby hoping to provide the basic information and knowledge you need to appreciate thesacred texts within the living tradition in which they were written. May His Word always accompany you.
- Fr. Michael Giesler 
 
 
Chapter 1 -
God, the Church and Scripture
The story of the Bible begins with God and His everlasting love for human beings. As a matter of fact the
 DeiVerbum
, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, begins its consideration of Sacred Scriptureon the highest plane by connecting it with life and mystery of the Holy Trinity itself.The mercy of God the Father for us reveals itself through the life and words of God the Son, who then sends usHis truth and love by God the Holy Spirit. All three Persons are therefore involved in the revelation andrealization of God’s saving plan for the human race, namely our redemption.Sacred Scripture is the written record of that revelation and redemption. It was composed by human writers whowere inspired by God’s grace and wrote inerrantly what He wished them to communicate. This point should betaken into account at every stage of biblical studies; if it is forgotten, the Bible will easily be misunderstood andits true meaning deformed.Sacred Scripture - both the Old and New Testaments, all seventy-three books - is really the manifestation of thetruth and love of God Himself in His dealings with mankind. For this reason, Scripture can truly be called
 sacred 
and is unlike any other ancient book.Jesus Christ is the summation and fulfillment of Scripture, as He reveals to us God the Father and God the HolySpirit. Christ is therefore the greatest Revelation, which no book can fully contain. This Revelation includes Hismiracles, His words, the infinite power of His divine Person, His boundless charity for each person and Hismysterious action through the sacraments. None of this could ever be captured in the written word.We must remember that Christ Himself never wrote a book, and that Saint John, His closest disciple, stated thatthere were "many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the worlditself could not contain the books that would be written" (see John 21:25). From this text we can conclude thatChrist said and did far more than was ever written down in the Bible.The total Revelation of Christ to His followers is called Sacred Tradition (see
 Dei Verbum
, no. 9). It contains allthe individual truths that He gave to His followers and, just as importantly, the proper context in which tounderstand them rightly. It is a living tradition because it comes from Christ the Living Word Himself. It isactive throughout the centuries, and as such it is entrusted to His Church.This is verified in Scripture itself. Christ promised that He would be with His disciples "to the close of the age"(see Matthew 28:20), and that He would communicate His truth to men through His disciples: "He who hearsyou hears me" (see Luke 10:16).This communication of Christ, then, is not done in the abstract, but through the witness of His followers in theChurch that He founded. And it is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity who works in those followers andmaintains them in the vital context of Christ’s truth and love, as He reveals God the Father (
 Dei Verbum
, no. 8).Therefore, this interrelated and powerful action of the Three Persons is preserved in the living tradition of theCatholic Church. No part of Scripture can be properly understood outside of this living tradition, which is reallythe Gospel itself in its full meaning.The living unwritten tradition not only precedes the written word of Scripture, but also forms the origin andvital context of its interpretation - and this can be applied to both the Old and New Testaments.Without an understanding and appreciation of God’s loving plan in Jesus the Messiah for the Hebrew people,the books of the Old Testament would be largely unintelligible, and without an understanding and appreciationof Christ’s Person and gift to the new chosen people, the books of the New Testament would be completely
 
unintelligible.It is not enough to know the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, or to study history andarcheology extensively. If the Bible is not read in the living context in which it was written, it cannot be trulyunderstood.For this reason,
 Dei Verbum
(no. 12) stresses that Scripture must be read and interpreted in the same spirit withwhich it was written.Practically, this means that the words of the Old and New Testaments must be understood within the livingtradition of the Church: "There exists a close connection and communication between Sacred Tradition andSacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into aunity and tend toward the same end"
(Dei Verbum
, no. 9).Scripture alone, therefore, is not sufficient for understanding the whole truth of Christ and Redemption;Scripture must be understood within a context greater than itself.Intrinsically connected with Scripture and Tradition is the Magisterium of the Church. The Magisterium is theteaching authority of Christ’s Mystical Body extended throughout time. It consists of the pope, and the bishopsin union with Him, as they explain Scripture and other revealed truths, especially in matters of faith and morals.The Holy Spirit actively guides the Magisterium, not only in times of heresy or misunderstanding, but in anordinary way through instructions given by popes and bishops throughout the ages.The Magisterium can never be considered outside of the living tradition of the Church; rather, it is thesupernatural extension and protector of the living tradition. Without the Magisterium, we would have noguarantee that what we believe today was really revealed by Christ to His disciples. This was emphasized byVatican II
:
Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handedon to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it withdedication and expounds it faithfully (
 Dei Verbum
, no. 10).We will speak more about this connection, but perhaps an example will help. The Old Testament text of Malachi 1:11 says the following: "And in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations."In writing this prophecy, Malachi was working within the tradition of fidelity and loyalty to God’s covenant, aswere all the prophets. Implicit in Malachi’s message is the fact that God should be honored with a generousfulfillment of the ritual laws, without cheating or lukewarmness.Thus, the literal meaning of this text, placed in its historical context, appears to be the correction of unlawful practices when offering sacrifices.Malachi is upbraiding those who would bring animals that were blind, or sheep that were lame, in order tofulfill their duty to God. However, placed within the living tradition of the Church and of Christ the Messiah,this text refers to a greater offering which would be pure and universal - extended to all the corners of the earth -namely, the offering of Christ to His Father for our sins, for He is the Lamb without blemish.Finally, the Council of Trent in 1562, working within this tradition and desiring to address Protestantmisunderstandings about the Eucharist, stated explicitly that Malachi 1:11 referred to the sacrifice of the Mass.For Christ’s offering of himself to the Father in the Holy Eucharist is truly universal, without blemish, and

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