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Prudencio García Pérez

- A short story to begin with…

Long, long time ago, there was a novice who said to his master: “Father, I read the Bible
very often, but I forget everything immediately”. Then, the Master sent the young novice
to take water from a well with a broken and dirty bucket. An hour after, he asked: Did
you get any water from the well? – No, I could not, answered the disciple- everything is
gone from the holes. What about the bucket, asked the Master? Ahhhh!!! The bucket is
completely clean, without dirt and dust!!! Look, said the Master: “this is what the
reading of the Word of God does to your life, even though you keep almost nothing in
your memory, the Word of God cleans and purifies your soul and, at the same time,
cancels the marks of your sins”.

Why to read the Bible?

The Bible is still unknown to many Christians today, even though it contains the
greatest treasure: the Word of God. This magnificent treasure is not hidden nor has a lock,
it’s open to those who are interested and want to spend sometime reading or searching for
the truth. We know all the movies, the most famous actors and actresses, all the news,
every kind of games (chess, cards, computer, etc.) and many music bands; the Bible
instead is kept in the drawer of our desk as a protection against dust, dirt and book
termites. Some people even say that they have no money to buy a cheap Bible; others
question: Why should I read that book? Where is it said that I have to? This is not my
business; it’s just for priests and sisters.

The Bible is a meditation or reflection, based on faith, on the universal history. In it

we find the memories of the past through which the humankind can understand its
destiny. An example: In certain moments of our life we feel the need to stop and reflect
about the past (how did I get in here?). Some of the memories are blurred. We can ask
witnesses about the important events, but everyone remembers according to personal
situations or interests. We can check once more the tracks of the past: pictures, poems,
letters, clothes, books, etc. Al these elements maybe will not help us to reconstruct our
past history, but they will be very useful in order to comprehend what we had in the heart
and mind at that time, our feelings and emotions, and that is the most wonderful
discovery. Our goal is not to discover the past history, but recalling the stages of the past
we understand our present situation (why are we like this?). This is what the Bible is for
the people of Israel.

The Bible is an interpretation of history. When we remember the facts of the past, we
also want to discover their meaning. We want to know why these events took place.

Obviously, our interpretation will depend on our personal situation, mentality or
personality: success or failure.

We understand things better after they have happened. While living our life, we
seldom realize what’s going on. Only after some facts have happened we comprehend
their meaning and interpret them according to the present situation. The Bible is also a
bunch of ideas from the past that are reinterpreted in the light of the new events. For
Christians, the most important fact that gives light to the past is the coming of Jesus
Christ. Through him we can understand the Bible better, but not completely. To do it
completely we will need to employ our whole life and the humanity its whole history.

The human history is a love’s story: from the beginning, the people of Israel understood
history as an encounter with God; a God that loves men and call them to join him. But to
get to know someone takes time, it is not an easy task: between love and hatred there is
only a short distance.

The Bible is the document that narrates the history of the people of God: the
encounter and relationship between men/women and God. People don’t want to discover
who the true God is; they prefer to create their own God: provider of life and success.
The Bible tells us that the people continuously reject God’s path, but God’s love is bigger
than their weaknesses. The history of God and his people is a story of love, growing and
developing through many temptations. The final sign of God’s love is the coming of
Jesus to our world and life. So, the Bible is a spiritual book mainly and it interprets
human history through people’s faith.

The Bible is a religious book, different from all other spiritual books. God is the main
character and we are invited to see him at work in our world and personal life. It contains
the divine revelation for the humankind, his project for the whole world. The God of the
Bible is a friend for men and women, especial mention for those who are poor, lost and

To conclude, the Bible is a light in our way of life. When we are lost, live in darkness or
life has no sense, we normally are lucky enough to meet someone to help us find the way
out, not through pieces of advice, but making us reflect on his experience and on ours
too. This is what the Bible does for us: written in an ancient time, it cannot answer all our
questions; but listening to the authors, their discoveries, doubts, difficulties and
convictions, we may find a light for our life. This is a gift from God to us. He invites us
to live our life according to the predicaments of the Bible: the adventure of discovering
God through love. And this happens when we live in communion and dialogue with our

What is the Bible about?
1. The Bible is a library

• The word “Bible” comes from Greek (biblos), which means “book”. “Biblía” is
the plural of the term and means a collection of 73 books (OT: 46 and NT: 27).
Like a good library, not all the books talk about the same subjects: history, poems,
proverbs, letters, psalms, songs, sermons, etc.

• The Bible could be compared to a “Newspaper”: every part has a different value
and must be examined according to its importance and context.

• When reading the Bible, the first question we ask is: what did the writer want to
say? (Intention of the text), what was his personal situation like when he wrote it?
(sitz in lebem), and finally, what does the text tell me now and in these concrete
circumstances? We don’t need to learn the Bible by memory; we must live and act
according to its teachings, because inside we discover the secret of our happiness
and salvation. And this secret can be seen by everyone looking for it.

2. The history of the biblical text

• At the beginning the Bible was written on papyrus (from Egypt) or goat’s skin. Of
course, by hand (manuscripts). It was very expensive, so only a few rich people
had access to the Bible.

• During the Medieval Age (V-XIV centuries), the monks in the monasteries
became the greatest publishers of the Bible. They dedicated their entire lives to
study, copy and promote the Bible. They did it both ways, individually and as part
of a group. Because of their love for the Bible, they made every sort of copies:
bibles to be learn by memory, with pictures for those unable to read and embellish
with gold or precious stones decorations.

• In ancient times, the Bible was very expensive: to have a copy, they need the skin
of 200 goats, prepare the ink and the whole life of the secretary (scribe or
copyist). The price was around 4 million NTS. With the invention of the printer
by Gutemberg in 1452, 160 calf’s skin was needed to have a copy and the price
was lower (around 500.000 NTS). That is the reason why people could not read
the Bible: there were just a few copies and to expensive to move from hand to

• Which version of the Bible? Nowadays we have many versions of the Bible
translated into every single language. Which are the main differences among these
versions? There are mainly three: translation, notes and the number of books
included. The Protestant versions normally exclude a few books: Wisdom and

Maccabees (OT); Letters of Jude and James (NT). Don’t have notes at the bottom
of the page and the translations are different from the Catholic ones.

• The Bible is the fruit of 1000 years work, but its message is permanent. It is the
proclamation of faith of a certain community and, at the same time, the revelation
of God himself through that community. Furthermore, the Bible is an invitation to
follow Jesus Christ in his mission of showing the whole world the reality of the
Kingdom of God. Every time we read the Bible, we must ask ourselves: what is
God telling me, here in Taiwan, in this present moment and concrete
circumstances? The Bible reveals what is important for our salvation.

3. Language and biblical mind

• The Bible was written in the East and for Eastern people: the Jewish people.
We don’t belong to their culture and don’t have their mentality, so it is impossible
for us to fully comprehend many elements in the Bible. Nevertheless, we have to
translate not literally, but their mentality.

• The OT was written in Hebrew. At the beginning, it didn’t have vowels and it
was very easy to make translation errors. For example: Michelangelo, when
making the sculpture of Moses, put horns on his head because he read a
translation of Ex 34 that uses the term “krn” (keren) and means “horns”.
Nowadays we know it should be “karan”, which means “brightness, radiance,
glitter”. The same thing in English if to say “cup” we just write “cp”: it could be
“cup, cop, cope, cape, cap”.

• The superlative doesn’t exist in Hebrew; instead they say the same thing twice
or three times. For example: “the most holy or holiest” – they say: “holy, holy,
and holy”. Also, the “song of the songs” or “bone of my bones and flesh of my

• Hebrew is a language poor in words or expressions. The same term can be used
with many different meanings. For example: “ruah”: wind, blow, breath, life,
force, movement, spirit. In short, in the Bible means both wind and spirit, which
creates a lot of problem when translating (see Jn 3, 8 and Acts 2, 1-4).

• Jewish people have a practical and concrete mentality, don’t understand

abstract concepts. They don’t search for the essence and identity of things; instead
they prefer to know the relationship between things or beings with them. They are
not interested in things they cannot perceive and observe. For example: In the
story of Creation is said that “God created the universe from nothing”. The word
“nothing” has no meaning for them, so they translate it for “chaos and disorder”.
The same thing talking about the Wisdom of God, it became something like a

• The symbolism of the numbers. Most of the Hebrew numbers are symbolic:
number 7 means perfection, completion (Mt 15, 36-37; 18, 21-22; Mk 12, 20-23;
Lk 17, 4; Rev 1, 4). For example: the Our Father contains 7 petitions, so it is the
perfect petition to God. Number 4 means universal totality or fullness of
something: Beatitudes, 4 in Luke and 8 in Mathew; 4 directions, 4 winds, 4
fishermen, etc. (Mt 4, 17; Lk 19, 8; Jn 11, 17). Number 12 means the whole
people of God: 12 tribes of Israel, 144000 (12X12) saved. Number 40 indicates a
long period of time (40 years in the desert; 40 days of temptation).

• The Hebrew concept of “wise”. For us “wisdom and wise person” means to
understand the essence of things, to know science and gives answers to many big
questions. For the Jewish, “wise person” is the one who knows how to live, how
to succeed in life and, for the religious ones, to fulfill God’s project for us. An
example: Solomon: Westerners call him wise for his science and knowledge; for
the Israelites, he was wise because he lived well his life and was successful. On
the other side, on his public life, he wasn’t a balanced politician nor a prudent
administrator (1 Re 3, 16-28 is the only example of his wisdom).

• Some people see miracles everywhere. For example Lk 22, 7-13; Mk 14, 12-16
and Mt 26, 17-19: Jesus sends his disciples to Jerusalem to prepare the Passover
and after seeing a man with a jar of water, to follow him. Many preachers see in
this passage a miracle of Jesus, because he is capable to predict the future and
hidden events. To tell the truth, Jesus was a great observer of the Jewish mentality
and customs, because in Israel, a man who goes for water to the fountain is not
married yet, has no wife; if we was married, would be the wife the one to get the
water. And a man single, has no family to celebrate the Passover with, so he can
invite a large group into his house.

• The conversion of S. Paul (Acts 9, 1-9; 22, 6-16; 26, 12-18). From where did he
fall down? The paintings place him on a horse, but the biblical text doesn’t say
anything about that, only says he “fell to the ground”. For the Jewish “to fall to
the ground” is an habitual gesture to indicate the attitude of someone who is in
front of God; for them to see God meant to die and that is why they look to the
ground when they are in his presence (Ex 33, 18-20).

• What is your name? For the Jewish, the name of a person is a synonym of the
nature, quality and essence of that person. To know the name of someone means
to understand the deepest part of the person, secrets, and destiny and to have a
certain power over him. When Moses asked God what his name was, He
answered: “I am who I am” (Ex 3, 13-14). Nobody can get to know God perfectly
or have some power over him. “To give a name to something” means to be
superior to him: Jesus gives a new name to Simon: Peter; Adam gives a name to
the animals of the earth.

• For the Hebrews, their words don’t fly away nor disappear. They have a nomad
mentality, and for them the words are as important as gold is for us: the word of

God and the poems were spoken from parents to children to be remembered. This
was their treasure. In the desert, nomads couldn’t make sculptures, paintings,
writings or architecture. The only thing they had was their conversations. For the
Jewish someone who dominates the art of talking is an important person: king,
priest, wise person, doctor. Words hide an enormous power: can kill or heal; give
joy or sadness; change people’s behavior: anger, vengeance, hatred, war; also
peace, happiness, joy, love and friendship. The value of word is very high in the
Bible and we cannot play with it.

4. The various stages of the Bible

• “In the beginning the word already existed”. The origin of the Bible is found in
the oral communication of traditions, covenants, confessions of faith, etc. They
didn’t have books, so they have to learn everything by memory and this is why
words are so important for the ancient people of the Middle East.

• The first written book of the Bible is not the Genesis and the last one is not
the book of Revelation. The book of the Bible needed many stages and authors
to finish them. The way we see them now is the product of many centuries of
work of many writers who dedicated their lives to search for materials and put
them under a certain thematic order.

• The process of redaction of the OT was very long. Nowadays we recognize four
traditions or fonts for the construction of the OT (surely there were more):
Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteromist and Priestly document.

- YAHWIST: Uses the name “Yahweh” when speaking about God. He was born
around the year 850 B. C. His mission was to collect, revise and complete the
sacred traditions on the people of God. In this tradition, God is painted with
human characteristics; his accounts show he has an opened mind: for example, the
universal dimension of the salvation (all the nations will be included) and it is
brought by a special person.

- ELOHIST: Uses the name “Elohim” to refer to God. He lived around the year
722 B. C. His mission was to collect, correct and complete the sacred traditions of
the people of Israel. In this tradition, God is a spiritual being, distant from men,
who cannot be seen and manifests himself in dreams. This God is very strict; He
gives his spirit to Moses and the people and the salvation is expected coming from
many persons. This tradition might have been written in a time when there were
many great prophets.

- DEUTERONOMIST: He is considered the editor of the book of Deuteronomy,

around the year 623 B. C. He knows that Yahweh is the God of Israel and Israel is
his chosen nation. This editor is very nationalist, loves liturgy and the centralism
of the cult. In this tradition, God is transcendent.

- PRIESTLY DOC.: written around the year 450 B. C., probably under the
influence of Ezekiel. It belongs probably to the circle of the priest of Israel and
edited at the end of the exile of Babylon. The priestly document argues with the
myths of Babylon; gives great importance to the celebration of the Sabbath, the
circumcision and the synagogue. Also to the sacrifices and the necessity of priests.
This tradition can be seen especially in the book of Leviticus, the second part of
the book of Exodus and the first and the last chapters of the book of Numbers.

• In the NT, the Gospels were written immediately. They contain the life and
message of Jesus. At the beginning there were more than 60 gospels about the
figure of Jesus, but slowly the Christian community reduced the number and
chose four of them. The Gospels are not a biography of Jesus, but a testimony of
faith in him. Their mission is to awake and strengthen the faith of the people in
Jesus; invite the audience to make a personal option for Jesus and follow his steps
through the celebrations of the Christian community.

• In the Gospels, some accounts come from Jesus himself and others are
creations of the Christian community. In the end, it is in the Resurrection where
it was revealed to the disciples the Kingdom of God; this is the key part of the
message of Jesus because they discovered in it the meaning of the historical life of

• The encounter with Jesus is not archeological nor intellectual, but existential.
Then, to preach the Gospel is to proclaim God’s salvation through Jesus Christ,
the model of the new man in the new society.

5. The Canon of the Bible

• The books of the Bible have been inspired by God. Even though these books
have been rearranged, corrected and completed, the Church considered this
collection to be “inspired” by God and, in doing so, affirms that they don’t
contain any error regarding our future salvation. This is what the Second Vatican
Council says: “We have to confess that the book of the Scripture teaches firmly,
with fidelity and absence of error, the truth that God wanted to include in the
sacred words for our salvation”.

• At the time of Jesus there were many other books that have not been
considered “inspired” by the Jewish and the Christians. These books are
called “apocryphal” and many people used to read them. For example: it is known
that the Jewish living outside Israel (Diaspora) accepted another seven books as
“inspired”: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruc or letter of Jeremiah,
1-2 Maccabees, Esther and Daniel (from the last two, only a few parts). This is the
Alexandrian version or of the Seventy (LXX); it was the most famous version
during the second century before Christ.

• During the first century of the Christian era, the Jewish already accepted a few
books as “inspired by God”. The Christians found this list of books and accepted
them as well. We must say something: during the first 200 years of the Christian
era many books were written to satisfy the curiosity of many people who wanted
to know details about Jesus’ live, family, childhood, etc. These books were very
successful among the people, but rejected by the Christian community. At that
time were presented more than 60 gospels, many documents attributed to the
disciples: “Acts of Peter, acts of James, acts of John, Revelation of Peter, and
Revelation of James”. Almost all of them weren’t accepted by the community. On
the other hand, we know that some true letters of the apostles were lost. We also
know that some inspired books don’t belong to the author, for example: the letter
to the Hebrews was not written by St. Paul.

• During the Council of Nicea (325 a. C.) was made the first list of the inspired

• So, what is the Canon of the Bible? It is the official list of the books that the
Church has accepted as “inspired”. In the 4th century St. Jerome translated the
Bible to Latin, this version is called Vulgate, and the church considered these
books as inspired by God for our salvation (they are known as “the canonical

• The Protestants, following Luther’s criteria, refused to accept some of the books
of the Vulgate as inspired. The Council of Trento (XVI) discussed the problem
and decided to approve the same “canon”; the one we have still today. Then, the
books accepted as inspired from the beginning are called “proto-canonicals”.
Those books rejected by the Protestants are known as “deuteron-canonicals”.

• What was the method used to select the books? For the OT, the church
remembered that for Jesus and his followers the OT was inspired by God. They
accepted the books of the residents in Palestine and those of the Jewish living
abroad. For the NT, the Church accepted those books thought to be written or
redacted by the apostles or someone closed to them (criteria of apostolicity).

• In the end, the most important point to decide if a book was inspired or not was its
acceptance by the Church. Why? Because if the Church has the grace and
charisma to interpret correctly the Bible, then it has the grace or gift to define and
keep the “canon” too.

- Conclusions about the “canon”:

- a) What has been revealed by God in the Bible is the part that talks about our
salvation. The Bible does not want us to become physicists, biologists, historians
or archeologists; just true believers. The Bible does not talk about science, but
about our salvation and the human salvation as center of the creation.

- b) The Christian religion and the preaching of the Church must be fed by the Holy
Scriptures and follow them: “whoever preaches must preach God’s messages” (1
P 4, 11). We cannot preach anything against the Bible or without having a
foundation on the Bible and the interpretation of the Church during the centuries.

- c) “The authority of the bishops is not above the Word of God, but at its service”;
this is what the CV II affirms.

6. The division of the Bible

• Our Bible is divided into chapters and verses. The division into chapters took
place in the XIII century (done by the English Bishop Stephan Langton in 1226)
and the division into verses came in the XVI century (1551).

• The first Bible containing chapters and verses was a French translation edited by
Robert Estienne: translated into French, with Greek and Latin text. These
divisions are very useful if we are to specify the text to read or study, but it is
dangerous because we could destroy the meaning of an episode if we cut in the
wrong place.

How to study the Bible?

There is a huge difference between reading and studying the Bible. When we read the
Bible, we normally put ourselves at the center of the text, trying to get the meaning of it
for me. Study the Bible instead, means to use the scientific methods to discover the
meaning of the text itself, without any relation with our personal situation.

Nowadays there are many different methods used to study the Bible, but none of them is
complete: structuralism, materialist, psychological, critic and historic, popular, etc. Each
of them needs the help of the other methods to search the texts from different points of
view. Let’s see two types of methods: scientific and popular.

1. The Scientific method: synchronic reading

a) First approach: read the text slowly and write down our reactions: what I like; what
surprises me, questions without answer yet, etc.

b) Study the text: read again the text and underline the following highlights:
- Repeated words or expressions, synonyms, words belonging to the same family
tree or the opposites;
- The main characters (people or things): indicate what they say, do and happen to
them, etc.

- Places, movements and trips: see its relation with the actors and importance.
- The form of the verbs: it is not the same to use the present, the past or the future.
- Other possible indications in the text...
After this, we start asking questions to the text or the actors: Who is doing something?
What is doing or looking for? Who helps in this search? Who is opposing? From the
beginning to the end, do we perceive any transformation? Whose? How did it happen?
How many stages were needed? Who performed the transformation?

c) The text inside the context: the episode is part of a bigger part, a whole book or
chapter. This makes sense by itself, but this meaning is richer if analyzed in relation with
the whole book. So our questions will be: How can it be joined to the previous and
following chapters or to the whole book? What is its place in the book? What does it add
to the book?

d) The text inside its time: these are some of the questions you can ask: when was it
written? What was the situation of the people, author or main actor like at that time? At
that time, did the expressions or sayings of the text have any special meaning? What is
the literary genre of the text? Are there in the Bible or outside any other similar texts? If
yes, what are the similarities? What are the differences?
The biblical accounts have been edited by a community and for them, so who is the one
talking? What is the question he is trying to answer? This is what we call to know the
“author’s intention”.

e) Verify the data: look again to the questions we make at the beginning and see if we
can answer all of them satisfactorily. This is the verification of the analysis.

f) Read again the text (actualization): Taking advantage of the obtained data, answer
these questions: what is the sense of the text for me today? What is it inviting me to do or
live? Is it useful and helpful for my life?

2. Popular method: actualized and shared reading

a) The purpose of the method: to discover that God is present in our daily life; he wants
to get in touch with us and encourage us to live a better and happier life.

b) Conditions for it to work properly:

- Everybody has something important to say and also the others don’t know what it
is. Respect all the possible opinions.
- It is needed someone to prepare and guide the meeting (like a plain needs a pilot).

c) Developing the method:

- Read the text and find out the key words (the meaning).

- Analyze deeply our own reality: the situation of the people in our world today.
- Read the account again and understand it.
- Get deeper into the meaning of the text: put the present situation and the key
words together, to see the work of God in our life and history.
- Dialogue among the member or the community.
- Pray with the episode: express through prayers the presence and activity of God in
our life and world: thanksgiving; forgiveness; help; start new beginning; make a
compromise, etc.
- Conclusion: a final song.