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Preface 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
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 Dei Verbum, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, begins its consideration of Sacred Scripture on 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 us His truth and love by God the Holy Spirit. All three Persons are therefore involved in the revelation and realization 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 who were inspired by God’s grace and wrote inerrantly what He wished them to communicate. This point should be taken into account at every stage of biblical studies; if it is forgotten, the Bible will easily be misunderstood and its true meaning deformed. Sacred Scripture - both the Old and New Testaments, all seventy-three books - is really the manifestation of the truth 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 Holy Spirit. Christ is therefore the greatest Revelation, which no book can fully contain. This Revelation includes His miracles, His words, the infinite power of His divine Person, His boundless charity for each person and His mysterious 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 that there were "many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (see John 21:25). From this text we can conclude that Christ 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 all the individual truths that He gave to His followers and, just as importantly, the proper context in which to understand them rightly. It is a living tradition because it comes from Christ the Living Word Himself. It is active 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 hears you 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 the Church that He founded. And it is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity who
works in those followers and maintains 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 the Catholic Church. No part of Scripture can be properly understood outside of this living tradition, which is really the Gospel itself in its full meaning. The living unwritten tradition not only precedes the written word of Scripture, but also forms the origin and vital 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 appreciation of 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 and archeology extensively. If the Bible is not read in the living context in which it was written, it cannot be truly understood. For this reason, Dei Verbum (no. 12) stresses that Scripture must be read and interpreted in the same spirit with which it was written. Practically, this means that the words of the Old and New Testaments must be understood within the living tradition of the Church: "There exists a close connection and communication between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity 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 the teaching authority of Christ’s Mystical Body extended throughout time. It consists of the pope, and the bishops in 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 an ordinary 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 the supernatural extension and protector of the living tradition. Without the Magisterium, we would have no guarantee that what we believe today was really revealed by Christ to His disciples. This was emphasized by Vatican II:
Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication 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, as were all the prophets. Implicit in Malachi’s message is the fact that God should be honored with a generous fulfillment 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 to fulfill 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 Protestant misunderstandings 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 extending throughout the earth. In this and similar ways, the Magisterium exercises its role of guarding and explaining what had been revealed. We can appreciate the divinely established unity of Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium. They all support one another and, in a sense, elucidate one another. Tradition without Scripture would run the risk of becoming vague or being forgotten; Scripture without Tradition would become a sterile letter, without real life; and both Tradition and Scripture without the Magisterium could be easily misinterpreted and deformed throughout time. In light of this, one can appreciate more the Second Vatican Council’s statement on their interconnection: "It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (Dei Verbum, no. 10).
Chapter 2 - The Meaning of the Term 'Inspiration'
Sacred Scripture is, properly speaking, a miracle. The Greek word used to describe Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, means “divinely inspired.” Its content and truthfulness are beyond mere human power to discover or reveal. God is the One who assures the historical truthfulness of what is said, along with the power of Scripture to move hearts and change lives throughout the centuries. He is Truth, Goodness, and Holiness, and is therefore the foundation of the truth, goodness, and holiness of Sacred Scripture. Inspiration is the action of God upon man, and as such it is the work of all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. But because inspiration is a particular sign of God’s salvific love for man, the act of inspiration is usually attributed to God the Holy Spirit, who acts upon the mind, will, and other faculties of the human author, who is also called the hagiographer (literally “sacred writer”). In the language of scholastic philosophy, we can truly say that God is the principal cause and that the human writer is the secondary cause. This idea is shown in various texts of Scripture (for example, Deuteronomy 31:19; 2 Timothy 3:16; and 2 Peter 1:21), and was frequently reiterated by the Fathers of the Church. Saint Justin, for instance, compares man’s being moved by God to a flute in the hands of the musician, and Saint Gregory compares the hagiographer to a pen in the hands of a writer. However, it would be a misunderstanding to believe that the human writer somehow loses his personality in the process of inspiration. The books of the Bible were written with the labor and initiative of a human author as guided by the Holy Spirit. The author’s vocabulary, style, and concept of time and the world are all used by the Holy Spirit, who transforms them and works within them. Therefore we have many different styles and literary forms in the Old and New Testaments, which reflect the diverse backgrounds and purposes of the human writers. For example, the language of the prophet Amos is quite direct, and the vocabulary is quite simple, since Amos was a shepherd without advanced education. Yet God uses his words as a powerful rebuke to the idolatrous worshippers at Bethel. On the other hand, Isaiah was from the aristocratic class and educated in Jerusalem, and God uses his poetic mind and more developed vocabulary to predict the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom of peace and justice.
The same variety can be found in the New Testament by comparing the direct and simple style of Mark's Gospel with the more elegant and elaborate vocabulary of the Letter to the Hebrews. And yet both proclaim the words and deeds of Jesus Christ: the former His miracles and love for mankind, the latter His priesthood and the power of His sacrifice in the New Covenant. What, then, is a good definition of inspiration? It is always difficult to define something that is mysterious, and even more difficult to define the miraculous, especially when we try to describe the interplay between the Divine Intellect and the human mind, and between the Divine Will and the human will. In his article on prophecy in the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes the receiving of a truth and the judgment about the meaning of that truth; both are needed for true prophecy and inspiration. When the biblical author composes, he not only transmits a truth from God but he judges it also to have come from God, even though he may not always grasp its full implication (see Chapter 7). There is also an action of the Holy Spirit upon the will of man; God respects yet moves the freedom of the human author, so that he desires freely to write what he is told or what he discovers through the action of the Holy Spirit. There are many instances of divine action upon the memory (assisting the writers of the historical books of the Old Testament) and the imagination as well (as in Ezekiel’s visions, and Saint John’s Book of Revelation). Biblical prophecy is a result of divine inspiration and is a good example of the mysterious connection between the Divine Author and the human author. The prophets (in Hebrew nabim, or those “who speak for someone else”) delivered God’s word to the people. This word could be presented in different literary forms - as an instruction, a correction, an exhortation, a warning, or at times a prediction - but the common element in them all is the revelation of some aspect of God’s plan for His people. Those prophecies that had to do directly with Christ are called messianic prophecies (for example, Psalm 2: 21; Micah 5:2). Because of the dual authorship of Scripture, that is, the author who is in time and the One who is outside of time, some biblical prophecies have a quality known as “compenetration.” In other words, they can refer to a historical event or person on one level, while simultaneously referring to a person or event who is yet to come. For instance, 2 Samuel 7:12-14 can refer to Solomon who succeeded David as the earthly king
and to Christ the son of David, who is the eternal King. Similarly, Isaiah 40 can refer to the Jews returning from exile in 536 B.C. and to the messianic kingdom at the end of time. In all cases, however, biblical prophecy demonstrates the supernatural nature of inspiration: The Divine Author enlightens the mind and moves the will of the human author to manifest a truth to the people, which is always connected in some way with their salvation. The Psalms and Wisdom literature of the Bible manifest a particular type of inspiration. The way the inspired author composes a song or verse, or the way he reflects upon life or history, reveals a beautiful and profound view of the majesty, justice, mercy, and countless other attributes of God. These texts help the reader to relate personally to his Creator, and greatly assist his prayer and meditation by elevating his mind, will, and emotions. Praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, and joy are among the many actions of the soul that the Psalms elicit; understanding, depth, and practical advice for daily living are among the gifts found in the Wisdom literature. Apocalyptic works, on the other hand, use symbolic actions, visions, and numbers to express the mysterious workings of God in human history, and even beyond history. Often they point to the end of time or predict a climactic point in the battle between good and evil in the world. The New Testament Book of Revelation, which was most likely the last book of the Bible to be written, points to the ultimate consummation of the universe. It connects the final victory of Jesus Christ and His saints with the struggle between good and evil that takes place throughout time. Modern authors have developed the theory that many of the books of the Bible are the result of different traditions of writers, extending through the centuries, and that there were many writings and re-writings that eventually led to the Bible we have today. According to the popular "Four Source Theory," for example, the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible, are really the result of a number of traditions compiled over a period of five centuries; each of these would have its own theological message, historical origin, style, and vocabulary. (See Chapter 8) If such a theory were true, one would still have to affirm that God is the primary author of these books, and that He guides the final writers or editors of these various traditions throughout the centuries by assuring the truthfulness of their words and their salvific power. According to a decree of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1948, such a theory would not deny the unique contribution of Moses as author and legislator with respect to these books or
traditions in the Pentateuch. We can appreciate, then, how easy it is to exaggerate the true meaning of inspiration. By excess, some have wanted to say that the hagiographer falls into a state of ecstasy before writing. This could be true for some passages, but most of the Bible seems to have been written by people in a more normal state of mind, even though they were definitely led by the Holy Spirit. Another form of excess is to hold that God dictates every word. Yet if we read the preface to the First Book of Maccabees, and the prologue to Saint Luke's Gospel, we realize that the authors do normal research and obviously labor for their words, always in union, of course, with the Holy Spirit. By defect, others would reduce inspiration to mere human brilliance, as one could say that Shakespeare was "inspired" when he wrote Hamlet, or Edison was “inspired” when he invented the light bulb. Or they would say that inspiration only comes with subsequent Church approval. This was the theory of biblical scholar Jacques Bonfrere in 1625, who was struggling against the sola scriptura error of the Protestant reformers. It is true that Church approval is necessary for determining whether a text is inspired or not, but this approval is not the cause of the book’s inspiration. One of the best and most complete definitions of inspiration was given by Pope Leo XIII in his famous encyclical Providentissimus Deus (no. 20). It describes the elements we have mentioned above, from the point of view of the Holy Spirit as acting upon the sacred writers: For, by supernatural power, [the Holy Spirit] so moved and impelled them to write - He so assisted them when writing - that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. From this definition we can also distinguish the difference between inspiration and revelation. Very often these two go together, but in itself revelation is the communication of some truth by God to man, either in a public or personal way, whereas inspiration carries with it the desire to manifest that truth, by word or writing, to others. Inspiration therefore by nature exists for the good of the believing community, since it gives the message of salvation to the people of God - both before and after the time of Jesus’ coming. An example of how inspiration would operate in the New Testament is seen in Saint Luke's Gospel. The prologue states that he went about his work diligently: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us . . . it
seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you" (Luke 1:1, 3). Saint Luke does his research by taking into account eyewitness reports and by looking at other written accounts of Christ’s works and words. Then, in an orderly and accurate fashion, he writes down what he has found. This corresponds to the above description of inspiration. There is a reception of truth - either from an oral or written source - a judgment that it is certain and fit to be recorded, and then a communication of that truth to others. And during the process, the Holy Spirit guides the author by engaging his mind and will so that he may grasp the divine message and desire to manifest it to others. In the case of Saint Luke, this guidance took place in the context of human effort and research, which appears to be the normal way of revelation and inspiration in the Old and New Testaments. Of course, God can communicate His message in more extraordinary ways, as in the case of the burning bush for Moses (Exodus 3:2) or in Isaiah's vision of the seraphim (Isaiah 6). In these cases, the human author is more passive, as his mind or senses are filled with the power and beauty of the divine communication. In all cases, however, we must say that inspiration is the mysterious interplay between God's initiative and the faculties of the human soul.
Chapter 3 - Biblical Veracity and Historicity
We have stated that in biblical inspiration there is a mysterious interplay between the human mind and God’s word; this applies not only to an individual author writing a sacred text, but to the recording of a biblical tradition or re-readings of it which could take place over a longer period of time. We have also noted in Chapter 1 that Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation, that is, His Person and His Word bring the fullness of salvific truth to the world. It is logical then that Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (no. 37) would actually compare biblical truthfulness and inerrancy to the Incarnation itself. He writes: For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, “except sin,” so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.In practical terms this means that the Bible is truthful because of the truthfulness of God Himself, who is the Primary Author, and because of His assistance to the human author. The term inerrancy is simply the negative way of expressing the same idea: because the Bible is completely truthful, it is without error. Strictly speaking, this absolute truthfulness applies to the original texts of the sacred writers, but good transcriptions and translations share in this quality, insofar as they represent the original text faithfully. Since we have none of the original texts of either the Old or the New Testament books, the work of biblical scholars in determining the best edition of a text is important, whereas the final approval of the text by the Magisterium of the Church is essential. With Church approval we can know with certainty that a transcription or a translation represents the original inspired text for us, without doctrinal errors. It is clear that the absolute truthfulness or inerrancy of Sacred Scripture must first be understood according to the meaning that the human author expresses, as inspired by God. This is called the literal meaning of a text, and must never be neglected in any study of Scripture.It forms the basis from which other meanings can be drawn, both for practical living and for doctrinal reflection. Since God has chosen to express His infallible truth through a specific individual with a certain language, and with a certain literary style, it is also essential to study the historical times and specific literary forms of the hagiographer, as far as this is possible. In the words of Pope Pius XII (Divino Afflante Spiritu, no. 23): "[L]et the interpreters bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal. Aided by the context and by comparison with similar passages, let them therefore by means of their knowledge of languages search out with all diligence the literal meaning of the words. . . ." With the above in mind, controversies similar to those which rocked both the world and the Church over the past century can be avoided. For instance, in the first chapter of Genesis, one must understand that the sacred writer is not giving a description of the world in a modern scientific sense, but rather is using the words and conceptions of his day.
Therefore, in describing the universe, he speaks of the firmament of the sky, and the waters above and under it (Genesis 1:7). In speaking of the descriptions of the visible universe by the sacred writers, Pope Leo XIII (Providentissimus Deus, no. 18) commented that they “described and dealt with things in more of less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time.” Once we understand this, we can begin to grasp the depth of Sacred Scripture, and appreciate more clearly the truths underpinning the physical universe - for instance, God as the Origin and Creator of all beings, the order and providence of the world, the interconnection of all things both animate and inanimate, and the special role of mankind made in God’s image and likeness. With the exception of certain passages which may have a unique literary form for narrating history - and which would have to be proven of course - there is no evidence that the sacred writers use more or less figurative language to describe human events. Since their whole purpose is to show God’s salvific love for man, they wish to present fully and forcefully the real character of His action in history. He truly intervenes in human history and works through the real events of mankind’s existence in this world. This does not mean, however, that we can expect to find history as it is written in our modern sense. Many biblical authors are not that concerned about exact chronologies or dates, or they may use symbolic names for rulers and kings, but their clear intent is to give a true history and to show God’s powerful action in man's life. The evangelists of the New Testament give different chronologies of Jesus' life, but together they present a full and accurate account of His words and actions. From what has been said, we can affirm that salvation history has at least three aspects: the event itself in a specific time and place, with its physical and spiritual effects; the reflection on that event by the believer, or the community of believers, to understand and assimilate its depth; and the proclamation of that event for the good of souls through the spoken or written word. In this entire process, there is no fabrication, invention, or exaggeration. As Vatican II teaches: "[T]he four gospels just named, whose historicity [Holy Mother Church] unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation" (Dei Verbum, no. 19). Could there be some texts that have "the appearance of history only"? Some biblical critics think that this is the literary form used, for instance, in the Old Testament Books of Jonah, Tobit, Judith, Ruth, and Esther. The only statement of the Magisterium in regard to this question is from the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the year 1905. The following query was put before the commission: Whether the opinion can be admitted as a principle of sound exegesis, which holds that the books of Sacred Scripture which are held to be historical, either in whole or in part sometimes do not narrate history properly so called and truly objective, but present an appearance of history only, to signify something different from the properly literal and historical significance of the words?
The Pontifical Biblical Commission, with Pope Pius X's formal approval, answered as follows: "In the negative, except in the case, however, not readily or rashly to be admitted, where without opposing the sense of the Church and preserving its judgment, it is proved with strong arguments that the sacred writer did not wish to put down true history, and history properly so-called, but to set forth, under the appearance and form of history a parable, an allegory, or some meaning removed from the properly literal or historical significance of the words." As far as I know, no solid arguments have ever been given that deny the historical character of the above books. The same applies to certain parts of the New Testament that some scholars consider to be the pious inventions of a later generation about Christ’s life - for instance, the infancy narratives or accounts of His miracles. There is absolutely no evidence that any New Testament writer intended to produce a fable about Christ. Indeed, the first Christians rejected any book that was suspected of having non-authentic material, as we shall discuss below. There are certainly many parables in the New Testament, and a few literary allegories, but the historical narratives are written to be accepted as such, even though some New Testament authors may have arranged some events of Christ’s life in a certain order so as to conform to their evangelizing purpose. Pope Benedict XV cautioned about applying the criterion of figurative language, used in passages referring to the visible universe, to those passages referring to historical events. Knowledge of history should not be transposed to the same level as the knowledge of the cosmos. Pope Pius XII also, even though he encouraged the use of literary forms to properly understand historical passages, laments the denial of the historical character of Scripture: "In a particular way a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament must be deplored. . . . Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of the Old Testament, is so apparent." We should also consider that the Pontifical Biblical Commission in "The Historicity of the Gospels" (1964), listed the following literary forms used in the New Testament: catechetical formulas, narrative reports, eyewitness accounts, hymns, doxologies, and prayers. The possibility of similar literary forms is mentioned, but no mention is made of a category such as "pious myth" or "historical fable" for the edification of the people. Related to this area was the theological controversy concerning implicit quotations. According to some authors, the sacred writers could have quoted materials from other sources without necessarily vouching for their truthfulness. Thus there could be historical inaccuracies that would not endanger the inspiration or inerrancy of the text.
In a similar way, some writers wanted to restrict inspiration only to those texts dealing with faith and morals, again with the attempt to save the inerrancy of the text against historical skeptics. While well-intentioned, both of these theories were rejected by the Magisterium. In response to these theories, Pope Leo XIII (Providentissimus Deus, no. 20) replies: "[I]t is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. . . . For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit." To summarize, we can assert that all of Scripture is truthful, and that God chooses in Scripture to use the limitations of human authors and language in order to reveal His salvific action - both in historical events and in the souls of men and women.
Chapter 4 - The Biblical Canon
For the next four chapters of this handbook, I am particularly indebted to Rev. John Steinmueller’s classic text, Companion to Scripture Studies, Volume I (see Bibliography). With proper updating and nuancing, I have been able to incorporate and paraphrase many key themes and biblical terms contained in this work - materials which Fr.Steinmueller himself drew from earlier writers within the great Catholic tradition. The English word “canon” is derived from a Greek word which means a rule or a measure. It has both an active and a passive sense; that is, a canon is something that measures an object, but itself is measured, like a modern ruler or yardstick. The Eastern Father of the Church, Saint Athanasius, was the first to use the term to refer to the sacred books. In the strictest sense, we can state that the biblical canon is that catalogue of books which the Catholic Church has declared to be divinely inspired, and which she therefore regards as one of the sources of divine Revelation. In determining the canon, both Tradition and Magisterium come into play, as is logical, since the books of the Bible cannot canonize themselves. For diverse reasons, some of the books of the New Testament were doubted in the first centuries of the Church. These included the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of James, the Book of Revelation, the Letters of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. In some cases, as in the Letter to the Hebrews and 2 and 3 John, there were questions of authenticity - some doubted that they were truly written by Saints Paul and John the apostle. In other cases, such as the Book of Revelation and the Letter of Jude, heretics used quotes from them to advance their erroneous ideas. Of course, neither of the above suspicions can of themselves negate the divine authorship or inspiration of the books, but they did delay their universal acceptance by the Church. Of course, the Christians received the Old Testament books from Jewish sources. For most of the first century, Christians and Jews agreed which writings had an inspired character, but after the rabbinical Council of Jamnia (100 A.D.), the rabbis declared that seven books of the Old Testament could not be included in their listing of sacred books: the Books of Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. The reasons given by the rabbis (most of them from the Pharisee party) were fourfold: (1) they appeared to be in conflict with the Torah, that is, the main books of the Law. (2) they were written after the time of the scribe Ezra (c. 450 B.C.), (3) they were written in a non-Hebrew language such as Greek or Aramaic, (4) they were written outside of Palestine. Another factor that made these books undesirable for the Pharisees was that they were frequently used by the Christians. As a result of this ruling, the Jewish canon of Scripture would henceforth be deprived of such great truths as the action of guardian angels, God’s creation of the universe out of nothing, and the reality of the after-life, since all of these revelations are contained in the seven books that the
rabbis rejected. After a period of uncertainty and debate, the Catholic Church accepted as divinely inspired a total of seventy-three books: forty-six of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New. All of the books that had been doubted, either by Christians or Palestinian rabbis, were eventually accepted, so that by the year 400 A.D., the Church had the complete canon that we know today. Canonicity was based on three criteria: (a) apostolic origin - one could trace the books back to one of the apostles or their companions, (b) orthodoxy - the content of these books conformed with authentic preaching about Christ and the Church, and (c) catholicity - those books were used by all or nearly all the communities of the faithful. The books that had been doubted for some reason were called deuterocanonical, to distinguish them from the protocanonical books, which had never been doubted. Centuries later, the Protestants would reject those Old Testament books which the Jews had rejected earlier. Some Protestants also called into question the canonicity of the Letter of James, which Martin Luther doubted for his own theological reasons. For this reason, Protestant Bibles have fewer books than Catholic Bibles. In the decree Sacrosancta (April 8, 1546), the Council of Trent formally declared all 73 books of the Old and New Testaments to be part of the Church's canon (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 120).
The complete list of the sacred books according to the Catholic Church is as follows: Books of the Old Testament Books of the New Testament
Pentateuch Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy
Historical Books Joshua . Judges Ruth Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther Maccabees, 1 and 2 Prophetical Books Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
Gospels Saint Matthew Saint Mark Saint Luke Saint John
Acts of the Apostles
Wisdom & Poetical Books Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) Song of Songs Wisdom Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
Letters of Saint Paul Romans Corinthians, 1 and 2 Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Titus Philemon Hebrews
Other Letters Letter of Saint James Letters of Saint Peter, 1 and 2 Letters of Saint John, 1, 2, and 3 Letter of Saint Jude
For a brief description of the content of each book of the Old and New Testament, please see the Appendix.
Apocryphal Books The apocryphal books (from the Greek word meaning "hidden" or "concealed") have a religious content, but were not held to be inspired by the Church. The Old Testament apocryphals, such as the "Last Words of Jacob" or the "Psalms of Solomon," were written to adorn the biblical narrative with fictitious stories in order to build interest or to instill more piety. Some, like the “Assumption of Moses,” contained predictions about the coming of the Messiah. Many of these Old Testament apocryphal writings were discovered in the caves of Qumram, near the Dead Sea, in 1948. They provide an excellent insight into the various expectations of the Jewish people around the time of Christ, as well as the religious beliefs of one particular group known as the Essenes who lived from 135 B.C. to 68 A.D. in the area where the papyri were discovered. The New Testament apocryphals were also of different varieties. Some, like the "Gospel of Matthias," actually presented heretical ideas from Gnosticism (a movement in the early centuries that exempted people from obeying the Church and the Commandments, and that denied Christ’s divinity and humanity). One Gnostic gospel actually has Christ escaping from crucifixion, while another is crucified in His place. Others presented fables or fictitious stories about Jesus in order to answer people’s curiosity. For example, the "Gospel of Thomas" speaks of Jesus making birds out of clay as a boy, and performing miracles in Joseph’s workshop. With her strong commitment to true historical witness and apostolic origin concerning Jesus’ words and deeds, the Church rejected these and similar stories that could not be substantiated. But not all of the apocryphals are useless or harmful, and over the centuries the Church has incorporated information from some of them. The "Gospel of James” (also known as the “Protoevangelium of James”), is the oldest of the extant apocryphal gospels. It gives us the names of the parents of Mary Joachim and Ann - and also the tradition of Mary’s presentation in the temple as a small girl. The "Acts of Peter" contains the famous scene of the Quo Vadis outside of Rome (when Peter is fleeing from persecution and meets Christ), and the crucifixion of Peter upside down. Other apocryphals speak of the death of St. Joseph and Christ’s descent to the underworld. We know of the existence of these books through the writings of the Church Fathers, but very few are extant.
Chapter 5 - The Integrity of The Sacred Texts
Since God is the primary author of the Bible, He has also exercised a special providence throughout history to preserve and transmit its contents. Although we do not have any original texts, from either the Old or New Testament, we can safely say we do possess a faithful transmission of those texts in the approved editions that we have today. The biblical gift of integrity means that the original text has reached us as it was written at first - without any substantial additions, deletions, or interpolations. This is quite remarkable, considering the number of years that have passed and the number of hands that have copied the sacred texts. The integrity of the Old Testament texts is owed in part to the Hebrew scribes who transmitted and scrupulously maintained the texts of the Torah (the Law), the Nabim (the prophets), and the Ketubim (the writers); they would not allow any changes or additions. Along with other evidence, this is amply substantiated by the Dead Sea scrolls, which contain not only apocryphal writings, but also many Old Testament writings whose conformity with later canonical texts is noteworthy. Around the tenth century A.D., a group of rabbis called the Massoretes established a text of great authority which was later appropriately called the Massoretic text. It contains a series of pronunciation marks for the Hebrew vowel sounds and a system of verses. The consonants were all fixed by the Council of Jamnia (100 A.D.), and the Massoretic text has remained the standard Hebrew text throughout the centuries. The New Testament texts were written in Greek. The oldest undisputed fragment of the New Testament is the Ryland fragment, which contains a small part of a passage from the Gospel of John, and can be dated to approximately 150 A.D. Some scholars in recent years, however, claim to have discovered Gospel texts dating back to 60 A.D., such as the Magdalen papyrus in Great Britain containing a text of Saint Matthew, and a fragment (7Q5) of Saint Mark’s Gospel found in a Qumran cave. The oldest New Testament texts were written on papyrus and are located at various universities and museums throughout the world. Textual scholars use the system "p1, p2, p3," etc., to number the papyri which have been discovered. Another group of ancient texts is the uncials (known for their large capital letters), which were written on vellum or parchment. They date from the early fourth century to the ninth century. Among the most important uncials (or codices) are the Codex Sinaiticus (S) of the early fourth century, which contains the entire New Testament, the Codex Alexandrinus (A) of the early fifth century that has most of it, and the codex Vaticanus (B) of the early fourth century, which contains the books of the New Testament up to Hebrews 9:14. Codices discovered later are classified with the letter "O" followed by a specific number.
Apart from the papyri and uncials, there are also the minuscules which consist of small letters linked together by ligatures. These manuscripts date from the ninth to the fifteenth century, when the printing press was invented. There are about fifty minuscules which contain the entire New Testament. In addition to these sources, there are also lectionaries, or ancient liturgical books, which have the readings of the Mass and other prayers that help us to determine what texts of Scripture were used at that time. By connecting texts according to their style and origin, biblical scholars have also been able to determine various families of New Testament texts. The first family is called the Alexandrian family, which consists of the older uncials, most particularly codex B. This family is marked by its brevity, the use of common forms of words, and a general freedom from harmonistic tendencies (the joining of different texts to make a more complete story). Another family is the so-called "Western family," since its texts were frequently used in the Western Church. These texts have many additions, paraphrases, and harmonistic tendencies. The third family, the Caesarean group, lies somewhere between the other families in style and content. The fourth family is the Byzantine group, which is headed by codex A. Some of its chief characteristics are elegance in diction, additions, and harmonistic tendencies. The fifth family is called the Syrian, and is headed by the Old Syriac version of the Bible. The Byzantine group was used in the Churches of the East, especially in Constantinople. It was printed in the sixteenth century and continued as a kind of official or received Greek text until the year 1831. In that year biblical scholars were more drawn to the Alexandrian family of texts, according to the textual B type. In the nineteenth century, many new critical editions of the New Testament were published, the most famous of which was by C. Tischendorf in 1872. Other Protestant scholars who sought to establish a better critical text are B. Weiss and E. Nestle. Catholic scholars of the past century who also based their editions on codex B are H.I. Vogels and A. Merk. The most recent text is by Kurt and Barbara Aland in 1984, which presents the Neo-Vulgate Latin text alongside the Greek text with an extensive critical apparatus at the bottom of each page. Despite the many hands, editions, and variations of the Bible throughout the centuries, it is truly amazing to realize that its text has reached us substantially unchanged and uncorrupted. In this aspect it is unlike any other ancient book. The larger part of the texts from the different families and codices show a great uniformity. If there are any differences in the versions, they are in the order of words, or slight grammatical variations, or small changes caused by copyists’ errors. There are only fifteen instances where the changes may be enough to affect the meaning of a text in a significant way, but none of these changes call into question any dogma of the Church.
We can see in a very clear, almost dramatic way, the evidence of the gift of integrity, or the Holy Spirit's protection of the biblical texts.
Chapter 6 - Principal Versions of Scripture, Ancient and Modern
The primary biblical languages are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Most of the Old Testament books were written in Hebrew, though some of the deuterocanonical books were written in Aramaic and Greek. These two had become the more common languages in the Middle Eastern world and had replaced older languages like Hebrew. About the third century B.C., a group of Hebrew scholars undertook a translation of the sacred writings from Hebrew to Greek, for the benefit of those Jews who lived in cities outside of Israel, for instance, in Alexandria, Corinth, and Ephesus. According to tradition, this translation was completed by seventy scholars who were sent by the high priest Eleazar from Jerusalem to Egypt around 250 B.C., where they translated the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) into Greek. The work was continued by others, and all the sacred writings were translated by 100 B.C. This translation is called the Septuagint translation, according to the abovementioned tradition that seventy scholars ( in Latin septuaginta) initiated it. Though the Septuagint translation of the books was of unequal value (the Pentateuch and earlier prophets are considered by scholars to have been the best), there was an effort to present difficult passages more clearly, and some messianic texts were also rendered more forcefully. One famous example of this more specific rendering is Genesis 3:15, where God is addressing the serpent after the Fall and predicting his punishment, and which the Septuagint translates as "He shall bruise your head," instead of the more literal "It [the seed] of the woman shall bruise your head." This translation will have great importance and resonance with the coming of Christianity, and the belief in Christ the Messiah who conquers the devil who is the enemy of mankind. Similarly, the Septuagint translates Isaiah's prophecy to Ahaz (see Isaiah 7:14) as "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son" instead of the more general "a young woman shall conceive and bear a son," which was in the original Isaian text. This translation paved the way for the Christian belief that Christ the Messiah was not conceived by the physical union of man and woman, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that he was born of a virgin mother. The Septuagint was used extensively by the Jews in various parts of the world and by the early Christians. Many of the prophecies quoted in the Gospels are rendered in the Septuagint text, which shows how respected it was in the early Church. Because of its use by Christians, the Septuagint became suspect to the Pharisees meeting in the Council of Jamnia in 100 A.D., and they rejected it as a valid translation. As a result, several other Greek translations were undertaken by Jewish writers in the first three centuries. Most notable of these were the translations of Aquila, Symmachus, and Thedotion.
In the year 220 A.D., the great biblical scholar Origen undertook one of the earliest exercises in textual criticism. His famous Hexapla listed in six columns the Hebrew text, the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Aquila translation, the Symmachus translation, the Septuagint, and the Theodotion translation. His purpose was to reconstruct the best Greek translation, since the proliferation of the other versions was quite confusing. In this way he hoped to provide a uniform translation for all, and to help the Christians in their disagreement with the Jews about what the Hebrew Scriptures really said. He devised groups of critical symbols that showed which of the Septuagint texts were missing from, or added to, the original Hebrew - thereby anticipating the work of textual criticism fifteen centuries later. Unfortunately, this great work, reputed to be some fifty volumes, was lost, and the only extant portions are a few verses from Psalms 22 and 45. A good portion of the Hexapla however is preserved in the writings of the Fathers of the Church and in the margins of several manuscripts. Other important translations of Scripture included the Old Latin, the Syriac, and the Coptic. Many of them were conserved in papyri and codices. Because of the many variant readings in the Old Latin texts, Pope Saint Damasus in the year 383 asked a traveling scholar by the name of Eusebius Hieronymus (later Saint Jerome) to translate the Gospels. Though we do not know the exact texts that he used, it appears that they were closely related to the Alexandrian family of which the Codex Vaticanus is the chief representative. About the year 387, while in Palestine, Jerome revised the Latin text of the Old Testament protocanonical books according to the fifth column of Origen's Hexapla, which at that time was available in the library of Caesarea. Finally, in order to answer the accusations of the rabbis that Christians did not understand the Old Testament because they lacked a genuine scriptural text, Jerome began in Bethlehem a huge project. It was the Latin translation of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew texts which he had available there. After sixteen years he completed his project. He translated all the books of the Old Testament, except the deuterocanonical books of Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Though Jerome's work was not immediately accepted by everyone in the Church, it later came to have a great authority so that by the ninth century it was used universally. The name "Vulgate," that is, the edition for the "people," was probably coined in the thirteenth century. Saint Jerome’s translation is noted for the clarity of its expression, for the elegance of its diction, and above all for its fidelity to the original text. Because of the controversies with the Protestants, and the proliferation of translations, the Council of Trent in 1546 declared that Jerome’s Vulgate was a text free from errors in faith and morals, and that it should be henceforth used in the public liturgies of the Church.
For the next 400 years this was the case, until the vernacular languages began to be used in many parts of the world after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). We should note here that the Council of Trent did not state that texts in the original languages were of no value, or that the Vulgate was the best translation possible, but simply that it was an authentic witness of the original texts, and that it contained no errors of faith or morals. Later improved editions of the Vulgate were mandated by the Church, the first appearing in 1592. Pope Saint Pius X in 1907 asked the Benedictines to carry out a farther revision of the Vulgate by using the best texts and codices then available, some of which - because of nineteenth-century archeological finds - were even better than the texts that Saint Jerome used. This enormous task was completed in 1979, and the New Vulgate was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in the apostolic constitution Scripturarum Thesaurus. We know of several English versions appearing before the sixteenth century, such as the translation of Saint Bede in the eighth century, and that of the dissident John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century, but they have been lost. We do know that Stephen Langton of Canterbury divided the Bible into chapters in the year 1206 while teaching in Paris. But with the sixteenth century, and the appearance of Protestantism, there was a greater demand for Bibles in the vernacular tongue. Thus, the Protestant versions of Tyndale, Coverdale, and the so-called Bishops’ Bible were produced in England, followed by the famous King James version in 1611. This version was completed by Anglican scholars who drew from Hebrew and Greek texts, but unfortunately its translation of the New Testament is quite faulty because these scholars refused to use the Vulgate as a source, which drew from far more ancient manuscripts. Twenty years earlier, an English version of Saint Jerome’s Vulgate was produced by English Catholic scholars who had been exiled from England and worked across the channel in the two French towns of Douay and Rheims. Their translation, known for its fidelity to the original Latin, was henceforth called the Douay Rheims version, and was used for over 350 years by English-speaking Catholics. Its style also had a profound influence on the vocabulary of the King James Version. Updates of the Douay Rheims were the Challoner version of the eighteenth century and the Confraternity Version of 1940. In 1956, Monsignor Ronald Knox published a translation of the Bible from the Vulgate, which has a very elegant style noted for its longer sentence structure and paraphrases. Other English versions published during the past century include the Revised Standard Version (1901), which was the Protestant revision of the King James Version; the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (O.T. 1946, N.T, 1952) ; the Jerusalem Bible, published by the Ecole Biblique (1966); the New American Bible (1970), and the New Revised Standard Version (1990), with a Catholic Edition (1993). All of these versions were taken from original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts, though their quality is
not equal. The best of them for elegance of style, accuracy, and fidelity to Church teaching is the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, which is used in this book. Unfortunately, the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (1993) misuses inclusive language and has mistranslated the original text in some instances.
Chapter 7 - The Interpretation of Sacred Scripture
Before beginning this very important section, let us recall the chapter on inspiration. We must always keep in mind that the Bible has two authors: God and man. For a proper understanding of any text, whether it be a psalm verse, or a Gospel narration, or a prophecy, both authors must be taken into account. At the same time, we must never forget the intimate relationship that Scripture has to the new People of God, the Church. The Scriptures were born in the Church, were written for her, and were entrusted to her for their custody and interpretation. The technical name for determining the meaning of Sacred Scripture is hermeneutics (from the Greek word “hermeneuo,” meaning to interpret). This is a very general term, but in classical biblical studies it was divided into three constituent disciplines: noematics, the general study of the various meanings of Scripture; heuristics, which studies the specific meanings of texts by using certain literary and doctrinal criteria; and prophoristics, which is the exposition of biblical materials for the general public. Exegesis is the study of the meaning of a text in relationship to theology and the Church as a whole, and embraces the subject matter of heuristics and prophoristics; it includes the historical and literary study of a text, a determination of the text’s meaning within the context of the wider canon of Scripture, and its application to the Church’s life today. Because biblical meanings are not well defined in many modern books, and because there is a great number of new and at times contradictory approaches to Scripture study, I have chosen in this introductory handbook to retain these classical divisions. They explain quite clearly the different objects of biblical study, and thus they help us avoid the confusion that is frequently encountered in this field. The Literal Meaning of Scripture The literal meaning is the first and most important sense to determine; it is the basis for understanding both the actual words and any deeper meaning that could be derived from them. In his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (no. 23), Pope Pius XII teaches: Let the Catholic exegete undertake the task, of all those imposed on him the greatest, that namely of discovering and expounding the genuine meaning of the Sacred Books. In the performance of this task let the interpreters bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal. A way of defining the literal meaning, which takes into account the dual authorship of Scripture, is “that meaning intended by the sacred author as moved by the Holy Spirit.” It is usually taken to mean the sense expressed immediately and directly by the words themselves. As stated above, all the other biblical meanings are derived from it (see Catechism, no. 116). The literal sense is twofold:
• proper, when the words are taken in their ordinary meaning, such as “he overturned the tables of the money-changers” (see Matthew 21:12) or “Abraham called the name of the son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac” (see Genesis 21:3); and • improper or metaphorical, when the words have a derived or figurative meaning, such as “Behold the Lamb of God” (see John 1:29), since the text does not speak of the animal, but of a man. Parables and and allegories, which are developed comparisons between two or more things, also have a derived or figurative meaning. The so-called sensus plenior (“fuller sense”) is a meaning that goes beyond the words themselves, but is nevertheless based on them. It is really an extension of the literal meaning, and is possible because of the dual authorship of the Bible: one of the authors is in time, but the Other is outside of time and therefore can give a deeper meaning to the human words. This meaning may take centuries to elucidate. In the words of Pope Leo XIII (Providentissimus Deus, no. 14): "For the language of the Bible is employed to express . . . many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man - that is to say, divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning [ampliore quadam et reconditiore sententia] which the letter hardly expresses and which laws of interpretation hardly warrant." Referring to the same phenomenon, Saint Thomas Aquinas comments: "God could have had the hagiographer understand many consequences and applications of his text. But even if he did not, we cannot doubt that the Holy Spirit knew them, who is the main Author of the sacred books." (De Potentia, Q.IV, a.1.c) One example of the sensus plenior is seen in God's word to the serpent and to Eve after Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed." This verse literally seems to refer to the opposition between serpents and human beings, while its plenary meaning can extend to something far more profound: the battle between Satan and the human race, and the conquest of Satan by the son of Mary. Another is the literal meaning of Psalm 118:22, the verse referring to the stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone; at first this verse appears to be an architectural image, but it is applied in a plenary way by Peter to Christ’s rejection by the leaders and elders of the Jews (see Acts 4:11). He is indeed the stone rejected by the builders but he has become the cornerstone of the new people of God. Because of the profound nature of the sensus plenior and its close relationship with inspiration itself, its existence should be verified by its use in the New Testament or by the Fathers of the Church; the exegete should not invent it on his own. Consequent and Accommodated Meanings
The consequent sense is the meaning reached by a simple process of reasoning which begins from some proposition or truth contained in the Bible. This is not strictly speaking the inspired meaning, but it follows logically from it and can be derived by an individual person, a theologian, or the Magisterium. Our Lord Himself used the consequent meaning. For instance, from the Exodus text: "I am . . . the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (see Exodus 3:6), He concluded that the patriarchs were still alive because God is not "the God of the dead, but of the living" (see Matthew 22:32). Similarly, the Council of Trent applies Saint Paul’s passage "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin" (see Romans 5:12) - to the perennial Catholic teaching on original sin and its spread to the entire human race. The accommodated meaning is that which is given to the text other than the one directly or indirectly intended by the human author. It is based on a certain resemblance between the object in the hagiographer’s mind and in the mind of a later commentator or preacher. For the accommodation or actualization to be valid, the later commentary should always respect the harmony of faith (the interconnection of all revealed truths) and conform to the right understanding of the original text. Therefore, when Christ said, "Put out into the deep" in Luke 5:4 (Latin "Duc in altum"), the original object was for the fishermen to trust in His word and go into the Lake of Gennesaret to lower their nets again, but a more current application could be that of Christ asking Christians to believe more in Him and go into the world to draw others to the Church. In Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II actualized this phrase "Duc in altum" to encourage Christians to go forth with confidence into the new millennium, giving brave witness to Christ and His salvation. This is a proper actualization or application of the text because it respects the harmony of faith and legitimately extends its original meaning to another related dimension. Improper quoting of Scripture occurs when the literal meaning is violated, quoted in the wrong context, or when its usage denies a truth of faith. An instance of this is the devil’s misuse of Psalm 91:11 when he asks Christ to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple in order to lead Christ to the sin of presumption (see Matthew 4:6-7). The Typical or Spiritual Meaning The typical sense is grounded on the literal sense and takes into account both the human and divine authorship of Scripture. God has authority and power not only over words, but also over the actual events and persons of human history. Because of God’s intervention, certain persons, events, or things in Scripture can actually point to or foreshadow other persons, events, or things. The person, or thing, employed by God to signify something else is called a type; that which is foreshadowed is called an anti-type (not in the sense of being opposed, but in the sense of being completed).
In the words of Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu (no. 26): "For what was said and done in the Old Testament was ordained and disposed by God with such consummate wisdom, that things past prefigured in a spiritual way those that were to come under the new dispensation of grace. Wherefore the exegete, just as he must search out and expound the literal meaning of the words, intended and expressed by the sacred writer, so also must he do likewise for the spiritual sense, provided it is clearly intended by God." Types both in the Old and New Testaments have profound theological and often salvific meanings. For instance Adam the first man can be considered a type of Christ who is the perfect man, Noah’s ark may be considered a type of the Church because it saved the human race at the time of the flood, and the manna in the desert is a type of the Holy Eucharist because it sustained the people of God in their journey. There are certain requirements however that are needed for there to be a true biblical type: • The real existence of the person, thing, or event. It cannot be a mere poetic image or a figure from a parable. • A true similarity between the type and the anti-type. This similarity could be physical or spiritual: for instance the manna in the desert physically was a kind of food and was a gift from God; the Eucharist is a spiritual food and is also a gift from God. • Verification that it was God’s intention to prefigure something with another thing. This can be shown by a quotation from Christ ( Jonah prefigures his burial and resurrection, the manna prefigures the Eucharist), or by a sacred writer’s affirmation (the Letter to the Hebrews states that Melchizedek prefigured Christ), or by a unanimously substantiated use by the Fathers of the Church (Noah’s ark prefigures the Church). Applying the above criteria, scholars over the centuries have been able to identify four major kinds of types: • Messianic types refer to the Messiah in His Person: Melchizedek, the king and high priest who offers bread and wine after Abraham’s victory (see Genesis 14:18-20), is a type of Christ. • Allegorical types refer to the Messianic kingdom: the sacrifices of the Old Testament, such as the burnt offerings and the Passover lamb, refer to the sacraments of the New Testament. • Anagogical types refer to the things of the world to come. The destruction of Jerusalem in the New Testament prefigures the end of the world and God’s final judgment. • The tropological or moral types contain lessons for our moral guidance. The life of the people under the Judges prefigures our own life: sin, punishment, conversion, and renewal (see Catechism, no. 117). In The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, its 1993 document the Pontifical Biblical Commission offers a slightly different approach to the typical sense of Scripture and the sensus plenior. It considers both of these to be subsets of a more general spiritual sense, which must always be founded on the
literal sense, and which it defines as "the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read under the influence of the Holy Spirit in the context of the paschal mystery and of the new life which flows from it" (see II.B.2). This definition is broad enough to include both the sensus plenior and the typical meaning of texts studied above, though it appears to weaken the classical definition of the typical sense which referred specifically to real persons and things, and not simply to the "meanings" of texts. This view of the spiritual sense as a meaning that gradually unfolds because of the action of the Holy Spirit takes into account more modern theories of the various readings and re-readings of Scriptural texts in different eras, and it can apply both to the inspired books themselves, and to the exegetes who study the inspired texts in order to grasp their meaning in the light of Christ’s pascal mystery. The Pontifical Biblical Commission's definition of the spiritual sense is particularly significant because it mentions the reading of a text with the help of the Holy Spirit, which is essential for all true exegesis, and highlights the central role of Christ’s death and resurrection (the paschal mystery) as the key to understanding the deepest meaning of a text. Heuristics: Determining The Meaning of a Text As stated above, for the proper study of any biblical passage, the literal meaning must be discovered. This first entails a study of the internal characteristics of a text, that is, what the text contains in itself apart from outside considerations. Among these characteristics is the language of the text itself. The three biblical languages are Hebrew, Aramaic (related to Aramaean and spoken in Palestine after the fourth century B.C.), and Greek (the common form, called koine, spoken in the ancient world after the fourth century B.C.). We must recall that God chose to use these three languages as the vehicles for communicating His truth and love to all men and narrating His miracles and other salvific actions in human history. Vocabulary, grammar, word order, and literary structure all form part of the literal meaning intended by God and expressed by the human author. Obtaining the best critical text is another important factor. Using the studies of codices and text analysis, the scholar should attempt to work with a text that seems the closest to the original, both in content and style. For more information on this method and its scope, please refer to the classification and interpretation of ancient papyri and codices in chapter 5. The context of a passage should also be considered, namely its connection with what precedes and follows it. This connection can be logical, psychological (arising from the association of ideas), or historical (the narration of the events before and after the text). The Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1993 document on biblical interpretation considers other forms of literary analysis, such as rhetorical, narrative, and semiotic forms of speech. Each has its proper role in determining the meaning and internal richness of the passage in question.
Parallelism is the study of those passages that have a certain resemblance either in vocabulary or content to the passage in question. Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-14 both speak of Jesus' curing of a leper, but in slightly different ways. Psalm 118:22 and 1 Peter 2:7 both speak of a stone rejected by men. An example of doctrinal parallelism is the teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage and passages from Saint Paul’s letters on marriage. Parallelism can show, either by contrast or harmony, how all the texts of Sacred Scripture truly complement one another in presenting the mysterious unity of God’s truth to mankind. This meaning is being more and more highlighted in modern Scripture studies, under the title of canonical interpretation - that is, to see a text not only in terms of its historical or literary source, but in terms of its significance within the wider canon of books that the Church considers inspired. The literary form of a passage is a vitally important consideration. We mentioned above that in order to determine the literal meaning of a text, one should try to discover the pattern of speech being used, since this pattern of speech will help reveal the thoughts, sentiments, and intent of the sacred author. The failure to do this will frequently lead to the misinterpretation of biblical passages. For instance, someone might misinterpret the first chapter of Genesis by concluding that the author affirms that the world was created in six days of twenty-four hours each, and miss the point of the creation narrative, which is to describe the power of God and the dependence of the created world on Him. Different biblical literary forms include historical narration (though often not in the modern sense), juridical description, prophecy, didactic materials (letters, notes, commentaries), poetry (as in the Psalms), parables, genealogies, and apocalyptic visions. The external criteria, that is, those factors outside of the text itself, are also of key importance for determining its meaning. The first of these is the author. For many books of the Bible the author is unknown, but to the extent that it is possible one should try to identify and understand him, or at least the characteristics of writers at his time and from his cultural milieu. For instance, it is helpful to know that Hebrew authors make frequent use of parataxis in communicating. Similarly, one must be aware that Hebrew writers did not generally distinguish between primary cause and secondary causes. They therefore directly attribute to God many different events and human actions (see Exodus 4:21; Amos 3:6). Hebrew as a language is also rich in imagery, but often sparse in abstract ideas. Where we do know something of the author, we should consider the kind of man he was. For instance, it is helpful to know that the prophet Amos was a shepherd, had little formal education, and was raised in the country. The prophet Isaiah, on the other hand, was an educated man with a wide range of vocabulary and diction. Greek was Saint Luke’s native tongue, and a part of his Gospel reflects this.
In the case of books that were formed by a literary tradition over a number of years, and whose writers are unknown (for example, the Book of Kings), it is important to try to reconstruct the era which is covered, and the intention of the final writer, as far as we can identify him by the reconstruction of historical and literary data within the texts themselves. The occasion of the writing of the text is another important consideration. As far as possible, we should try to know what motivated the sacred author. For instance, Saint Luke's Gospel was written for the information of Theophilus (see Luke 1:1-4), who could either be an individual or a symbolic name for the Gentile Christian community. The Book of Sirach was translated from the Hebrew to Greek for the benefit of the Jews in Egypt by the grandson of the author. The prophecy of the birth of Emmanuel (see Isaiah 7:14) was given on the occasion of the invasion of Judea by the kings of Syria and Israel, at a time of great national stress and uncertainty. The purpose of the book is often connected with the occasion and helps the interpreter understand the intention of its content. The Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles or Paralipomenon were written for the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile and were seeking to reestablish their destroyed city. Saint Matthew’s Gospel was written to demonstrate that Jesus was truly the Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Saint John wants to defend in his Gospel the divinity of Christ, which was being questioned toward the end of the first century. The original audience is another factor, and often this is intrinsically connected with the purpose of the book. It is important to know, for example, that the Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were written to bolster the faith and resolve of the returning exiles from Babylon, that Saint Luke wrote his Gospel primarily for Gentile converts, that Saint Matthew wrote his for Jewish Christians and for the Jews in general. To understand Saint Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians properly, we need to know what kind of people they were and the particular temptations that the early Christians faced in the cosmopolitan and libertine city of Corinth. If there were various re-readings or re-interpretations of sacred texts throughout the centuries, it is important to know the circumstances behind them…for instance the various re-readings and reflections upon Pentateuch materials in the period after the Second Temple was constructed (circa 500 B.C.), as in the Book of Sirach. The auxiliary sciences can also throw much light on scriptural texts. The science of history gives us some background on the general customs of Semitic peoples, the various wars and invasions that they endured, and the customs and circumstances of their daily life. It is helpful to understand something of the relationship between Samaritans and Jews in order to understand fully the parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) or the agricultural situations of
Israel between 1000 and 600 B.C. in order to understand some of the laws of Exodus and Leviticus. The literature and history of neighboring peoples, such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, are of great help in understanding the full meaning of many texts. Archeology reveals the construction of ancient cities, the placement of walls and ramparts, and testimonies on clay tablets or pillars in the desert or other sites. Often these are useful for determining more exactly the dates of biblical events or other events that occurred at approximately the same time. Since 1890, there has been a great expansion of exploration in Palestine and the Middle East, principally by British archaeologists. Among the items of greatest interest are the so-called "tells" of the Holy Land - mounds of ruins that are built upon ancient cities and rising at times to seventy or eighty feet above the surrounding plain. These tells contain the remains of walls, temples, and houses, along with pottery, records of wars and battles, paintings, and other artifacts. They are most helpful for reconstructing the life and times of those who wrote the texts of Sacred Scripture. A system that uses both internal and external criteria for studying texts is the historical-critical method. Though it began with rationalistic and humanistic assumptions (see Chapter 8), the historical-critical method has a certain value because of its investigation of the historical origin of traditions or writings that led to the inspired texts, along with any additions or modifications that may have been made in that process. This method was endorsed in the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1993 study as "an indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient texts" (I.A.) - although in more recent years its value has been de-emphasized by some scholars. The same document recommends the wholistic study of biblical texts, which should take into account what are called the diachronic factors - that is, specific historical factors that influenced the writing of a text, and the synchronic factors - that is, the text itself considered as a final product (see I.A.4). The major types of heuristics are well summarized in the Catechism from the point of view of the hagiographer: In order to discover the sacred author’s intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current (no. 110, original emphasis). Nature and Sources of Sound Exegesis Exegesis is the study of a text or book in the light of other revealed truths at the service of the Church. It is most properly a theological endeavor and tends to be rare today in the field of biblical studies, since most modern biblical scholars tend to be more linguistic and empirical than theological in their approach to Scripture. Essential to the success of any exegete is that he possess the proper dispositions for studying the Bible. The Bible is much more than an ancient document that can be grasped by the principles of human scholarship alone. Rather, Scripture has a Divine Author and conveys a truth that transcends human reason. The exegete must therefore have faith in order to study God’s Word properly.
And since God is also goodness, there must be moral rectitude in the exegete’s will. If these are lacking, a biblical researcher will stay only on the surface of texts and never grasp their full meaning. Faith entails the acceptance of a biblical text as containing an infallible truth and not simply a human thought or opinion. Faith connects the scholar with the entire context of Scripture and indeed with Revelation as a whole. It gives him a greater penetration into the real meaning and import of the sacred texts, and opens him to the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding. Without faith that God can truly elevate the human intellect and move the will, one would miss the whole message of the prophetic, sapiential, and psalmist literature. Without faith that God can truly intervene in history, the scholar would not be able to grasp even the literal meaning of a biblical narrative, and what the author, as a man of faith, was trying to say. Here it might be good to recall the definition given in the Catechism: "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself" (no. 1814). As a virtue, faith is connected with the will, since religious truths are not always evident to the intellect. In other words, to have faith, a man must also want to believe. This has great importance for certain obscure passages of Scripture, or for passages that might appear critically or historically doubtful. Saint Augustine’s attitude as an exegete is very admirable in this regard: "If there is something I don’t understand, it is not Scripture’s error . . . it is mine, or an error of a copyist." Moral rectitude is also essential. Biblical studies are not merely academic or intellectual enterprises, nor simply a collection of erudite facts or theories. To penetrate and apply Scripture properly, one must always recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with its divine authorship in mind" (Dei Verbum, no. 12). The moral virtues that open the exegete to the true Word of God are: • humility, by which he recalls the limited value of his own mind or ideas before the holy text; • charity, by which he recalls that Scripture is really a manifestation of God’s love for us and an invitation to enter into His intimate life; and • patience, by which he avoids rash conclusions and reflects upon his material in the light of a higher truth. It is appropriate for the researcher to pray to the Holy Spirit before he studies, especially asking for His gifts: • wisdom, so that he might consider the text in the light of God’s providence and loving plan for mankind;
• understanding, so that he can connect his research with other truths of faith; • fortitude, so that he not be discouraged by the difficulty or obscurity of a given Hebrew or Greek text or the many theories about it; • fear of God, so that he revere and appreciate the power and justice of God in the texts he studies, and not become proud in his own conceptions; and finally, • piety, by which he recognizes the sacred text as just that - sacred - to which he owes a great reverence. In the timeless words of Saint Jerome: "Scripture is a subject that should be studied on one’s knees." As we have said, exegesis is part of theology, since the exegete studies an object of divine Revelation namely, that which is recorded in a text of the Bible. The exegete will certainly take into account the data of the positive and empirical sciences - this is often very helpful for determining the literal meaning of a text - but he must also go beyond them into the wider perspectives of theology and, ultimately, into the service of the Church and souls. Biblical theology should inform studies in dogmatic (systematic) and moral theology as well, since the analysis of revealed texts opens the mind to God's own timeless truth. It is fair to say that almost all of Catholic doctrine can be found in Sacred Scripture, at least implicitly. For instance, the study of the divine name Yahweh in Exodus 3:14 can be truly foundational for the knowledge of God and His attributes; an exegesis on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans has a powerful relation to the theology of grace and justification; the analysis of Saint Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount supplies essential ideas on the nature of the spiritual life and the meaning of Christianity itself. Exegesis done in this fashion is a true service to the Church. It provides positive assistance to the Magisterium in preserving and interpreting the deposit of faith contained in Scripture and Tradition. It also helps people to grow in holiness by connecting them more integrally with Christ’s truth and love as revealed in Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the Catholic scholar does not work in a vacuum. He studies within a living context that dates back to the inspiration of the sacred author by the Holy Spirit. He is working within a Church that was founded by Christ the Word and whose presence continues within that Church. Therefore, if the exegete is to say something valuable, he must first take into account the content and unity of the whole of Scripture (see Catechism, no. 112). As Saint Augustine said, "novum in vetere latet, vetus in novo patet" (the new is hidden in the old; the old is unveiled in the new, as quoted in Dei Verbum, no. 16). Jesus Christ is the one who unifies all of Scripture with His life, death, and Resurrection; He is also the key to the great unity and cohesion of the Old and New Testaments. The Mosaic law, the Passover ceremony, the manna in the desert, the various Messianic prophecies - all have their fulfillment in Him. ("Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to
fulfill them," Matthew 5:17) The true scholar of the bible, who can deepen his knowledge with faith and prayer, will be able in some way to reproduce in his works the same admiration for the beauty and power of Scripture, fulfilled in Christ, as the two disciples going to Emmaus experienced in their encounter with the risen Christ: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (see Luke 24:32). Living Tradition The second major resource of the exegete is the living Tradition of the whole Church (see Catechism, no. 113). Since "Scripture must be read and interpreted with its divine authorship in mind" (see Dei Verbum, no. 12), the exegete must interpret God’s Word in a truly ecclesial way by avoiding subjectivism as well as ideas that are limited to his own time. To assure this objectivity, he should first have recourse to the Church's teaching authority, or Magisterium. In one sense, this is simply part of being a good professional: the biblical scholar who does not take into account the Magisterium is like a salesman who does not know his product, or a physician who is ignorant of proven medicines for the sicknesses he treats. First, the exegete should be aware of any dogmatic pronouncements that have been made about the specific texts he is examining. Actually, throughout time there have been very few of these, since the Church has always desired to let the Holy Spirit work in multiple ways through the words He inspired. But there are some defined meanings, established by Ecumenical Councils of the Church throughout the centuries: for instance, we know that John 3:5 refers to the Sacrament of Baptism, Matthew 16:18 refers to the infallibility of the Pope, Malachi 1:11 is a prophecy about the universal sacrifice of the Mass, and John 20:22-23 refers to the Sacrament of Penance. There are many texts of the Magisterium that indirectly support a scriptural interpretation: for instance, Romans 5:12 refers to original sin (Council of Trent), and 1 Peter 2:9 refers to the priesthood of all the faithful (Vatican II). By examining ecumenical councils and synods, the encyclicals of popes, the decrees of Vatican congregations, and certain episcopal statements, the Catholic exegete can obtain an accurate idea of how the Magisterium has understood and considered a passage throughout the centuries. This puts him in the excellent position of rendering greater service to the entire Church, within the context of the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit (Dei Verbum, no. 12). Among the most beneficial aids in an exegete’s research are the decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Commission before 1971. The Pontifical Biblical Commission was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1902 to promote and direct biblical studies and to ensure that new theories or interpretations would not contradict Catholic truth and Tradition. While not infallible, its decrees generally provided theological boundaries for scriptural interpretations, without judging the ultimate truth or falsehood of any specific interpretation. Its purpose was to orient
Catholic scholars and to safeguard Catholic doctrine. A true external and internal consent to its decisions was required - within the scope of each decision, and subject to ongoing biblical scholarship and the appropriate declarations of the Magisterium. The decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Commission defend such things as the divine origin and inspiration of Scripture, the proper interpretation of the Pentateuch, the historicity of the Gospels and books of the Old Testament, and the authenticity of the Gospels and books of the New Testament. They also address more specific issues, such as the dates of composition of certain books, the dependence of one Gospel on another, and the nature of certain literary forms or traditions. Its decisions are given as answers to questions and are carefully worded to allow for changes if serious research proves otherwise. To date, with the exception of the 1948 letter to Cardinal Suhard recognizing the existence of different literary sources for the Pentateuch, I know of no substantive revision of any of its previous decrees. After 1971, the Pontifical Biblical Commission ceased to be an organ of the Magisterium and became simply an advisory commission of scholars. Apart from the magisterial documents that pertain directly to his text, the Catholic exegete should be aware of the recent papal and ecclesial documents regarding biblical studies in general. They teach essential truths about inspiration, historicity, inerrancy, and literary forms within the context of the Bible’s general message of salvation and its place within the Church. These documents include: • Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) speaks of the holiness and inspiration of Sacred Scripture while warning of the dangers of certain rationalist tendencies that would deny the universal and supernatural message of the texts. It directs scholars to connect their studies with the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the writings of the Fathers. It also contains specific guidelines for the proper understanding of the descriptions of nature and the physical universe in the Bible. • Lamentabili by Pope St. Pius X (July 3, 1907) condemns sixty-five propositions that deny or call into question the nature of Revelation, the historicity of the Gospels, and the truthfulness of the sacred writers themselves. The decree rejects the supposed dichotomy between the "Jesus of faith" and the "Christ of history." • Spiritus Paraclitus by Pope Benedict XV (September 15, 1920) commemorates the 1,500th anniversary of the death of Saint Jerome. The encyclical deals with the life and writings of Saint Jerome and defends the historicity of the Bible, particularly in light of certain misunderstandings of Providentissimus Deus. It also explains the proper use of the Bible for the edification of the Church. • Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII (September 30, 1943) was written on the fiftieth anniversary of Providentissimus Deus. It reiterates the work of Pope Pius' predecessors and encourages the renewal of biblical studies according to recent findings in the Holy Land, the availability of good critical texts, and the diligent investigation of literary forms. It also encourages more ample use of Scripture in the
Chapter 8 - A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation
Though the perennial goals of biblical interpretation are very lofty, Scripture commentators and scholars throughout the ages have had their virtues and deficiencies. Biblical interpretation throughout the centuries has depended on many things: predominant philosophies of the time, Church controversies, intellectual traits of both individuals and peoples, and societal changes. For instance, in their study of scriptural texts, Philo and other Hellenistic Jews of Alexandria in the second century B.C. tried to incorporate the more philosophical and allegorical systems of Greek
scholars into a more literal understanding of the text. In the first century A.D., the Pharisees had a very strict and legalistic way of viewing the sacred texts, particularly the Torah, whereas the Sadducees were very literalist in interpreting some texts but lax with others. Beginning in the first century A.D., and establishing themselves more in the second century when the rabbinical school of interpretation began, Palestinian Jews developed two principal forms of commentary to Scripture: the Talmud and the Midrashim. The Talmud (both Babylonian and Palestinian) consisted of extensive commentaries on the texts of the law, with a strong use of casuistry or the posing of cases. The Midrashim were commentaries on the Torah and other texts from two points of view: what needed to be done in the legal sense (halaka) and what needed to be lived or believed, along with the history of the people (haggada). The first apostolic fathers and apologists of Christianity would quote from Scripture in order to show that Christ was indeed the Messiah, to refute heresies, or to increase the faith and devotion of the people. St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and St. Clement of Rome incorporated Scripture very integrally into their preaching and writings. As the years went by, two great Christian schools of biblical interpretation were founded, which were centered in Alexandria and Antioch. The Alexandrian was the older of the two, dating to around 150 A.D. Origen was the greatest teacher and scholar of this school, with his strong Platonic tendency to emphasize the spiritual meaning over the more literal or historical meanings of texts. To look for a mystical or spiritual meaning is certainly a valid approach to the Bible given its divine authorship, but in Origen’s writings this approach sometimes appears to downplay the literal meaning of a text, or even deny that it exists. This allegorical method became exaggerated when writers of the Alexandrian School would look for symbolic or mystical meanings in small details in the Bible (e.g., whether or not the portholes of Noah’s ark, a type of the Church, signified the sacraments.) Among the great representatives of this school were St. Athanasius and St. Cyril of Alexandria. The school of Antioch was more interested in the literal meaning of texts and paid much attention to exact words, facts, and dates. It was founded by Lucian in c. 260 A.D. and was opposed to the allegorical system of interpretation championed by Alexandria, though it did admit a prudent application of the typical sense in what Antiochene scholars called theory. This school included Saint John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers of all time and the author of commentaries on Matthew and John that are still relevant to our own times. Unfortunately this school perhaps because it did not stress a higher or deeper meaning to Scripture, or lost the connection of texts with apostolic tradition - also produced some confusing ideas, such as the Christological interpretation
of Theodore of Mopsuestia, which seemed to posit the existence of two persons in Christ, and which ultimately led to the heresy of Nestorius in the fifth century. Other great Greek and Latin Fathers tried to combine the valid insights of both schools in their writings. Saint Augustine, for instance, applied the allegorical method in his homilies, but in his theological writings he adhered to the literal meaning. Saint Gregory of Nyssa also used both methods. Because of the barbarian invasions, the late fifth through ninth centuries were mostly characterized by the preservation of the biblical texts and the greatest earlier commentaries, owed in great part to the monks of Ireland who carefully copied and stored them for future generations. Running commentaries, called catenae, or "chains," made up of quotes from the Fathers, were placed after biblical texts. There were, however, some noted commentators during this period, such as Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Isidore of Seville, and Saint Bede - all of whom wrote reflections on both Old and New Testament texts. The scholastic period of interpretation was characterized by interest in establishing the correct Latin version and the systematic categorizing of the various senses and meanings of the texts at hand. The scholastic commentators divided the sacred writings into parts and tried to demonstrate the meanings of distinct sentences and their logical relationship to one another. Using the consequent sense of Scripture, they would derive theological conclusions from given texts and verses. Saint Albert the Great normally followed the literal meaning of the text, but he did not reject the allegorical meaning. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on the prophets and on Matthew and John, along with a running commentary on all four Gospels called the catena aurea (lit. the chain of gold) , which consists of excerpts from the exegetical works of different Fathers of the Church. Saint Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian and mystic, wrote commentaries on the Wisdom Books , in which he used both the literal and typical meanings of texts. The 15th century onwards began a new period in biblical interpretation, as the knowledge of Greek language and culture became more accessible for scholars. New editions and commentaries based on ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts began to appear, most notably the Greek New Testament of Erasmus (d. 1536) and Cajetan (d. 1534). But of more profound influence was the beginning of Protestantism, with its insistence that the Bible was the only source of faith. Protestant writers, having rejected the Vulgate, chose to return exclusively to the Greek and Hebrew texts. Their commentaries were voluntarily cut off from the tradition of the Church, and the analogy of faith. This caused a tremendous revolution in the way the Bible was considered, which endures to this day though, ironically, many of the Protestants' interpretations of Scripture were at first not that different from those of Scholastic commentators. As a result of the Protestant challenge, a great flowering of Catholic exegesis occurred from the years 1560 to 1650. Specific advances in the critical editing of texts, treatises on biblical geography and
archeology, and extensive commentaries on the Old and New Testaments were finished by such famous authors as the Jesuits Saint Robert Bellarmine and Cornelius a Lapide, and the Capuchin Saint Lawrence of Brindisi. With the pervasive influence of rationalism from the 17th century onwards, biblical studies began to decline in spiritual depth and became more empirical. In great part this trend was marked by the denial of the historicity of many miracles in Sacred Scripture, and of Scripture’s divine authorship and authority. The books of the Bible were considered to be merely profane documents, written by different groups of people with their own political or personal goals. Baruch Spinoza (d. 1674) was the first to apply some of these ideas to the Old Testament, and Hermann Samuel Reimarus (d. 1768) to the New Testament. Ferdinand Bauer, David Friedrich Strauss, and Ernst Renan were proponents of the rationalist system in the 19th century. Each had his own theory, but the ultimate conclusion of them all was that the Bible contained either falsified history or edifying myths, and that we can really know very little about what Jesus Christ really said and did. At the same time, many theorists from the famous Tübingen school in Germany argued that the composition of the Gospels should be set back to the middle of the second century A.D., in order to allow time for ideological and mythical accounts about Christ to be formed. At the turn of the century, John Weiss and Albert Schweitzer promoted the idea that Christ and His immediate disciples had a mainly eschatological purpose - that is, they were expecting the end of the world very shortly. The Catholic writer Alfred Loisy was very much affected by these ideas. Related to these theories were the ideas of Wilhelm Wrede, who maintained that Jesus was mainly a charismatic figure who did not want to form any permanent or stable Church, but simply inaugurate a system of personal morality. Other authors such as Adolph von Harnack argued that Jesus only gradually came to the realization that He was the Messiah, a position echoed by more contemporary writers. A few years earlier, Julius Wellhausen and his pupils had applied certain literary and historical premises to the study of the Old Testament, particularly the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). Having noted such things as different names for God in the Pentateuch (e.g., Yahweh and Elohim), changes in language style, and the repetition of narrations, they proposed that the Pentateuch was not the work of the one man Moses (which had always been held by both Christians and Jews), but the result of different traditions, written by different groups of men over a period of five centuries with specific religious, political, and social goals. The description of the progressive development of texts has some relation to the theory of evolution, which was also very influential in the late-19th century.
This theory of the authorship of the Pentateuch is called the four-source theory, denominated by the letters J (Jahwist), which is said to have originated in the southern kingdom of Israel in the ninth century; E (Elohist), said to have originated in the northern kingdom in the eighth century; D (Deuteronomist), said to have originated in Jerusalem in the seventh century; and P (Priestly), said to have originated in Judea after the sixth century, B.C. The analytical system of these men, and others who begin with the same premises, has often been called “higher literary criticism” or the “historical critical method”; it was quickly applied to all the books of the Old and the New Testament, in order to investigate the origin of biblical texts from a strictly historical or critical point of view - without regard to any deeper meanings behind the texts, nor to the interpretative traditions of the believing community, whether Jewish or Christian. Without endorsing these four sources in particular, the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1948 did accept the possibility of various sources for the composition of the Pentateuch, while positing the substantial influence of Moses as legislator and writer. Many modern scholars, including Catholics, have gone on to propose the existence of various traditions and sources, not only for the Pentateuch but also for the prophetic and sapiential books. Such theories would need to be well integrated with the Magisterium and previous biblical scholarship; to prevent considering Scripture as a simple evolutionary process of merely human traditions, one would also have to affirm a unique inspirational role in the chain of traditions for the final author, who judges this material to be suitable and, moved by the Holy Spirit, puts them into their final written form. Many Protestant scholars at the beginning of the twentieth century tried to correct the rationalist and often polemical basis of historical criticism by stressing more doctrinal and religious elements in the study of Scripture. Most notable among these were Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann, trying to preserve the dignity of the Bible against historical criticism, began to speak of a distinction between what he called the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” According to this theory, which has been very influential in the twentieth century, including among some Catholic writers, the New Testament contains a series of myths about Jesus invented by the Christian communities of later years. These pious stories were meant to arouse and preserve the faith of the people in supernatural happenings and in the salvation offered by Christ. Bultmann believed the biblical researcher should "demythologize" these stories in order to discover the difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and to make them more acceptable to modern man. Given his strong existentialist and Lutheran background, Bultmann stresses the importance of faith in Jesus (sola fides), while downplaying the need to know the actual historical events of Jesus’ life. Pope St. Pius X already warned of the danger of this approach in 1905, as we stated before, because it divides the life and message of Christ in an artificial way, between the concepts "Jesus of faith" and "Jesus of history," thus opening the door to a confusing subjectivism. One of the most radical results of the historical critical method - when divorced from the living tradition
that accompanied the Gospels from the first - is the so-called "Jesus Seminar," which began in 1985. Begun by R. Funk and J.D. Crossan, the seminar consists of 50 to 100 scholars who meet regularly and write papers about what they think the historical Jesus really said and did. With a definite bias against miracles and supernatural happenings, it has been notorious in denying the authenticity of Christ's words in the Gospels - claiming that He did not say fifty percent of the words attributed to Him. Though rejected by many Scripture scholars today, the claims of the Jesus Seminar have been greatly propagated by the secular media. Derivations of the historical-critical method sought to refine and describe more accurately the actual composition of texts throughout the centuries. Most noted among these is the sitz im leben research of Hermann Gunkel, which tried to situate a text in its original historical or liturgical setting, the formegeschichte of Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann which studies the inter-relation of literary forms and their development, and finally the redaktionsgeschichte, the critical study of the process of editing and the theological influences involved. The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, studies these various approaches and assesses their advantages and drawbacks. It endorses the historicalcritical method as a valid and even necessary way to begin the study of a biblical text nowadays, but cautions against any rationalist or historicist bias that could be implied in it. For this reason, the commission stresses the importance of both a diachronic study of a text (its development from previous sources and traditions, as far as can be known) and a sychronic study (the text in its final form). It also surveys other more modern biblical methods of analysis such as the rhetorical, narrative, and semiotic (study of the inner structure of textual meanings and their relationships), along with certain sociological and psychological methods. It notes the influence of political and social movements on biblical studies, such as liberation theology and feminism. This 1993 document discerns the positive elements of all these systems, while pointing out some obvious limitations; it is most harsh in its criticism of fundamentalist interpretation, which does not take into account the complexity of biblical texts. Though it does not explicitly mention it, another biblical problem at this time is that of "inclusive language" - namely, the attempt to change some of the translations of original texts to make them more acceptable to certain groups of people. This has led to great controversy, especially when these groups desire to change the original meaning of biblical texts, particularly those that refer to God as Father. Many of the magisterial documents, mentioned in the previous sections, were written to guide the work of Catholic scholars in light of the above movements. The need for advanced textual and historical scholarship, the study of literary forms, and, above all, the connection with the living tradition of the Church and her Magisterium have been stressed in many different ways, but very few works in our time
have really integrated the above approaches with a biblical theology that is both profound and useful for the life of the Church.
Chapter 9 - Prophoristics
Prophoristics is the science of expounding biblical materials for others. Technically, it includes the field of biblical exegesis, but in a more general way it refers to giving people the means to understand and read the sacred text better. One of the earliest examples of explaining the Bible to others were the Targums (from the Hebrew Targumim, which means translations or interpretations) of the rabbis of the first century onwards.
Since Aramaic had become the common tongue of most Palestinian Jews, the rabbis wrote translations of the texts from Hebrew to Aramaic, along with proper explanations of difficult texts for the common people. One of the earliest-written Targums of the Pentateuch is the Targum of Onkelos, written in the third century A.D. Among the most well-known forms of prophoristics are the translations of Sacred Scripture throughout the ages. The Septuagint, the Old Latin, the Syriac, the Vulgate, and a multitude of later versions have brought the Word of God to people of different races and tongues throughout the world. A good vernacular version, that is, a translation from the original language to the language of a given people, should have a number of characteristics to be truly valuable: It should be faithful to the original (that is, it should accurately reproduce the meaning and style of the text, but without the need to be servile); it should be clear, or written in such a way as to be comprehensible for the speaker of the vernacular tongue; and finally, it should receive appropriate Church approval, because Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium are intimately connected, and because the written text must be understood above all within the living tradition of Christ’s Body, the Church. Other ways of making Scripture more accessible for the public are the systems of textual signs and additions developed throughout the centuries: paraphrases, glosses, scholia (explanations of obscure passages), and catenae (or running commentaries). In modern times, many of these signs have been transferred to simple footnotes at the bottom of the page, or in the computer age, hyper-links or related web sites for biblical questions. Some of the great concordances, like those of Solomon Mandelkern and Edwin Hatch and Henry Redpath, are of great help to biblical studies. Using these texts, one can find all the instances in the canonical books where a certain Hebrew or Greek word occurred, and through this study be able to understand more clearly the literal meaning of a text as well as its relationship to parallel passages. Many of these texts have now been put on computer disks or on electronic programs which allow one to discover instantly all of the passages in which a certain biblical word appears; this is a tremendous help for research. Thus, one can understand more clearly what the human author, as well as the Divine Author, wanted to say. It also enables one to grasp how a word developed in meaning, such as the concept of the messiah or the notion of justice, from a merely temporal meaning to a more spiritual meaning. More extensive explanations of the Bible are the so-called biblical commentaries. These are more general works that deal with the major topics needed to read the Bible with greater depth and knowledge.
They normally include an introductory section that deals with the concept of inspiration and the rules of interpretation, followed by more empirical sections that cover topics such as ancient geography, history, and archeology. Many of these works also include a complete verse-by-verse commentary of the Old and New Testaments to help the reader discover a passage’s meaning - either literal, spiritual or typical, or sensus plenoir. Some of the most well-known commentaries include A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture [ed., Orchard, Sutcliffe, et al. (Edinburgh, 1953)], The Companion to Biblical Studies by John Steinmueller (General Introduction and two volumes on the books of the Old and New Testaments, New York, 1969), and the Navarre Bible, published at the University of Navarre (Pamplona, Spain, 1983), which consists of a vernacular translation from the original languages, the New Vulgate text, and ample footnotes considering a text not only in its historical literary meaning, but also in its relationship to the living tradition of the Church and the spiritual life of the faithful. The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968) incorporated many of the elements of historical critical scholarship over the last century. Though technically well composed, one misses a more explicit and integral connection of its introductions and textual commentaries with the Fathers and the preaching traditions of the Church. The same could be said of the Catholic Study Bible published by Oxford University Press (New York, 1990). Both works favor a dating of the Gospels later than traditionally held, and in the case of Matthew and Luke their dating is after 70 A.D. (the destruction of Jerusalem). Related to the science of prophoristics are the topics of actualization and inculturation, discussed in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, the 1993 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission which we have often mentioned in this book. The Commission prefers the use of the word actualization over accommodation, the classical term that we expressed above, but the meaning is the same: the making of biblical texts relevant to the people of today. This process always starts with the literal meaning of the text and should always work within the community of faith. Areas for actualization that are listed by the Pontifical Biblical Commission are the situation of the poor, the growth of technology, respect for life, the challenge of materialism, and other modern themes. Inculturation refers to the adaptation of the message of Scripture to the needs of a specific historical time and place, and includes such elements as work, social life, legislation, and art. The Bible was inculturated in the East and the West in the first centuries, both in the Greek and Roman worlds, but it continues to be inculturated in modern times. In a certain sense, one could say that the Word of God actually transforms the people and times that hear it.
Actualization and inculturation are related, and both are possible because the Word of God in itself transcends all times and cultures, and has a message of salvation for everyone until the end of the world. Both have much to do with good preaching. The computer age has produced some very helpful works for biblical study. There are concordances on CD-ROM that can access any Hebrew and Greek word and show immediately all the texts in which they appear. Some show parallel passages as well, and by proper scrolling and scripting one can analyze several passages at a time, achieving in a few seconds what the great Origen and his disciples labored for years to produce. Such tools are also an invaluable aid to textual criticism.
Chapter 10 - Word and Event: The Story of God’s People
The Bible is a manifestation of the Trinity’s love for mankind; it is a manifestation of God’s truth and providential working throughout history. But we must keep in mind that this truth and love worked in a particular way through the Hebrew people by means of a unique covenant and continue to work through the Christian people by means of the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ through His passion, death, and Resurrection. God’s promise and covenant with Abram originally concerned a specific land for him and his
descendants (see Genesis 12:7), and was later extended when God changed his name to Abraham, with the personal promise to multiply his descendants as the stars of the sky (see Genesis 15:5). His descendants were the object of God’s special providence throughout the centuries, as they inhabited the land of Canaan, as they lived in the land of Egypt, and especially in their liberation from slavery. On Mount Sinai, Moses ratified the covenant with the people by sprinkling them as well as the altar with the blood of bulls (see Exodus 24:5-8). In later years, once they conquered the land under Joshua, the Israelite leadership began to abandon God and were drawn to other false gods. But God did not forget His covenant, and several times, through the promise to David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13) and other prophecies, He continued to promise the Messiah (literally the "anointed one") who would save them from their enemies (see Daniel 2:44), though He would have to suffer greatly (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12). There was a progressive defection from the covenant by the people during the years of the monarchy (of both southern and northern kingdoms, narrated in the Books of Kings), to such an extent that God punished their infidelity with the destruction of Samaria in 722 B.C. and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The people returned from exile in Babylonia and little by little rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, with a more zealous fulfillment of the Mosaic law (Books of Ezra and Nehemiah), and with a great expectation of the Messiah who would truly liberate them. The widsom literature throughout these centuries reflected upon these events and tried to relate them to God and His continuing providence for His people. Sacred Scripture, therefore, reveals an intrinsic connection between word and event. This is evident not only by the nature of the Hebrew language, which has a very concrete way of expression with few abstractions, but also by God’s own chosen way of revealing Himself and teaching the people through specific historical happenings. As Vatican II teaches: "This economy of revelation is realized by deeds, which are intrinsically bound up with each other. As a result, the works performed by God in the history of salvation show forth and bear out the doctrine and the realities signified by the words; the words, for their part, proclaim the works and bring to light the mystery they contain." (Dei Verbum, no. 2) This close relationship between word and event can be seen from the very first books of the Torah or Pentateuch, when God promises a redeemer after the Fall (see Genesis 3:15), when He makes a covenant with Noah and his children after the great flood (see Genesis 9:8-17), when He makes an oath to Abraham as he is about to sacrifice his only son Isaac (see Genesis 32:16-18), and when He speaks during all the great events connected with the first Passover and the Sinaitic covenant of Moses, such as the death of the Egyptian first-born, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, the
earthquakes, and the spectacular military victories of the Hebrews (Book of Exodus). The connection between God’s Word and historical events continues throughout all the books of the Bible - for instance, in the period of the judges, in the monarchy ending with the destruction of Jerusalem (an event foretold again and again by the prophets), and in the rebuilding of the city and its Temple, with God’s promise of an ultimate restoration and victory for His people. The New Testament exhibits this vital connection between word and event in a culminating and most powerful way. It begins with the Incarnation of the Word Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, in the most pure womb of Mary, an event announced by the Archangel Gabriel who repeats the messianic prophecy originally given to David (see Luke 1:32-33 and 2 Samuel 7:13), and accepted by Mary with humility and obedience: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord" (see Luke 1:38). God’s salvific event is really His Word who reveals Himself to His people. This revelation takes place in the hidden life of Christ, where He silently uplifts family life and all human work; in the public ministry where He begins "to do and teach" (see Acts 1:1; Matthew 4:23-25), by uniting His instructions with His miracles; and finally, at the end of His life, where He combines word and action in the most mysterious way through His paschal mystery. His suffering, death, and Resurrection had been foretold, but had not been understood or believed (see Matthew 16:22-23). At the Last Supper, Christ constitutes the new People of God in Himself; He is the Lamb of God who is sacrificed for the people, and in His body and blood He creates the New Covenant (see Luke 22:14-20). The event of the Eucharist is truly that sacrifice of Christ, who is both priest and victim, and who continues throughout time making the People of God one in His body and blood. It is the highest manifestation of God’s salvific word within the Church, and in the world. The scriptural narratives are always deepened by the profound context of the Tradition in which they were written, and their basic message is preserved and expounded by the Church's Magisterium. Again in the perceptive words of Dei Verbum: "This Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on." (Dei Verbum, no. 8) Texts of the Old and New Testaments are understood more deeply and clearly as the years go by, and in a certain sense one could even say that the Church lives Sacred Scripture more profoundly: "Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing forward toward the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her." (Dei Verbum, no. 8). The mystery of word and event continues in the People of God today, principally in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where Christ personally associates His entire Mystical Body with His offering to the Father and gives His people a share in His own body and blood.
The mystery of word and event also continues in the other sacraments, which are composed of matter and form, an external sign and a meaning, and which are also actions of Christ throughout time in His Church. In a different way, the reality of word and event is manifested through the prayers and individual actions of her members. For instance, Christians are perfected and united with Christ the Word through their reading and meditation of Holy Scripture. This, of course, is the purpose of the Scripture: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). By applying the words of Scripture to their daily lives, and especially by exercising the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, the faithful not only become holy, but also contribute to the building of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Saint Josémaria Escrivá, founder of the Catholic Prelature Opus Dei, used to encourage people to put themselves into the Gospel scene as one more person there, and apply this message to their ordinary lives: "It is not a matter of just thinking about Jesus, of recalling some scenes of his life. We must be completely involved and play a part in his life. We should follow him as closely as Mary his Mother did, as closely as the first twelve, the holy women, the crowds that pressed about him." The role of the ordained clergy is to make the Word of God come alive for the people - first by their study and practice of God’s Word in their own lives. If they are faithful to the Holy Spirit, they will be effective in their preaching “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5). With real interior life and study, which begins in the seminary and continues throughout his life, the priest can indeed make the word of Holy Scripture a living event in people’s lives: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit” (see Hebrews 4:12). In a more general way, there has always been the closest connection between the inspired Word of God and the liturgy of the Church. We know that at the Last Supper Jesus and His disciples read from the Torah and the prophets and sang the Hallel psalms (see Psalms 114-118), which reproduced in some way the events and prayers of the Passover miracle. The early Christians incorporated many of the readings from the Old Testament into their Eucharistic ceremonies and agape and, as time went on, many of the New Testament readings as well. One of the great contributions of the Second Vatican Council has been to further integrate Holy
Scripture into the liturgy of the Church, not only in the celebration of the sacraments, but also in the bestowal of blessings and sacramentals as well. In this way, the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit continues to reproduce in herself the connection between the Word and the salvific event that is so proper to Sacred Scripture. For this reason, the threefold reality of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium is ever present in the Church’s liturgy. If the Church is to continue praying with the same thoughts and desires as Christ and the apostles, as the early Christians and, indeed, as Christians throughout the centuries, there must be unity and continuity in the liturgy. The unchanging truths of the Catholic Church are affirmed in a particular way by the readings during the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The earliest lectionaries used in the Church are very good evidence for reconstructing original Scriptural texts and for reaffirming the early faith of the Christians. The adage “lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the law of praying is the law of believing”) is very applicable here; what the people read and pray at Mass and the sacraments is the key to what they believe. For centuries the standard language of the liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church has been Latin, and the texts used for the epistle and Gospel readings have come from a version of Saint Jerome’s Vulgate. This one-language system had the advantage of unity and simplicity, so that the same words were being read or sung by Catholics all over the world, even though they were of different nationalities and tongues. With the focus on vernacular tongues in the liturgy during the years after the Second Vatican Council, there has been the increasing need for different versions of the Bible that are appropriate for lectionaries, sacramentaries, and hand missals used by the faithful. These versions should meet all of the standards required for a good translation - faithfulness to the original text, doctrinal security, and approval by the teaching authority - and they should possess the additional qualities of clarity and a certain elegance that will benefit the faithful in liturgical ceremonies.
Note: I am particularly indebted to Dr. Scott Hahn, Professor of Scripture at Steubenville University, for this bibliography; it is composed mostly of Catholic sources, but does include non-Catholic authors of proven worth and a sound Scriptural orientation. - Father Michael Giesler Magisterial Teachings Biblical Inspiration and Authority Scripture, Tradition, and Canonicity Scripture in the Liturgy and Catechesis History of Interpretation Introductory Manuals and Commentaries Old Testament New Testament Methods and Issues in Biblical Interpretation
Reference Works Magisterial Teachings Primary Sources: Louis, C., ed., Rome & the Study of Scripture: A Collection of Papal Enactments on the Study of Holy Scripture Together with the Decisions of the Biblical Commission, 7th ed. (St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press, 1964). Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Historicity of the Gospels (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1964). Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1993). Note: This document is not magisterial as such, but does carry endorsements by the Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith. Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Letter On the Fifteenth Centenary of the Death of St. Jerome Spiritus Paraclitus, 1920 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul). Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter On the Study of Sacred Scripture Providentissimus Deus, 1893 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul). Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Letter On the Promotion of Biblical Studies Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul). Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 1965 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul). Secondary Sources: Bea, Cardinal Augustin, The Study of the Synoptic Gospels (New York: Harper & Row, 1965). Bea, Cardinal Augustin, The Word of God and Mankind (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967). Cano, Melchor, De locis theologicis. First edition from 1563. In Melchioris Cani Opera Theologica [3 vols.] (Rome, Libraria Editrice ella Vera Roman di E. Filiziana, 1900). Harrison, Brian W., The Teaching of Pope Paul VI on Sacred Scripture (Rome: Pontificium Athenaeum Sanctae Crucis, 1997). Lubac, Henri de, Sources of Revelation (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968). Megivern, James J., ed., Official Catholic Teachings: Bible Interpretation (Wilmington, NC: McGrath, 1978). Myers, Edith, What Does the Church Really Say About the Bible? (St. Paul, MN: Wanderer Press,
1979). Pope, Hugh, The Catholic Church and the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1928). Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture A study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993) (Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome, 2001. Subsidia biblica-22) Biblical Inspiration and Authority Benoit, Pierre, Aspects of Biblical Inspiration (Chicago: Priory Press, 1965). Benoit, Pierre, and Paul Synave, Prophecy and Inspiration: A Commentary on the Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 171-78 (New York: Desclee, 1961). Burtchaell, James T., Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration Since 1810 (New York: Cambridge, 1969). Carson, Donald A., and John D. Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983). Conn, Harvie, ed., Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A Challenge, A Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988). Farrow, Douglas, The Word of Truth and Disputes About Words (Winona Lake, IN: Carpenter Books, 1987). Geisler, Norman, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979). Hagerty, Cornelius, The Authenticity of Sacred Scripture (Houston: Lumen Christi Press, 1969). Hannah, John D., ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984). Levie, Jean, The Bible, Word of God in Words of Men (New York: P.J. Kenedy, 1961). McDonald, H.D., Theories of Revelation: An Historical Study 1700-1960 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979). Most, William, Free from All Error: Authorship, Inerrancy, Historicity of Scripture, and Modern Scripture Scholars (Libertyville, IL: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1985). O’Neill, J.C., The Bible’s Authority (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991). Steinmueller, John E., The Sword of the Spirit (Fort Worth, TX: Stella Maris Books, 1977). Walvoord, John E., ed., Inspiration and Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957).
Wenham, John, Christ and the Bible, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993). Scripture, Tradition, and Canonicity Congar, Yves, Tradition and Traditions: The Biblical, Historical and Theological Evidence for Catholic Teaching on Tradition (Granville, OH: Basilica Press, 1998). Farmer, William, R., and Denis Farkasfalvy, The Formation of the New Testament Canon (New York: Paulist Press, 1983). Graham, Henry G., Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1977). Lienhard, Joseph T., The Bible, the Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995). Shea, Mark P., By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1996). Sungenis, Robert, ed., Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scripture (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship, 1998). Varillon, Francois, Announcing Christ Through Scripture to the Church (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1963). Whiteford, John, Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1995). Scripture in the Liturgy and Catechesis Barthélemy, Dominique, God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966). Bouyer, Louis, The Word, Church and Sacraments in Protestantism and Catholicism (New York: Desclee, 1961). Bradley, Robert I., The Roman Catechism in the Catechetical Tradition of the Church (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990). Breck, John, The Power of the Word in the Worshipping Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986). Corbon, Jean, Path to Freedom: Christian Experience and the Bible (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1969). Danielou, Jean, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956).
Deiss, Lucien, God’s Word and God’s People (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976). Jackson, Pamela, E.J., Journeybread for the Shadowlands: The Readings for the Rites of the Catechumenate (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993). Parish, Charles W., Biblical Catechetics After Vatican II (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1971). Vogels, Walter, Reading and Preaching the Bible (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1986). History of Interpretation Blowers, Paul M., ed., The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997). Blowers, Paul M., Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). Brown, Dennis, Vir Trilinguis: A Study in the Biblical Exegesis of Saint Jerome (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1992). Chau, Wai-Shing, The Letter and the Spirit: A History of Interpretation from Origen to Luther (New York: Peter Lang, 1995). Danielou, Jean, From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Father (London: Burns & Oates, 1960). Evans, G.R., The Language and Logic of the Bible: The Earlier Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Finan, Thomas, and Vincent Twomey, eds., Scriptural Interpretation in the Fathers: Letter and Spirit (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995). Froelich, Karlfried, ed., Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984). Gorday, Peter, Principles of Patristic Exegesis (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983). Gant, Robert M., The Bible in the Church: A Short History of Interpretation (New York: Macmillan, 1948). Gant, Robert M., The Letter and the Spirit (New York: Macmillan, 1957). Lubac, Henri de, Medieval Exegesis, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998). Margerie, Bertrans de, An Introduction to the History of Exegesis [3 vols.] (Petersham, MA: Saint Bede’s Publications, 1993-95).
McNally, Robert E., The Bible in the Early Middle Ages (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1959). Preus, James S., From Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from Augustine to the Young Luther (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969). Reist, Thomas, Saint Bonaventure as a Biblical Commentator (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985). Sadowski, Frank, The Church Fathers on the Bible: Selected Readings (New York: Alba House, 1987). Simonetti, Manlio, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church: An Historical Introduction to Patristic Exegesis (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994). Smalley, Beryl, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973). Smalley, Beryl, Medieval Exegesis of Wisdom Literature (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1986). Trigg, Joseph W., ed., Biblical Interpretation (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988). Valkenberg, Wilhelm G., “Did Not Our Hearts Burn?”: The Place and Function of Holy Scripture in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Thomas Instituut te Utrecht, 1990). Introductory Manuals and Commentaries Aquinas, Thomas, Catena Aurea: A Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, John Henry Newman, trans. (London: Saint Austin Press, 1997). Barrosse, Thomas, God Speaks to Men: Understanding the Bible, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: Fides, 1964). Bouyer, Louis, The Meaning of Sacred Scripture (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1958). Casciaro, Jose Maria, ed., The Navarre Bible, (New Testament) [12 vols.] (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1989-92). Charlier, Dom Celestin, The Christian Approach to the Bible (London: Sands, 1961). Doronzo, Emmanuel, Revelation (Middleburg, VA: Notre Dame Institute Press, 1973). Doronzo, Emmanuel, The Channels of Revelation (Middleburg, VA: Notre Dame Institute Press, 1973). Fuentes, Antonio, A Guide to the Bible (Houston: Lumen Christi Press, 1987).
Hahn, Scott, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1998). Hartman, L., ed., A Commentary on the New Testament (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association, 1942). Heidt, William G., A General Introduction to Sacred Scripture: Inspiration, Canonicity, Texts, Versions and Hermeneutics (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970). Kodell, Jerome, The Catholic Bible Study Handbook (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1985). Lapide, Cornelius A., The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide [8 vols.] (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1908). Lattey, Cuthbert, Back to the Bible (Harrison, NY: Roman Catholics Books, 1995). Laux, John, Introduction to the Bible (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1990). Oden, Thomas, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, [27 vols. (2 presently available)] (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998- ). Orchard, Bernard, et al., eds., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1951). Pope, Hugh, The Catholic Student’s Aids to the Study of the Bible, rev. ed. [5 vols.] (New York: P.J. Kenedy, 1937). Rooney, Gerard, Preface to the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1952). Steinmueller, John E., A Companion to Scripture Studies [3 vols.] (Houston: Lumen Christi Press, 1969). Winzen, Damasus, Pathways in Scripture: A Book-By-Book Guide to the Spiritual Riches of the Bible (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant 2002). Old Testament Archer, Gleason L., A Survey of Old Testament, 2nd ed., (Chicago: Moody, 1994). Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York: Paulist, 1984). Casciaro, J.M., and J.M. Monforte, God, the World and Man in the Message of the Bible (Dublin: Four Courts, 1996). Childs, Brevard S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).
Childs, Brevard S., Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985). DeVaux, Roland, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961). Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994). Duggan, Michael, The Consuming Fire: A Christian Introduction to the Old Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991). Giesler, Michael E. Christ the Rejected Stone (A Study of Psalm 118, 22) (University of Navarre Press, Pamplona Spain 1973) A study of the famous Christological verse both in its historical literary setting, and its general meaning for the Church as a whole. Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991). Hopkins, Martin, God’s Kingdom in the Old Testament (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964). Jensen, Joseph, God’s Word to Israel (Wilmington, DE: Glazier, 1982). Kaiser, Walter, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995). Kaiser, Walter, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978). Martin, George, Reading Scripture as the Word of God, 3rd ed. (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1998). Merrill, Eugene H., A Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987). Sailhamer, John H., Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995). Smith, Archbishop William, Archbishop Smith and the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (London: Sands, 1913). Steinmueller, John E., Some Problems of the Old Testament (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1936). Sullivan, Kathryn, God’s Word and Work: The Message of the Old Testament Historical Books (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1958). Van Imschoot, Paul, Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Desclee, 1965). Young, E.J., An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964). New Testament
Bonsirven, Joseph, Theology of the New Testament (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1963). Carson, Donald A., et al., An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992). Childs, Brevard S., The New Testament as Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985). Egger, Wilhelm, How to Read the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996). Fillion, L.C., The Life of Christ: A Historical, Critical and Apologetic Exposition [3 vols.] (St. Louis: Herder, 1948). Grandmaison, Leonce de, Jesus Christ: His Person, His Message, His Credentials [3 vols.] (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935). Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990). Harrington, Daniel J., Interpreting the New Testament (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990). Hopkins, Martin, God’s Kingdom in the New Testament (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964). Johnson, Luke T., The Writings of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986). Matera, Frank J., New Testament Ethics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996). Most, William, The Thought of St. Paul (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1994). Orchard, Dom Bernard, Born to be King: The Epic of the Incarnation (London: Ealing Abbey, 1993). Prat, Ferdinand, Jesus Christ: His Life, His Teaching, and His Work (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1950). Prat, Ferdinand, The Theology of St. Paul [2 vols.] (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1950). Quesnell, Quentin, This Good News: An Introduction to the Catholic Theology of the New Testament (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1964). Schelckle, Karl H., Theology of the New Testament [4 vols.] (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1971). Spicq, Ceslas, Agape in the New Testament [3 vols.] (St. Louis: Herder, 1963). Wright, N.T., Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996). Wright, N.T., The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992). Methods and Issues in Biblical Interpretation
Feider, Hilarin, Christ and the Critics [2 vols.] (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1933). Fitzmyer, Joseph A., An Introductory Bibliography for the Study of Scripture, 3rd ed. (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1990). Fogarty, Gerald P., American Catholic Biblical Scholarship (New York: Harper & Row, 1989). Fowl, Stephen E., ed., The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1997). Jeffrey, David L., People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996). Kelly, George, The Church’s Problem with Bible Scholars (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985). Kelly, George, The New Biblical Theorists (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1983). Linnemann, Eta, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990). Maier, Gerhard, The End of the Historical Method (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977). McCarthy, John F., The Science of Historical Theology: Elements of a Definition (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1991). Meyer, Ben F., Reality and Illusion in New Testament Scholarship (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994). Montague, George, Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (New York: Paulist Press, 1997). Morrow, Stanley B., Basic Tools of Biblical Exegesis (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978). Neuhaus, Richard J., ed., Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989). Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, Biblical Interpretation in Crisis (Rockford, IL: Rockford Institute, 1988). Robinson, Robert B., Roman Catholic Exegesis Since Divino Afflante Spiritu (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1988). Stuhlmacher, Peter, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Towards a Hermeneutics of Consent (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). Stump, Eleonore and Thomas P. Flint, eds., Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993).
Taguchi, Paul Cardinal, The Study of Sacred Scripture (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1974). Reference Works Aharoni, Yohanan, et al., The Macmillan Bible Atlas, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1993). Bauer, J.B., ed., An Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1981). Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979-1988). Brown, Colin, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [4 vols.] (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975-86). Danker, Frederick W., Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study, rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993). Green, Joel B., and Scott McKnight, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992). Hartdegen, Stephen J., Nelson’s Complete Concordance of the New American Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1977). Hawthorne, Gerald, and Ralph Martin, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992). Leon-Dufour, Xavier, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Theology, rev. ed. (New York: Seabury, 1973). Negev, Avraham, ed., The Archaelogical Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, rev. ed. (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1986). Spicq, Ceslas, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament [3 vols.] (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994). Steinmueller, John E., and K. Sullivan, eds., Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia (New York: Joseph Wagner, 1956). Tenney, Merrill, ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [4 vols.] (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976). Thompson, Newton, and Raymond Stock, Complete Concordance to the Bible (Douay Version) (St. Louis: Herder, 1945). Whitaker, Richard E., The Eerdmans Analytical Concordance to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988). Young, Robert, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982).
Brief Description of Each Canonical Book
Old Testament The Pentateuch (from a Greek word meaning “five containers of scrolls”) presents the core of revealed truths about the origin of the universe and the human race, along with the early history, law, and religious constitution of the Hebrew people. For this reason, it is also called the Torah (Heb. “law”) and thus forms the backbone of Jewish law and religious life. The Pentateuch includes the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy; its authorship has been traditionally attributed to Moses. Genesis deals with the origin of the universe and the first human beings. It describes their original condition in the garden of paradise, the sin that results in their expulsion, and the promise of liberation that God makes to them (the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15). It also narrates the call of Abraham and God’s covenant with him, along with the story of the other Patriarchs, including Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The book concludes with the entrance of the Hebrew people into Egypt because of the famine in Palestine and the death of Joseph.
Exodus recounts God’s revelation of His sacred name (YHWH) to Moses from the burning bush (see Exodus 3:14), His miraculous liberation of the people from Egypt through Moses and Aaron, and the celebration of the first Passover, which would have a great influence on the people of Israel throughout the centuries. It also narrates the Israelites’ sojourn in the Sinai desert, including their reception of the Ten Commandments from God and other basic legislation concerning the people’s behavior code and worship. Leviticus (from Levi, ancestor of the priestly tribe) contains a series of regulations that would govern the people’s worship and set them apart as consecrated to God. The holocaust, peace offerings, and various laws of purification are among the many elements that assure their continued holiness and fidelity. Numbers begins with a census of the people which God commands Moses to do. It goes on to recount their history in the wilderness for thirty-nine years, as a punishment for their rebellion and lack of faith, and ends with their approach to the Promised Land on the plains of Moab. Deuteronomy (from the Greek, meaning “second law”) contains the final three discourses of Moses to the people. They are a repetition of the Sinaitic covenant for the benefit of the new generation whose parents had died in the desert, and they particularly stress the fidelity that Yahweh has had for them, the great commandment of loving God above all things (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and a final exhortation to obedience. The book ends with the death of Moses on the plains of Moab. Historical Books of the Bible Joshua describes the conquest of Palestine under the leadership of Joshua, who was appointed by Moses to govern the people after his death. Among the battles the book recounts are the conquests of Jericho and Ai. After these victories Joshua divides the land among the tribes of Israel. The book ends with his exhortation to the people to be faithful to God’s covenant with them. Judges recounts the actions of certain leaders whom God raises up to liberate the people from the oppression of their Canaanite neighbors. The attacks of these enemies are in retribution for the people’s lack of obedience to the covenant and for their worship of false gods. When the people repent, God sends them a liberator or judge. Among the most famous judges are Gideon, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel. Ruth tells the story of the great-grandmother of King David, who leaves her home in Moab to become a Hebrew convert. This brief and moving narrative highlights the virtues of honesty and fidelity, along with the value of family love. 1 and 2 Samuel narrate the events leading to the establishment of the monarchy in Israel. Samuel, the last of the judges, anoints Saul as the first king; he later anoints David after Saul disobeys God. The Book of 2 Samuel deals more particularly with the reign of David, his accomplishments as well as his sins. It also contains one of the most famous messianic prophecies, which speaks of a son of David who will inherit an everlasting kingdom (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). 1 and 2 Kings cover the history of King Solomon’s reign, with both his accomplishments and his
infidelities, and the division of his kingdom after his death. They continue with the history of the kings of the south (Judah) and the kings of the north (Israel), presenting each one according to his fidelity or disobedience to the covenant. The books narrate the destruction of Israel and deportation of the people to Assyria in 722 B.C., and they end with the destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of the people to Babylon in 587 B.C. 1 and 2 Chronicles summarize the history of salvation from the beginning of mankind until the exile of the people to Babylon. Written to encourage and instruct those who have just returned from Babylon, they particularly emphasize the kingship of David and the messianic promise given to him, the importance of worship in the Temple, the distribution of lands by Joshua to the tribes, and the judgment of the kings of Judah according to their fidelity or disobedience to the covenant. Ezra and Nehemiah recount the works of Ezra, a scribe learned in the law, and Nehemiah, governor of Jerusalem, both of whom are sent by the Persian King Artaxerxes to assist the people toward the middle of the fifth century B.C. Both men contribute to the reestablishment of worship and civic life in Jerusalem. They insist upon the strict fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant in the daily lives of those who have returned from exile in Babylon. Tobit is the story of a family living in Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, and how the Archangel Raphael assists them in their personal difficulties. The book highlights the virtues of faith, hope, and marital chastity. The Semitic original of this book has been lost, and most of our current text comes from the Septuagint version. Judith is the story of a Jewish widow who liberates her people from an Assyrian siege on her town by killing the general of the Assyrian army. Many in the Church consider her to be a type of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who conquered Satan, the enemy of mankind. The Semitic original of this book has been lost, but the text has been reconstructed from Latin and Greek sources. Esther narrates the story of a lovely Jewish woman who becomes the wife of the Persian king. Esther saves the Jewish people from destruction by revealing a plot against the king. This event is commemorated by the feast of Purim, mentioned in the book as the day that had been set for the Jews’ destruction. 1 and 2 Maccabees narrate the persecution of the people by Antiochus IV, a ruler who wants to impose the Greek religion and customs on Palestine, and the subsequent struggles of the people against him. It describes the faith and military exploits of the Maccabees - namely, Matathias and his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. The second book has great doctrinal importance, since it contains such teachings as the creation of all things from nothing (ex nihilo), the value of prayer for the dead, and the resurrection of the just. Wisdom and Poetical Books As a literary form, wisdom writing goes back to the earliest times of the Hebrew people. It consists of reflections on God’s love for man and His intervention in the events of history to enlighten and guide man to happiness. King Solomon was known for his knowledge and wisdom, at least in the first part of
his reign, and it appears that many later wisdom writings were drawn from his ideas and sayings. Job addresses the universal problem of the suffering of the just man: If God is good, why must the just man suffer? The book, in the form of a turbulent dialogue between Job and three of his friends, and finally with God Himself, gives no complete solution to the question. Job submits to God’s inscrutable justice and mercy, and his health and fortune are restored. The Psalms are a collection of 150 hymns used both for individual prayer and for the celebrations and feasts of the people at various times in their history. They were composed by various writers, including King David. With great depth of thought and expression of feeling, they have many different themes, including praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, instruction, and prophecy. Some of the psalms are considered messianic because they refer to the king of Israel and to the Anointed One to come - such as Psalms 2, 16, 22, 72, and 110. The hallel psalms (111-18) were traditionally used at the Passover meal and were surely sung by Christ and His disciples at the Last Supper. Christ quotes from Psalm 22 while dying on the Cross: “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Proverbs is a series of popular sayings and maxims collected over several centuries, and which give advice on such virtues as order, prudence, honesty, and temperance. In some chapters wisdom is presented as dwelling with God; this will have a resonance in New Testament writings, especially the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) gives a number of reflections on the vanity of earthly things, such as knowledge, pleasure, riches, and human strivings. Like the Book of Job, it gives no answer to the question of man’s frustration on earth and the seeming meaninglessness of life. But in not providing an answer, it opens the soul to a greater revelation. The Song of Songs is the story of a simple country shepherdess who resists the approaches of a great king (perhaps referring to Solomon) in order to remain faithful to her young husband, a shepherd himself who is away on a journey. This beautiful book has been interpreted on many levels: the greatness of marriage and the love of spouses for each other; the steadfast love of Yahweh for His people and the corresponding love of a faithful remnant of the people who remained true to Him; and, in the New Testament, the love of Jesus Christ for His Bride, the Church, and her love for Him. Wisdom of Solomon is probably the last book of the Wisdom literature to be written. It stresses the need for an upright heart and the role of wisdom in the history of the chosen people and in the lives of the just men who know God. In a magnificent text (3:1-8), it affirms the immortality of the soul and the ultimate reward to be given to the just man. This book, written on the threshold of the Christian era, provides many quotes and ideas to New Testament writers, especially to Saint John and Saint Paul. Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) was originally written in Hebrew by Ben Sirach in Palestine, but later his grandson translated it into Greek for the Jews dwelling in Egypt. It contains many traditional teachings related to the law and highlights the importance of a good, moral life, particularly in the areas of work and family. Wisdom is also presented as a person, reaching its highest form of expression in chapter 24, with images that many would later apply to Christ and His mother. The Prophetical Books
The prophets transmitted God’s Word to the people. This Word could be in the form of a judgment, a threat of retribution, or a hopeful promise of liberation. They often preached that a faithful remnant would be saved from all the punishments and purifications that the people endured. The Major Prophets Isaiah, written by a priest of that name in the eighth century B.C., contains two major sets of prophecies: the book of judgments (1-39), consisting of oracles about Judah and Jerusalem, along with apocalyptic passages; and the book of consolation (40-66), consisting of oracles about the people’s liberation from exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, along with its glorious future. It is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament and, among other things, contains the famous prophecy of the virgin birth (7:14), the gifts of the Messiah (11:2-3), the poem of the suffering servant who expiates for his people (52:13-53:12), the description of the New Jerusalem (62), and the coming messianic age in which all the nations will share (66). Jeremiah, born a century after Isaiah, preaches in Judah for forty years and remains faithful to his vocation until after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Despite intense personal suffering and rejection by the people, he opposes alliances with foreign powers and preaches an absolute faith in Yahweh and His covenant. He stresses frequently the importance of true interior worship, as distinct from a merely external one (7:21; 17:27). He predicts a New Covenant that will be written in the heart (31:31-34). Many consider him to be a type of Christ and His sufferings. Lamentations is a series of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple (587 B.C.). These poems stress the reality and justice of God’s punishment of the people for their abandonment of Him. The author is uncertain, though the influence of Jeremiah’s preaching is clear. Baruch, a disciple of Jeremiah, writes the reflections and prayers contained in this book. It stresses the importance of repentance in order to receive God’s forgiveness, and the foolishness of idol worship. The book ends by announcing the end of the exile and the return to Jerusalem. Ezekiel contains the oracles of the chief prophet among the exiles in Babylon. These oracles combine the messages of repentance for past sins and hope in God’s mercy. In the first part of the book, written before the exile, he predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the punishment of the people. In the second part, he consoles and encourages the people with various apocalyptic visions and oracles such as the field of dry bones (37:1-14), the New Covenant (34:25), and the new temple (40). Daniel discusses the history and prophecy of Daniel, who is transported as a child to Babylon. He achieves great prestige at the Babylonian court by his wisdom and the ability to interpret dreams. The first part of the book contains his interpretation of the king’s dreams, which predict the four successive kingdoms that will precede the messianic age. The second part contains four apocalyptic visions that refer to the persecution of the people and the coming of the Messiah. The famous stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, the chaste Susannah, and Bel and the dragon are also found in this book. The Twelve Minor Prophets
Before the fall of the kingdom of Israel (722 B.C.) Amos, earliest of the prophets, is called from shepherding his flocks near Bethlehem in order to denounce the sins of the people of the northern kingdom, particularly for worshipping at the schismatic shrine of Bethel. He offers hope to those who repent. Hosea is a prophet of the northern kingdom. He describes the people’s betrayal of the covenant in terms of adultery, prostitution, and fornication. Yahweh is the offended spouse who must punish His unfaithful bride - Israel - so that she may return to Him. Micah predicts the judgment of God upon the people, warning that the day of Yahweh is near. At the same time, he predicts that a remnant of the people will be purified, and that the eternal Ruler will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). From the fall of the kingdom of Israel to the fall of Judah (587 B.C.), Zephaniah prophesies in the time of Josiah, king of Judah. He predicts the coming of the day of Yahweh, urges both Judah and the pagan nations to repent, and refers to the salvation of a remnant of the people who are faithful. Nahum predicts the fall of the people’s greatest enemy, Assyria, in just punishment for its sins. Its capital, Nineveh, fell in 612 B.C. Habakkuk poses the question of God’s justice as the Babylonians threaten to destroy Jerusalem. He ends with a prayer of hope and abandonment to God’s mercy. After the return of the exiles from Babylon (537 B.C.) Joel describes the day of Yahweh as a plague of locusts, along with a cosmic disaster at the end of time. The book is apocalyptic in content and style. It also predicts the outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people in the messianic era (2:28-32, RSVCE). This text is quoted by Saint Peter in his preaching to the crowds at Pentecost (see Acts 2:16-21). Obadiah, the shortest book of the minor prophets (only twenty-one verses), tells of the chastisement of the Edomites, who have earlier participated in the sack of Jerusalem. Obadiah also refers to the victory of Israel and the coming of the messianic age. Jonah speaks of the attempted flight of the prophet from his mission of preaching repentance and conversion to the Assyrians in Nineveh. In the end, after spending three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah fulfills his mission. Jesus uses the story of Jonah to refer to the three days that He would spend in the tomb (see Matthew 12:39-40). Haggai is the first of the post-exilic prophets. His main purpose is to encourage the returning people in renewing their fidelity to God and in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah, through a series of visions, also encourages the rebuilding of the Temple, but he adds many prophecies pertaining to the messianic era, including verses about the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey (9:9-10), and the piercing of the Savior (12:10). Malachi encourages the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and is probably a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. He denounces several lax customs of the people, and in 1:11 speaks of the coming of a
universal and pure sacrifice, which the Magisterium of the Church has interpreted to be the sacrifice of the Mass. The New Testament The Gospels (“Good News”) are faithful accounts of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. The apostolic origin and historical content of these books have always been maintained by the Catholic Church. Each evangelist presented the story of Jesus’ life according to the needs of his readers, whether they were of Jewish or Gentile background. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” (from a Greek word meaning “one view”) because of their many similarities in content and style, even though there are certain differences among them because of their audience and purpose. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew was written first in Aramaic, though that text has been lost. The Greek translation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and traditionally has been considered to be the same as the original. It was written for an audience of Jewish Christians. Its main themes are that Jesus is truly the Messiah announced by the prophets; that His kingdom will last until the end of time; and that He established a visible Church, with Peter and his successors at the head (16:18-19). The Gospel according to Saint Mark has traditionally been considered to represent the catechesis of Saint Peter in Rome. For this reason, his Gospel highlights the miracles of Christ in order to help Roman Christians and proselytes to appreciate Jesus’ divinity - that He is truly the Son of God and Lord of all creation. It is the briefest of the Gospels. The Gospel according to Saint Luke emphasizes many aspects of Christ’s life that would be helpful for sustaining the faith of the first Gentile Christians of the Hellenistic world. Saint Luke’s main themes are the salvation that Jesus Christ brings for all men, His birth and childhood, the importance of prayer and joy, and the role of Mary, His mother, and the other holy women. His prologue reveals his careful research and contacts with eyewitnesses of Christ’s life, in order to present an orderly account of His words and actions. The Gospel according to Saint John was written by the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (13:23) and was most likely destined for Christians living in Asia Minor at the end of the first century. It clearly asserts that Christ was both human and divine. Characteristics of John’s Gospel are the prologue, which speaks of the Eternal Word (Logos); the use of strong, symbolic images like light and darkness, life and death, etc.; great emphasis on Jesus’ love for His disciples at the Last Supper along with His words to them; and finally, the appearances and powerful message of the risen Christ. It records miracles and discourses of Christ not contained in the other three Gospel accounts. The Acts of the Apostles forms a literary and narrative unity with the third Gospel, and was most likely written by Saint Luke as well. It covers the expansion of the Church from Jerusalem to the various parts of the Roman Empire. Sometimes called “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” the book describes the great event of Pentecost, the life of the early Christians, the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the apostolate of
Saint Peter, the Council of Jerusalem, and the missionary journeys of Saint Paul ending with his first imprisonment in Rome. It was probably written between the years 62 and 64. Letters of Saint Paul These letters were written to instruct, encourage, and correct the first Christian communities located in parts of Asia and in Europe. Many of these communities were founded by Saint Paul himself. The letters were composed between the years 50 and 67 (the year of Saint Paul’s death) and are closely linked to his missionary journeys and his captivity in Rome. Pre-Captivity Letters 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to clarify certain misconceptions about the second coming of Christ (Greek. parousia) and to encourage the people to continue working and to carry on normal lives even in the midst of hardship. He also defends himself against some of his detractors who deny the supernatural character of his mission. 1 and 2 Corinthians were written to correct certain abuses that had arisen among Christians in Corinth, a cosmopolitan port city of Greece noted for its vices. Among other messages, Paul affirms the need for chaste living, gives criteria about the celebration of the agape (i.e., the Eucharist), extols the great virtue of charity (see 1 Corinthians 13), and clarifies points about the resurrection of the dead. In the second letter, he defends his reputation against certain groups that are undermining his message among the Corinthians. In Galatians, Paul defends his apostolic authority and teaching against the ideas of the Judaizers, groups of Jewish Christians from Palestine who are teaching that the converts should be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law. He speaks of the priority of faith in Christ and the freedom that Christ has gained for us. Romans is the largest and most doctrinally significant of Paul’s letters. There is a dogmatic part (1-11) and a moral part (12-16). The key teaching in the first part is justification: both Jew and Gentile are in need of salvation, which is obtained through faith in Christ and the life of grace. Divine sonship (8:1417), one clear result of the life of grace, is closely connected with freedom (8:15) and has an uplifting effect on all of creation (8:18-25). In the second part of the letter, he stresses that Christians should be characterized by humility and obedience to lawful authority. The Captivity Letters Written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (61-63 A.D.) In Ephesians, Paul begins by proclaiming that God’s eternal plan of redemption is for everyone, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone. He later stresses the importance of unity and faith in the lives of believers. He particularly emphasizes marriage and the union between husband and wife, which is intimately connected to the union of Christ with His Church (5:21-33). In Philippians, Paul gives thanks for the hospitality he has received in Philippi, and he encourages the people to continue in their good works. He uses the example of an athlete in training to urge them forward. In a very famous text (2:6-8) he describes the kenosis, or humiliation, of Christ, who has
become one of us and has died for our salvation. Colossians is an attempt to correct certain Judaizing tendencies that have arisen in the community of Colossae, as well as the overemphasis on angels as mediators between God and men. He asserts the absolute supremacy of Christ as Creator and Redeemer (1:15-18). In Philemon, Paul writes in defense of a slave named Onesimus who has stolen something and has run away from his master Philemon, who is a Christian. He appeals to Philemon to receive back Onesimus with true forgiveness and charity. Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were written by Paul to his disciples Timothy and Titus, who were the bishops of Ephesus and Crete, respectively. He encourages them to lead virtuous lives and to transmit “sound doctrine” (see 1 Timothy 1:10) to the faithful while being vigilant against false teachings. Among the last letters that the apostle wrote, they are particularly important because they show the workings of the hierarchical structure of the Church at an early stage and the passing of authority from the apostles to their successors as bishops. The Letter to the Hebrews is of disputed authorship, though Paul’s ideas and influences are evident. It was probably written for Jewish Christians who had been forced to leave Jerusalem, and who needed bolstering in the Christian faith. The letter highlights the role of Christ the High Priest and His covenant, showing its superiority to the old Hebrew priesthood and sacrifices. The Catholic Letters These letters are called “Catholic” (Gk. Katholika) because they apparently were directed to the faithful in general, in different parts of the world, and not to any community or geographic area in particular. James is written for Jewish Christians of the Diaspora and encourages charity and care for the poor without discrimination or seeking human respect. It clarifies that faith without works is dead (2:17) and that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (2:24). (Martin Luther in the sixteenth century would reject this letter largely because of this teaching.) There is also an important passage which shows the existence of the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick (5:14-15). 1 Peter calls for greater holiness of life among the Christians, encouraging them to act as “living stones” (2:5) built upon Christ the chief cornerstone (2:4). It reminds them that they are a holy nation and a royal priesthood (2:9), called to offer spiritual sacrifices for the glory of God and the redemption of men. 2 Peter refutes the errors of the Simonites and the Nicolaitans, who were forerunners of the heresy of Gnosticism. It also encourages Christians to be vigilant always, and to understand properly the nature of the second coming. 1 John begins with a statement of Christ’s divinity and goes on to speak of the importance of fraternal love - love for one’s neighbor must be united with love for God, who is Love (4:8). It has many connections with the fourth Gospel, in content, symbolism, and style.
2 John is addressed to the “elect lady and her children” (v. 1, probably referring to a specific Church) and encourages fraternal charity. 3 John is addressed to a certain Gaius, who is praised for his faith and charity. Jude, with a message and language similar to 2 Peter, encourages Christians to practice both faith and charity, while condemning sensual and arrogant individuals who are disturbing Christians’ lives. Revelation (or the Apocalypse) was written toward the end of the first century and has been traditionally attributed to Saint John the Apostle. Belonging to the genre of apocalyptic literature, it consists of a series of messages and warnings for people of all times. With a constant use of symbolic names and numbers, the book describes the great battle waged between Christ and Satan throughout time. It ends with the definitive destruction of Satan and the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem (21). The book of Revelation provides a message of hope to all who believe in Christ throughout history, particularly in the face of persecution and sufferings.
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