'All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.' (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
What is Sacred Scripture?
Sacred Scripture is one continuous love letter written from God the Creator to his creation. It tells the story of salvation history from creation and separation, to redemption and restoration. The Bible is composed of 73 canonical books (46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament), written over the course of many centuries. As such it is often referred to as a library rather than a single book! As the inspired word of God, these sacred books hand on the truth of God's self-revelation to us in written form.
Scripture contains a wide array of literary genres, from royal history and prophecy to poetry and early church epistles or letters. It is through the four Gospels, however, that we mainly encounter the person of Jesus Christ. We come to learn who Jesus is, how he lived, what he taught and what he has done for us. The Bible reveals the profound depths of God's love for us, 'that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.' (Romans 5:8). This is the Good News.
Why do we need Scripture and Tradition?
'Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church' (Dei Verbum 10). In her preservation of both Scripture and Tradition, the Church heeds to the instructions of St Paul, who urged the faithful to hold fast to both the written and oral traditions handed down from the Apostles (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Due to the symbiotic relationship between Scripture and Tradition, Scripture cannot be separated from Tradition as both flow from the same divine source. 'Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity' (Dei Verbum 9).
Catholic doctrines can be found either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. For instance, the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that he suffered and died for our sin and rose from the dead is clearly testified to in Scripture. Other Church doctrines, such as Purgatory and the Marian dogmas, are implicitly alluded to in Scripture. Over time, these doctrines have been revealed to the Church through the Holy Spirit, who continues to guard the Church from error (Jn 16:13).
Catholics are encouraged to make Scriptural study a key part of their personal spirituality. In reading the word of God, one can deepen their relationship with the Lord and be confident in who God created them to be.
What Bible Should I Use?
It is important to make sure that the Bible you use contains all 73 canonical books. When selecting a Bible, you should look for a Catholic edition as many Protestant versions do not contain seven of the Deuterocanonical books found in the Old Testament of the Canon.
Catholic editions which have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page, indicate that the Bible is free of doctrinal errors. You may also want to invest in a Bible that contains study notes to help you deepen your understanding of the Scriptural text.
What Translation Should I Use?
As Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church, the Vulgate is the official translation of the Church (this came from St Jerome’s translation from Greek and Hebrew original sources). However, this might be a little tricky if Latin is not your forte. Here are some suggestions for more readable translations:
- The New Jerusalem Bible - the current translation used in the lectionary at Mass.
- The English Standard Version: Catholic Edition - the new translation to be introduced to the lectionary at Mass.
- The Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition - a translation often used by scholars.
- The New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition - another translation used by scholars.
Practical Tips to Get the Most out of Reading the Bible
- Before we read Scripture, we should pray and invite the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to receive the Word of God. A simple prayer you can say is “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:10)
- If you do not know where to start, why not try the Gospels or one of St Paul's letters? If you would like to start in the Old Testament, you may want to give Genesis or the Psalms a read.
- Familiarise yourself with the literary genre of the text, as this will help you to understand the meaning that the author is trying to convey through the text. The array of biblical stories embody different types of truths, from literal to symbolic and allegorical truths. The Bible was not intended to be read like any other historical source, political manifesto, or scientific textbook. Instead, Scripture intends to reveal to us truths that are profitable to our salvation in Christ Jesus.
- Context is key. Understanding what occurred before and after in the narrative can help to illuminate the wider significance of the text.
- Look out for biblical typology. It is important to read the Old Testament in light of the risen Christ. For example: through reading Christ's passion and death in light of the Jewish Passover, one can appreciate how Christ became the fulfilment of the sacrificial lamb slaughtered to atone for sin.
- Read the commentaries and homilies of the Early Church Fathers alongside the Scriptural text. The wisdom of the Fathers is profound and can aid our interpretation of the text.
How to Meditate on Scripture With Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is an ancient pattern of praying with Scripture that invites us to mull over God's word. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that widespread use of Lectio Divina, as a spiritual practice, would bring about a ‘new springtime’ in the Church. It consists of four steps:
- Lectio - the first step is to read a small passage of Scripture several times. Ask yourself what is the passage saying?
- Meditatio - focus on one verse that stands out to you. Listen to the voice of God and meditate on what he has placed on your heart.
- Oratio - pray and enter into a dialogue with God. Ask God any questions you may have about the passage and invite him to lead you to deeper understanding.
- Contemplatio - quietly contemplate and listen closely to the voice of God. Try to put into practice what he asks of you.
Meditating with Scripture draws us into a deeper relationship with the Lord. We cannot simply read Scripture and allow the words to remain on the page. The word must be 'alive and active' and truly evident in the spiritual fruit of our lives (Hebrews 4:12).
If you would like to learn how to pray, click here.
If you would like to know the marks of a disciple, click here.