Food For The Soul
Adult Bible Study
St. Bonaventure Catholic Church provides an on-going Adult Bible Study program -“Food For the Soul”.
Scripture tells us “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Sacred Scripture is the spiritual food our soul craves in its life-long quest to know God.
In 405 AD, St. Jerome completed a 23-year project in translating the Old and New Testaments into Latin (the Latin Vulgate). One famous quote attributed to St. Jerome is:
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
The “Food For The Soul” program follows the advice of St. Jerome and is designed for adults who yearn to deepen their personal relationship with Jesus by knowing Him through a better understanding of Scripture.
Food For The Soul Program Highlights
- Program Director – the Holy Spirit
- Bible Study Session facilitators – Belinda Keiter (email@example.com) and Tim Cumberland (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Who Can Attend – any adult, of any faith, who is interested in deepening their relationship with God.
- Curriculum – various individual professional Bible Study programs, approved by the Catholic Church.
- Meetings – once per week, with each session lasting approximately 1 ½ hrs. Each new program study dates and times will be announced in the weekly bulletin and on the Parish website at stboncc.com.
- Meeting Format – a group discussion (not a lecture), guided by the Holy Spirit and focused on that week’s reading assignments.
- Materials Needed – a Bible and program material unique to each study program. Recommended Catholic Bibles are the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition or the New American Bible. These can be purchased at the St. Bonaventure office at a nominal cost. Specific program material for each study will also be provided at a nominal cost.
- Participant Requirements – to complete reading assignments and come prepared to fully participate in the group discussion for each session.
- How to Sign Up – Look for each study’s announcement and sign-up instructions in the St. Bonaventure weekly bulletin or contact Belinda at the office by phone at 564-7151 or email at email@example.com
A very good preparation before starting any of the Bible Study programs offered in “Food For The Soul” is to read the following “Bible Basics” material.
History of the Bible – Who wrote the Bible?
The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years, by approximately 40 writers. Unlike other religious writings, the Bible reads as a factual news account of real events, places, people, and dialogue. Historians and archaeologists have repeatedly confirmed its authenticity.
There are 73 different “books” in the Catholic bible, 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New testament. How did this come about and why do Protestant bibles only have 66 books?
In about 367 AD, St. Athanasius and other Church Fathers developed a list of 73 books for the Bible they believed to be divinely inspired. This list was finally approved by Pope Damasus I in 382 AD, and was formally approved by the Church Council of Rome in that same year. Later Councils at Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) ratified this list of 73 books.
In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse reaffirming this canon of 73 books. In 419 AD, the Council of Carthage reaffirmed this list, which Pope Boniface agreed to. The Council of Trent, in 1546, in response to the Reformation removing 7 books from the canon (canon is a Greek word meaning “standard”), reaffirmed the original St. Athanasius list of 73 books.
For all the books of the Catholic Bible click on this Catholic Online Bible reference link.
Using the writers’ own writing styles and personalities, God shows us who he is and what it’s like to know him. There is one central message consistently carried by all writers of the Bible: God, who created us all, desires a relationship with us. He calls us to know him and trust him.
The Bible not only inspires us, it explains life and God to us. It does not answer all the questions we might have, but enough of them. It shows us how to live with purpose and compassion. How to relate to others. It encourages us to rely on God for strength, direction, and enjoy his love for us. The Bible also tells us how we can have eternal life.
Multiple categories of evidence support the historical accuracy of the Bible as well as its claim to divine authorship. Click on the tabs below in the Bible Basics FAQ’s section to learn more.
Bible Basics – FAQ’s
- Archaeological Support for the Bible
- Has the Bible Changed From the Original
- Reliability of the Gospel Accounts
- What Do Historians Say
- Is the Bible Without Error
- Origin of the New Testament
- When Were the Gospels Written
- Why the Truth Matters
How does archaeology support the Bible?
Archaeology cannot prove that the Bible is God’s written word to us. However, archaeology can (and does) substantiate the Bible’s historical accuracy. Archaeologists have consistently discovered the names of government officials, kings, cities, and festivals mentioned in the Bible — sometimes when historians didn’t think such people or places existed. For example, the Gospel of John tells of Jesus healing a cripple next to the Pool of Bethesda. The text even describes the five porticoes (walkways) leading to the pool. Scholars didn’t think the pool existed, until archaeologists found it forty feet below ground, complete with the five porticoes.1
The Bible has a tremendous amount of historical detail, so not everything mentioned in it has yet been found through archaeology. However, not one archaeological find has conflicted with what the Bible records.2
In contrast, news reporter Lee Strobel comments about the Book of Mormon: “Archaeology has repeatedly failed to substantiate its claims about events that supposedly occurred long ago in the Americas. I remember writing to the Smithsonian Institute to inquire about whether there was any evidence supporting the claims of Mormonism, only to be told in unequivocal terms that its archaeologists see ‘no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.'” Archaeologists have never located cities, persons, names, or places mentioned in the Book of Mormon.3
Many of the ancient locations mentioned by Luke, in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, have been identified through archaeology. “In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities and nine islands without an error.”4
Archaeology has also refuted many ill-founded theories about the Bible. For example, a theory still taught in some colleges today asserts that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), because writing had not been invented in his day. Then archaeologists discovered the Black Stele. “It had wedge-shaped characters on it and contained the detailed laws of Hammurabi. Was it post-Moses? No! It was pre-Mosaic; not only that, but it was pre-Abraham (2,000 B.C.). It preceded Moses’ writings by at least three centuries.”5
Archaeology consistently confirms the historical accuracy of the Bible.
For more general information on this archaeological topic click on this link.
Also, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 provided significant support for the accuracy of the Bible. Click on this link for more information
Has the Bible changed over time, or do we have what was originally written?
Some people have the idea that the Bible has been translated “so many times” that it has become corrupted through stages of translating. If the translations were being made from other translations, they would have a case. But translations are actually made directly from original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic source texts based on thousands of ancient manuscripts.
The Old Testament’s accuracy was confirmed by an archaeological discovery in 1947, along today’s West Bank in Israel. “The Dead Sea Scrolls” contained Old Testament scripture dating 1,000 years older than any manuscripts we had. When comparing the manuscripts at hand with these, from 1,000 years earlier, we find agreement 99.5% of the time. And the .5% differences are minor spelling variances and sentence structure that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence.
Regarding the New Testament, it is humanity’s most reliable ancient document. We have thousands of copies of the New Testament, all dated closely to the original writing. In fact, we are more sure the New Testament remains as it was originally written by its writers, than we are sure of writings we attribute to Plato, or Aristotle, or Homer’s Iliad.
Are the gospel accounts of Jesus reliable?
Four of the writers of the New Testament each wrote their own biography on the life of Jesus. These are called the four gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. How can we be sure these biographies of Jesus are accurate?
When historians try to determine if a biography is reliable, they ask, “How many other sources report the same details about this person?” Here’s how this works. Imagine you are collecting biographies of President John F. Kennedy. You find many describing his family, his presidency, his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and almost all of the biographies report similar facts. But what if you found one biography reporting that he lived ten years as a priest in South Africa? The other biographies show he lived in the U.S. his entire life. A sensible historian would go with the accounts that agree with one another.
Regarding Jesus, do we find multiple biographies reporting similar facts about his life? Yes. Here is a sampling of facts about Jesus, and where you would find that fact reported in each of their biographies.
Matthew Mark Luke John
Jesus was born of a virgin 1:18-25 – 1:27, 34 –
He was born in Bethlehem 2:1 – 2:4 –
He lived in Nazareth 2:23 1:9, 24 2:51, 4:16 1:45, 46
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist 3:1-15 1:4-9 3:1-22 –
He performed miracles of healing 4:24, etc. 1:34, etc. 4:40, etc. 9:7
He walked on water 14:25 6:48 – 6:19
He fed five thousand people with
five loaves and two fish 14:7 6:38 9:13 6:9
Jesus taught the common people 5:1 4:25, 7:28 9:11 18:20
He spent time with social outcasts 9:10, 21:31 2:15, 16 5:29, 7:29 8:3
He argued with the religious elite 15:7 7:6 12:56 8:1-58
The religious elite plotted to kill him 12:14 3:6 19:47 11:45-57
They handed Jesus over to the Romans 27:1, 2 15:1 23:1 18:28
Jesus was flogged 27:26 15:15 – 19:1
He was crucified 27:26-50 15:22-37 23:33-46 19:16-30
He was buried in a tomb 27:57-61 15:43-47 23:50-55 19:38-42
Jesus rose from the dead and
appeared to his followers 28:1-20 16:1-20 24:1-53 20:1-31
Two of the gospel biographies were written by the apostles Matthew and John, men who knew Jesus personally and traveled with him for over three years. The other two books were written by Mark and Luke, close associates of the apostles. These writers had direct access to the facts they were recording. The early church accepted the four gospels because they agreed with what was already common knowledge about Jesus’ life.
Again, the gospels read like news reports, a factual accounting of the days events, each from their own perspective. The descriptions are unique to each writer, but the facts are in agreement. The gospels give specific geographical names and cultural details that have been confirmed by historians and archaeologists.
Here is a sample of what is presented in one of the Gospels…
The Gospels are presented as matter-of-fact, “this is how it was.” Even reports of Jesus doing the miraculous is written without sensationalism or mysticism. One typical example is the account in Luke, chapter 8, where Jesus brings a little girl back to life. Notice the details and clarity in its reporting:
Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.
She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.” Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.
But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
Like other accounts of Jesus’ healing people, this has a ring of authenticity. If it were fiction, there are portions of it that would have been written differently. For example, in a fictional account there wouldn’t be an interruption with something else happening.
If it were fiction, the people in mourning would not have laughed at Jesus’ statement; get angry maybe, be hurt by it, but not laugh. And in writing fiction, would Jesus have ordered the parents to be quiet about it? You would expect the healing to make a grand point. But real life isn’t always smooth. There are interruptions. People do react oddly. And Jesus had his own reasons for not wanting the parents to broadcast this.
The best test of the Gospels authenticity is to read it for yourself. Does it read like a report of real events, or like fiction? If it is real, then God has revealed himself to us. Jesus came, lived, taught, inspired, and brought life to millions who read his words and life today. What Jesus stated in the gospels, many have found reliably true: “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Do historians confirm what the Bible says about Jesus?
The Bible reports that Jesus of Nazareth performed many miracles, was executed by the Romans, and rose from the dead. Numerous ancient historians corroborate the Bible’s account of the life of Jesus and his followers:
Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55-120), an historian of first-century Rome, is considered one of the most accurate historians of the ancient world.6 An excerpt from Tacitus tells us that the Roman emperor Nero “inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class…called Christians. …Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”7
Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian (A.D. 38-100), wrote about Jesus in his Jewish Antiquities. From Josephus, “we learn that Jesus was a wise man who did surprising feats, taught many, won over followers from among Jews and Greeks, was believed to be the Messiah, was accused by the Jewish leaders, was condemned to be crucified by Pilate, and was considered to be resurrected.”8
Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Thallus also wrote about Christian worship and persecution that is consistent with New Testament accounts.
Even the Jewish Talmud, certainly not biased toward Jesus, concurs about the major events of his life. From the Talmud, “we learn that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, gathered disciples, made blasphemous claims about himself, and worked miracles, but these miracles are attributed to sorcery and not to God.”9
This is remarkable information considering that most ancient historians focused on political and military leaders, not on obscure rabbis from distant provinces of the Roman Empire. Yet ancient historians (Jews, Greeks and Romans) confirm the major events that are presented in the New Testament, even though they were not believers themselves.
Is the Bible Without Error?
What follows is a wonderful article in Catholic Answers Magazine by Karlo Broussard
Is Everything in the Bible True?
By: Karlo Broussard
Does the Bible contain errors? If those errors are scientific or historical, as opposed to matters of faith and morals, does it even matter?
These questions came up during the Second Vatican Council when some theologians asserted that Scripture indeed contained such errors. Cardinal Koenig of Vienna attempted to prove it using Mark 2:26, where David “went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions.” According to 1 Samuel 21:1, Abiathar was not the high priest, but rather his father, Ahimelech. This scriptural example on the surface appears to support his claim that the Bible contains historical errors.
According to Scripture scholar Raymond Brown, the awareness of these so-called historical errors moved the Church at Vatican II to teach that the Bible is free from error only in matters of faith and morals and not in matters of history and science (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1169). Brown supports this claim by appealing to section 11 of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), which reads, “we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” The phrase “for the sake of our salvation” is the key reference used to argue that only those things needed for our salvation (i.e., faith and morals) and not history and science, are free from error.
It’s All about Context
So, how are we to understand the phrase “for the sake of our salvation”? First, we will look at the context.
Referencing chapter two of the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, the opening statement of section 11 of Dei Verbum (hereafter DV) reads:
Those things revealed by God which are contained and presented in the text of sacred scripture have been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church itself.
The two key phrases, “whole and entire” and “with all their parts,” apply to both the inspiration of Scripture, and to God as the author of the Old and New Testaments.
The preceding text states, “all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit.” According to the Council fathers, everything the writers intended to assert, the Holy Spirit intended to assert. Hence, because we cannot attribute error to the Holy Spirit, we cannot ascribe error to the sacred authors.
This principle of affirmation or assertion is important in considering the various so-called errors in Scripture, whether they be historical or scientific. Though this topic requires an in-depth discussion that goes beyond the scope of this article, it suffices to say that the human authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, at times do not intend to affirm certain details to be factual or accurate. (See “Genre and the Principle of Assertion,” page 27)
In regards to the historical elements, in 1905 the Pontifical Biblical Commission stated that at times—with solid arguments and conformity to the sense of the Church—it is possible to conclude that the sacred writers did not intend to give a true and strict account of history. They ” proposed rather to set forth, under the guise and form of history, a parable or an allegory or some meaning distinct from the literal or historical signification of the words” (qtd. in John E. Steinmueller, A Companion to Scripture Studies, 33).
For example, although the first eleven chapters of Genesis are history in a true sense, the narratives contained within “relate in simple and figurative language, adapted to the understanding of mankind at a lower stage of development, fundamental truths underlying the divine scheme of salvation” (Pontifical Biblical Commission; qtd. in A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 75).
Further, the sacred authors were of a different culture and had different patterns of writing than our modern historians, who use critical methods inherited from Greece and Rome. In recording history, ancient authors may omit certain facts, neglect chronological order, or give a mere summary of discourse. Although we may see limitations in this style of writing, that in no way makes these documents false history. The authors did not intend to assert accuracy, for accuracy was not needed to serve the purpose of the message.
Described in Figurative Language
Critics often ascribe scientific error to Joshua 10:13: “the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.” As it is now known that the sun does not revolve around the earth, it seems that the author made a scientific error. But the author did not intend to assert a scientific fact; he was affirming the phenomenon he observed with his senses. (Scholars refer to this as phenomenological language.) We still express ourselves that way today. We do not accuse the weather forecaster of scientific error when he says, “The sun will rise at 6:00 a.m.”
Pope Leo XIII notes that there are some men of physical science who scrutinize the Sacred Scriptures in order to detect a fault in matters that pertain to the sensible experience. In response, the pontiff explains that the sacred writers “did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science” (Proventissimus Deus, 18).
It is wrong to expect from the sacred writers the sort of scientific language found in contemporary science books. The writers wrote as they would ordinarily speak.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the authors of Scripture describe what is obvious to the senses. The authors, out of condescension to the weaknesses of an ignorant people, “put before them only such things as are apparent to sense” (Summa Theologica I:1:9). They wrote what God wanted in a manner that men could understand and to which they were accustomed.
Keys to Interpretation
The second approach to take in demonstrating that the Council did not break with Sacred Tradition is to review the documents referenced in footnote number five of the passage from DV 11. The point of referencing other documents for particular passages is to instruct the reader how to properly interpret the passage according to the mind of the author. The following documents give clear evidence of what the Council fathers intended to convey.
In its Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, the Council of Trent in session four states the following:
If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.
In a document from Vatican I, the Council fathers reemphasize and reaffirm the teaching of Trent by stating that “the complete books of the Old and the New Testaments with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said Council [Trent] . . . are to be received as sacred and canonical” (Dei Filius, 2.6).
In an authoritative affirmation and commentary on this document, Pope Pius XII gives further instruction that sheds light on the proper interpretation of DV 11:
When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the “entire books with all their parts” as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as obiter dicta [things said incidentally and in passing] and—as they contended—in no wise connected with faith, our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safeguarded the studies of the divine books by most wise precepts and rules. (Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1)
Finally, there is Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Providentissimus Deus. He writes:
But it 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 the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond . . . this system cannot be tolerated. 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 Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. (20)
Pope Leo reiterates the constant teaching of the Church from the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, that the Holy Spirit dictated the entirety of the books of the Bible with all of their parts. As is often said, “Peter has spoken, the issue is settled!”
It is clear that to interpret DV 11 as restricting the Bible’s inspiration and freedom from error to matters of faith and morals is to interpret it contrary to the intention of the Council fathers. Vatican II did not allow us to say there are errors in Sacred Scripture. Vatican II did not reverse the Catholic dogma of the inerrancy of Scripture.
Then, What Does It Mean?
So, what did the Council fathers mean by “for the sake of our salvation”? Fr. William G. Most writes, “If Vatican II had really wanted to make that clause clearly restrictive, there is an unambiguous Latin construction that would have made it clear called qui quidem with the subjunctive. The Council did not use that structure” (Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics, 217). He concludes that the phrase is not restrictive but descriptive. Therefore the phrase emphasizes that the truth in the whole of Scripture, whether it be religious, historical, or scientific, is for our salvation. There is no part of Scripture that does not contribute to our journey of salvation. As St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16: “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.” If God is the author of all of Scripture, then all of Scripture is for our salvation.
So, how is Mark 2:26 to be explained? The answer lies in the Greek text. In Mark 2:26, the Greek reads ” epi Abiathar archiereos.” Fr. Most, in his book, Catholic Apologetics Today, states that the Greek preposition epi takes a generic meaning of time when its object takes the genitive case. Hence, it literally reads “in the days of” or “in the time of Abiathar.” Abiathar’s name was used for this time period as opposed to his father’s because of his greater prominence and popularity among the readers of the Old Testament. Abiathar had a very close association with King David, under whom he became chief priest along with Zadok (cf. 1 Sam. 22:20-2 Sam.).
Many more examples have been used to argue that the Bible contains error, but every one is answerable. Therefore, we can repeat with humility the words of St. Augustine, “And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand” (Letter LXXXII, 3).
Firmly, Faithfully, and without Error
CCC 105 – For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. (emphasis added)
CCC 106 – God inspired the human authors of the sacred books . . . it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more. (emphasis added)
CCC 107 – The inspired books teach the truth. Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which of God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.
Genre and the Principle of Assertion
When interpreting the “literal sense” of the Bible, we must distinguish between the narration and the form of narration, also known as genre. Narration is the telling of things that happened and genre is the style used to tell what happened. In all cultures, many different styles and methods are used to communicate messages.
Scholars have listed nine kinds of literary forms in the narrative literature or historical books of the Old Testament: fable, parable, historical epic, religious history, ancient history, popular tradition, liberal narrative, Midrash (commentary), and prophetical and apocalyptical narrative (John E. Steinmueller, A Companion to Scripture Studies, 33). Whatever genre is used, the question that must be considered is what the author asserted or intended to communicate by using this style of narration. The answer to this question will supply the literal sense of the passage.
For example, in Micah 3:2-3, we read, “You that hate good, and love evil; that violently pluck off their skins from them, and their flesh from their homes? Who have eaten the flesh of my people, and have flayed their skin from off them: and have broken, and chopped their bones as for the kettle, and as flesh in the midst of the pot.” Does the author mean that the enemies of God’s people were cannibals? No: He is asserting that the enemies of God persecuted the people of God. The passage represents a common Hebraic style of writing employed to assert the reality of persecution and war (see also Deut. 32:42; Ezek. 39:17-18; Rev. 17:6, 16). To interpret this passage without considering the Hebrew genre, one would have to conclude that flesh was actually being eaten and blood actually being drunk.
The principle of affirmation or assertion is the key element in Biblical interpretation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words” (CCC 109). Furthermore, “in order to discover the sacred authors’ intention,” the Catechism states “the reader must take into account the conditions of their times and culture, the literal genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current” (CCC 110). Notice that the Catechism implies there are different modes of narrating, i.e., genres. The reason for the variety of genres is found in Dei Verbum, which states, “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression” (12).
Therefore, when we engage in the difficult task of interpretation, the principle of affirmation or assertion, which is connected to genre, must be the guiding principle for the literal sense. The interpretation guidelines for the spiritual sense of Scripture can be found in paragraphs 111-117 of the Catechism.
Karlo Broussard, a native of Crowley, Louisiana, left a promising musical career to devote himself full-time to the work of Catholic apologetics. For more than a decade he has traveled the country teaching apologetics, biblical studies, theology, and philosophy. Karlo has published articles on a variety of subjects in Catholic Answers Magazine, is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live, and is an active blogger at catholic.com.
Karlo holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also worked for several years in an apprenticeship with nationally known author and theologian Fr. Robert J. Spitzer at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.
Karlo is one of the most dynamic and gifted Catholic speakers on the circuit today, communicating with precision of thought, a genuine love for God, and an enthusiasm that inspires.
Karlo resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo’s online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.
Origin of the New Testament
How were the books of the New Testament determined? Why not accept the apocrypha, the gospel of Judas, or the gospel of Thomas?
There are solid reasons for trusting in today’s list of New Testament books. The church accepted the New Testament books almost as soon as they were written. The writers were friends of Jesus or his immediate followers, men to whom Jesus had entrusted the leadership of the early church. The Gospel writers Matthew and John were some of Jesus’ closest followers. Mark and Luke were companions of the apostles, having access to the apostles’ account of Jesus’ life.
The other New Testament writers had immediate access to Jesus as well: James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus who initially did not believe in him. Peter was one of the 12 apostles. Paul started out as a violent opponent of Christianity and a member of the religious ruling class, but he became an ardent follower of Jesus, convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.
The reports in the New Testament books lined up with what thousands of eyewitnesses had seen for themselves. When other books were written hundreds of years later, it wasn’t difficult for the church to spot them as forgeries. For example, the Gospel of Judas was written by the Gnostic sect, around 130-170 A.D., long after Judas’ death. The Gospel of Thomas, written around 140 A.D., is another example of a counterfeit writing erroneously bearing an apostles’ name. These and other Gnostic gospels conflicted with the known teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament, and often contained numerous historical and geographical errors.10
In A.D. 367, Athanasius formally listed the 27 New Testament books (the same list that we have today). Soon after, Jerome and Augustine circulated this same list. These lists, however, were not necessary for the majority of Christians. By and large the whole church had recognized and used the same list of books since the first century after Christ. As the church grew beyond the Greek-speaking lands and needed to translate the Scriptures, and as splinter sects continued to pop up with their own competing holy books, it became more important to have a definitive list.
When Were the Gospels Written?
Why did it take 30 to 60 years for the New Testament Gospels to be written?
The main reason the Gospel accounts were not written immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection is that there was no apparent need for any such writings. Initially the gospel spread by word of mouth in Jerusalem. There was no need to compose a written account of Jesus’ life, because those in the Jerusalem region were witnesses of Jesus and well aware of his ministry.11
However, when the gospel spread beyond Jerusalem, and the eyewitnesses were no longer readily accessible, there was a need for written accounts to educate others about Jesus’ life and ministry. Many scholars date the writing of the Gospels between 30 and 60 years after Jesus’ death.
Luke, at the beginning of his gospel, tells us why he wrote it: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may have certainty of the things you have been taught.
Does the truth really matter? Did Jesus really do and say what is in the Gospels?
Yes and yes! For faith to really be of any value, it must be based on facts, on reality. Here is why. If you were taking a flight to London, you would probably have faith that the jet is fueled and mechanically reliable, the pilot trained, and no terrorists on board. Your faith, however, is not what gets you to London. Your faith is useful in that it got you on the plane. But what actually gets you to London is the integrity of the plane, pilot, etc. You could rely on your positive experience of past flights. But your positive experience would not be enough to get that plane to London. What matters is the object of your faith — is it reliable?
Is the New Testament an accurate, reliable presentation of Jesus? Yes. We can trust the New Testament because there is enormous factual support for it. This article touched on the following points: historians concur, archaeology concurs, the four Gospel biographies are in agreement, the preservation of document copies is remarkable, there is superior accuracy in the translations. All of this gives a solid foundation for believing that what we read today is what the original writers wrote and experienced in real life, in real places.
John, one of the Gospel writers sums it up well,
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also 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.” John 21(24-25)
Why Should We Read The Bible?
We should read and study the Bible because it is God’s Word to us. The Bible is literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). In other words, it is God’s very words to us. There are so many questions that philosophers have asked that God answers for us in Scripture. What is the purpose to life? Where did I come from? Is there life after death? How do I get to heaven? Why is the world full of evil? Why do I struggle to do good?
In addition to these “big” questions, the Bible gives much practical advice in areas such as: What do I look for in a mate? How can I have a successful marriage? How can I be a good friend? How can I be a good parent? What is success and how do I achieve it? How can I change? What really matters in life? How can I live so that I do not look back with regret? How can I handle the unfair circumstances and bad events of life victoriously?
We should read and study the Bible because it is totally reliable and without error. The Bible is unique among so-called “holy” books in that it does not merely give moral teaching and say, “Trust me.” Rather, we have the ability to test it by checking the hundreds of detailed prophecies that it makes, by checking the historical accounts it records, and by checking the scientific facts it relates.
Those who say the Bible has errors have their ears closed to the truth. Jesus once asked which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” Then He proved He had the ability to forgive sins (something we cannot see with our eyes) by healing the paralytic (something those around Him could test with their eyes).
Similarly, we are given assurance that God’s Word is true when it discusses spiritual areas that we cannot test with our senses by showing itself true in those areas that we can test, such as historical accuracy, scientific accuracy, and prophetic accuracy.
We should read and study the Bible because God does not change and because mankind’s nature does not change; it is as relevant for us as it was when it was written. While technology changes, mankind’s nature and desires do not change.
We find, as we read the pages of biblical history, that whether we are talking about one-on-one relationships or societies, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). And while mankind as a whole continues to seek love and satisfaction in all of the wrong places, God—our good and gracious Creator—tells us what will bring us lasting joy. His revealed Word, the Bible, is so important that Jesus said of it, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, if we want to live life to the fullest, as God intended, we must listen to and heed God’s written Word.
We should read and study the Bible because there is so much false teaching. The Bible gives us the measuring stick by which we can distinguish truth from error. It tells us what God is like. To have a wrong impression of God is to worship an idol or false god. We are worshiping something that He is not. The Bible tells us how one truly gets to heaven, and it is not by being good or by being baptized or by anything else we do (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:1-10; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10-18, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9-13). Along this line, God’s Word shows us just how much God loves us (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16). And it is in learning this that we are drawn to love Him in return (1 John 4:19).
The Bible equips us to serve God (2 Timothy 3:17; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). It helps us know how to be saved from our sin and its ultimate consequence (2 Timothy 3:15). Meditating on God’s Word and obeying its teachings will bring success in life (Joshua 1:8; James 1:25). God’s Word helps us see sin in our lives and helps us get rid of it (Psalm 119:9, 11). It gives us guidance in life, making us wiser than our teachers (Psalm 32:8, 119:99; Proverbs 1:6). The Bible keeps us from wasting years of our lives on that which does not matter and will not last (Matthew 7:24-27).
Reading and studying the Bible helps us see beyond the attractive “bait” to the painful “hook” in sinful temptations, so that we can learn from others’ mistakes rather than making them ourselves. Experience is a great teacher, but when it comes to learning from sin, it is a terribly hard teacher. It is so much better to learn from others’ mistakes. There are so many Bible characters to learn from, some of whom can serve as both positive and negative role models at different times in their lives. For example, David, in his defeat of Goliath, teaches us that God is greater than anything He asks us to face (1 Samuel 17), while his giving in to the temptation to commit adultery with Bathsheba reveals just how long-lasting and terrible the consequences of a moment’s sinful pleasure can be (2 Samuel 11).
The Bible is a book that is not merely for reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Otherwise, it is like swallowing food without chewing and then spitting it back out again—no nutritional value is gained by it. The Bible is God’s Word. As such, it is as binding as the laws of nature. We can ignore it, but we do so to our own detriment, just as we would if we ignored the law of gravity. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives. Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort.
How Do We Read the Bible?
If someone has never read the Bible or is just getting started, the best place to begin is with the New Testament. The Old Testament is always interesting, sometimes confusing, and often sounds strange because we read it without knowing its historical setting, we don’t know much about the person who wrote it, or the reason why he wrote it and to whom he wrote it to, and so on. The New Testament is what Christians really need to read, in particular the Gospels. If you want to start reading the Bible on your own we suggest beginning with Matthew, Mark and then Luke, in that order. We do not suggest beginning with John. John’s Gospel was the last written and has a lot more theology than the other three and will require having more than just a basic knowledge or understanding of the Bible. The first three Gospels are called Synoptics, meaning that they tell the “story” of Jesus. John’s Gospel is not written in that same way.
Reading and understanding the Bible involves much more than just opening up the Bible and reading it. If you really want to get everything you can from reading the Bible, it will take possibly using a study guide, attending classes or workshops that help you through the readings, or possibly attending Bible Study groups that read and discuss the Bible as a community, maybe even doing all of the above.
Also – in the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition and the New American Bible (which are the versions authorized by the Roman Catholic Church), there are very good footnotes that provide explanations of important passages.
Whatever you decide to do, the fact that you feel the calling to open up the Bible and read it is a great first step. Reading the Bible is truly a labor of love and will be there to guide you through life.
The Importance of Reading Scripture and the Catechism Together
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2002 on the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church strongly advocated the use of Scripture in the Catechism as a means to explain the faith and emphasized how it was important to read Scripture within the living tradition of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council “affirmed the importance of Sacred Scripture in the life of faith.” The Deposit of Faith, which is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, is safe-guarded and transmitted by the Magisterium of the Church, and the Catechism is the basic summary of this great wealth of Catholic teaching.
Catholics who desire to understand the faith more completely will naturally want to study the Catechism and read the Bible on a regular basis.