“For if, according to the apostle Paul, Christ is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24) and who does not know Scripture does not know the power or the wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
St. Jerome – Introduction to Isaiah
If, as St. Jerome wrote, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” the study of Sacred Scripture should be central to the spiritual life of every Catholic. Sacred Scripture records the history of salvation in the words and deeds in both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
In the Second Vatican Council’s document on Divine Revelation we are told that “the sacred scripture(s) of both testaments are like a mirror in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God.” In the Hebrew Scriptures we read of how the People of Israel, God’s Chosen People, understood the meaning of their choseness and responded to the words and deeds that prepared the way for the fullness of God’s self-revelation, Jesus.
Jesus, through His words and deeds, clarifies the message of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the words of the document on Divine Revelation, “God, the inspirer and author of the books of both testaments, in his wisdom, has so brought it about that the New should be hidden in the Old and that the Old should be made manifest in the New.”
Sacred Scripture teaches without error those truths that God wished to convey “for the sake of our salvation.”(Par 11) The Bible does not teach history or geography, but the truths that we need to know to attain salvation. Frequently these truths are taught through parables or stories that illustrate the truth. We remember the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, not because the stories are true, but because of the truths the stories contain.
The Scriptures teach us that God is a saving God, consistent in his love, mercy and forgiveness, and that human beings consistently attempt to reshape God into their image. It is very easy to miss that great message by becoming distracted by questions like, “how many sets of animals were on the Ark?” or “was St. Paul walking or riding when he was struck down on the road to Damascus?”
For more than 2000 years the Church has proclaimed and protected the truths of Sacred Scripture. Knowledge and understanding of the message have increased a thousand-fold and the Church embraces modern methods that enhance our understanding of God’s message of salvation.
That is the reason that our study of both testaments must be based on the understanding the Church has gained from apostolic times to the present. A fundamentalist reading and understanding of scripture is not in keeping with Catholic tradition and can result in a distortion of God’s message.
Thanks to the efforts of the University of Dallas School of Ministry, more than 600 people have completed a four-year course of Biblical studies and are well qualified to lead Bible study groups. The Diocesan Catechetical Services has also offered formation programs in Scripture. I urge you to study under a leader trained in the Catholic tradition; non-directed study can easily result in shared ignorance and be dangerous to our faith.
I hope you will join a Bible study group under a trained leader and discover how study of the Scriptures can enrich your faith and bring you closer to Jesus.
Image Credit: CNS photo/Michael Alexander