Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Responding to Ray (part 2 on reading the Bible)

"Ray," a NunBlog reader, is returning to the faith after a longish absence. He realizes he has a lot of catching up to do--and a lot of books to read. Specifically, the 73 books of the Bible. Where to begin?

Yesterday, I looked at some of the major translations of the Bible, and the difference between Catholic and Protestant versions. Now that Ray has his Bible, he wants to actually read it. Should he start "In the beginning..." with the book of Genesis?

From a 13th Century Bible,
King David (lower image) singing
a Psalm about Christ (above).
Walters Museum of Art
Image used under the Creative
Commons License.
It would sure seem to make sense to read the Book of Books the way you read most other books, starting from Page 1. But the Bible is not like most other books. It is a collection of 73 books, written at different times, in different genres (including myth, interpreted history, poetry, prophecy, legislation and letters). As with many books--especially with well-written detective stories--what you find toward the end is what ties everything else together, and reveals the true significance of what you learned early on. And so I pass on to Ray (and to other Nunblog readers) the advice I was given when I entered the convent: Instead of opening your Bible to Genesis, start with the New Testament--with the core of the New Testament, the four Gospels.

By beginning with the fulfillment (and not with the promises), you will have insights that will help you when you do get to some of the more ancient passages--the parts of the Bible that presume a late Stone Age/Early Bronze Age lifestyle.  Instead of getting lost in the details somewhere around the book of Leviticus, you will realize that some of those primitive codes were the moral equivalent of training wheels, habituating people to a life of increasing uprightness and spirituality until the time when they would be ready to go forward on just two wheels: Love of God and love of neighbor. You'll recognize certain key figures (such as Melchizedek, Moses, Joshua, King David) as pointing ahead to Jesus himself, and other important events and customs (Noah's Ark, Passover, manna) as placeholders that would be fulfilled in the sacraments.

If you're up for daily Bible reading, I suggest starting out the easy way: with a missal or missalette (or Mass app like iMissal or iBreviary), using the Mass readings as your Scripture for the day. In three years, you will have covered the most important parts of every book of the Bible, including just about the whole New Testament. The great advantages of this approach are that you get an overall familiarity with the Word of God; you see the way the different books of the Bible work together; and you are actually in a kind of spiritual communion with the entire Catholic Church (and the Protestant churches that follow the same "Common Lectionary"). You will also be introduced to the Book of Psalms not as a book to be read, but as a prayerbook--and used as a prayerbook, since a Psalm almost always follows the first reading as our way of praying over the Word of God in the words God gave us for prayer.

No matter which approach you take, you'll discover what the early Church figured out: The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the meaning of the Old Testament is revealed in the New! You'll grasp the "unity" of the Bible, all centered on Jesus.

For more on reading the Bible as a Catholic:

Father Felix Just's suggestions for reading the Bible (he puts the Mass readings approach first!)

Deeper insights into the Bible and its place in the Catholic faith from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've also heard that by doing the daily Mass readings you cover the entire Bible in 3 years. I agree with your suggestions on how to go about portioning reading, not that I'm any kind of authority, but by reading in this manner I came to a better understanding of our faith. Scripture and sacraments go hand in hand, after all. - Jean