“The Church has always venerated Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord.” (DV 21 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church
(CCC) 103). She gives to both equal weight as seen in the Liturgy of the Mass, divided into two equal parts: The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, for “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”( Matthew 4:4 ).
The Catechism makes very clear that one must approach Scripture making a distinction between the literal sense and the spiritual sense (CCC 115). It subdivides the spiritual sense into the following categories: allegorical (what is their significance in Christ), moral (how do the events lead us to act) and analogical (what is the eternal significance) (CCC 117). In order to interpret scripture in a complete manner, one must look at all of these aspects.
St. Jerome is famous for saying, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This makes perfect sense. If we believe that Christianity is not simply a philosophy or way of life, but a loving relationship, and that the key question in Scriptures is not “what” but “Who,” then we must learn as much as we can about our “Beloved” and one way is through Scriptures. We must do so, however, not so much to learn “about” Him, but to “know” Him. And so, we come to the question at the heart of this debate: How do we interpret scripture, so as to know Christ? Many suggestions have been made over the centuries, let me suggest three:
- Scripture must be read and studied: “The Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” (DV 24). Careful reading of Scriptures demands study and Dei Verbum paragraph 25 makes the following suggestions:
- The use of instructions suitable for the purpose (of study) and other aids.
- Verbal Instruction provided by priests and Bishops, who have been instructed to teach.
- The use of Bibles with suitable footnotes.
- Scripture must be read as a “whole” (CCC 112): “Since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out” (DV 12). This means that no one passage of Scripture can be taken out of context. We must read a verse of Mark, for example, with the whole of the message of Mark in mind. In fact, we must read that same verse with the whole Bible in mind. We are so accustomed in Catholic tradition to receive Scriptures in such a fragmented way (mostly with the Sunday readings), that we forget that these verses or stories are not mere sound-bites, but part of a greater message. My own experience tells me that the more I read the Old Testament, the more I understand the New Testament and the more alive it comes.
- Scripture must be read prayerfully: “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4)” (DV 2). If Sacred Scripture is the word of God, who in His goodness chooses to reveal Himself to us and to show us His will – in essence, it is the story of God's love for us, then we must approach them prayerfully, for every encounter with Scripture is an encounter with God. Using Scripture in prayer, praying the Scriptures or merely reading them prayerfully is of utmost importance.
"For the word of God is living and active" writes the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12 ). Sacred Scripture is not just a story of what happened long ago. It is not a compilation of facts and events the way we understand history in its strictest sense. The Bible is a collection of books that point to who God is and where we fit in the world. It is the story of God’s love for us, of God’s promise, the story of our salvation. It is a collection of every possible form of human writing: poetry, allegory, metaphor, history, lists, letters, love stories, laws, parables, stories, rituals, riddles, jokes, hymn-prayers, notes and drama, to describe our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us. As books of the Bible, the four Gospels do not just show us what happened 2000 years ago, but rather, who
happened and why
, and how
He loves us.
St .Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Romans 1:16 ). The Gospels are to be read in order to find out what God has to say about our life today
and how God acts in our life today
. Can they be read literally? Did Jesus really do all those miracles? Were those the exact words that were spoken in those exact places? No one really knows. Does that take away from the Truth of the message that “God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but may have eternal life?”(John 3:16 ) In that sense all four Gospels agree (all New Testament books agree) with the words of Peter that the Good News is:
... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day... He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead... All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:38-43 ).
St. Paul summarises this core message of the Gospel more succinctly: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ); a message of belief that has been enshrined in our Creed. That is the basic truth of the Gospels and in that truth is a place where we can meet Christ.