God / The Bible

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1. The Bible

The Bible is also referred to as Sacred Scripture or the Scriptures.

God and Scripture

The Scriptures are a gift from God. Through Scripture, God meets people with great love and speaks tenderly with them. The word of God in Scripture is not simply marks on paper; it is living and active when it is proclaimed in worship, or meditated on in quiet prayer.

Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture

Christians believe that God communicates to people through the Bible. The Catholic Church affirms and proclaims that, through inspired writers, God is the author of the Bible. The Bible reveals truth because it has been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The Word of God permeates the living fabric of Catholic life through the Church, the Sacraments and Scripture. It is when we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, working in our heart and mind, that the Word of God becomes active in our life.

In Sacred Scripture God speaks to us through words that were written at a particular time and place and had an original purpose.

To understand the message contained in Scripture there is a need to be aware of what the sacred authors' intentions were at the time they were writing. Factors to keep in mind include major historical events like wars or invasions and the language and culture of both the author and the original audience.

As we know written information is presented in a variety of styles. Poetry and songs are different to stories, or historical accounts. A passionate Hebrew prophet calling for justice or pleading to God in prayer is very different to a list of laws and regulations such as we find in the book of Leviticus or a collection of wise sayings, as recorded in the Book of Proverbs.

Interpreting Scripture

Sacred Scripture is inspired by God and so needs be to read and interpreted in the same spirit in which it was written.

There are three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it:

  1. It is God’s plan centred in Jesus Christ that unites the different books of the Bible as one sacred book.
  2. The Church carries in her tradition the living memory of God's Word. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the Church the authority to faithfully interpret the Scriptures.
  3. While it is the Holy Spirit who gives the Church the authority to faithfully interpret the Scriptures, the Church herself is also ever challenged to live up to the message of Jesus as revealed in the Bible.

The Bible is God’s gift to the Church. It is a collection of different types of literature, written at different times for different audiences for different purposes. It is the story of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels that binds the different books into one volume. God can speak directly to a person through the Bible. Most completely God speaks through the Bible in the Church.

Extract from : "Call and Response: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith" p36

2. The Bible and the Catholic Church

The Holy Spirit is the source of life for the Church. This one source has two aspects: Scripture and the living tradition of a trustworthy interpretation of Scripture. This living tradition has been handed down in an unbroken line from the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles reports that the community of fearful but faithful disciples, gathered together after the Ascension of the risen Lord, (Lk.24:50-53) were filled by the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. (Acts 2)

The beginning of the Church

Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name,and the Acts of the Apostles. For Luke, Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church. We know from careful study that the description of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was written in the book of Acts, around 50 years after it is reported to have occurred. For the first followers of Christ the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) shaped how they understood their experience of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

One Story, Four Gospels

Filled with the Holy Spirit and informed by the living memory of what Jesus did and said, the disciples wanted to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. As the disciples told of the words and actions of Jesus, they shaped the way they told the story to suit those who were listening. This is why we have four Gospels. Each of the four Gospels tells the same story in a different way to suit the people for whom it was written.

Why were the gospels written?

The first generation of Jewish Christians was made up of those who had known Jesus as he walked the roads of Palestine with him. These people had also experienced Jesus as Lord, risen from the dead. This generation expected Jesus to soon return in glory and free them from Roman occupation and persecution. As members of the first generation began to die, it became clear that it would be good to collect the stories from those who knew Jesus as he walked the roads of Palestine, and to record the stories in an orderly manner, in the form of a Gospel.

Why there are only four Gospels?

As the Church grew, the message of Jesus spread out from Palestine to places around the Mediterranean Sea. Differing accounts of the life and death of Jesus started to circulate. In time there developed a need to identify which texts were consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the tradition of preaching that had begun with Peter and the other apostles at Pentecost. Inspired by the Holy Spirit and in consultation with the whole Christian community, the Bishops, as successors to the Apostles, made a judgment that some texts were consistent with the mission and message of Jesus and other texts were not.

During this early age of the Church, a period that spanned about 300 years, it was also decided that the Jewish scriptures should be added to the writings of the New Testament. Around the middle of the fourth century, the Bible as we know it came into being.

Interpreting the Scriptures

Christ taught his disciples. The disciples handed on this teaching to the next generation of Christians through their actions and preaching. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the Gospels. God communicates his Word through the Scripture and Tradition.The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted by God to the whole Church through the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.

The Catholic Church accepts and venerates as inspired the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Extract from : "Call and Response: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith" p39

3. What is the relationship of Catholics with the Bible?

bible_faq_augustineThe Church existed before the Bible. The Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, was teaching and preaching the word of God for many years before a word of the New Testament was written and for the greater part of a century before it was completed.

The truths enunciated by her divine founder were deep in her heart and fresh in her memory; she was busily engaged in imparting these orally to mankind. Christ wrote nothing; neither did He command the apostles to write. He commissioned them to teach His doctrines to all mankind.

"Go ye into the whole world", He said, "and preach the gospel to every creature". The apostles fulfilled the command of Christ by their oral preaching. Peter, Matthew, John, James and Jude, supplemented their preaching by writing.

It is well to remember, however, that the Church was a going concern, a functioning institution, teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments, saving souls, before the New Testament saw the light of day.

The Catholic Church: the mother of the Bible

The Catholic Church is not the child of the Bible, as many non-Catholics imagine, but its mother. The canon or list of books which make up the Old and New Testaments was determined by Catholic Church. The declaration of the Catholic Church that the books of both the Old and the New Testaments are all inspired by God constitutes the sole authority for the universal belief of both Catholics and Protestants in their inspired character.

The Catholic Church is the mother of the New Testament. It was written in its entirety by Catholics. If she had not scrutinized carefully the writings of her children, rejecting some and approving others as worthy of inclusion in the canon of the New Testament, there would be no New Testament today. If she had not declared the books composing the New Testament to be the inspired word of God, we would not know it.

With the possible exception of St. John, none of the apostles ever saw all the writings which now make up the New Testament. If the Church had not preserved the Bible, shielding it from the attacks of barbarians, copying it in her monasteries throughout the long centuries before the art of printing was invented, the modern world would be without the Bible.

The Catholic Church derives neither her existence nor her teaching authority from the Bible. She had both before the New Testament was born; she secured her being, her teachings, her authority directly from Jesus Christ. That "the Bible alone privately interpreted is the sole rule of faith" is something not found in the Bible itself. It would exclude from Christianity the countless millions who have not been able to read.

4. What version of the Bible is used at Mass?

In practice the current Lectionary appears to draw from a combination of sources in including the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the Jerusalem Bible. The U.S.A uses a different translation from Australia, U.K and Ireland.  Parishes may be making adjustments in relations to inclusive language based on a greater awareness of the influence of gendered titles for God and Man and increased scholarship with regard to translations from the Greek and Hebrew of the original text.

At present the lectionary translation has not changed from what it has been for about 40 years.

The following is an extract from a letter from Archbishop Coleridge indicating that the new version will be based on the ESV (English Standard Version).  The origin of following the quote is http://hughosb.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/update-new-lectionary-esv-some-official-clarification/

…  In answer to your questions, the facts are these.  The ESV was chosen over the RSV because the ESV, in its 7% modification of the RSV, seeks to incorporate the fruit of more recent biblical scholarship, i.e. since the publication of the RSV.  In other words, the RSV is out-of-date.  We were looking for a more up-to-date version of the RSV; and when the NRSV proved impossible, we chose the ESV.  Unlike the copyright holders of the NRSV, the copyright holders of the ESV have shown themselves quite open to the kind of changes we would need or want to make for Catholic lectionary purposes; and the copyright arrangements for the project are now in place.  What will appear in the lectionary will be a modified form of the ESV.  This may in time look to the production of a Catholic edition of the ESV, though that is not decided.  I know too little of the permission given to the English ordinariate, but I doubt that it will have an effect on the lectionary we are producing.  That would depend on the Holy See.  It is very hard to say when the ESV lectionary will be ready for publication.  We have all but finished work on the first volume (Sundays and Solemnities), and it may be that the first volume will appear before the others.  But it depends on how quickly the bishops of the five Conferences get back to us within the process of consultation.

5. Where can I find the Mass and Office readings for the day?

The current Lectionary used in Australia appears to draw from a combination of sources in including the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the Jerusalem Bible.  The USA uses a different translation.  You can find the Readings, used in Australia on several websites and smartphone apps, including: http://www.universalis.com/

6. Why are there differences between the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Bibles?

The Old Testament

The First Christian Bible
At the time the Christian Bible was being formed, a Greek translation of Jewish Scripture, called the Septuagint, was in common use and Christians adopted it as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. However, around 100 C.E[1]., Jewish rabbis revised their Scripture and established an official canon of Judaism which excluded some portions of the Greek Septuagint. The material excluded was a group of fifteen late Jewish books, written during the period 170 B.C.E to 70 C.E, that were not found in Hebrew versions of the Jewish Scripture. Christians did not follow the revisions of Judaism and continued to use the text of the Septuagint as the Old Testament.

Protestant Bibles
In the 1500s Protestant leaders decided to organize the Old Testament material according to the official canon of Judaism rather than the Septuagint. They moved the Old Testament material which was not in the Jewish canon into a separate section of the Bible called the Apocrypha. So Protestant Bibles then included all the same material as the earlier Bible, but it was divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. Protestant Bibles included the Apocrypha until the mid 1800’s, and the King James Version was originally published with the Apocrypha. However, the books of the Apocrypha were considered less important, and the Apocrypha was eventually dropped from most Protestant editions.

Catholic and Orthodox Bibles
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches did not follow the Protestant revisions and they continue to base their Old Testament on the Septuagint. The result is that these versions of the Bible have more Old Testament books than most Protestant versions. Catholic Old Testaments include 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Baruch, Tobit, Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), additions to Esther, and the stories of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon which are included in Daniel. Orthodox Old Testaments include these plus 1st and 2nd Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151 and 3rd Maccabees.

The New Testament

The Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox New Testaments are identical.

Christian Bible Reference site http://www.twopaths.com/faq_bibles.htm 06-01-2010 Used with Permission

[1] The abbreviations B.C.E and C.E are the contemporary method of indicating the time before and after the birth of Christ. B.C.E refers to Before the Common Era and C.E refers to the Common Era. The change in language reflects an understanding of the continuation of God’s special relationship with the Chosen People the Jews.

Extract from : "Call and Response: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith" p42

6. Who is Jesus Christ, what do we know about Him from Scriptures?

Jesus Christ is the centre of the Catholic religion. Members of the Church are called Christians, not only because they accept what he taught, but also because they believe that through him, God has come to us in human form and we are brought into fuller union with God.

While we can know something about God through human reasoning, that knowledge is very limited. God, we believe, sent his Son into the world to make known his love for us in living practical contact. The life and teachings of Jesus, the Son of God provide a perfect revelation of God's loving purpose for each of us. In him we find answers to the very personal questions that concern each of us.

Does God love me personally and is he concerned for me in a big, strange and often cruel world? Can I have confidence that he will hear me if I call out to him? Would his words be words of hope, fulfillment, happiness and peace?

You may ask how we can come to know someone who is more than 2000 years removed from us in history. In the first place, the person of Jesus becomes clearer to us as we become more familiar with the writings of the New Testament, and, as we observe the lives of those who are animated by the Spirit of Jesus; lives that are the living embodiment of those writings.

It may help in understanding this thumbnail sketch of Jesus if you can obtain and refer to the New Testament as you read these words.

The word 'Gospel' comes from an old English word which means "good news". The good news of what Jesus Christ said and did was proclaimed by his first followers wherever they went. Gradually this was put into writing, and we have four brief accounts of this good news by Matthew Mark, Luke and John. These four writers, the four Evangelists, make it clear that they are giving an account of Jesus and the meaning of his life for each of us.

While they each emphasise a different aspect of Jesus' life and teaching, relevant to the particular community they were writing for, the most important thing in all gospels is Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection, for love of us. And next, the love He showed to us through his ministry; his kind words and deeds.

They are not so much a biography since there is very little about his life as a whole. They aim, rather, to give us an insight into his person, and the way that we can share in his Spirit by seeking to become more like him, especially in love and forgiveness.

These four Gospels are treated with great reverence by the Catholic Church and are read aloud to the congregation every Sunday.

What do we know about Jesus?

We know that Jesus' mother was Mary, and that he was conceived by direct action of God. Mary's husband was Joseph.  We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that the news of his birth was first made known to shepherds, who, in a sense represented the people of Israel.

It was soon also made known to some 'Wise Men' from the East, who, in a sense represent the Gentile world. We know that calamity and hardship followed immediately upon his birth, through human wickedness, represented by the jealousy of King Herod, who slaughtered children in the hope of destroying him, and forced the little family into flight as refugees into Egypt.

We know that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favour with God and people. He learned his lessons, grew up like any other boy, caused some distress to his parents but was obedient to them. He experienced hunger, thirst and tiredness, sorrow and joy.

At about thirty years of age he began his public life and picked twelve of his closest followers whom he singled out for special training.

Jesus remained a devout Jew all his life. He taught in the synagogues and in the Temple in Jerusalem, but also in houses and streets, on the hillsides and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

We know that his teaching was noble and beautiful and that he spoke with power and authority. His words are regarded by many as the most noble and beautiful in the whole of human language, and have deeply influenced the thoughts and emotions of millions ever since. He taught with a direct simplicity using many examples familiar to his listeners from the world of agriculture, fishing and nature. In this way he presented great religious truths in a way that could be understood and remembered by everyone.

What else can we learn about Jesus from Scripture?

You may benefit by checking the following references in your New Testament. Jesus spoke about God accepting our sorrow for sin, and forgiving us. (Luke 15, 4 - 7) He spoke about the necessity of doing good and beautiful deeds. (Luke 13, 6 - 9) He spoke about the meaning of humility and repentance. (Luke 18, 10 - 14) He outlined the style of God's love and mercy at great length. (Luke 15). He gave life, and forgave sins.

The Gospels do not show Jesus as a fanatic, but as a calm, noble and balanced person. Yet he was strong, fearless, full of energy and zeal, and because of his direct and truthful approach was often hated by the religious authorities. (Matthew 23, 27)

The four Gospels relate that Jesus was kind and loving. He had pity on ordinary people, particularly the sick, the hungry and the poor, and was eager to comfort and cure them.

Jesus was also a worker of wonderful deeds that we call miracles since they were above the ordinary course of nature. Yet the Gospels relate them as facts, witnessed by thousands of people. Sometimes they were carefully investigated by the religious authorities (John, Ch. 9). He frequently demonstrated power over nature (e.g. Luke 8, 22 -25). Of all his miracles however, the most significant were the raising of the dead, (Mark 5, 41) (Luke 7, 14) (John 11)

Only God is the life-giver. So, by giving life, and in particular, by rising from the dead himself, Jesus Christ clearly showed that he was God-made-man.

This appreciation of the divinity of Christ comes through strongly in each of the Gospels. Under oath before Pilate, at his judgment, he stated clearly that he was the Son of God. (Mark 14, 1 - 14)

We find the clearest and most beautiful testimonies to the divinity of Christ throughout the Gospel of St. John. John begins with the theme of Jesus as the eternal Word of the Father (John 1, 1-14), moves through the beautifully developed theme of Jesus as life-giver (e.g. John 6, 48 - 51) and frequently alludes to Jesus' various claims to be identified equally with God.

"Before Abraham was I Am" (John 8, 57 - 58) John tells us in his fourteenth chapter that on the night before Jesus died Philip said to him "Lord, show us the Father." And Jesus replied "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14, 9).