I Love The Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Who Lives Within Me, Now and Forever. Amen

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Bible: A letter of love from our Heavenly Father

By Henry V. Artis & Ann Marie Gong

Themes of the Bible

The Holy Bible. For many, as Fr. Wither up points out in his book The Bible Companion, "the Bible is an old friend and a stranger... We know that it contains a record of God's inspired word to humanity. We take comfort in knowing that we can pick it up at any time and find something of value in its pages. We may possibly even know some of the Bible's stories by heart."

General familiarity with the Bible, however, is not enough. For we must wholeheartedly recognize and believe that the Holy Bible is a personal letter of love which the Catholic Church has preserved and handed down to us - the members of God's New Covenant family. The Church consequently strongly encourages all the faithful to read the Bible because it is in the Bible that "the Faith who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children and talks with them." (see paragraph 102-104 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

What is the Bible?

The Bible is the collection of seventy-three books that were inspired by God and placed in the care of the Catholic Church. The Bible is the written word of God, inspired but not dictated by Him, written by many authors in different times and places, telling us the Good News of our salvation.

The Bible consists of two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament, with Jesus Christ as the focal point of the Bible.

Facts of the Bible

The word "Bible" is derived from the Greek word "biblia" which means "the books." The Bible is also called "Sacred Scripture" - which means "holy writings" - "the Scriptures," or "the word of God" since it is God's revelation to us. The Catholic Church has solemnly recognized and affirms as "inspired" forty-six books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven books in the New Testament. By "inspiration," the Church means that the statements the authors made "for the sake of our salvation," about God, His plan of salvation, and His relationship with His creation are infallibly true.

Each book of the Bible is divided into chapters and verses and each book an abbreviation that allows for quick reference. The abbreviations are noted in the beginning of the Bible and Biblical citations are indicated as follows: the Book of the Bible, the chapter and the verse. A colon traditionally separates chapter and verse. For example, Jg 20:26 refers to the Book of Judges, chapter 20 verse 26; and Mt 4:17 refers to the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 4 verse 17.

The word "testament" is another word for "covenant" and refers to the two covenants God established with His people in each period of history.

The Old Testament

The “Old Testament,” the first part of the Bible, was written before the birth of Jesus, and records the history and the preparation of the Hebrew people for the coming of the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ. The original language of the Old Testament was Hebrew (with some books written in Greek or Aramaic).

A Catholic Bible contains forty-six books in the Old Testament. The books are broadly identified as twenty-one historical/legal books, eighteen books of the prophet, and seven books of wisdom literature.

The historical/ legal books record events and persons that were prominent in the emergence of the Jewish nation and its relationship with God and neighboring countries. These books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, , Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees) record the laws under which the Jewish nation would maintain its covenant relationship with God.

The books of the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), reiterate the terms of the covenant between God and the
Israelites. The prophets denounced Israel’s infidelities and invited Israel to turn away from her false ways return to the one true God. In their writings, the prophets added to the unfolding picture of the Messiah to come.

The wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach or Ecclesiasticus) are basically a group of moral lessons designed to teach men, women, and children to relate to others, including God. Some of the books are more spiritual and reflect upon the meaning of life and the existence of evil in the world.

The New Testament

The “New Testament,” the second part of the Bible, was written after the resurrection of Our Lord, and records the birth, teachings, passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven of the Messiah and Savior Jesus Christ. It also records the early life of the Church he established. The original language of the New Testament was Koine (common) Greek.

The New Testament contains twenty-seven books that are broken down into similar divisions as the Old Testament: five historical books, twenty-one letters (epistles), and one book of prophecy.

The first four historical books – the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. john – tell the good news of the coming of the Messiah. The fifth historical book, the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke, recounts the history of the first days of the Church.

The other books are the twenty-one letters (epistles) to various Churches (or persons) explaining gospel doctrine. Fourteen of the letters are attributed to St. Paul, and the others are attributed to St. James, St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Lastly, there is one book of prophecy – the Books of Revelation (or Apocalypse) – written by St. John the Apostle.

From the beginning, the Church has taught that Christ is the focal point and unity of the Old and New Testaments; and that, it is through Jesus Christ and His Church that the Holy Bible becomes Christian history and a Catholic book.

The Bible and the Church

Catholic Christians, however, are not solely a people of the book. For we believe that the Bible is the written word of God, and the Church is the verbal word of God, and that we need both to truly make God’s teachings whole. As noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“It is clear that sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching office of the Catholic Church the Magisterium), in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together, and each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”

How to read the Bible

To help you explore the riches of the Bible, we offer the following advice from The Bible Companion:

First, always start and end your Bible reading with PRAYER. A simple prayer like “Come Holy Spirit, be my guide as I try to understand the Bible” reminds us that we need to surrender to God in order to understand the Bible properly.

Second, use a Roman Catholic translation of the Holy Bible. We recommend three translations: The New American Bible, The New Jerusalem Bible, and the Ignatius Bible (the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition). A Roman Catholic Translation of the Bible contains 46 books in the Old Testament and the Latin words Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur near the front cover of the Bible.

Third, acknowledge that reading and studying the Bible takes effort. As Fr. Kenneth Baker writes in his book Inside the Bible, “a believer who wants to read the Bible should realize that it takes effort to come to a good understanding of the contents of the Greatest Book ever written. It takes effort because many different persons composed the Bible over a period of more than a thousand years. It was written in ancient languages and reflects a culture that flourished two thousand years ago – a culture completely foreign to Americans and Europeans. Many of its words and concepts seem strange to us, and the way of thinking is often different from Western logical categories.”

Fourth, realize that the rewards of reading the Bible are worth more than the effort. Many look forward to reading the Bible, but they are frustrated when they first begin. After all, the Bible is a book with more than 1,000 pages, usually in small type, without a single picture; so it’s understandable that a person may ask: What will I get out of reading the Bible?

Three rewards immediately come to mind; First, you will find God in the pages of the Bible, and by finding Him, you will deepen your spiritual life. Second, reading the Bible can help you determine your priorities. Third, reading the Bible can help you find more meaning in life.

Fifth, read an entire book, or sections, of the Bible rather than sentences. Pick a book of the Bible that interests you, such as a Gospel, and read it without stopping so you can grasp the author’s intentions. Read the introduction for the book you have chosen; noting the book’s purpose, how it came to be written, its main divisions and the interweaving of main themes. Pay attention to sections that are grouped together rather than individual sentences.

Sixth, read aloud. Silent reading is a modern practice. In the ancient world reading aloud was standard. Acts 8:30, for example, shows the Ethiopian eunuch reading aloud from the Book of Isaiah. Philip overhears him and offers to help interpret the passage. If you can, read aloud because it involves another sense (hearing) and it may help you understand the passage. Hearing the Scriptures being read may help you recall similar passages or themes. Additionally, reading aloud reminds us that the Bible originated in oral form. The Bible was meant to be heard.

Seventh, use your head and your heart when reading the Bible. Read and study the Bible with your head, and, above all, with your heart. Jot down passages that inspire you and memorize them.


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