Saturday, October 1, 2011

*Best of DTB #101* The history of the Bible and current Bible studies

One of the arguments most often used against Catholicism is that it is supposedly not a "Bible" church. The fact is that exactly the opposite is the case. The reason our protestant/ non-Catholic brothers and sisters don't see us splashing around in the Bible pool is not because we are not in the water, and they are. It is because they are still splashing around at the surface instead of going into the deep water with us, where true Biblical understanding is found.

In fact, diving into that deeper water is the entire mission behind Deeper Truth. We don't want you to not know your Bible. On the contrary,we want you to know it much better. It is our contention that the more you truly know and love the scriptures, the more likely it is that you will be Catholic.

This article is a companion guideline to this blogtalkradio show. We sure hope you find this informative and edifying.

So, getting started, we intend to focus on 10 principles of effective Bible study that we hope will enhance your growth in knowing the scriptures.

1) The Bible is not a book. This must be clearly understood. The Bible is a library or collection of books. Many people make the mistake of seeing the Bible as a single work, compiled by a single author. It is not. Though all of the Bible's 73 books (66 if you are a protestant) share the same Divine inspiration and doctrinal infallibility, they were written by human authors and display a wide range of literary forms, writing styles, linguistic differences and cultural idiosyncrasies.

As a Library of books, the books of the Bible were cataloged and placed in a specific order, for the specific purposes of the types of books.

Briefly, the entire Bible takes it's division in the human person of Jesus Christ. Those 46 (or 39 if you are protestant) books that were recorded before the coming of Jesus are known as the Old Testament. Those 27 books that record the events of, and immediately after, Jesus earthly life are known as the New Testament.

The Old Testament is further divided into the Pentateuch (the first 5 books) which center around the mosaic law. Following that are the historical books, then the wisdom/poetical books and, finally, the Prophets. The Prophets are further divided into major prophets and minor prophets.

The New Testament starts with the 4 Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, followed by the Acts of the Apostles, then 14 letters from the Apostle Paul, followed by a handful of letters from John, Peter, James and Jude. Finally, the Bible ends with the Book of Revelation.

2) The Bible is only as good as the translation you are reading. There are two principle types of Bible translations- Literal translations and Dynamic translations. Of themselves, there is not a good or bad choice. Each type reflects a specific purpose. It is a good idea to have at least one quality translation of each type.

Let me explain.

The English Bible you hold in your hand went through a myriad of language translations to get to you. Your Old Testament books, such as Genesis, were originally written in Hebrew. Then they were translated into Greek in a version called the Septuagint. This was the version must used by Jesus and the Disciples. The New Testament books were almost certainly first written in Aramaic. At the very least, we see that the accounts were first handed down in Aramaic before being penned into Greek (see Matthew 27:46, John 1:42).

In the late 4th century, these books were first compiled into a single volume or Bible in Latin. This first Bible was known as the Vulgate.

The first English Bible compiled was the Douai Rheems in 1609 and all other English versions (including the King James) owe a debt to the Douai.

So, if you are reading a passage from Matthew, for example, you are reading a passage that was originally Aramaic, translated to Koine Greek, later to Latin and ultimately, the English. These translations took place over centuries and involved the translation of linguistic and cultural influences as much as the events themselves.

The terminology and phrases of one time and place do not automatically translate to another. Therefore, there are two ways to tackle this, and that is what comes down to dynamic and literal translations.

Let's look at one example from our current lexicon and that of the British. It just so happens that in American English, the meanings of the words honor and worship are reversed with respect to our British counterparts. Where we would call a judge "Your honor", a British citizen would call Him "Your worship". Does this mean that British people consider their judges to gods? No. It means that they define the words differently.

One more example. If today, you went to a play and described it as "awful", the actors would be insulted. However, if you did so in Elizabethan English time, the actors would have been humbled at such a positive review.

Taking these two examples, you would tend to translate the events dynamically. That is, you would seek to overcome the language barrier and translate the intention of the speaker.

Therefore, the beginning Bible student will do better with a good dynamic translation because he/she may not yet understand the historical and linguistic influences at play and simply wants to know what reality the Biblical writer was trying to convey.

The downside is that the Dynamic translation- in essence- interprets the passage for you and this can be very dangerous if the translator has a particular bias. Here is an example from the New International version.

Luke 11
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
The passage itself, is never addressed towards the person of Mary, but merely to her maternity.

And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck.
28But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

This changes the meaning of the passage from a question of why Mary was blessed to whether She was. (She was, of course Luke 1:28, 42, 45, 48)

So a dynamic translation is only helpful if it is accurate.

Literal translations seek to do just what the name implies- translate the passage in as literal a form as possible. However, you can run into the same problem. The King James Version is a literal translation that takes quite a few liberties with it's translations.

For example, translating the Greek Kecharitomene (which is a perfect, past participle meaning "endured with perfected grace") as "highly favored" is patently absurd.

However, even with a good literal translation, you can have problems if you take the English rendering of a passage to literally.

Luke 14
25 Now great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, 26* "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

3) There is no scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20). The scriptures are clear that they are no open to individual interpretation. There is only 1 truth. In interpretation a passage, it is always a good idea to go back and examine how the early church interpreted that passage and why. All manner of aberrant doctrines have been invented due to individual interpretation. Among them- the "rapture", being "born again" (in the pentacostal sense) and salvation by faith alone.

4) Context is key. There is little that is more frustrating for a Catholic than an anti-Catholic flinging out of context Bible verses at them. Most of the time, the entire meaning of the passage is changed by the few verses left out that immediately preceded or followed the passage given. Take the time to read at least the entire chapter in which the verse is contained. For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 is often given to suggest that salvation is freely given and no good works are required from the believer. However, if you continue to v 10, you see that it is Grace that is the free gift and that it is given, through faith for the specific purpose of accomplishing the very, prepared works that we are required to do to obtain salvation. Another example is the context of Matthew 23:9 (which is addressing comparing God to men). "Call no man father" is not a ban on the use of the term "father" for earthly religious figures our Jesus would be violating that ban Himself in John 8:56.

5) Authority. The scriptures, themselves point to earthly ecclesiastical authority. There is no escaping it. You have only to read to see this. In the Book of Acts this is especially clear. The word "Church" appears more than 100 times in the New testament

6) Community. When you read the scriptures, try to see if the common "alone" thread of protestantism jibes with the Scriptures. Protestants contend that salvation is a matter of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the authority of scripture alone, for His Glory alone.

I challenge you to challenge yourself to see if this form of spiritual isolationism squares with scripture. What is the answer to the question Cain asks in Genesis 4:9.

It is my contention that, if you search honestly, you will find Martin Luther's five solas (alones) to be wholly alien to scripture.

7) Follow the plan in order. If you believe that the Bible is the blueprint for salvation then follow that premise logically. When I hear people recommend a path of Bible study, I often hear "start with the Gospel of John" or "start with the Psalms". For me, the best approach is to start at the beginning and that means Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. Don't skip ahead. Go in order, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.

Along your journey, you will be surprised how much your view changes. There will be times that you will be immersed in deep allegorical language and fables and parables. Other times you will find yourself shocked by violent imagery. Other times you will have to push yourself through paragraph after paragraph of laws and of historical accounts and lists of names. other times you will be amazed by beautiful wisdom and poetry and other times find yourself even frightened by God's anger.

Keep moving.

From Genesis to Malachi, the Old Testament lays the very foundation by which you can understand the New Testament. In your study take notes at things that jump out at you. Here is some food for thought. Count how many times you see the term "Covenant". Try to find what this means.

8) Take a break after you finish the Old Testament and study what the catholic church teaches about Old Testament typology.

You may find yourself rereading some sections or passages. Then begin reading the New Testament with this in mine. Leave the prophecy to the prophets and concentrate on what the Scriptures mean by "Covenant"

There are two questions to ask yourself. a) What is God's response to the problem of sin? B) What is supposed to be my response?

9) Truly examine what the New Testament says about who will be saved and how. Don't just skim over it. Read it. The Gospel of Matthew is a treasure trove of information on how we are saved. Ask yourself if this squares honestly with the protestant notion of salvation by "faith alone". James 2:24 speaks directly to this.

10) After you finish reading the Bible, get a hold of a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Go through it doctrine by doctrine and see how the catholic church's doctrines actually grow from Scripture.

Follow these principles and I think you are on a great journey!

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