How to read/pray study the Bible?

Should I write and highlight in my Bible?

Yes and No. It’s a useful study aid to write, doodle and highlight the text and to have a copy of the Bible that is like a ‘work-book’. But it’s also good to have a Bible that maintains its dignity and when you read it and hold it, it helps you appreciate that you hold the very word of God in your hands.

Is it better to read a book of the Bible in one go or separate it into short passages and read a bit every day?

Both. Remember that the Church teaches that we should consider what the author of the text wanted us to understand when reading. Sometimes to, fully grasp what the author intended us to understand, we have to read the whole text. Sometimes it’s easier to notice the themes and ‘join the dots’ when we read the whole text in one go. Sometimes though, that’s not possible and sometimes that’s not why you are reading the book. God, as we know, also speaks to us through individual words, phrases, a passage; and can speak to us in ways the author never intended. Sometimes we just need to read it how we can, as long as we read it.

What if I am really busy and just want to read Scripture that ‘feeds me’ rather than ploughing through the difficult parts of Genesis, for example?

Then go for it. The key is reading the Bible regularly. We must look deeper though at our motivations and be careful that we don’t take the easier road for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s right to take things easy and sometimes it ‘not so right’.


Translations?

What’s the most accurate bible translation?

This is actually a difficult technical question but rather than going through all the possible considerations regarding accuracy, we will simply say that most of the Scripture scholars we know hold the NRSV translation as their translation of choice.

Which translations would you recommend?

It depends on what you want to do with the text. Some translations are better for study – NRSV, NASB some are better for simply reading the stories – Good News, Message.

It might help to think a little about the different ways translations are done. Some, the more ‘readable’ one use a ‘thought for thought’ translation, which means the translator writes what they think the author is trying to say in a way that they think the reader will understand. This makes for very readable text but can be open to the translator’s theological bias and/or miss the nuance of the original text. The other end of the translating spectrum is ‘word for word’, which means that the translator tries to literally translate every word of the original text into English. This can produce a translation of greater faithfulness to the original but generally doesn’t produce writing that reads as well. Most translations are somewhere between these two positions but a bit of Google-ing should help you.

Why are all the different books in the Bible written in different styles?

The different parts of the Bible are written with different purposes and for different people at different times and by different authors. Some of the writing is intended to be more historical in nature and some of it is more allegorical. Some of it is poetic, some of it prose, some of it legal and some humorous.  Some is written as encouraging letters and some challenging, some is prophecy and some is reflections on the past. And just to make it more ‘fun’, lots of the books have a combination of all of the above.

Do the Catholic Books fit into the salvation plan story which runs through the Old Testament?

All of the books are the Catholic books and thus all fit into the Salvation plan. The books in‘Catholic Editions’ which are not in some other editions are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, parts of Esther and parts of Daniel.

For more thoughts on the Deuterocanonical books, have a read through http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/5-myths-about-7-books.html


Reading the Texts

If you don’t understand a piece of scripture, what do you think is the best thing to do?

Have a good ‘go to’ place to turn to. This could be a good study bible like http://www.amazon.co.uk/HarperCollins-Study-Bible-NRSV-Student-Harold-Attridge/dp/0060786833/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460158064&sr=8-1&keywords=nrsv+study or wise priest or friend who can offer some help or a good commentary or website. You need to do some work which may involve ‘Google-ing it’ but like all research you need to assess the source and validity of your information.

How do you start to read the Bible without seeing it as words/a story, i.e. disconnected from God?

Firstly, get into the habit of throwing up a prayer before reading the Bible. Second, try to spend time engaging with the text with your head – study, lips – simply encountering the words, and heart – praying through the writing and allowing it to encourage/challenge you.

What’s the best way to memorise a bible verse?

Try https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2013/03/ten-tips-for-memorizing-bible-verses/ .  It’s probably like most things – needs some time and effort and sadly nobody can do it for you.

I think in some places in the Bible it indicates only Christians can go to heaven. Is this a correct interpretation? And why is this if God loves everything?

It does not say in the Bible that only Christians can go to heaven, this understanding is the result of poor interpretation. It is clear though that Jesus is the ‘way’ to the Father and also that God is our creator and His nature is love and mercy. Read Lumen Gentium paragraphs 15, 16 and 17 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html


Making sense of the Old Testament

Lots of you had/have questions about the Old Testament, so we will try to address some of the themes and issues you raised.

Firstly, though, it is useful to remember some basic points.

Jesus is the complete revelation of God the Father and so we must read all of the Old Testament as an incomplete revelation of God the Father. That is not to devalue the Old Testament because to do so would be to question the wisdom of God. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from the Second Vatican Council states clearly that

“the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly,
faithfully and without error that truth which God
wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.”

That is to say that God chose to reveal his truth in the way he did for a reason and we have to learn to appreciate and understand it and his reasoning.

·       Sometimes the Old Testament is a record of who God is,

·       sometimes it is about who the people of God think God is,

·       sometimes it is about how the people of God respond to who they think God is,

·       and sometimes it is about how the people of God develop as a nation.

It is necessary to read the text with these different lenses on so that we can make sense of what we are reading.

It helps to remember that the big picture theme of the Old Testament is about the faithfulness of God, loving and forming a people and the infidelity of his people trying to come to terms with a God of justice, mercy and love.

The Old Testament is full of characters who are portrayed as heroes of the faith but who are also flawed and make enormous mistakes. We must learn from our Jewish forefathers that God chooses to work with us ‘flawed’ humans and is able to bring about his salvific plan through our mistakes as well as our successes.


Making sense – taking action

Let’s think about the exodus from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and ‘God destroying the Egyptians’ (Exodus 14).  So we have lots of things going on with this writing and we also have aspects of this story written at different times in the People of God’s story.

When we look at the story with the lens of God’s faithfulness, we can see how God cares for his people and saves them from a life of oppression and teaches them to trust him even when things seem impossible. Remember the image of God’s faithfulness to his people is only looking at how he cares for his people. We must resist the temptation to ask ‘How is he a loving God when he destroys the Egyptians?’ That is not the picture that is being painted for us.

When we look at the second lens, that of who the people of God think God is, we see some of these questions answered. The people of God have a black and white understanding of God at this point in their history. God is with us, therefore, he is against those who are against us. Remember that some of this story is edited when the People of God are once again in slavery, this time in Babylon. So they have a natural inclination to revel in an image of a God who takes sides. But also they are writing to remind themselves that God has saved them in the past and it is their infidelity that has caused their difficulties.

When we look at how the people of God respond to who they think God is we see their struggling acceptance that God is with them, we see them questioning Moses, and taking small steps and big steps, trusting this Godwho says he is theirs and that they are His. We see the growing awe and wonder as they engage with the divine creator.

Finally when we read the text thinking about the formation of a nation, we see a record of a crucial event in their formation, this is one of beginning moments of their story.

Who wrote the Old Testament?

This is a complicated question as it is a very old text which has come from an oral tradition. So we have a collection of stories which are based on different tellings and retellings over a long period of time. This is further complicated by the fact that different aspects or parts of the Old Testament are written and edited by different groups at different times. Some of the texts are written when David conquers Jerusalem, some of the texts are written when the kingdom splits in two, some of the texts are written when they are exiled into Babylon and some are written when they return from exile. Some of the stories are written and rewritten in in each of these moments and sometimes we have a redacted (edited) account of the story with different styles apparent in the writing and sometimes we have different accounts of the same event, sometimes told in different places in the text and sometimes different accounts written on top of each other. If that sounds complicated, it is, unfortunately. But it also is an absolute gift for us to unwrap and treasure. It is not easy and you need to do some work and probably have some help, but it is absolutely worth it.