The Bible can be an intimidating book! I’m willing to bet that, at one point or another in your life, you have made a sweeping declaration to attempt to read it from cover to cover. We are supposed to know the Bible, after all. Why not just dive right in?
I think this graphic from The Divine Communion web series may speak to why that sweeping declaration you made in your teens perhaps didn’t pan out as you had hoped:
“The Scriptures do not surrender their meaning by the bare text; they surrender it to a mind that is living in the conditions of the covenant.” (Yves Congar)
For me, understanding this was the key to understanding the Bible.
Like any other book, it is best to approach the Bible knowing what you’re reading. If you read a science fiction novel as if it were a newspaper, you would be doing it wrong–plain and simple. When approaching Scripture, it is important to understand, first and foremost, what kind of book you are reading.
Questions to know the answer to before reading anything:
- Who wrote it?
- To what audience were they writing?
- Why were they writing?
The God of all Providence…has bestowed upon man a splendid gift and safeguard – making known to him, by supernatural means, the hidden mysteries of His Divinity, His wisdom and His mercy…This supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal Church, is contained both in unwritten Tradition, and in written Books, which are therefore called sacred and canonical because, “being written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author and as such have been delivered to the Church.”
According to the Catholic Church, The Bible is a book written by God, for the Church, and in order to reveal God to man.
These are your starting points for reading the Bible. If you are approaching the Bible as a book to convince skeptics of God’s existence, or as a science textbook, then you’re just not reading it the way it was intended to be read.
[This is also why people who try to use “one-liners” from the Bible usually end up looking foolish. We see this from non-believers (“Ooh the Bible is against gay marriage, huh? Well it’s also against wearing polyester so you’re going to hell!”), and believers, alike (“God is love, which means you can’t tell people what they are doing is wrong, ever”). That is just not the way the Bible works.]
Furthermore, the Bible contains within itself a handful of books, written by various human authors, in various genres, for various audiences, throughout history. So even within the Bible itself, it is helpful to know that the book of Psalms– for example– is a collection of poetic writings, as opposed to a book like Leviticus, which contains instructions for ritual worship.
With so many books, authors, and genres, spanning hundreds of years of human history— is it any surprise that trying to read the Bible as one, cohesive book can be difficult?
One major interpretive key for understanding the Bible, as Congar says, is the covenant.
Covenants are weaved throughout Sacred Scripture. From Adam, to Abraham, to David, and culminating in the everlasting covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper—covenants are the way God relates to His people, inviting us to unite with Him in a personal way, not merely as servants but as members of His family.
If all of this sounds intimidating, it really isn’t! I can assure you, understanding the Bible as one, cohesive book is most certainly within your reach. For a great overview of how the covenants make sense of Scripture, I encourage you to check out Dr. Scott Hahn’s classic, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture.
(I grew up with this book on my family’s bookshelf. I’m convinced that it should be on every Catholic’s bookshelf. If you have never read it, do yourself a favor a get your hands on a copy!)
And keep an eye out for The Divine Communion web series, currently in production. You can check out their promotional trailer here:
It is so important for us as Christians to be in the habit of regularly reading Scripture. It is the best way to grow in personal relationship with God. Be assured of my prayers for your study, and please pray that I will grow in my love for Scripture as well!