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Running Your Own Bible Study: Some Considerations

In order to successfully run a Bible study, you do not need to be an expert on the Bible, but you do need to know what you are doing. In other words, you should have a plan to follow and should determine in advance what written and audio/video programs you will use. As long as you use an expert commentary and some visual aids to back up your learning, you can be an effective Bible study facilitator without being a Bible scholar. This is not to say that you should not do extensive preparation in terms of reading and studying to determine the best available commentary and lining up resources to support your study. This is precisely what any teacher would do before presenting a class. Below is a list of suggested steps:

1)Determine what Bible or Bibles you will use in your study. All translations are not equal! The old King James Version, for example, is known to have over 1600 errors, mostly in translation, and does not include the deutero-canonical books, or what Protestants refer to as the "Apocrypha," seven books which are in the Catholic Bible. Bible study participants may discover the deficiencies in their translation as you go through specific verses, the translation of which makes all the difference.  An excellent brief discussion of how to select a translation can be found by Clicking Here.

2)Determine what Commentary you will use to accompany your study.  The Jerusalem Bible Commentary is too technical and general in nature for a home or church Bible study for most people.  Matthew Henry's Commentary lacks theological depth.  Our choice would be the Navarre Bible Commentary series, which covers all the books of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament (it has not yet been completed).  It is unique among commentaries because instead of merely including the latest scholarly opinions, it places heavy reliance upon the time honored commentaries of the Early Church Fathers and of the Saints.  For this reason it has far more practical and spiritual value than the Jerome commentary or most others I have seen. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a necessary supplement to a Bible study since the Church guided by the Holy Spirit both produced the Scriptures, formulated the canon or list of books included in the New Testament and guards their orthodox interpretation.  Use the indexes in the back of the Catechism to find where specific Scriptures are explained or cited.

3)Prepare a reading list for Bible study participants, including specific verses or chapters to be read for each session.  You should assign readings from the Bible not just in the book or area you are studying, but in corollary books or chapters in the Bible which complement or enhance understanding.  Keep in mind that Scripture has layers of spiritual meaning and that you can only absorb so much in an hour or two.  Assign readings from the commentary and provide for discussion time to insure understanding.  Let every person participate in the study as an active learner.  It is often better to facilitate discussion rather than dominate it.  Here is an excellent list of reading resources you can use to strengthen your own library:  Click Here.  I would particularly recommend Where We Got the Bible by Rev Henry Graham and the Catena Aurea (Golden Chain), which is a Patristic commentary on the four Gospels by the early Church Fathers, collected by St. Thomas Aquinas.  Almost any of the books mentioned can be ordered from us at a discount. Phone toll free 877-461-8608.

4)Introduce your students to typology.  St. Augustine said that the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. This means that we can find Christ in the Old Testament and that without an understanding of the Old Testament, there is no true understanding of the New Testament! Think of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.  He revealed the typology of the Old Testament to the disciples. Typology is the study of types, which finds types of Christ in the Old Testament and types of the New Covenant prefigured in the Old. Thus, it is said that Jesus is the Second Adam, or Moses and Elijah, the Prophets, prefigure Christ. The Old Testament sacraments, such as circumcision and the manna in the desert prefigure the New Testament sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. The crossing of the Red Sea, the water from the side of Christ and the baptism of John all prefigure the sacrament of Baptism. This is typology, when the places, persons or events of the Old Testament are types of what is to come in Godís plan for us. The most obvious type is perhaps that of Abrahamís sacrifice of his "only son", which prefigures the sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God, namely Jesusí death on the Cross. The employment of a typological reading of Scripture implies that the "real" meaning of earlier events or persons is to be found in the consummation of these in later events and persons to which they point. This puts Jesus Christ at the center of all our Scripture reading and this same pattern is reflected in the organization of the lectionary (the readings used at Mass) and in the pattern of our liturgy. Our faith is Christocentric! Let me also point out that the Fathers of the Church used typology in their exegesis of Holy Scripture.  Some examples of typology by New Testament writers include Mt 2:15 and Heb 1:5.

5)Introduce your students to the three spiritual senses of Scripture.  The Early Church Fathers recognized the need to rely upon the Church to exegete difficult scriptures because of Christ's assurance that the Holy Spirit would always be with her.  They also recognized that Scripture must be viewed beyond the literal- historical meaning in a spiritual sense.   As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, "Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs." The Fathers recognized three spiritual senses of Scripture, namely, the allegorical, moral and the anagogical. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Divine Scripture contains many senses under one letter and thus is suited to different intellectual capabilities of men, so that each one may marvel that he is able to find in Sacred Scripture the truth which he has mentally conceived."  The allegorical sense allows us to see the meaning of Old Testament events in Christ. Thus, for example, the crossing of the Red Sea is seen as a sign or type of Christ's victory or in another sense, of Christian baptism [1 Cor 10:2].  The moral sense reflects St. Paul's words that all Scripture was written 'for our instruction' [1 Cor 10: 11; Heb 3:1-4:11].  The anagogical sense (meaning 'leading' or future, pointing toward our final end, the heavenly Jerusalem) allows us to see realities in terms of their eternal significance.  Thus, the Church can be seen as a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem [see Rev 21:1-22:5].  For more information on this see Mark Shea's Making Sense Out of Scripture (to order phone toll free 877-461-8608). 

6)Teach the inerrancy of Scripture.  Since the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture the message about our salvation is without error.  In practice this means that apparent contradictions are not due to errors in God's word, but rather due to translation mistakes, deficiencies in our knowledge or faulty interpretations.  This does not, however, mean that Scripture could not contain errors of translation.  This is why it is critical to select a good translation.  Good commentaries help clear up gray areas or poor translations.  Pope Leo XIII writing in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus explains inerrancy thusly: 

But is is absolutely wrong and forbidden to either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred . . . For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; and so far it is from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. (see also Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 107)

This does not mean that everything in the Bible is to be taken literally in every instance as some fundamentalists contend.  There are parables, for example, and one must consider the literary genre to understand what the author is teaching.  In fact, this is a subject that deserves some study and I would recommend reading, the "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," which was published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993 by clicking here.

As is pointed out in the new booklet, Beginning Apologetics 7  authored by Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, the revised New American Bible, contains errors in its footnotes.  For example, the note for Matthew 21:7 claims Matthew erred in his interpretation of a prophecy!  The note for Matthew 16: 21-23 maintains that Jesus did not truly predict his own passion on three occasions before it occurred, as if the Savior of the world was not capable of true prophecy.  This and the blatant disregard for or discounting of the writings of the Early Church Fathers is a real flaw in much that labels itself as modern scholarship.  Hence the need to study the Scriptures in light of the Catechism and the teaching of the Church.  If you have questions feel free to contact us by e-mail at lcchristiansoftware@hotmail.com.

 

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