Summary of today’s show: The study and contemplation of Scripture among Catholics has made steady progress in recent decades, but Prof. Stephen Fahrig tells Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor, recording on location at St. John’s Seminary, that Catholics can learn to appreciate the Bible even more. They discuss the five facts every Catholic should know about the Bible; what it means for it to be divinely inspired; how to pray using the Scriptures; and what resources Catholics can use in their study of the Bible.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Prof. Stephen Fahrig, professor of Sacred Scripture
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Catholics and Scripture
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Chris O’Connor to the show, recording on location at St. John Seminary in Brighton.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Chris welcome Steve Fahrig to the show. They discussed Steve’s advanced study in the Scriptures at Boston College and Scot asked him where his love for the Scriptures blossomed that encouraged him to study it at a high level. He said it began when he was in college when his own faith began to grow. He read the Bible from front to back over the course of three months, even though he doesn’t really recommend doing that to others. Instead he recommends people to start reading the Gospels, then the Acts of the Apostles. The Psalms are excellent for daily prayer. Then they can go back and sample the narrative parts of the Old Testament, including Genesis and the first half of Exodus, some of the historical books and the prophets, especially Isaiah.
Fr. Chris asked him what his favorite Gospel is. He said if he had to choose it would be Luke, because he writes with great sensitivity and because some stories appear there that aren’t in the others, like the infancy narratives, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. John stands alone and apart from the other Gospels. The Gospel presents a much more divine Jesus. In others, we get more of Jesus’ humanity, whereas John retrojects the Risen Christ back into Christ’s ministry. When Jesus performs a miracle and then spends time explaining the miracle. In the other Gospels, we get short pithy sayings, whereas Jesus is much more voluble. They also note that there’s no infancy narrative, but the Christmas Day Masses include John’s beginning of the Gospel.
Fr. Chris asked the five facts every Catholic should know about the Bible. Steve said he just wished every Catholic knew the Bible. They should know the overarching narrative. That said, Catholic should know that we as believing Catholics don’t read it from a fundamentalist perspective; as if every word is literally true. There’s a difference between truth and historicity. There are many forms of writing in the Bible, many types of literary genres, including parables and other stories, which are true, but not historical. Scot asked about the other genres. Steve said that’s point number two: there are many literary genres in the Bible. There is historical writing, letters, prophecy which includes poetic oracles and is not primarily about predicting the future but speaking the word of God about current issues. Apocalyptic genre, like Revelation and Daniel, are often misunderstood. It was a common genre at Jesus time. It was a way of speaking in symbol about present reality, especially persecution, encouraging people to remain faithful to God and have hope in him. He said there’s a theory that it was written in code so that if it fell into the hands of the persecutors, they wouldn’t be able to understand it. Another example is poetry, like the Psalms, which were meant to be sung in liturgy.
The third point is that there’s an intrinsic relationship between the Bible and liturgy. He said much of the Bible was written to be read aloud when the community came together to pray. Paul’s Letters were written to communities he founded and he asked that they be read out loud when they assemble for worship. This isn’t unlike when Cardinal Seán asks a video to be played in all parishes. The Gospels were shaped for liturgical proclamation. Scot noted that so many of the prayers besides the readings come directly from Scripture. Steve said there’s a story from Scott Hahn in which he said the first time he attended Mass he was amazed at how much of the Mass came from the Bible he knew. With the new translation of the Roman Missal that has become even clearer.
Point four is that the Bible is a collection of 73 different writings composed over a period of 1,000 years for people in very different circumstances. Thus point five, we have to keep in mind the big picture. Looking at the whole, we see the story of God’s plan to bring about the salvation of the human race. Creation is like a six-act play: creation, fall of Adam and Eve, God choosing Israel, the coming of the Savior and his death and resurrection, the life of the Church, and finally the return of Christ. Steve said our ultimate destiny according to the Scripture is that God will remake this universe he has created so that heaven and earth are united.
Fr. Chris asked about divine inspiration. Steve referred to Rembrandt’s Inspiration of St. Matthew and said it communicates both a great truth and a falsehood. The truth is that God chose particular authors and worked through them to put things into writing that are necessary for our salvation. At the same time, God made full use of the human authors and their own voice comes through clearly. St. Paul once refers to the stupid Galatians, for instance. Divine inspiration communicates divine truth.
Scot asked if the Old Testament and the New Testament are equally divinely inspired. Steve said the Church doesn’t make a distinction. All parts of Scripture are both inspired and canonical. The Church does state that certain elements in the Old Testament are temporary and incomplete. For example, the Mosaic Law’s dietary restrictions. Steve also noted that for much of their history, the Israelites did not believe in life after death, which is why you can just wrench Biblical verses out of context.
Scot asked what percentage of the Bible would we hear from going to Mass every day and is the Church saying those are the essential texts we need to know. Steve said he guesses that the person would be exposed to about 60% of the Scriptures. If you add the Liturgy of the Hours, that would grow to 80 to 85%. He encourages a lectionary spirituality, prayer life based on daily readings. He said it’s always to go back from the lectionary to the same text in the Bible to read those verses that might not have been included.
Fr. Chris asked how people can pray using the Scriptures. Steve said there are several approaches, but he does recommend the lectionary approach. The daily Mass readings are a good way to start. Another approach would be to start with one book. For instance during Advent, to read the infancy narratives in the Gospels and look at how each one offers a part of the Nativity story. One could also pray with the Psalms, which one of his professors call Hallmark cards to God: readymade prayers to which you can add some words. There’s a whole range of Psalms for all different needs. He said one could also pray a scriptural rosary. Before each decade you read the Scripture connected to the mystery being contemplated in that decade.
Scot asked when you receive Scripture by yourself, what resources would he recommend to help answer questions and guide the reading. Steve said some aspects of the Bible are easily accessible, but other books can very confusing. He said it’s good to have a study Bible. He recommends the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. He said the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible has a very good New Testament. For the Old Testament, the Navarre Bible is very good, combining good historical information along with reflections from the saints, church fathers, and popes.
Fr. Chris asked for a demonstration of the way of praying with the lectionary. He said you have to prepared to not just to get through everything. One way of doing this is lectio divina, divine reading. You take a passage and read through it a few times, identifying words or phrases that jump out to you and then going to prayer and asking God what it has to say for you. He used the Sunday reading from the Book of Jeremiah as an example. Another possibility is Ignatian contemplation where one imagines oneself inside the Biblical story. Imagine what you would be like as different people in each scene. But once you hit upon something in which God is speaking to you, there’s no need to go on as if you need to complete a set amount of reading.
Fr. Chris asked about St. Paul. Steve said Paul began as a Pharisee, who went from being a persecutor of the Church to being an advocate of Christ. He resists the idea that Paul was an evil person, because he was himself a devout Jew. It was only when the revelation of Jesus broke through that he was able to see the truth. Steve said in many ways St. Paul was the founder of the Christian church beyond the confines of Palestine. If someone wanted to start with St. Paul, he recommends 1st Corinthians, in which he deals with moral and ethical issues. His favorite is the shortest, the Letter to Philemon, where he’s urging Philemon to set his slave free and liberate. Romans is Paul’s theological masterpiece and that’s one of those where you’d need a guide to understand some of the more complex theological ideas.
As to his favorite Scripture passage if Isaiah 43:1-7 in terms of realizing that he’s a person created and loved by God. God says that there “you are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you.” Just as God said it to the people of Israel, he says it to us today.
Steve said his particular interest in Scripture is the relation between the Bible and liturgy. He said he believes that Hebrews contains veiled references to the Eucharist, which is a minority belief among scholars. When he wrote his thesis for the Licentiate in Sacred Theology, one of his readers disagreed with his interpretation of Hebrews so he decided that would be a good topic for his dissertation. Many people think Hebrews was written by St. Paul, but that’s almost universally rejected by Scripture scholars. There are several clues that Paul didn’t write, like the style of Greek and his reference to others being apostles. But they just don’t know who wrote it.