Friday, January 28, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 5: The Canon of Scripture

Ummm.....not this kind of cannon!

The Canon of Scripture

I.  The Authority of the Church

       Well, dear readers,  you may have had a chance to read this Bible verse over the last few days:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that,  if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of
            God, which is the church of the living God, the  
             pillar and bulwark of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 

From Merriam-Webster:
 bulwark: 1a: a solid wall-like structure raised for defense
                     2: a strong support or protection

This verse very clearly describes for us the role of the defend and uphold the truth.  And how does the Church know the truth?  Jesus made this profound promise to His disciples on the night He was betrayed:

And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.  John 14:16-17
 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26  

In promising the Holy Spirit would be with the Church and guide it, Jesus was sending Truth Itself to indwell His Holy Church.  This Spirit of Truth will never abandon the Church, and it remains with the Church throughout all the ages. It is this indwelling Spirit of God that gave the Church the knowledge and the authority to determine which books were inspired by God and therefore worthy of being included in the Canon of Scripture.

It is important to note that I said the Church determined "which books were inspired"...not that the Church took some books and by choosing them for the Bible somehow caused them to become inspired.  God had already inspired the authors of these books at the time they were written, so the role of the Church was not to create inspired writings, but simply to identify them.
     It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books.  This complete list is called the canon of Scripture.  It includes 46 books for the Old Testament and 27 for the New.--CCC120

II.  Why a canon?
       In the very early days of the Church, all of the converts were Jewish.  Even after they joined "The Way", as the Christian sect was called, they continued to be considered Jews and to attend the synagogue services.  During these services,  a rabbi (or even a visiting dignitary) would read the Old Testament Scripture designated for that day and then comment on it.  This is exactly what was happening when Jesus read to the people in the synagogue at Capernaum in Luke 4:16-21 and then applied it (shockingly!) to Himself:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day.  And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah.  He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
                                "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,       
                                  because he has anointed
                                  me to preach good news to the poor. 
                                  He has sent me to proclaim release to 
                                  the captives and
                                  recovering of sight to the blind, to set at
                                  liberty those who
                                  are oppressed, to proclaim the
                                  acceptable year of the Lord."
                     And he closed the book, and gave it back to the
                     attendant, and sat down;  and
                     the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on
                     him.  And he began to say to them, "Today this 
                     scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
         The first Christians attended such services and listened to the readings from Scripture on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday).  Then, very early Sunday morning (even as early as midnight), they would meet in homes to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and participate in the Holy Sacrifice.  So the two parts of the Mass we have today, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, naturally arose out of these two celebrations. 
     When the Christians were forced out of the Jewish synagogues, they continued the custom of reading the Scriptures before the celebration of the Eucharist.  As time passed, the gospels and letters of the Apostles began to be read in these assemblies as well as the Old Testament writings, and so they began to be considered as "Scripture", too.  Unfortunately, not everything written was worthy of this distinction.  Heresies arose and false gospels began to be composed that distorted the true Faith in one way or another.  So, it became necessary for the Church to state authoritatively which gospels and letters could be read during the Liturgy of the Word and which could not. 
 III.  The Councils that set the Canon

     The Church considered this question at several councils.  The canon of Scripture Catholics use today, listed at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D.,  was officially decreed by the Church at the Council of Carthage and confirmed by Rome in 397 A.D. This ancient list is the same list of books that are in the Catholic Bible today.  It was accepted and in use throughout both the Eastern and Western Church by the 5th century. 
This list of inspired books would be re-stated at the 2nd Council of Nicea in 787 A.D. and at the Council of Florence in 1441.  It was solemnly defined at the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D. in response to Martin Luther's efforts to eliminate several of the inspired books. 

IVThe Books in the Bible Today

     By the authority given to her by her Lord and by the indwelling Spirit of Truth which He sent to guide the Church,  we can be SURE that the books which the Church has decreed to be inspired are in fact and truth inspired and without error.  The authority of the Bible rests solidly on the authority of the Church, which Jesus promised to preserve from error and to lead into all truth.  If the Church is fallible, then we have only a "fallible collection of infallible books", as one Protestant scholar declared.  If our collection of books is fallible, then how can we know with certainty anything Jesus taught or did?  How can we trust the words of Scripture if there is no authority that can assure us that these words and no others are the truth?  Why shouldn't we just take the parts that we like and ignore the rest?  Indeed, without the authority and infallible teaching office of the Church, we find exactly such an approach being taken to Divine Scripture in many places today.  The Church and the Bible stand or fall together.

The original "books" of the Bible were written on paper made from papyrus or on parchment skins and stored as scrolls.  Each "book" was an individual scroll.  Sometimes a long work, such as Isaiah, would take up two scrolls.  When Jesus sat down to read in the synagogue in Luke 4:16-20, the book He was handed was not a book as we think of it, but a scroll.

     I put together a one-page chart listing the names and abbreviations of the Old Testament books according to the Revised Standard Version, as well as the Douay-Rheims Version names, which you can download  here.
The New Testament canon with abbreviations is here for you.
These lists are also to be found on one of the first pages of your Bible, along with their page numbers.  This is very handy, I have found!  I always have to use the page numbers to find the teeny, tiny books like Obadiah and Haggai!

I recommend for further reading a brief excerpt from "Where We Got the Bible" by Henry Graham.  The entire book is available free online or you can purchase it here:  Where We Got the Bible.

Your Assignment

1.  Why do you think the Old Testament was written?
2.  Is the Old Testament still important for us today?  Why?
3.  Read CCC 121 and 122.
4.  Read Matthew 5:17-20

Main Idea:  The Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, authoritatively established the canon of Sacred Scripture as the true and inspired Word of God for the benefit of the faithful of all times. 

Next lesson:  The Old Testament

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 4: Inspiration and Inerrancy

St. Paul at His Writing Desk, Rembrandt van Rijn
The Inerrancy and Inspiration of Scripture

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

I.  The Inspiration of Scripture

"Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.
     You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since He who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for He is not subject to time. (St. Augustine)"--CCC 102 
Scripture is God speaking.  "God is the author of Sacred Scripture" (CCC 105).  God inspired the human authors to  write down "without error....that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred  Scriptures." (CCC 107)  In this process, God fully respected the freedom, style, and personality of each human writer.  The words God inspired by the Spirit were the words that the human authors intended, and at the same time they were the exact words that God wanted written down.  

     When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Jewish people were already the "People of the Book".   Since the time of Moses, if not even earlier, the Jews had written down the words and deeds of God Almighty that had been part of their history.  Everything that was recorded before the birth of Christ is known to Christians today as "The Old Testament".   Then, after the ascension of Christ, the evangelists and apostles began writing down Jesus's words and deeds (we will not discuss here in any depth the dating of the New Testament, it's too long and involved). The collection of their writings are called "The New Testament".  Together, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT) make up our Christian Bible.

  For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him  they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them,  they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.   Dei Verbum

II. The Inerrancy of Scripture
The passage from the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, quoted above, continues on:

     Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.  Dei Verbum

     Inerrancy is the term used to express the fact that the Bible  teaches "without error" the truths God intended to reveal to us.  When we think about the inerrancy of Scripture, we must remember that this inerrancy applies only to the original writings, so some error could enter in due to improper interpretation or translation.  This is one reason why the Bible needs to be translated and interpreted in the context of the Church.  The Holy Spirit preserves the accuracy of the Scriptures through the teaching of the Magisterium and the illumination of Sacred Tradition.  Here we see our three-legged stool again!

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.  Dei Verbum

We need to note here that when we talk about the inerrancy of the Scriptures, we mean they are inerrant when properly understood.  Later we will discuss the various genres of books that are in the Bible and the four different ways of looking at Scripture, but here I need to mention that the "fundamentalist" interpretation of Scripture is not always correct.  Jesus, for example, did not mean that we were literally to cut off our hands in  Matthew 5:30, but was employing the common technique of hyperbole (or exaggeration) to stress His point about the utter abhorrence we should have for sin in our lives.
III. How the Bible came to us 
The Bible didn't fall fully written from Heaven!  How were these books chosen?  Who determined what was in fact "inspired" and "inerrant" and what wasn't?  Many books were written, both in Old Testament times and in New Testament times that could have been included in the Bible, but were not.  How do we know the books in our Bible today are the ones God intended to have included in the Bible?  How do we know some weren't left out, or whether extras were put in that didn't belong?

In ancient times, the Phoenician city of Byblos made and exported across the Mediterranean the material used as paper--papyrus.  After its place of manufacture, papyrus was called "bublos", which later was to evolve into the word "biblios", meaning"book".   This word entered Greek and then Latin as "biblion", or "biblia" for "books".  Our word "Bible" really means "books".  And it is a collection of individual books!  Here's a look at papyrus growing along the Nile, for all you Nature Study folks:

II.  What is a canon?
     When we talk about the "canon" of Scripture, we mean the list of books that are included in the Bible.  These are the books the Church believes to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

  "Canon" comes from the Greek "kanon", meaning a measuring rod or standard.  One of its meanings is "the works of a writer that have been accepted as authentic" (Wiktionary).  In this sense, the accepted books of the Bible are the works of God, who is their ultimate Author. 

In our next few lessons, we will discuss how the canon of the Bible, or list of authorized books, was determined by the Church.

Your Assignment

1.  Read 1 Timothy 3:14-15.
2.  Read CCC 120.
3.  Spend some time meditating on the gift of Scripture.  How can you appreciate this gift more deeply in your life? 
Thank God for this great gift, which is a true source of inspiration, strength, consolation, and wisdom.

Main Idea:  The Holy Scriptures are inspired by God and teach " solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."

My dear readers, is this study what you were expecting?  Are you looking for something else?  I really want to accomodate your needs, so please let me know how you are faring.  Is twice a week too often, or is only one topic too slow?  Or is everything about what you expected and needed?  I know this is all basics and that you would probably find it more exciting to be actually studying the Bible itself, but I believe these basic lessons are important in understanding what the Bible is, how to read it, and why it is reliable.  Let me know your thoughts on the matter!

Next lesson: The Canon of Scripture

Editing comment:  I just want you to know, in the interests of full disclosure, that I will edit these posts as I find errors, or points of confusion, or just weird layout issues.  I won't use strike-outs or necessarily indicate these edits and corrections.  I know there is some kind of blog "law" that dictates that you should show all of your edits, but frankly, I think it would be distracting for people who happened along on this study to have to endure all sorts of strike-outs and ETA's.   .... so I'm breaking the blogging law and the blogging police may have to come and get me......

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 3: The Transmission of Revelation

"The almighty and most holy Word of the Father pervades the whole of reality, everywhere unfolding his power and shining on all things visible and invisible. He sustains it all and binds it all together in himself. He leaves nothing devoid of his power but gives life and keeps it in being throughout all of creation and in each individual creature."-St. Athansius, Discourse Against the Pagans

The Transmission of Revelation

I.  Handing on the Good News
We learned in the last lesson that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to communicate to mankind those truths which we need to know for our salvation.  This is called "Revelation".  Because of this revelation, we also know that:

     God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth": that is, of Christ Jesus. Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:
     God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed
for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations--CCC 74

So, as was mentioned in the last lesson, Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel, or the "good news" about Who Jesus was and what He had taught and done while on earth with them.  There are two main ways in which the apostles communicated this Gospel and passed it on to those who came after them (and, eventually, on to us).  We can imagine these as two streams flowing forth from the fountainhead of all Truth, Jesus Christ.  These "streams" are Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.  For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal." Dei Verbum 9

II.  Sacred (or Apostolic) Tradition 

     The first way in which the apostles handed on the Truths which had been entrusted to them was orally.  Some of the ways the Gospel was handed on orally included:
     -oral preaching
     -personal example
     -establishment of institutions  

Sacred Tradition transmits such teachings of Jesus as how the Mass is to be said and what it means, what are the sacraments and how are they performed, how should the Church interpret the Scriptures and the words and actions of Christ, how to worship God, the apostolic succession of bishops, and the seeds of all later doctrine.  Sacred Tradition is not a "list" of facts and sayings to know, rather it is a worldview, a mindset, a way of life; it is everything the Church is and believes.  Such written documents as the Creeds or the ancient liturgies would be part of this Tradition, but all of Sacred Tradition is not in a written form.  

Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."  The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.--CCC 78
References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church are usually given in this form:  CCC 278.  The CCC stands, of course, for Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The number which follows (in our example, 278) is the number of the paragraph from which this quote was taken, not the page number.  So, for instance, in my copy of the Catechism, paragraph 278 is on page 73.  Every paragraph in the Catechism is numbered in bold on the left-hand side.

Three important points to remember about Sacred Tradition:
     1.  The "deposit of Faith", which is basically everything Jesus did and taught, was CLOSED with the death of the last apostle (John).  After this time, nothing new could be added to Divine Revelation.  We will discuss private revelation another time.  
     2.  Sacred Tradition is not the same as local church traditions involving such things as customs of discipline (e.g., Friday fasting), customs pertaining to the liturgy (e.g., colors of vestments), devotional practices (e.g., the Rosary), or even theological opinions (e.g., which way the priest is to face while saying Mass).  It does include all the doctrines Jesus Himself taught (e.g., only men can be priests, there are seven sacraments, the Bread and Wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ, etc.).
     3.  All the infallible proclamations of the Church are based on Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture together and flow from them.  Development of doctrine is possible, but change of doctrine is not.  We are really not discussing this here, but I wanted to mention it.

III. Sacred Scripture

      Ah, ha!  Now we're getting somewhere!  We have arrived at the written transmission of Revelation.

In addition to oral transmission, "those apostles and other men associated with the apostles...under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing."--CCC 76  And this is the collection of writings we call "The Bible".   We have learned why some parts of Revelation were committed to writing (for our salvation, remember?), and the rest of this series will discuss Sacred Scripture in great detail.  But for now, we need to move on to one more important gift Jesus gave us.

IV.  The Magisterium of the Church  

     Jesus entrusted the "deposit of Faith" to His apostles and they handed it on through the means of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.  These two ways of transmitting knowledge can be thought of as two streams coming from the same source, and both of these streams are necessary for us to have a complete understanding of everything Jesus did and taught.  However, without a way to properly interpret Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, we would have a very difficult time applying all of this knowledge to our lives in the 21st century.  Think for a minute of all the issues we are facing today that are never mentioned directly in the Bible---contraception, IVF, cloning, genetic engineering, and on and on.  How are we to know God's will on such matters? How can we be sure we are properly interpreting what Scripture and Tradition teach on topics pertaining to these questions?
     The teaching office of the Church, called the Magisterium (from the Latin "magistra", or teacher), was established by Jesus Christ.  Just before He ascended into Heaven, He gathered His disciples around Him,

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matthew 28:18-19

  So, we see that Jesus commanded His apostles to teach everyone to "observe all that I have commanded you..."  Our Lord never gives a command without giving us the means to carry out that command.  In this case,  He would send the Holy Spirit on the apostles to make it possible for them to know what to teach and how to teach it.  This power of teaching was then passed on from one generation of bishops to the next.  "This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, bishop of Rome."--CCC 85

      So, we now understand the "three-legged stool" of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium.  Each of these three elements is essential in order for us to have a balanced and correct understanding of the Faith.  Each of these elements transmits crucial knowledge which is illuminated by the Holy Spirit so that we can know with certainty the Truth of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”.[19] Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.[20] Verbum Domini

Your Assignment

1. How can we know that the books that are in the Bible are really the books inspired by the Holy Spirit?  (just for you to think about...)
2. How do you think God "inspired" the writers of the Bible?  Did He dictate to them?  Did He put thoughts in their heads?  Did He force them all to write in the same style?
3. Read 2 Timothy 3:16.  

Main Idea:  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, when understood according to the Magisterium of the Church, together contain the full Revelation of God that Jesus Christ came to communicate for the salvation of mankind.

Next lesson: The Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture

For an in-depth article on the Catholic view of Scripture and Tradition vs. the Protestant idea of sole Scriptura (Scripture only), go to  Catholic Answers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 2: Revelation and the Word of God

Christ the Word

The Revelation of God

I.  What is Revelation?

   "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son."  (Hebrews 1:1-2) Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:

In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.-CCC 65

     So begins the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on  Christ Jesus.  And this is where we will begin, too.  Let's look more closely at those words from Hebrews quoted above:

"In many and various ways God spoke..."

Wow!  God spoke to us!  Really, if you think about it for a minute, why should God Almighty desire to speak with us?  He has no need of us, certainly.  He's not lonely, or bored, or looking for love.  He is complete in Himself.  He is totally and utterly self-sufficient.  So why speak to us?  The Catechism says,

By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation. Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. --CCC 50

It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.--CCC 51 (emphasis added)

God was pleased to speak to us, so that we might "become sharers in the divine nature."  God desires an intimate relationship with each of us, and to accomplish this He has chosen to communicate Himself to man.  We call this process "revelation"Divine Revelation is everything God does and says that imparts to mankind knowledge about his salvation and about God Himself.  Man can know much about God through reason, but it would be far too difficult for most of us to reason our way to God.  We don't have the intelligence, the time, or such perfect thinking abilities that we would never make a mistake. Additionally, there are aspects of God which are so mystifying and beyond our comprehension that we could never reason them out. (And this makes perfect sense...if we could comprehend everything about God, we would be as great or greater than God Himself.) The idea that God is three Persons in one divine God is one such mystery. So God revealed Himself to us.  Instead of us having to figure it all out, or being left completely without certain knowledge, He simply told us what we needed to know about Him.  (Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bk 1, ch. 3 and 4)

II. What, or WHO,  is "the Word of God"?
Hebrews goes on to explain how God revealed Himself to us:

"In many and varied ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son."

So, when God desired to communicate His loving plan to make us "sharers in the divine nature", He began to speak to mankind first by all of His words to the prophets in the Old Testament.  This includes also all of His actions, from the very Creation of the world to the miracles of the Exodus to the specific information He gave to the prophets.  Then, "in these last days", He revealed Himself  as completely as possible by means of His Son, who is also "the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word."--CCC 65  God is so powerful that His Word has its own identity...the person of Jesus Christ.  This identification of Jesus with the Word of God is especially clear in the opening verses of the Gospel of John, which stated:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life,a and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it....14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God; the only God,d who is at the Father’s side,e he has made him known.

So, we have seen that the 

The Revelation of God = The Word of God = Jesus Christ
John makes it clear that when we think of the "Word of God", we should think of Jesus Christ Himself.  Pope Benedict recently made this point in the document  Verbum Domini:

 And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). (emphasis addded)

III.  The Word of God is the Source

     So, God sent the Son, Jesus, to reveal His plan of salvation.  Then, Jesus  "in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline."-CCC 75

So, Jesus entrusted to the apostles everything He said and did so that they could pass it on to us. We call this final and complete revelation of God's plan "the Gospel", or the good news about God and our salvation. And this "Good News" is nothing less than Christ Himself!

Our English word "gospel" comes from an older English word "gods-spell" which means "good news".  This is the Old English for the Greek "euangelion" (meaning eu-"good" + angelion-"message").  The word "evangelist" comes from this Greek word, too, through the Latin version "evangelium".

Are you scratching your head and wondering why we haven't talked about the BIBLE yet, since this is, after all, a BIBLE study????  We will get there... I promise!  First, we need to understand where the Bible fits in the whole plan of salvation, so in our next lesson we will talk about how the Bible relates to the whole revelation of God, and to the Word of God Himself, Jesus Christ.

Your Assignment

1.  In what ways did the Apostles hand on the Gospel?
2.  How can we know that the Gospel we have today is the true revelation of God?
3.  Read John 1:1-18 and meditate on it.  The depth of God's love caused Him to send Jesus so that each of us could receive "grace upon grace."  This is a great passage to memorize.

Main idea:  God reveals everything necessary for our salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

Next lesson: The Transmission of Revelation 

And a special song you might enjoy :

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 1: Introduction

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths. Ps. 119:105

     To study the Bible within the context of our Catholic Faith is to embark upon a great and rewarding spiritual adventure.  The Word of God is so limitless and rich that there is no end to our study of the Sacred Scriptures.  The more we know, the more we desire to learn. There is, however,  a beginning!  I hope this series of posts will be a beginning for you.  We shall truly begin at the beginning...assuming no knowledge on your part of the Bible.  Therefore, some of these posts will be too basic for some of you, but I hope you will still benefit from some review of fundamental principles.  Studying the Bible is a lifelong pursuit and your knowledge will be built up a little at a time as you follow along here and also as you read and learn elsewhere.  This study is directed at homeschooling moms with little time and also could be used for middle or high school aged students as a basic introduction.  Each post covers only ONE basic idea and should only take about 10 minutes, but you can extend it a lot by reading the linked material.

The General Plan

     It's always good to have a I'll give you the "big picture".  Just don't hold me to it, because, frankly, I tend to drift from the "plan" into the reality of the moment.  Here, however, is the intention, at least!

     *First, a series of posts on Basic Bible knowledge :
          -what the Church says about Revelation
          -how are Scripture and Tradition related
          -main divisions of the Bible
          -Catholic vs. Protestant Bibles
          -understanding Bible references
          -how the Bible was written and transmitted: when, where, why, and how
          -how the books of the Bible were chosen
          -types of Bibles: translations and paraphrases
          -what the Church teaches about the four meanings of Scripture
          -tools for studying the Bible

     *Second, a series of posts on an overview of Scripture:
          -basic information on each book or section of the Bible
          -a brief look at the important stories of salvation history
          -information about geography, dating, and customs

     *Third, where we go now depends on what YOU want to learn next!

Formatting Pointers

    In order to help you follow along, I will put quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in dark blue and quotes from the Bible (we will use the Revised Standard Version) in dark red.  Longer quoted sections from these sources will have an icon to highlight them.  Quotes from the Popes and Fathers, Doctors, and saints will be highlighted with small picture icons.  Interesting little facts and asides will have this little guy next to them:

I'll Talk to You

     I will try to post a new lesson every Tuesday and Friday.   Each post will focus on one important topic that you need to know to understand the Bible in the context of the teaching of the Catholic Church.  The first series will be "Bible Basics".  Each post will be titled with "Bible Basics" and then a short description of the topic so that you can find it easily later on for reference or review.
     Most posts will contain links to writings of the Church or saints for your further study.  This is just enrichment, so feel free to enjoy reading these additional texts if your schedule and interest permit.  If not, no one will give you a test on the material!  I promise!
     I will give you a few questions or Bible references to consider each post.  These will prepare you for the next lesson.  It will enrich the study for you if you can do these little assignments, but if not, please at least continue to read along with the posts.
     Again, each lesson will be very short, hopefully no more that 10 minutes to read and will focus on just ONE main idea.  The main idea will be restated at the end of each lesson.  It might seem pretty easy to just cover two ideas a week, but in this way you will slowly and steadily increase your knowledge of the Bible and the Faith without a great strain on your time.  You can always learn more and make each lesson longer by using the links in each post.

You'll Talk to Me (Right??)

     You can help me out so much by letting me know your thoughts, questions, or confusions.  You can leave remarks as "comments" or you can email me using the link at the top left-hand side of the blog.
Believe me when I say that this is a true encouragement for me to continue, as well as a help for me in designing the course for everyone.

Basic Texts

     *A Bible, whichever one you have at home right now.  Later, we'll discuss different translations,etc.
     *The Catechism of the Catholic Church,  either online or a copy you already have. 

Stuff for the Kids

     From time to time, I hope to link to resources for children so that you can share your new knowledge with them.  

 Your Assignment:
   (for the questions, you may want to have a small journal to jot down your answers)
1.  Find your Bible and Catechism.  Be sure you know where they are so you can use them for the next lesson.
2.  What do you think is meant by the phrase the Word of God?
3.  Why does God want to communicate with us?

Next time:  Bible Basics:  The  Revelation of God