Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 12: The Four Senses of Scripture, Part II: The Spiritual Senses

Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto, Paolo Veronese  
The Four Senses of Scripture, Part II:  The Spiritual Senses

     In the last post, we discussed the literal sense of a passage of Scripture.  Essentially, the literal sense is the obvious truth the words in the passage intend to convey.  In addition to this literal sense, and based upon it, is the spiritual sense of a passage.  The spiritual sense points to another, deeper meaning which is indicated by the events, people, or actions that the words describe.  Another way to say this is to say that the literal sense is what the words themselves describe (taking into account figurative language), and the spiritual sense is the deeper truths to which those described objects or actions point.  The spiritual sense is a more mystical dimension of meaning which is founded upon the literal sense.  This spiritual sense can be broken down into three separate aspects:  the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense.  We will consider each of these separately.

Gregory the Great
Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.  Pope St. Gregory the Great

I.  The Allegorical Sense

The allegorical sense of a passage is also called the typological sense.  In this case, the objects, people, or events stand for other, more profound truths revealed elsewhere in Scripture:

The spiritual sense.  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.
1.  The allegorical sense.  We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ;  thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian baptism.--CCC 117

So, the words point to the objects and events, and the objects and events themselves are signs that point to other truths. Usually, this occurs in passages where an Old Testament person, object, or event has some fulfillment in the New Testament.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Guercino
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the main objects in the story are the characters of the wayward son, the forgiving Father, and the envious elder brother.  The allegorical sense of this parable is that the younger son signifies or represents the Gentile people, who have wandered far from the one True God, Who is their Creator and Father.  The father of the story of course represents God Himself Who longs for a relationship and communion with His son, and Who rejoices in the return of the Gentile sinners.  The elder brother here signifies the envious Jewish rulers, who were "elder" in the sense that the revelations of God came first to them.  Jesus is warning them with this parable to beware of their envy and admonishing them to rejoice with God in the return of the Gentiles to relationship with Him. 

Model of Herod's Temple
Objects can also stand for spiritual truths.  In our previous example of the building of the Temple, we noted that the literal sense was the truth that the Temple was historically built as a dwelling place for God.  The spiritual sense of the Temple is that it points forward to the body of Christ.  Now, this is not an obvious sign or type at all.  The reason we know this is one meaning of the Temple is that Christ Himself tells us:

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"  But he spoke of the temple of his body.  When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.  Jn 2:19-22

When an event, object, or person in the Old Testament signifies or points forward to Christ Himself or to an element of the New Testament (such as baptism) in this allegorical way, we call it a "type", and the study of these "types" is called "typology".  As we study Scripture in the future, there will be many times when we discover in an Old Testament passage a "type" of a New Testament reality. I had originally planned a separate post on typology, but as I thought it over I decided it would be easier to understand when we can apply it to actual Scripture texts.

Our word "type" derives from the Latin "typus" which meant an image.  The "-ology" ending means "the study of".  So, "typology" is the "study of types".  The Merriam-Webster definition of type is "a person or thing (as in the Old Testament) believed to foreshadow another (as in the New Testament)."
To determine the allegorical sense, we could ask:
1.  What spiritual truths could the people or events in this passage represent?
2.  Are there other Scriptures that refer to this passage that might explain what the objects or people represent?
3.  What does the Tradition of the Church say about the allegorical meaning of this passage?
4.  Does this passage have a prophetic meaning which was fulfilled in the life, Passion, death, or resurrection of Christ?

Christ calling his apostles
One does need to be careful not to go too far afield in drawing out an allegorical meaning.  Sometimes Peter is just catching fish...not men!

II.  The Moral Sense

     The second kind of spiritual sense is the moral sense. St. Thomas Aquinas describes the moral sense as pertaining to what we ought to do:

...the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and...the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.  Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do.  Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense.  But so far as the things done in Christ, or which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense.

Now, our Parable of the Prodigal Son could also be considered to have a moral sense.  What is it we ought to do?  We ought to repent of our ingratitude and disregard for our Heavenly Father and turn back to serve Him.  For the building of the Temple, the moral sense might be that we ought to render to God just praise and thanksgiving.  When we are thinking about the moral sense, we might ask ourselves questions such as:
1.  What virtue does this passage illustrate?
2.  What vice ought I to avoid in light of this passage?
3.  Is there any righteous action modeled in this passage? (For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we see modeled the righteous action of caring for the poor and for our enemy).

III.  The Anagogical Sense

Wedding Feast of the Lamb, Van Eyck
    The last spiritual sense is the anagogical sense.  The anagogical sense is the meaning of the passage as it relates to eternal glory, or to the final fulfillment in the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, the return of the prodigal is a type of our return to God and of the rejoicing in Heaven which shall accompany the repentance of one sinner.  The banquet the Father gave is the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in the glory of Heaven.  These are the ways the parable points to our eternal destiny; this is the anagogical sense.

The anagogical meaning of the Temple is that the dwelling place of God will be with men.  As Revelation says:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. --Rev. 21:22

Questions that might help you determine the anagogical meaning of a passage are:
1.  How does this passage point forward to our final destiny in Heaven?
2.  Is any object in this passage infused with other spiritual meanings that relate to heaven, such as water representing the presence of the Holy Spirit?
3.  Does this passage have any reference to Christ (even prophetically) as King, Ruler, Lord, or master?
4.  Does this passage tell anything about one of the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, or hell? 

Looking at the Scripture through these lenses of meaning is one way to have a deeper, richer, and more profound understanding of God's Word.  As we study specific passages of Scripture in the future, we will be using the literal and spiritual senses to help us understand all of the truths God is communicating through His Word for our salvation and sanctification.

Main idea:  The spiritual sense of Scripture points to deeper spiritual realities and can be allegorical, moral, or anagogical.

 This is the last post in the Bible Basics series. The next series will be The Pentateuch.  Thank you for learning along with me!

...for a few days, anyway!




Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sorry, no post this Tuesday!

Gone Fishin'
Sorry, friends!  We were out of town over the weekend and I wasn't able to write the next post. (Can you say..."the weather was too glorious on Saturday to be typing on the computer"?)  Come back on Friday and I will have it published!
Have a lovely week!

"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"--Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 11: The Four Senses of Scripture, Part 1: Literal Sense

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Four Senses of Scripture, Part 1

     One of the particular blessings of being a Catholic is the great tradition of studying and thinking about Scripture that has gone on for centuries before us and to which we (and everyone, really, the Church is very generous!) have access.  One of these time-tested traditions is to view Scripture in the light of four senses. In this case, "sense" means the actual truth any given passage of Scripture conveys, so when we talk about the four "senses", we are identifying four different kinds of truth a passage can communicate to us. The first of these four is the literal sense and the second is the spiritual sense, which is further divided into the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense. Understanding and applying this way of thinking about Scripture will yield many spiritual insights.  In today's lesson  we will discuss what is meant by the literal sense and we will identify the literal sense of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I.  The Literal Sense

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred scripture are based on the literal."-CCC 116

Let's consider this definition.  The "meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture" is not the facts and details of any given text, but the truth it intends to convey. "Literal" here is confusing for us because we usually use this word to mean the facts a text states.  But, when we are talking about understanding Scripture, we are using "literal" in a different, more technical sense that has to do with the intended truth or meaning God wants to communicate to us for the sake of our salvation.  What does "discovered by exegesis" mean?  "Exegesis" means to interpret or critically explain something, to investigate Scripture with the intention of drawing out its true meaning. So, when Bible scholars study the words, context, history, connections of a given text and then give a critical interpretation of the meaning of that text, that's exegesis. 

"Exegesis" is derived from two Greek words which literally mean "to lead out". The idea is that the Scripture is studied in such a way as to draw out a true meaning from what is contained in the Scripture itself.  A related term is "eisegesis" which means the interpreting of a Biblical text by reading into it one's own ideas.  The scholar trying to make Scripture support his or her own interpretation, even if that is not the clear meaning of the text itself.  "Eisegesis" is made up of two Greek words which mean "to lead in".

       The literal sense of a passage of Scripture is the evident truth those words are intended to convey.  Included in the literal sense is the commonly understood meaning of any idiomatic or figurative language.  So, when Jesus tells His Apostles, "You are the light of the world," He does not mean that they glow in the dark!  He means, as is commonly understood, that they bring the knowledge of God to the world. This is the literal sense, because this is the truth these words of Christ are literally conveying.  

     Now, let us consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son in this light.  A parable is a (long!) figurative device; it is a story with a moral.  What truth does this parable intend to convey?  Another way to ask the same question is :  What is the point of the story?  The point of Christ's story is that God is always willing and ready to accept and forgive a repentant sinner, regardless of how seriously he has turned against God in the past.

     If Scripture is God's revelation to man, then Scripture must make sense.  It must have a true meaning that God intends it to convey.  So every passage of Scripture has a literal sense, every passage has a meaning which is true and part of the Revelation of God.

St. Thomas Aquinas

 All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal. --St. Thomas Aquinas

I want to add in here one point that occurred to me (in the middle of the night after I originally posted this), and that is that the literal sense of a passage and what we commonly understand as the literal meaning can often be the same.  When Scripture tells us that Solomon built the Temple, it means that Solomon built the Temple!  In this case, the meaning God intends for our salvation is to communicate the knowledge of the actual historical fact of the Temple and God's dwelling amongst His people.

II.  The Spiritual Sense

     In addition to the direct intended meaning of any passage of Scripture, the Church teaches that each passage has a spiritual sense:

The spiritual sense.  Thanks be 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.--CCC 117
Huh?  What does this mean?  Sometimes, when reading the Catechism, we need to think long and hard about what we are reading.  This quote from the Catechism tells us that, in addition to the literal sense, there is another way to look at Scripture.  As a sign points us to another location down the road, so the spiritual sense can signify or point to some deeper, less apparent, but no less genuine truth. This spiritual sense can be understood in one of three ways: allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  Next post we will dig more deeply into these three spiritual senses.

III.  The Guidance of the Holy Spirit

       Whenever we study Scripture, let us remember to ask the Holy Spirit for His Divine inspiration and wisdom.  Our first pope stated: 

First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  2 Peter 1:20-21

The Holy Spirit, Who inspired and authored the Scriptures, is also the One Who can properly interpret them, and He does this through the Catholic Church.  This same Holy Spirit is the promised Advocate who guides the Church and preserves her from all error in matters of faith and morals.  The definitive and authoritative interpretation of Scripture is entrusted to the Church, and we must read and study Scripture in this light.  We cannot make a private interpretation which is opposed to the teaching of the Church and hope that it is correct.  

Pope Leo XIII
It must be observed that in addition to the usual reasons which make ancient writings more or less difficult to understand, there are some which are peculiar to the Bible. For the language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man -- that is to say, Divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses ... Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality. Wherefore, it must be recognized that the Sacred Writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide; God so disposing, as the Holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardour and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart; and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scriptures to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher.--Providentissimus Deus, Pope Leo XIII

No homework this time!

Main Idea:  The literal sense of a passage of Scripture is the meaning it seeks to convey, not the details and facts of the passage. 

Next lesson:  The Three Spiritual Senses

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 10: Bible Study Aids

  Bible Study Aids
     This lesson we will discuss some very basic Bible study helps.  Although there are truly a vast number of commentaries, books, pamphlets, and, yes, even blogs! dedicated to the study of the Book of Books, we will focus on just a handful of essential study aids.
     Before we get down to the nitty-gritty details, I would like to take just a moment to remind all of you dear readers that the study of the Bible is unlike the study of any other text ever written.  It is a life-giving and soul-changing inspired letter from God Almighty that we should approach with prayer, reverence, and humility:

Pope Leo XII
For the saving and for the perfection of ourselves and of others there is at hand the very best of help in the Holy Scriptures...; but those only will find it who bring to this divine reading not only docility and attention, but also piety and an innocent life. For the Sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure. To understand and explain such things there is always required the "coming" of the same Holy Spirit; that is to say, His light and His grace; and these, as the Royal Psalmist so frequently insists, are to be sought by humble prayer and guarded by holiness of life.--Providentissimus Deus, Leo XIII  

May I suggest that you take a moment right now to pray the Prayer to the Holy Spirit on the left side of this blog?  This is a wonderful prayer with which to begin any Bible reading or studying.

I.  Concordance

     A concordance is a reference tool that makes the task of finding Bible verses or specific words in the Bible much easier.  Let's say you want to find the location of a verse, but you can only remember part of it-- the phrase "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." A concordance is the tool you will need to help you locate this verse.  Some Bibles have a small concordance near the back; there are also more complete concordances available.  Not every Bible translation has a concordance that corresponds to it, and many concordances are written by Protestant authors and do not contain the entire Scripture (the deutero-canonical books are not referenced).
The best available current Catholic concordance is The Catholic Bible Concordance for the Revised Standard Version.  

The source of grace and truth
So, let us look up our vaguely-remember verse.  We will choose an important word in the phrase we recall, such as grace.   All the words in the concordance are listed in alphabetical order, so we just flip through until we come to grace.  Because grace is used so frequently in the Bible, we see a long list of possible verses that use that word.  They are listed in order from Genesis to Revelation.  Each reference is given with a short excerpt that helps you identify the verse.  In this case, you will have to read down the list until you come to Jn 1:17, where the excerpt reads, "was given through Moses; G and truth came through".  (G standing for our word grace).  So, there it is!  You found it! 

The concordance is also useful when you want to study a particular word and its use in the Bible.  Let us say I want to find out what the Bible has to say about "rainbows".  I can turn to that word, and see listed beneath it all of the verses that use the word rainbow.  I see four verses listed, but none of them are about Noah...why not? In the story of Noah, God places a bow in the sky, not a rainbow.  We turn to bow and there we will find the verses from Genesis that recount Noah's rainbow, in addition to other verses that refer to the rainbow as a "bow".  However, there are several verses listed under bow that have nothing to do with rainbow, but are references to bending down to others, as in to make a bow to the king!   Strong's Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew lexicon  avoids this problem by giving you the original Greek/Hebrew word and by listing verses according to the particular meaning of the word; however, it does not reference the deutero-canonical texts.  It is available for the King James Version and I have a copy that references the New International Version.  There is an online copy of Strong's for both the KJV and the New American Standard versions. 

So you see here some of the uses and limitations of the concordance.  You do need to know your Bible pretty well to make good use of it---but get started reading and studying it, and soon you WILL know it well! 

The first concordance was the work of  a Dominican, Hugo de Saint-Cher, who was assisted by 500 of his religious brothers.  It was based on the Vulgate Bible and was completed in AD 1230.  It used the book and chapter designations recently invented by Bishop Stephen Langton, but no verse designation, as they were introduced later (I updated the New Testament  post to reflect this correction). Another great Bible invention we can thank the Catholic Church for!

II.  Historical Atlas of the Bible

     When we read the Bible, we often encounter place names that no longer exist.  For example, there is no Judea anymore, nor is there a country called Moab or a city called Elam, yet these are all places mentioned in the Bible.  In order to understand the geographical locations which are referred to in the Biblical text, you will need an historical atlas, such as this Historical Atlas of the Bible by Ian Barnes.  The Penguin Historical Atlas is also fairly good and less expensive.  If you prefer a free alternative (who doesn't?), this online site is a great resource.  Check out the maps available under the "American Bible Society" link!

III.  Commentaries
     Commentaries can be a blessing or a true source of confusion!  The very nature of a commentary means that the author has a chance to promote his or her own interpretation of the Scriptures.  So choose a commentary carefully!  My favorite commentaries are:

The Navarre Bible Commentaries (There is a complete Navarre New Testament, but the separate commentaries for each book/section of the Bible have a lot more information)
Anything by Steve Ray or Scott Hahn, such as The Gospel of John (Mr. Ray) or The Lamb's Supper (Dr. Hahn)
The individual books of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (it is available in a single New Testament edition as well, but, like the Navarre one-volume text, it is not as in-depth as the separate booklets.).
And, of course,...

IV.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church

     This is the best of all "commentaries" because it encapsulates the teaching of the Church which is the product of some of the most holy and intelligent minds of the last 2000 years.  The best way to use the Catechism as a  Bible study tool is to turn to the Index of Citations in the back of the catechism.  Here is listed for you, in order, all of the verses of the Bible which the Catechism references.  Let's say you wanted to read the teaching of the Catechism about Genesis, chapter 1.  Listed in the index are all of the verses in Genesis 1 that the CCC quotes or references.  Next to each verse is the number of the paragraph that references that verse.  So, Genesis 1:1 is referred to in CCC 268*, 279, 280, 290.   The asterick following CCC 268 indicates that Gen 1:1 is paraphrased in CCC paragraph 268, not quoted directly. Here is the Catechism's comment in paragraph 279:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  Holy Scripture begins with these solemn words.  The profession of faith takes them up when it confesses that God the Father almighty is "Creator of heaven and earth" (Apostles' Creed), "of all that is, seen and unseen" (Nicene Creed).  We shall speak first of the Creator, then of creation, and finally of the fall into sin from which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to raise us up again.

Pope Benedict XVI
V.  Encyclicals

     Many encyclicals deal with biblical topics, or directly with the Bible itself.  Among these are:
Humani Generis  (discussing the origin of human life)
Dei Verbum (the teaching of Vatican II on the Word of God)
Mater Redemptoris  (on the Blessed Virgin Mary)
Providentissimus Deus (on the study of Holy Scripture)

All of the papal encyclicals are available here. 
VI.  Other useful tools

     Other reference tools are helpful when you are trying to study the Bible in-depth.  Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and books of the history of the time period you are reading about can provide valuable insights.  As you read, remember that every author writes from a particular point-of-view.  Reserve judgment on any controversial topic until you have researched both sides of the argument and also have read up on the teaching of the Church with regard to that topic.
     A dictionary of the Bible is an easy way to begin getting essential information on many subjects. The Catholic Bible Dictionary is one I have used and can recommend.
     Of special use is the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent. This encyclopedia has tremendously thorough articles and a broad range of entries especially pertaining to Catholic and Biblical topics.  The background information in these articles will really help you understand the historical and cultural contexts of many Biblical stories.
     A topical Bible has verses listed by topics, such as grace, love, sin, Abraham, etc.  If you want to find out what the Bible has to say on a given topic, it is helpful to begin your study with a topical Bible.  The most well-known one is Nave's Topical Bible.  It is also available online.
     While many of the available online study aids are developed by Protestants, one fabulous Catholic resource is Crossroads Initiative;  it has a ton of useful information!
     Don't forget to use the cross-references in your Bible if you have them.  They are usually at the bottom or center of the page.  The cross-references list other verses in the Bible that directly correspond to the verse you are reading.  Let us say I want to find some verses related to Jn 1:1 in my RSV-Catholic Edition.  I look at the bottom of the page under Jn 1:1 and I will see listed there in bold 1:1. Next to it are: Gen 1:1, 1 Jn 1:1, Rev 19:13, Jn 17:5.  These are other verses that Jn 1:1 either quotes or directly draws on, or which are based on Jn 1:1.  They are listed in order from most directly related to least directly related (at least, that is what I have observed... it doesn't really explain that in the notes of my Bible).  Not all Bibles have this study aid.
One timline option (see link at left)
     Finally, if you are a visual learner, a timeline can help you see how the episodes in the Bible fit into the larger historical picture.  Remember, as you study dates, that the longer ago an event took place, the less likely there is to be agreement on its date.  Take dates before 950BC with a cup of salt!    A nice option is   The Great Adventure: A Journey Through the Bible Bible Timeline Chart.

VII.  Pace yourself!

     The study of the Bible is a lifetime pursuit.  Please do not rush out and purchase all of these study aids at once!  Incorporate them one at a time as they meet your need and interest.  Over the course of time, you will gradually accumulate knowledge as you study the Bible.  Many parts you will want to study more than once.  Perhaps one time you will want to think about the spiritual meaning (use The Navarre Commentary),  another time you might study the geography (an atlas) or history (encyclopedia).  Keep on studying and you will keep on learning...the Bible is a treasure of insight and knowledge.  

Your Assignment

1.  Read CCC 115-118.
2.  Read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-25.
3.  Try to identify the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense of this parable, based on what you learned from the Catechism.  We will go through this exercise in the next lesson, so if you get stumped, the (or at least an) answer will be discussed then.

Main idea:  Bible study aids are useful in understanding the geographical, historical, and theological meaning of the Bible.

Next lesson:  The Four Meanings of Scripture, Part I

The end of the road, literally!
Dear readers, we are drawing close to the end of this series.  We have only 3 more posts remaining after today:  two on how the Church teaches us to understanding the various meanings of a given text of Scripture and one on typology.  I hope you have learned some new and helpful things as you have read these lessons!  After this series wraps up, if you want to continue on, we will plan to move directly into a more in-depth look at the history of salvation by going through each book of the Bible (or, in some cases, each section) a little more thoroughly.  At this point, here's the future plan:

1.  Cover the Old Testament books in more depth, viewing it both for the stories contained in it themselves and for the way in which they pointed forward to and were fulfilled in Christ.
2.  Study the life of Christ (the Gospels, basically) through a study on the mysteries of the Rosary.  This study will tie together all the Gospels as well as texts from the Old Testament.  There might be some repetition of the material in (1) above, but this will help you learn and remember it.
3.  Study Acts and Paul's epistles through a study of the life of St. Paul.
Me, posting in 2030!

By the time we finish all of the ambitious plan above, it will probably be about the year 2030....

What do you think?  Shall we continue on to the Old Testament books?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 9: Translations and Paraphrases

Translations and Paraphrases

     As we discussed in the lessons on the Old Testament and the New Testament, the texts of the Bible were originally written in a variety of languages.   This lesson will discuss the different ways in which the difficult task of translating Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin texts into English is tackled.   

I.  Two Approaches to Translation

     Broadly speaking, there are two basic approaches to translating the Scriptures (or actually any text from one language into another):
        1.  Complete (or formal) equivalency or correspondencea literal translation, even going so far as to preserve the original wording or word order.

      An extreme example of such a translation is the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The ancient translators, revering the Sacred Text as the Word of God, took a very literal approach. "Sometimes their Greek is so close to the Hebrew original that it must have been almost unintelligible to a pagan." (The Hebrew Christ, Claude Tresmontant).   The translators often just kept the original Hebrew word order, which was verb-first in the sentence and unlike the Greek subject-first order.  So, the translation would sound much as this might sound to our ears:  "He learned, Jacob, that there was grain in Egypt, and he said, Jacob, to his sons...."  This did not sound any more normal to Greek ears than it does to ours! 

Sts. Peter and Paul, El Greco
Later, the Apostles would use this same kind of formal equivalency approach to translate the words of Jesus, resulting in a very literal translation of His words.  In fact, in some cases,  Hebrew words, phrases, and ideas were not even translated, but simply transferred into Greek.  So, for example, in our English bibles we have our Lord using the phrase, "Amen, Amen, I say to you...", where "Amen" is a Hebrew word meaning roughly, "It is certainly true."  The translators could not come up with an equivalent Greek term, so they just stuck with the original Hebrew!  Another word that is directly taken from Hebrew is "woe".  There was no Greek word that expressed this idea, so the Hebrew word was brought into the Greek language and with it the entire Hebrew understanding of "woe".

So, many of the ancient translators used a very strict standard.  They  translated the Biblical text with the express idea of keeping the actual words as close to the original as possible.  Whether the translation was understandable in the new language was not of such great concern to them.  

You want to use a more literal translation when you are undertaking word studies and serious Bible study.

 Neither the King James Version (KJV) nor the Douay-Rheims translation were based directly on the original languages.  Both are translations of St. Jerome's very literal Latin Vulgate.

        2)  Dynamic equivalence:  a type of translation that attempts to preserve the meaning of the text, as opposed to the original grammar, word order, or phrasing.  

     So, a translator using a dynamic equivalent approach, is going to be sure that the text (as he or she understands it) 
is clearly understandable in the new language.  Using the quote above, such a  translator might render it something like:  "Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, and he said to his sons...."  In this case, there is little change in meaning, but that is not always the situation.    In fact, since the basic idea behind this technique is to capture the meaning of the text, the translation can be heavily influenced by the theological outlook of the translator himself.  Not only can the original meaning be obscured, but the text is often so loosely and inconsistently translated that word studies become extremely difficult to do.

A more dynamic translation can be a good choice if you just want to read through the Bible and get an overview of the text.  

Q, of the Continuum!
II.  The Continuum

     All modern Bible translations fall on a continuum which extends from very literal (formal equivalency) translations all the way to extremely loose (dynamic equivalency) translations.  (Hey, you try to find images for this post...just sayin'!)

From most literal to most dynamic:
       Very literal
                  King James Version
                  New King James Version
                  New American Standard

         Fairly literal
                  Confraternity Version
                  Revised Standard Version

         Fairly dynamic
                  New International Version
                  New American

         Very dynamic
                 New Jerusalem Bible
                 New English Bible
                 Revised English Bible
                 Contemporary English Version
                 Good News Bible (A.K.A. Today's English Version)

Inclusive language is a term that expresses a current trend to change  gender-based terms to gender-inclusive terms.  Inclusive language can, on the one hand, simply clarify meaning.  Thus, it is an approved use of inclusive language to say "brothers and sisters" in place of  "brethren", as the traditional meaning of "brethren" included both men and women.  On the other hand, the use of phrases such as "one" to replace "man" or "personkind" to replace "mankind" actually affects understanding by undermining the theological and philisophical  ideas that Adam (literally, man) was create in God's image, that woman was created from man, and that we are all of one type of being which is "man".   The use of such terms for mankind also obscures the whole idea behind OT texts that refer to Christ as "the man" and that link Him to Adam ("man").  Finally, God has presented Himself as a Father and the Church honors His will in this case.  While God is neither male nor female, and while there are some Scriptures that describe God in feminine terms, the Church intends to respect God's own revealed self-description and uses "Father", "He", "Son", and so on to refer to God.  Use of inclusive language in this last instance is not allowed by the Church.  EWTN provides a more extensive discussion. 

III.  Paraphrases

     In addition to translations, there are also paraphrases.  A paraphrase is not based on the original languages of the Bible, but on a re-wording of an English translation.  So, if I took the first verse of the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God...", I could paraphrase it myself by writing something like,  "The Word, Who was God, existed in the very beginning....".  I just put the English translation into my own words, and, voila! a paraphrase.  The most familiar paraphrase today is probably the Living Bible.

IV.  Choosing a Bible

      For an in-depth examination of several available Catholic bibles, you may want to read over this article at EWTN. 

No Homework!  It was all included in Day 8's lesson!

Main Idea:  Bible translations range from very literal to very loose.  The more literal the translation, the better the Bible will be for in-depth study.   

Next lesson:  Bible Study Aids

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bible Basics, Day 8: The New Testament

The Four Gospels

The New Testament
     Well, we've done a very quick look at the Old Testament, and now we will move on to take a brief overview of the New Testament. The New Testament contains the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel and to all mankind, and the story of the establishment of the Catholic Church.  The Catechism states:

 "The Word of God, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, is set forth and displays its power in a most wonderful way in the writings of the New Testament" (Dei Verbum) which hand on the ultimate truth of God's Revelation.  Their central object is Jesus Christ, God's incarnate Son:  his acts, teachings, Passion and glorification, and his Church's beginnings under the Spirit's guidance.--CCC124

     The inspired authors of the New Testament also tell us why they wrote.  First, because they were commanded by Christ to go into the world and teach the "good news" of salvation:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.  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: 16-20 (emphasis added)

They also wrote so that we could know the true facts of Christ's life:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.  Luke 1:1-4 (emphasis added) 

And they wrote so that we might be confident of the gift of eternal life and have faith in the power, love, and mercy of God:

I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 Jn 4:13 (emphasis added)

Let us take a moment to thank God and praise Him for the gift of the New Testament and for the faithfulness of those witnesses to the truth who have gone before us.  Let us pray that we, too, will be faithful witnesses and preserve and pass on the Truth for those who will come after us. 

I.  The Languages of the New Testament

Alexander the Great, Rembrandt
     This is the easiest section, so let's do it first, OK?   Since the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great (356 BC--323 BC), Greek language and culture dominated the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.  This dominance of Greek culture lasted well into the first century; Christ Himself probably spoke at least some Greek. The earliest New Testament manuscript copies that we have are all written in Greek.  Most scholars believe that the originals were also written in Greek, but there are some who have put forth convincing evidence that the Gospels were originally composed in Aramaic, or even Hebrew, and then translated into Greek.  St. Paul, traveling and preaching across the Roman Empire, would have often used Greek and his epistles were written in Greek.
      Another  language that was used in Palestine during the lifetime of Jesus was Aramaic.  Aramaic is a Semitic language that was first used by the Jews during their captivity in Babylon and after they returned from Babylon to Jerusalem around 530 B.C.  It was probably the language that Jesus did most of His teaching in, although there is some evidence that He also taught in Hebrew.  Aramaic was used as an early lingua franca in the areas that had been under Assyrian influence, but was gradually replaced by Greek.

St. Jerome, Caravaggio
     The New Testament would not be translated into Latin until the late fourth century.  This translation was St. Jerome's greatest work.  He based it on original Hebrew and Greek texts (many of which have been lost over the years).  His translation is known as the "Vulgate", since Latin was at that time the common, or "vulgar", language of the people. 

II. The Dating of the New Testament

Oldest NT papyrus
     Now we are getting into troubled waters!  In the last 150 years or so, many scholars began to question the early composition of the New Testament books, some even concluding the Gospels were written in the second or third centuries after Christ!  Fortunately, about 50 years ago, a significant artifact was discovered. This artifact was a very early (and very small) fragment of papyrus which contains text from the Gospel of John.  It has been dated to AD 125.  Allowing time for the copying and circulation of the text,  scholars know that at the very latest John (which is generally agreed to be the latest book of the New Testament) was composed before the end of the first century.  Most scholars today also agree that the books written by St. Paul were the earliest texts of the New Testament, with the earliest one being either the Letter to the Galatians (possibly as early as AD 50) or the First Letter to the Thessalonians (no later than AD 51).  I want to point out that there are scholars, again with convincing arguments, that place Matthew as the earliest text, written in Hebrew, around AD 37- AD 40.  This controversy is ongoing, and as we look as each New Testament book, I will briefly mention a range of dates of composition.

III. Divisions of the New Testament

    To help us understand the organization of the New Testament, we can think of it in three "sections" that correspond to the traditional sections of the Old Testament:

Lindisfarne Gospel
The Gospels and Acts:  These are the books that record the life, sayings and teachings, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.   The Acts of the Apostles  (named in the second century by St. Iranaeus) records the work of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles (focusing on St. Peter and St. Paul) to establish the Church.  These correspond to "the Law" in the Old Testament---they contain the actual words and teachings of God and the history of the establishment of the People of God as a holy community (the Church).
     According to the Catechism, there were three stages in the development of the four Gospels as we have them today. They were:

1.) The life and teachings of Jesus Christ:  The New Testament is based on the historical truth of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  The details of His life are recorded accurately in the Gospels.  These Gospels, "whose historicity [the Church] unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up."--CCC 126

2.) The oral tradition:  The Apostles handed on what Jesus had taught and done.  They were able to add to this knowledge the further understanding they had been given by the Holy Spirit of the meaning and significance of Christ's work.

3.)  The written Gospels:  The final stage, during which "the sacred authors...selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches...always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus."--CCC 126 

The Gospels, containing the true words and deeds of Our Lord, hold a unique and privileged place in the entire Bible and are specially venerated during the Mass.

St. Therese of Lisieux

But above all it's the Gospels that occupy my mind when I'm at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful.   I'm always finding fresh lights there, hidden and enthralling meanings.--St. Therese of Lisieux 

Let us remember, too, that we can be certain of the truth of these texts because they have the authority of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to testify to their veracity.

St. Augustine

I would not believe in the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so.--St. Augustine

The Letters of St. Paul, El Greco
The Epistles:  We can think of these as the New Testament "writings".  They include two main groups of epistles, or letters.  First in the canon are those written by St. Paul.  They are ordered from longest to shortest (more or less). Next follow the letters written by other apostles, or even by unknown authors (Hebrews).
These contain much wisdom and practical help for living as a Christian in the world.

Detail, The Last Judgement

Revelation: This corresponds to the "prophets", in that it contains in a prophetic type of writing information about the Kingdom of God and about the final victory of Christ.  Revelation is also known as "The Apocalypse", meaning "The End".  

IV.  Chapter and Verse

Bishop Stephen Langton
     When the Bible was written, it was written as a prose text, much like a modern book would be written.  It was not divided up into chapter and verse designations.  The chapter divisions were developed by Archbishop Stephen Langton, the (Catholic!) Archbishop of Canterbury, in the thirteenth century. (Bishop Langton was also important in the securing of the Magna Carta...a scholar, bishop, and statesman.) The verse designations were later introduced by Robert Estienne in 1545. The purpose of the text divisions was to make it easier to find references in the Bible and to designate more accurately which passages should be read during Mass. 
Bible references today are written in this format:  

Name of Book (usually abbreviated)  Chapter:Verse(s)

So, for example, Jn 1:1-3 refers to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1 through 3.  It's a very easy system, and we can thank a Catholic bishop for it!

This homework is for the next two lessons (the first will be on translations, the second on study aids):

1.  Check your Bible and see what translation (or version) you have.
2.  Think about what would be most important to you in a Bible:
easy to read, accurate, big type, pictures, maps, study notes, pronunciation guides, red ink for Jesus's words.  What features would you use?
3.  Look in the back of your own Bible and see what study aids it has.  Check out the front pages for a Table of Contents, notes on the translation/text, or other helps.  Look at the bottom of the pages for cross-references and notes.  Does your Bible have sub-titles or chapter titles?

Main idea:  The New Testament contains the story of the life and works of Jesus Christ and the founding of His Church. 

Next lesson:  Translations and Paraphrases

 I want to share a lovely hymn that always brings peace to my heart as I meditate on our Lord's life and labor in that quiet home in Nazareth and how He fills each moment of my daily life with His presence and hope (tune below):

Lord of all hopefulness,
Lord of all joy
whose trust, ever child-like,
no cares could destroy,
be there at our waking,
and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
at the break of the day.
 Lord of all eagerness,
Lord of all faith,
whose strong hands were skilled
at the plane and the lathe,
be there at our labours,
and give us, we pray,
your strength in our hearts, Lord,
at the noon of the day. 

Lord of all kindliness,
Lord of all grace,
your hands swift to welcome,
your arms to embrace,
be there at our homing,
and give us, we pray,
your love in our hearts, Lord
at the eve of the day.

 Lord of all gentleness,
Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment,
whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping,
and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord
at the end of the day.

Jan Struther (1901 - 1953)