Why Read the Bible?

During this season of Lent, I have been leading a Bible Study in the parish.  We meet after the last Mass on Sunday for about an hour and fifteen minutes to discuss the Sunday readings.  We have only averaged about five people for each of the three Sundays of Lent so far.

It raises the question ‘are people interested in reading the Bible’?  We should be.  It is our history.  It is not our national history.  It is not our (biological) family history.  It is not our personal history. 

It is our history as the people of God.  It tells us about the relationship between God and the people.  Some believe all that matters is the New Testament.  The Old Testament is important for two reasons.  First, it is the history of how God was there for his people.  Stories like the Exodus where God rescued his people; stories of King David; and stories of the prophets telling the people how God calls the people to live.  The second reason is to understand the New Testament.  Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies.  We can’t understand how this is so if we don’t read the Old Testament.  Why do we care how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies?  Because it shows we can count on God’s Word.

Another way in which the Old Testament helps us understand the New Testament is Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-19

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus fulfills both the law and the prophets.  We must understand the law to understand how Jesus fulfills it.  The Commandments of the Law are good because they come from God.  Does Jesus ‘set aside’ some of the Mosaic Law such as the prohibition of eating certain foods like pork?  Yes, but Jesus does not ‘set aside’ the Ten Commandments.  He helps us understand what it means, not just to obey them but, to live them.

Before Vatican II, the Old Testament was not read much at Mass.  With the new Lectionary, except during the Easter season, the first reading is always picked from the Old Testament.  First, the gospel reading of the day is picked and then an Old Testament reading is picked that somehow relates to the gospel reading.

Is the Bible easy reading?  No, that’ s why the priest who taught my three New Testament classes in seminary was so found of saying we must keep going back to read the Bible over and over.  Some people try to read the Bible from beginning to end.  I find that difficult because you can get stuck in some of the genealogies and rules.

Bible studies are an option when available.  For the beginner I suggest to read the readings of the day and using a reflection book to help (these books will tell you what the readings of the day are).  Examples of such books are Living Faith (quarterly), The Word Among Us (monthly I think), or The Magnificant.  You can find the readings online at http://www.usccb.org/nab/.

Read the Bible.  It is God’s Word.


Fr. Jeff

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