In my post last week I focused on revelation, both natural and Divine. What I have yet to note are the means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us, of which there are two: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Inspired by God
Sticking with the first, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things in life, nor yet a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are what we call “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.”
What we mean by “inspired” is that God is the principal author of the Bible. Certainly, there were different men—Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc.—who held the pen and dipped it in the ink and physically wrote the words on the papyrus. But these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship—the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, writing style, etc., to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration.
God’s Own Word
This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write whatever they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principal author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer.
Such inspiration is how despite the various human authors, events, historical and cultural contexts, etc., behind the 73 Biblical texts, we are still left with only one story. The entire Bible, with its vast array of literature, is still only one book because all of the texts within have the same one principal author: God, Who is writing His story of salvation history.
This is what makes the Bible so powerful, unlike any other text. There are certainly some influential writers in human history—a man like Aristotle has radically changed many people’s lives, for instance. But no other piece of writing comes close to the power and influence of Scripture. People like St. Anthony the Abbot and St. Augustine were so profoundly influenced to change their lives by either hearing or reading a passage from Scripture, not simply because it tells a good tale, but because it is God Who wrote the story. For as Paul said in the above passage from 2 Timothy, Scripture is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, and it can help the man of God be perfect. And Scripture can have this power because it is the written word of God.
Reading the Word of God
Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I should end by offering a few tips for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. Here are 5 tips for approaching the Sacred Scriptures:
- Pray, pray, pray. We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading the Scriptures in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading the Scriptures in order to try and encounter God in them and apply them to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is the practice of Lectio Divina. The Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.
- Remember that you are in no rush. The most important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t really reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ in the Bible. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with for 10, 15, 20 minutes. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us.
- We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. Muscle memory needs to be formed, as with anything else. We read in Psalm 1, for example, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Even better would be praying that one Psalm a night with your spouse, if married.
- Do not worry about starting on page one and reading the Bible from cover to cover, for it is very easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It is very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) you find yourself most drawn to.
- Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter 8 of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” (Acts 8:31). This is what we at the Biblical School are here for—to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We are in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year: a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1st (register now!), a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15th and August 28th, and a 6-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July (sign up to receive updates when registration opens for these later programs). We have something for everybody… just reach out to us!