We all know the importance of reading the Bible and studying the Bible. Our church now insists that Bible study groups be established in each Eparchy and each Parish.
The Catholic Church has the reputation that it does not approve Bible Study and that only Protestants are in favour of it. This is a little understood problem. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches encourage and approve of Bible study, but they keep saying that Bible study is not as simple as some people make it out to be. Catholics use an “historical – critical” approach to interpreting the Bible while many others use the “fundamentalist” method.
The historical – critical approach uses methods of textual linguistic and semantic analysis. It recognizes that there are different literary genres i.e. poetry, prose, etc. The Catholic Church insists that for a correct understanding what it is that God is saying one must use this historical – critical method.
Another issue is the constant need to confront new situations and problems in order to make the Bible’s message current for today’s reader. Language and mentality change and have changed over the centuries and the message of the Bible must be understood in today’s language. That is why new editions of the Bible are needed in each generation.
A fundamentalist reading and studying assumes that the Bible must be read and interpreted literally in every detail. No scientific method is required, so for a fundamentalist, the language and cultural content of the original writer of the Bible is of no consequence. The writer of 2000 years ago in their mind still speaks directly to the modern reader regardless of the massive changes which have happened over time. That is why the English translation that most fundamentalists use is the King James translation which was done four hundred years ago in 1611.The Catholic condemns fundamentalist. Pope Benedict described it as “a falsification of religion”. Actually all forms of fundamentalism are bad. Look at what is happening in the Middle East. It is a fundamentalism of a different sort but still the same genre.
Under fundamentalism, it is such a simple thing to do; everyone becomes an expert and almost immediately. No education is needed. When it comes to biblical fundamentalism, there is a major problem for them in at least two parts of the Bible, one on the theme of the Holy Eucharist, and the second is the Virgin Mary. For some reason they completely ignore these important parts of the Bible.
So do we study the Bible? Absolutely! But make sure that your teacher or leader uses the historical- critical approach, in other words someone who is qualified to teach the Bible.
In conclusion, let me quote the Pontifical Biblical Commission of 23rd April 1993. The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.